Legislation is imminent for the city of Jacksonville to extend its agreement with municipal utility JEA, a contribution/funding formula that makes up roughly 10 percent of the city’s general fund budget.
The Interagency Agreement, last ratified in 2016 to extend through Sept. 2021, would have two more years added if the City Council passes the legislation.
This would ensure that the agreement is valid through Aug. 2023, though another extension will likely be necessary before the end of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s second term, should he be re-elected next spring.
The timing is of greatest interest here, on a deal that includes an additional one-time contribution of $15,155,000, proceeds from the sale of the Southside Generating Station property that will go to sewage projects, of which there could be a billion dollars worth of work still to go.
JEA’s contribution this year of $117,647,535 would continue to increase annually as agreed, with $122,424,496 expected by FY 22-23.
The renewed agreement comes at a time when the financial commitments of the utility and city are earning harder looks from ratings agencies, which looked askance at moves to privatize the utility, leadership changes, and most critically, attempts to shirk jointly-held obligations in 2008’s ill-fated Plant Vogtle nuclear plant deal.
Earlier this month, Moody’s downgraded $2.1 billion of Jacksonville debt, pinning a negative outlook on issues resulting from the city’s misadventures with utility JEA.
“The downgrade of the city’s debt reflects our concurrent downgrade of JEA’s electric, water and sewer and District Energy System utility debt ratings,” Moody’s contends.
Not all ratings agencies agree with this read: S&P Global Ratings, despite concerns about high fixed costs, maintained on Tuesday a stable outlook on Jacksonville issues in light of Jacksonville’s “very strong budgetary flexibility … proactive management … robust economic growth.
Still, even S&P harbors concerns about Plant Vogtle fallout: “We will continue to monitor the city’s intent and willingness to support … long-term obligations.”
In the Plant Vogtle deal, the city yoked itself to an agreement without price caps to subsidize out-of-state power companies building a nuclear plant, one that could be the last one built stateside. Cost overruns and a changing landscape of electrical power generation have made the deal look worse over time.
But Moody’s didn’t care. The issue: “the city’s participation as a plaintiff in litigation with JEA, a component unit of the city, against Municipal Energy Authority of Georgia (MEAG), in which JEA and the city are seeking to have a Florida state court invalidate a ‘take-or-pay’ power contract between JEA and MEAG.”
This is a problem for Moody’s, raising questions about the city’s “willingness to support an absolute and unconditional obligation of its largest municipal enterprise, which weakens the city’s creditworthiness on all of its debt and is not consistent with the prior Aa rating category.”
“The negative outlook reflects the uncertainty surrounding the disposition of the city’s litigation during the outlook period,” Moody’s adds.
“In our view, JEA’s assertions that its board acted beyond the scope of its authority raises questions about the quality of the utility’s internal controls,” S&P analyst David Bodek said, according to the Florida Times-Union.
“In our opinion, the utility’s legal claims seeking to repudiate the board’s actions after a decade call into question the utility’s willingness to meet its contractual financial obligations.”
The city issued a tough press release defending its moves, but in reality, seems aware that it overplayed its hand, leading to the renewed agreement.
“Stable contribution policy through 2023 is viewed as a positive by rating agencies,” asserted an agenda item from an October JEA Board meeting.
While there may be divergence on the level of concern, they are watching.
The new ad, “Afford,” features one of the St. Augustine Democrat’s would-be constituents, Kay, explaining why she left the Republican Party to cast a ballot for Soderberg in August and is planning to support her again in November.
“I’m a schoolteacher and was a lifelong Republican. My uncle was even the Orange County campaign coordinator for [Ronald] Reagan. But this election, I can’t support Mike Waltz for Congress,” Kay says in the ad. “Because his healthcare plan would cost us more, including higher premiums for millions and eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions. So that’s why I’m supporting Nancy Soderberg for Congress. Nancy will work with Republicans and Democrats and make sure our health care is affordable.”
Soderberg’s campaign didn’t detail the media buy backing up the new ad, though filings with the Federal Communications Commission show numerous TV buys made by the campaign in the past week.
Soderberg and Waltz are competing for the Congressional seat recently vacated by Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis. A recent internal pollcirculated by the Soderberg campaign showed her and Waltz tied at 45 percent support apiece with 9 percent of voters undecided.
CD 6 covers parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties on Florida’s Atlantic coast. President Donald Trumpwon CD 6 by 17 points two years ago while DeSantis, who held the seat for three terms, won re-election by 17 points.
The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato both rate CD 6 as “likely Republican,” while Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has moved the race into the “lean Republican” category. Their forecasting model currently expects Waltz to win 52-48 in November, though it gives Soderberg a two in seven chance of flipping the seat.
As early in-person voting begins in Duval County, money is rapidly being spent in the expensive race for an open seat in House District 15.
Republican Wyman Duggan, per receipts that extend through Oct. 12, holds a cash on hand lead over Democrat Tracye Polson.
Polson has aggressively fundraised and self-financed, and has led the money race for most of the campaign, but the most recent finance report represents an outlier to that trend.
Duggan’s campaign account had just over $46,000 in it as of Oct. 12, with $9,549 raised the week before compared to $32,540 spent ($30,000 of that on television).
Duggan’s political committee still had resources as of Oct. 12, with $20,000 of new money the week before (and no spend) boosting that tally north of $37,000.
In addition to having roughly $83,000 for the home stretch, Duggan has also been the beneficiary of over $100,000 in television buys from the Republican Party of Florida, helping him to amplify his message that Polson, a social worker, is out of step with the Westside Jacksonville district.
Polson actually outraised and outspent Duggan in terms of her campaign account during the week, bringing in $13,776 compared to $41,376 in expenditures (with $38,606 on television). The campaign account has just over $7,000 on hand.
Polson’s political committee likewise spent bigger than it raised: $400 brought in during the week, compared to $24,651 in expenditures (moved to the Florida Democratic Party). It has nearly $40,000 on hand.
The seat did go for Donald Trump two years ago, though Democrats haven’t fielded a candidate in plurality-Democrat HD 15 since it was redrawn ahead of the 2012 elections, so its lean in down-ballot races hasn’t been tested.
Q3 continued a narrative trend for Jacksonville’s Congressmen, as they continued to dominate their longshot challengers in the cash race.
First-term Reps. John Rutherford, a Republican and Al Lawson, a Democrat, each of whom have districts that are favorable in terms of voter profile, also connected with donors in the period leading up to Sept. 30.
Rutherford, who represents Northeast Florida’s 4th Congressional District, ended Q3 with $430,130 on hand (of $730,000 raised), well above the $4,444 Democratic challenger Ges Selmont had.
The political action committees of corporations such as Boeing and Google ponied up, as did local powerbrokers like Gary Chartrand and Peter Rummell, and old friends like former State Attorney Angela Corey.
Rutherford, who said he wouldn’t bother debating Selmont because there was no point in giving him a platform, raised $132,930 on the quarter, spending just $20,123 of it.
Republicans comprise 281,000, or 49.8 percent of the district’s voters. There are now 150,237 Democratic voters, or 26.6 percent of district voters. NPAs and third-party voters comprise the balance.
The money race in the majority-Democrat Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee Congressional District 5 likewise seems to reflect where voters will go, with Lawson holding a strong lead over Republican Virginia Fuller.
Lawson exited September with $60,303 on hand (he spent heavily in a competitive primary against Jacksonville’s Alvin Brown). Fuller, who had previously said that she wasn’t fundraising, had just $1,864 at her disposal.
The quarter reflected an active August: receipts of $80,522 were exceeded by $151,379 of spending.
In a reflection of the realities of the district, with Lawson a Democrat comfortable with Republicans and their issues, he got donations from GOP interests, such as the Charter School Action PAC.
Lawson and Rutherford both do things that irk their bases, as recently as last week.
Many groaned when Lawson lauded Gov. Rick Scott for his efforts to save lives after hurricanes.
Likewise, word from the Duval GOP Victory Dinner was that Rutherford’s own party was trying to give him the hook after he spoke longer than organizers apparently hoped.
OK, Rutherford is done now. Casey DeSantis, wife to Ron, is now up talking about her time as a reporter interviewing Rutherford. "His soundbytes were 30 seconds back then."
The Jacksonville Jaguars were losing at home when news broke of six people shot just blocks from the stadium.
Shootings are nothing new to Jacksonville, often called the murder capital of the state. However, this one had a particular political weight, right down to the investigating sheriff, who was apparently in Tampa offering support to gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.
Curry did not respond. However, Jacksonville’s shootings would find a global platform Sunday evening, as Democrat Andrew Gillum debated Republican Ron DeSantis on CNN.
Gillum, in defending himself against DeSantis’ contention that Tallahassee is a hotbed of violent crime, noted the shooting in Jacksonville. That is, unfortunately, an undercount, as shootings happened elsewhere in the city.
Jacksonville, which has a Republican mayor and Sheriff who both endorsed DeSantis ahead of the primary, has struggled with its murder rate for decades.
That Sheriff, Mike Williams, pilloried Gillum on public safety on behalf of the DeSantis campaign, in a statement that dropped just minutes after the debate.
“Andrew Gillum hasn’t supported law enforcement, he signed an anti-police pledge, and he didn’t do anything tonight to calm the nerves of people rightfully concerned about public safety under his failed leadership,” Williams said.
Questions that Williams’ quote may have been pre-provided abounded, but per a picture from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Williams was at the CNN debate with sheriffs and the AG.
Curry and Williams face re-election in 2019. Stemming the murder rate has proven elusive despite increases in law enforcement budgets (largely a function of collectively bargained pay raises and equipment revamps).
U.S. Congressman Ted Yoho, a quintessential Freedom Caucus Republican, looks poised for re-election to a fourth term from Florida’s 3rd district.
There won’t be a fifth.
“You can bank on that,” he told us Friday afternoon in Orange Park, after a campaign town hall.
But he’s likely not done this year, if metrics are predictive.
As of the most recent fundraising report, Yoho had $328,257 of his $752,614 nest egg on hand. This compared favorably to Democratic opponent Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a former Gainesville city commissioner who had just $2,478 of $34,726 on hand.
The party split of the north-central Florida district, which includes portions of Alachua, Bradford, Clay, Marion, Putnam, and Union counties, is likewise favorable for the incumbent. CD 3 has 200,504 Republicans, compared to 175,561 Democrats, with NPAs and third parties comprising the rest of the district’s 487,002 voters.
Yoho packed a back room at a restaurant in Clay County’s biggest city, and he made no bones about where he stood: With Ron DeSantis and against Andrew Gillum, and with movement conservatives like Rep. Jim Jordan over the Paul Ryan wing of the party.
Yoho is confident that Republicans will retain the House, and if that’s the case, he may be positioned to play an important role on issues in the next two years no one would have predicted would be the case when he first ran in 2012.
One such issue: the failed U.S. War on Drugs.
Yoho, concerned about the fentanyl and opium sourced from China, Mexico, and other putative American allies, proposes a simple solution.
“Bring drugs in, you’re going to die,” was how the Congressman summarized the proposal of Singapore-style capital punishment for importation of fentanyl and opium.
The draconian solution is needed, in part, because the Drug War is not being won.
“We spent $2 trillion since 1979 on the war on drugs. Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico are growing more drugs today. We’ve got more drugs in our country. How successful have we been,” Yoho said.
“It’s been ineffective, we’re not any better off, and we need to have a different narrative … If these people are going to be our allies, they need to get rid of that garbage,” Yoho said.
“A lot of that money gets lost in funnelling to corrupt politicians is what I personally believe,” Yoho said. “Do they really want to change the problem in that country? If Mexico wanted to correct that problem, they would correct that problem.”
“If there’s a war on drugs, let’s end it, let’s get it fixed,” Yoho said, noting 160 Americans die everyday from overdoses.
Meanwhile, Yoho stated his belief that the federal government should decriminalize cannabis.
For those who have followed Yoho for a while, he has had a libertarian streak to his votes on this issue (such as a 2014 vote to end Barack Obama era busts of state-level medical cannabis programs).
However, it’s a question on which he continues to evolve.
“Are there benefits to marijuana? I think there are,” Yoho said Friday.
“My goal is to decriminalize it at a federal level at a certain volume. If you’re growing your own or you’ve got a little bit on you … I can’t even tell you what volume on that stuff is,” Yoho said. “But if you’re driving around in a pickup truck … and there’s several bales in there, you’re probably going to jail.”
“We’ve got so many people who have screwed up their life and are in prison. They’ve got a record. It’s a mess,” Yoho said. “Our goal is to decriminalize it, make it so it’s not as strong an offense, and let the states regulate it the way they see fit.”
Yoho also noted issues with interstate commerce and the black market from the federal prohibition.
“Right now because it’s a federal crime, all those dispensaries, they can do business in their state but they can’t deposit that [in a bank]. It’s all cash,” Yoho said, which leads to unaccountability on tax returns and a strengthening of the black market.
Yoho is not a fan of the state’s medical cannabis program.
“There is no standard for a marijuana product, so how can a doctor prescribe? There’s too much vagueness,” Yoho said, noting that specific dosage prescription thresholds can be circumvented under the state model.
“It’s like how much salt do I put on my eggs. You use enough to where it tastes good to you,” Yoho concluded.
Suspended Jacksonville City Councilors Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown are staring down a 38-count conspiracy to defraud.
The pair is accused of extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce plant.
The two Democratic Council members have presented a united front, maintaining their innocence. Until now.
Well ahead of a February trial date, Reggie Brown on Tuesday moved to sever his case from Katrina Brown’s. Then on Friday, Katrina Brown filed her own motion for severance.
Reggie Brown’s severance motion contends Brown solely performed “routine acts related to everyday business activity,” and that the “spillover effect” from the allegations against Katrina Brown is essentially guilt by association.
“There is no direct evidence Reginald Brown had any knowledge of any misrepresentations Katrina Brown may or may not have made to lenders. He never willfully agreed to commit a crime. He never knowingly aided and abetted any criminal conduct that may or may not have been committed by Katrina Brown,” the motion reads.
“As to Reginald Brown, the United States appears to simply hope its widely cast net ensnares people like him who associated with Katrina Brown and who, perhaps naively, relied on her purported business acumen,” the motion continues.
Another motion was to strike as “prejudicial” language in the indictment that discussed his vote in favor of the economic incentives the pair allegedly defrauded, as it was “customary” for Brown (a two-term Councilman) to vote for such deals.
The two face a compendium of charges: 13 counts of wire fraud, another 13 of mail fraud, five counts of money laundering, and charges of attempted bank fraud for Ms. Brown and failure to file a 1040 from Mr. Brown.
Katrina Brown filed her own severance motion Friday.
Ms. Brown believes that Mr. Brown’s defense will “shift blame” to her, and the combining of the cases will imperil her receipt of a fair trial.
She also wants recordings and notes of witness interviews, and language referring to the barbeque sauce plant as being “supposed” to produce sauce stricken as prejudicial.
Katrina Brown filed a number of other motions, including for personnel files of officers and criminal histories of alleged witnesses, along with whether or not they had ever been habitual drug users or had “ill will” toward Ms. Brown.
The trial will be high-profile, regardless of whether severance is allowed. The most recent local analogous fraud case: that of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her former chief-of-staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons.
After the severance, Simmons was key to the federal government’s case that Corrine Brown was the ringleader of the conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to a reduced number of counts, and avoided the threatened hundreds of years in prison.
Jacksonville’s political class, with a Republican Mayor and Sheriff, is betting on red this year, all in for Ron DeSantis for Governor.
And if he wins, it will be another case of “Jax on the Rise.”
Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams endorsed DeSantis before the August primary, as did Duval-adjacent legislators like Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings.
This is a sharp contrast with most major cities in Florida, led by Democrats, where major players are obviously surfing the hoped-for ‘blue wave.’
One theory goes: If DeSantis wins, Jacksonville wins. And the most recent polling shows he is well-positioned.
Twenty days before Election Day, Democrat Gillum is at 47 percent, while DeSantis is at 46. However, among those who say they have already voted, DeSantis is at 49 percent, while Gillum is at 45 percent.
That four-point spread speaks to a trend that should concern Gillum and the Democrats. But should delight Jacksonville power brokers.
Curry has called DeSantis a “brother from another mother.” For those who have enjoyed current Gov. Rick Scott treating the relaxed Jacksonville media like a homecoming game, scheduling safe events here to get camera time and avoid the more aggressive media down south, expect more of the same if DeSantis wins.
Curry’s best political op, Tim Baker, is on Team DeSantis. So is campaign manager Susie Wiles, the Ballard Partner who has as deep a City Hall pedigree as anyone this side of Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.
There aren’t a lot of DeSantis signs on Jacksonville streets. But if DeSantis wins, it likely is in no small part because of his draw in Jacksonville, which was a polling stronghold even when DeSantis was down big in polls, before weeks of attack ads defined Gillum for the voters who weren’t paying attention before Labor Day.
The campaign announced last week that it had raised over $1 million in the latest quarter of fundraising, pushing it over $2.5 million raised.
This period includes August, September and October receipts.
Soderberg had over $500,000 on hand as of the filing.
“The support and energy we’re seeing for our campaign is incredibly inspiring,” Soderberg said. “What’s clear, now more than ever, is that Floridians are ready to elect a leader who listens to them, and who will stand up for them in Washington. A leader they can be proud of. I’m proud to fight to protect pre-existing conditions for families here and I’m proud of the movement we’re building together.”
The race between Soderberg and Republican nominee Mike Waltz has increasingly looked like a play for the center in recent weeks, and the most recent poll of the race shows Soderberg in a dead heat with Waltz.
Waltz raised $445,491 in Q3, which means that Soderberg has more ammo for television buys, many of which spotlight contrasts between the candidates on insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.
Lawson lauds ‘life saving’ Scott
Will we see U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in an ad for Gov. Scott? It’s possible he’s already recorded his testimonial during a joint appearance in Gadsden County this week in which Lawson lauded Scott’s post-storm performance over the last eight years.
“We will never know how many lives that he’s been responsible for saving,” Lawson said Tuesday.
“The first thing you hear about is somebody dying in a hurricane. But just think: if it hadn’t been for his leadership, how many other people would be in the same situation,” Lawson asserted.
“When you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s very easy for you to understand people who take a proactive role in trying to preserve life,” Lawson added. “He’s done an excellent job … for many, many years.”
“It’s not about how much we get out of life, but how much we give, and he’s given a whole lot,” Lawson said.
Just as the Scott campaign ad Tuesday used news footage of storm recovery, it is quite easy to imagine this footage circulating in the commercial sphere.
Big money in HD 15
While most of Jacksonville-area state House races are settled in the primary (by dint of gerrymandering), an exception is in the one true swing district: House District 15 on the Westside.
With current Republican incumbent Jay Fant walking away this year, Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan are vying to replace him.
Each week’s fundraising report has brimmed with narrative interest. This week’s story: Polson is both outraising and outspending Duggan, at least through Oct. 5 (the last day of current reporting).
Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Polson brought in $16,060 to her campaign account. Of the $319,667 in hard money deposited, Polson has $35,483 on hand.
In addition to the nearly $36,000 in the campaign account, Polson has nearly $64,000 in the committee cash box. Polson has been spending heavily on television, running a second ad this week spotlighting Republican Duggan’s career as a lobbyist. With the ability and willingness to self-finance, Polson will undoubtedly be spending until the end.
She will have to.
Over the past three weeks, Duggan has brought in $76,500 in hard money, pushing him near parity with $85,000 on hand.
Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Duggan raised $10,850 to his campaign account, bringing that total to nearly $67,000 on hand.
Duggan also has roughly $18,000 in his political committee, though with no donations in the latest reporting period.
Duggan has also benefited from over $100,000 air support from the Republican Party of Florida, which has funded attack ads, including a bristling spot associating Polson with drum circles, flag burners, and other elements of The Resistance.
However, Bean has roughly $93,000 in hard money and nearly $86,000 more in the committee coffers. This gives him a nearly 20 to 1 cash advantage over Bussard, who has roughly $9,000 on hand.
In majority-Republican House District 11, incumbent Cord Byrd is winning the fundraising battle with Democrat Nathcelly Rohrbaugh. Byrd has $53,000 on hand; Rohrbaugh $17,000.
Clay Yarborough, running for re-election in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, had modest fundraising ($3,100 in the last week) and bigger spending ($9,043) as the election approaches. He has $98,000 on hand.
Democrat Tim Yost raised $1,258 during the same period and carries $9,000 into the final stretch of the campaign.
Similarly, HD 16 State Rep. Jason Fischer, first-term Republican, has had a consistent cash lead over Democrat Ken Organes.
Fischer did not fundraise between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5. Fischer had nearly $108,000 in his campaign account, and under $5,000 in the account of his political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville.
Organes, meanwhile, brought in $1,225 over the same period, and has just over $26,500 on hand.
Curry heats up
Curry, the best fundraiser in Northeast Florida history, delivered a statement month in September, with the second best haul of his re-election bid.
However, it was Jones who had the best take between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, bringing in $19,375 from 59 donors, including former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund director Timothy Johnson, and Kids Hope Alliance board chair Kevin Gay.
Jones has raised $81,000 total and has nearly $31,000 on hand.
Overton, though he only raised $11,865 during the same period, still has the aggregate cash lead, with nearly $55,000 on hand of a total $162,834 raised.
UAE cuts a check
On Monday, Northside Jacksonville’s A. Philip Randolph Career Academies saw Mayor Curry receive the U.S. Ambassador from the UAE, Yousef Al-Otaiba.
Money was on the line. $2.775 million, to be exact (part of a $10 million grant to be divided between several cities hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.)
While local leaders appreciate revenue, there is a parallel story to the check: the UAE’s distressing and worsening human rights record.
The UAE has made a long-standing practice of storm relief, and there are those who believe it is a distraction from the regime’s human rights record, which is in keeping with the non-Democratic states of the Middle East.
In the context of an erosion of human rights backdropped against a wave of post-storm generosity, we asked the Ambassador and the Mayor if such donations were intended to gloss over a record not in accordance with the mores of liberal democracies.
“We’re here to talk about our gifts to Jacksonville,” Al-Otaiba asserted. “If you want to ask me a question about what our laws are, we’re happy to address that. But that’s not why we’re here today.”
Curry spotlighted the “two-million dollars, invested in vulnerable populations in Jacksonville.”
Regarding “foreign policy,” Curry said, “there’s experts in Washington, elected leaders in Washington who handle our foreign policy,” before pivoting to thank the Ambassador once more.
Applause filled the room.
JEA against the world
The Florida Times-Union reports that Jacksonville utility JEA is becoming the “bête noire” of the public utility world.
At issue: the utility’s attempt to get out of a 2008 agreement to subsidize construction of Georgia’s nuclear Plant Vogtle, a “hell or high water” deal that has no exit clause.
The utility and the city are on the same side of what looks to be an ill-fated federal lawsuit to get out of the deal, and credit downgrades are becoming increasingly routine for the two parties.
Moody’s Investor Services noted last week that one way for the city to reverse the impression that it’s not willing to honor its obligations would be to drop the federal lawsuit.
JEA sale OK?
A referendum authorized earlier this year, on whether Duval County voters should have a say on the sale of 10 percent or more of JEA or not, is on the November ballot.
Bill sponsor John Crescimbeni, a skeptic of the privatization push that roiled City Hall earlier this year, asserts that “any conversation or any discussion or decision about selling the JEA should be made by the shareholders, the owners of JEA, and those are the citizens of Duval County.”
“So if the JEA board were to decide to sell more than 10 percent of JEA and the council reviewed that and also decided they agreed with the JEA board of directors, this straw ballot measure is taking the temperature of the voters, asking ‘would you want the council’s decision to then come to the voters in a subsequent referendum for you to vote on?’” said Crescimbeni.
“In the event that JEA was proposed to be sold by the JEA board and the City Council agreed, then whatever those terms and conditions were would go before the voters as an up-or-down vote,” the Councilman added.
“So, the voters are going to be asked a question Nov. 6, it’s a yes-or-no question. If they’re interested in participating in the final decision, in the event that there’s discussion about a possible future sale of JEA, they would want to vote yes” Crescimbeni summarized. “If they’re OK with the city council making that final decision, then they should vote no.”
CSX posts strong Q3, continuing trend
CSX Corp. posted a strong third-quarter revenue with $894 million in earnings, or $1.05 per share. It represents a 95 percent year-over-year improvement, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal, and a third-quarter operating ratio record.
The Jacksonville-based rail carrier had $3.13 billion in revenue, a 14 percent increase. Despite increased fuel costs and higher volume, expenses dropped 2 percent.
Operating ratio — a measure of efficiency — improved 14 percent to 58.7, compared to 58.6 percent last quarter. This metric shows how much it costs to generate a dollar of profit. The company goal is for an annual ratio of 60 percent, which it expects to reach by 2020. (In the first quarter it was 63.7, on pace for 60.3 for the year.)
“Only eight months since the investor conference, by almost any measure, we are ahead of where I thought we would be,” CSX CEO Jim Foote said in the quarter’s earnings call this week.
Jacksonville Zoo’s year of innovation
About a year ago, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new 10-year master plan. In the subsequent 12 months, the zoo has unveiled a major new exhibit, several new baby animals and plans for more ambitious development.
As the Jacksonville Business Journal notes, this year was the first for the traveling Dinosauria exhibition to stay throughout the summer; and one of the few times a new exhibit premiered in the fall and not the spring.
Some of the innovations over the last year include the Zoo’s newest master plan, with dozens of enrichment items, including large sculptures at a new main entrance, new exhibits (including manatees and orangutans) and more emphasis on animal enrichment and conservation as well as improved facilities for employees. Cost of the plan — which could take as much is 20 years to complete — is estimated between $50 million to $100 million.
The previous year also saw the construction of the Zoo’s latest exhibit, the African Forest, a $9 million, 4-acre project which incorporates wellness-inspired designs and a trail system that connects with a 54-foot tall interactive kapok tree.
Zoo director Tony Vecchio tells the Journal his team feels this new plan is necessary, and a “continuation of the upswing the zoo has been on for years now.”
The first part of the new plan — a remodeled Great Apes loop into the African Forest — completed in August 2018.
Jaguars need quick turnaround
The Jacksonville Jaguars are glad to be home this weekend. Having spent two disastrous weekends on the road, TIAA Bank Stadium will be a welcome sight Sunday when they take on the Houston Texans.
During the last two games in Kansas City and Dallas, the Jags were swamped by a combined score of 70-21. The 30-14 final against the Chiefs was one thing, but Sunday’s 40-7 humiliation delivered by the Cowboys showed a highly-promising season could be slipping away unless they turn things around.
“We earned the right to be where we are,” head coach Doug Marrone told the media Wednesday. “We’re the ones that put us where we are.”
The Jaguars are where they are after digging themselves into deep holes early in the last two games. In Kansas City, they trailed 20-0 at halftime, while the Cowboys carried a 24-0 lead into intermission.
Going into the season, the Jacksonville defense was ranked among the best units in the National Football League. After 6 games, they are ranked 31st out of 32 teams, while the offense is ranked in the middle of the league.
Marrone has worked them hard in practice this week, hoping to inspire a better performance on both sides of the ball.
“Doug and the coaches did a good job of pushing us and making sure we’re getting the quality work that we need to get done at this point in the week to be ready to go Sunday,” quarterback Blake Bortles said after practice. “That’s all part of our weekly preparation.”
Marrone says there is no magic pill. The best cure for getting better is hard work.
“You have to work hard,” Marrone said. “You have to go back there. You have to coach better. We have to play better. I have to do a better job.”
They had better … if they want to save their season.
Gambling concern bestbet is one of Jacksonville’s most politically connected businesses. Its interests were boosted Thursday when the local Chamber of Commerce weighed in against Amendment 3.
Per a media release, passing the amendment “will eliminate local voter control and could retroactively unauthorize existing gambling, putting hundreds of jobs in Jacksonville at risk.”
The “unnecessary” amendment “erode[s] home rule and weaken the authorities for communities to make decisions on their own,” the release continues.
“This is not an issue that merits an amendment to the Florida Constitution,” JAX Alliance Chair Dan Murphy said. “The cities and counties across Florida all have different needs. Amendment 3 requires the entire state to weigh in on local matters and this is bad policy for Florida.”
Bestbet President Jamie Shelton has been vocal about this issue also.
“Amendment 3 has been put on the ballot by the Seminole Indians (who have the casinos under federal law in South Florida) and Disney (which wants to limit any competition in Florida). They are both trying to use the amendment process to eliminate and prevent competition in Florida,” Shelton wrote in a recent letter to employees.
“A vote NO is best for Florida and does not reward the narrow special interests of Disney and the Seminole Indians at the expense of everyone else,” Shelton adds.
Shelton and bestbet play aggressively in Jacksonville politics, with contributions to more incumbents than not. Shelton’s wife Ali Korman Shelton worked for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in a senior role early in his administration.
Shelton’s most ambitious spend: $2 million on a referendum to bring slot machines to bestbet.
Though the referendum carried, the state denied bestbet’s desire to add slots months later.
It’s the most competitive 2018 race in Northeast Florida — the battle to replace outgoing Republican state Rep. Jay Fant in Westside Jacksonville’s plurality-Democrat House District 15.
The air war continued this week: Republican Wyman Duggan dropped a contrast ad on Democrat Tracye Polson, comparing her alleged radicalism with his “common-sense” approach to politics.
The 30-second ad from Duggan, a political protégé of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry who already has over $120,000 committed to television between his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida, advanced the closing argument.
The first half of the spot showed Resistance protesters (in footage likely not from the Westside Jacksonville district), with accusations that Polson supported “socialized” health care and letting current prisoners vote.
The second half of the spot featured a testimonial from Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, with Duggan himself not speaking: the latter a recurring theme in Duggan ads, in which the candidate (a Rogers Towers lawyer and a practiced public speaker) has yet to say a word.
The tag line (“Common sense. Not politics.”) was likewise an interesting choice, especially in context of Polson’s own campaign deeming Duggan a career lobbyist steeped in politics, including lobbying for Nova Scotia’s Emera when moves were being made to sell Jacksonville public utility JEA to a private operator.
Those familiar with the thinking of the Duggan campaign claim that the career lobbyist trope isn’t selling with voters. And those outside Duggan’s orbit, even some Republicans, tell tales of donor class frustration with the campaign.
Time will tell which of those takes is salient and which is spin.
Polson, meanwhile, is taking her case to voters. Even as she’s frustrated by an apparent disinterest on Duggan’s part to debate her.
The powerful Riverside Avondale Preservation group couldn’t get the campaigns to agree on a date for a debate, and Polson has been stymied in attempts to get Duggan to engage at forums.
The latest example: a Monday evening forum with the regional chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Duggan, along with other GOP candidates, took a pass on the purportedly bipartisan event.
“At a time when public safety and health care are two of the most important issues in Florida, who you choose to meet with says a lot about where your priorities are as a candidate,” Polson said.
“I’m committed to working with my community to bring back dollars for crucial mental health services that will serve our students and veterans in need. Jacksonville voters are counting on their leaders to not only represent them but to be present in the community. Last night’s forum said it all: Democrats show up for Jacksonville,” Polson asserted.
Meanwhile, the Florida Times-Union editorial page, typically deeper in the pocket of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry than his car keys, bucked the machine and backed Polson over the connected Duggan.
While the editorialists avoided mention of Duggan’s lobbying or Polson’s alleged associations with out-of-state radicals determined to subvert Florida values, it was clear that Polson impressed them in part because Duggan didn’t really bother to make the sale.
“The Editorial Board expected more from his answers to our questionnaire — one or two sentence answers. In contrast, opponent Tracye Polson put more thought and effort into her answers,” the article asserts.
“In the final analysis, this choice is between Duggan’s resume and Polson’s more thoughtful approach,” and the choice was Polson.
The two candidates, as of Oct. 5, were roughly even in cash-on-hand. Duggan’s $85,000 (especially with RPOF buy-in) is near Polson’s $100,000 available.