Jax – Florida Politics

John Ward releases first ad for CD 6 campaign

Republican John Ward, a Palm Coast businessman, released his first TV ad Thursday for his campaign to replace U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

“Forged to be an American leader, John Ward. A U.S. Naval Intelligence veteran, he answered the call and protected us around the globe,” the ad narrator states.

“Strengthened by service, John Ward built successful companies adding thousands of jobs and more than a billion dollars to the economy. An unbreakable constitutional conservative, Ward stands with President Trump fighting to take our country back from the swamp. Made in America, John Ward for Congress.”

Ward entered the race for CD 6 in October, ahead of DeSantis’ announcement that he would run for governor rather than re-election to the Northeast Florida seat in 2018.

He is one of three Republicans to qualify for the ballot alongside former state Rep. Fred Costello and Fox News contributor Mike Waltz. Running on the Democratic side are Daytona Beach physician Steven Sevigny, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg and John Upchurch.

Ward and Waltz have been their own biggest backers – through March, Ward had put $550,000 of his own money into his campaign, while Waltz had put down $400,000. Ward led the Republican field with $709,000 banked on March 31, followed by Waltz at $653,000 and Costello with $15,720.

Both Soderberg and Sevigny have also raised well into the six figures.

CD 6 covers a stretch of Florida’s east coast, from southern Jacksonville to New Smyrna Beach. It has been a reliably Republican seat, and DeSantis would have likely been safe for re-election had he opted to stay in the U.S. House. His exit moved the needle to “likely Republican” according to University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato’s “Crystal Ball.”

Ward’s ad is below.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.18.18 — Relationship business

As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is fond of saying: politics is a “relationship business.”

So, this edition of Bold spotlights the utility of political friendships.

Whether running for Congress or state or local office, you’d better have your friends’ endorsements (well-timed) and the interest of the donor class (early, and often).

In each category, there will be examples of the haves — and have-nots.

File this edition away, come back to it in 100 days or so. You will see a direct correlation (if not causation) between who got the help they needed and who had juice with the voters.

Biden backs Soderberg for Congress

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg rolled out her most high-profile endorsement for her Congressional race yet Monday, with former Vice President Joe Biden backing the Clinton administration alum.

Nancy Soderberg was instrumental in Bill Clinton-era foreign policy.

“I’ve known Nancy for three decades since she first started her work in the Senate,” said Vice President Biden. “She is a lifelong public servant who has served at the highest levels of government. At the White House and as an Ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy brokered international peace deals and helped develop and promote U.S. national security policy. She understands what it’s like to bring both sides to the table and solve complex issues. She’s been tested and she’s delivered.”

Biden is “supporting Nancy because she’s a problem solver, and will fight for the values of the 6th District: growing the middle class, creating jobs you can raise a family on, ensuring every family has access to affordable health care and every child can get an affordable education. She has the knowledge and experience to make a difference and get things done for the people of the 6th District.”

Soderberg, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Vice President Biden, who has dedicated his life to standing up for American men, women and children.”

Florida’s 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Ron DeSantis, extends from St. Johns County south to Volusia on Florida’s east coast.

Dems rally behind Lawson

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson hinted earlier this month about a swath of endorsements from Florida Democratic colleagues in Congress, and Monday he delivered.

Rep. Al Lawson (shown with French President Emmanuel Macron) trumpeted a swath of Congressional endorsements this week.

In total, eight endorsements came his way: Reps. Darren SotoVal DemingsCharlie CristKathy CastorLois FrankelTed DeutchDebbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

“I am humbled to receive the support of my colleagues as we continue to make our economy stronger, communities safer and produce results that all North Florida families can be proud of,” Lawson said.

These endorsements come at a key time for Lawson. Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville mayor currently primarying Lawson, enjoyed a two-to-one fundraising advantage during the first quarter of 2018.

And that means that Brown has pulled close to incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawson in terms of cash on hand.

For the quarter, Brown brought in $167, 088, while Lawson hauled in $83,866.

Lawson had $100,000 cash on hand at the end of 2017 before Brown got in the race. Now Lawson has just under $160,000 and Brown has just over $127,000.

A. Brown lauds Ramadan; decries anti-Muslim discrimination

As incumbent Lawson collected endorsements, challenger Brown staked out the high ground.

Former Jacksonville Mayor and current 5th Congressional District Democratic hopeful Brown became the first and so far only North Florida candidate this cycle to laud the beginning of Ramadan.

Alvin Brown made his first public statement in his career on Ramadan this week.

In a statement released this week, Brown lauded the beginning of the annual celebration, while decrying discrimination against American Muslims.

“At sunset, Muslims in my district and across America will begin their monthlong celebration of the holy month of Ramadan. The month is an auspicious time for the Muslim community when the faithful will use the month to not only fast from dawn to dusk each day but also spend time to renew the spirit of their faith,” Brown asserted.

“Our nation is founded on the creed ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and this creed affirms that diversity is our national strength. We celebrate that diversity by recognizing religious pluralism as foundational to our national unity,” Brown added.

“At a time when the American Muslim community is facing unprecedented bigotry and discrimination, I join all Americans of goodwill and conscience to uphold the dignity of all our citizens. May this Ramadan be a source of blessings and joy to all those who choose to celebrate this month. Santhea and I wish all my American Muslim neighbors a very Blessed Ramadan,” Brown concluded.

Gibson stretches lead over hapless primary challenger

Jacksonville political watchers are beginning to wonder about the strategy of City Councilman Reggie Brown, who opted to primary Democratic Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson in August but has not yet actually raised any funds.

Reggie Brown is having problems getting traction against a heavily backed incumbent.

Through April, Gibson was far in the lead fundraising wise with more than $132,000 banked, with Brown far behind, closing the month with just $4 on hand.

Gibson has been quiet about her challenger but has committed to fundraising, with strong April receipts measuring over $17,000, pushing her over $156,000 raised and to the aforementioned $132,000 cash on hand.

Gibson brought in receipts from unions, such as the police and fire locals, as well as racing interests, Crowley Maritime, and traditional Republican donors such as John Rood and John Baker.

FOP crosses party lines in state House races

Jacksonville’s local Fraternal Order of Police went bipartisan with its latest swath of endorsements for state House, including choosing a Democrat over a field of Republicans running to replace Jay Fant.

In House District 15, the FOP endorsed Tracye Polson over Republicans Wyman DugganJoseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

The language of the endorsement lauded Polson’s “dedication to her community.”

Trayce Polson continues to build momentum in what has been a disciplined campaign.

Polson is the safest bet of the four candidates in the race, in that she is unopposed for her party’s nomination. Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she has raised $211,000, with $135,000 on hand.

The FOP offered two other endorsements in the latest rollout, backing incumbent Republicans over underfunded Democrats.

In HD 11 and 12, the union went with Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough.

Democratic opponents in both those races are struggling with real fundraising, which augurs poorly for their challenges to safe Republican seats.

Moran backs Polson over Republican field

In 2011, which was a different time in Jacksonville politics, Republican Audrey Moran was a strong candidate for Mayor.

Audrey Moran. (Image via Wave Magazine Online)

Though Moran fell short of the runoff election, her candidacy is still seen by many as an intersection of purpose and politics.

Moran’s days of running for public office appear to be over; however, she is still active in the scene, and crossed party lines to endorse Polson in HD 15.

“Dr. Tracye Polson will bring fresh ideas and strong leadership to Tallahassee,” said Audrey Moran in a statement from the Polson campaign.

“She is smart, collaborative and courageous. Tracye is a first-time candidate for public office and a breast cancer survivor. She knows our community and is ready to fight for what Jacksonville needs. Tracye will represent all of the people in her district and I am proud to endorse her,” Moran added.

“Earning the trust and support of such an influential community presence is an indication our campaign continues to extend its reach, connecting with a wide range of voters including business leaders. Because of her experience and insight, Audrey’s counsel will be invaluable and I am deeply grateful to have her endorsement,” said Polson.

Davis pads coffers, Jackson lags

Duval Democrats are noted for their internal wars, and a good current example of such is the House District 13 Democratic donnybrook between Rep. Tracie Davis and Roshanda Jackson, a former district secretary for state Rep. Kim Daniels.

Tracie Davis wants two more years.

The Davis/Jackson contest is one of two major primary votes awaiting some Jacksonville voters, the other being Davis’ political ally, Sen. Audrey Gibson, being challenged by Daniels’ ally, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

The Gibson/Brown contest is one-sided in terms of cash-on-hand, $132,000 to $4.00 in favor of the incumbent. And at least in the early going, the Davis/Jackson contest is lopsided in favor of the current officeholder.

Davis raised $3,100 in April, pushing her over $40,000 on hand out of $41,815 raised. Her top donors, at the $500 level: AT&T Florida PAC, Florida Dental PAC and Fiorentino Group.

Davis, who had a fundraiser in Springfield Monday evening at Crispy’s on Main Street, looks to have a stronger May than April.

Jackson, meanwhile, has raised $830 in her two months in the race and has $800 of that on hand.

Per LobbyTools, the seat “is safely blue with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 54,686 to 22,554 with another 15,550 registered as independents.”

Developer dosh finds K. Brown

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Katrina Brown will have access to capital her many opponents won’t.

Six of them were from her own Democratic Party. One of the challengers died soon after filing, leaving five Democrats and one NPA candidate in the mix.

Brown, who dealt with bad news cycles including issues with her family business defaulting on city-funded economic development loans and grants, and an altercation with local police when a Council colleague was arrested, nonetheless is running for re-election.

And April’s receipts indicate that Brown will have help from developers in her re-election bid.

In her first month of actual fundraising, Brown raked in $7,000, from $500 and $1,000 checks.

Advocates for Business Growth ponied up, as did developers (the Sonoc Company, Leone Development and Nocatee Development, along with Sleiman Holdings), and attorneys interested in development (Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow).

Brown is still in a distant third place in terms of total money raised. The leader, Tameka Gaines Holly, brought in $3,458 in April (much of the money from within the district), leaving her with roughly $19,000 on hand.

Another shot for Daniels

Recent electoral setbacks weren’t the last call for the peripatetic political career of Jacksonville’s Jack Daniels, as he again has filed to run for the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels, who shares his name with a consumer product, has taken many shots at public office. Yet, despite his efforts, the glass has come up empty time after time.

Still, he continues his efforts. And in 2019, he will get an electoral rematch against District 2 Republican Al Ferraro, the man who beat him three years prior.

Al Ferraro will face Jack Daniels, again.

Daniels, who raised less than $8,000 for his race, had good ROI: he got 27 percent of the vote.

“Since I hadn’t accepted any political money, my campaign for city council consisted of almost nothing but a year of door-to-door visits. In contrast, since my opponent accepted it, his campaign consisted of paid advice from expert political consultants, continuous paid advertisement promoting his candidacy in the media, numerous paid campaigners for him who made thousands of door-to-door visits to frequent voters, a multitude of campaign signs, many mailings to frequent voters promoting his candidacy, etc.,” Daniels contended.

Despite all of this drama, Daniels endorsed Ferraro — the “opponent.” Daniels told The Florida Times-Union that Ferraro is “a really hard worker, and I think he’d be a very good person to be a council person.”

 Daniels begins the race with a considerable financial disadvantage to incumbent Ferraro, who has over $35,000 on hand after raising $7,105 in April.

Sunshine Law charges cloud Council prez race

A public notice meeting Tuesday morning called by Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis addressed “allegations made by Council Vice President Aaron Bowman on the topic of Sunshine Violations for the upcoming Council Leadership vote.”

Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis were the only two city officials to show up.

The vote comes Tuesday; Bowman has the majority of Council’s support pledged to him as he chases the top job.

However, clarity was not to be provided this week, as Bowman was not at the meeting. And neither was the head of the city’s ethics office, Carla Miller, expected to be at the meeting.

Bowman was “told by multiple sources that Dennis has been [negatively] talking about [Bowman’s] leadership endeavor.”

Dennis called the meeting to confront his “accusers,” but except for Council President Anna Brosche, no one was there.

In remarks to the media after the brief, inconclusive meeting, Dennis would not say directly that Bowman violated the Sunshine Law.

“I’ve been instructed by the General Counsel not to say that,” Dennis said.

Dennis, who chairs the Finance Committee, likely won’t have that prerogative next year. Bowman, per Dennis, is a “staunch supporter of the Mayor” — Dennis’ political enemy.

As well, with re-election campaigns looming ahead of the March 2019 “first election,” Dennis may see his opponent backed by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — for which Bowman is a VP for the business recruitment arm, JAXUSA.

Newby drops VP bid, leaves three candidates

The clouded picture in the race for Jacksonville City Council vice president cleared up Tuesday, with Sam Newby dropping out to focus on his re-election bid.

Sam Newby, an ally of Lenny Curry, opted to stand down in the VP race.

Newby, an at-large Councilman, faces one opponent thus far for re-election.

The first-term Republican’s exit from the race leaves three candidates standing: Democrat Tommy Hazouri and Republicans Danny Becton and Scott Wilson. And thus far, none of the candidates have galvanized much support.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been Jacksonville Mayor as well as a State Representative and School Board member, sees the VP role as the logical next level. However, he hasn’t been put in the spotlight during his time on Council, and pledges have eluded him.

Becton, a fiscal watchdog from the Southside, is a Republican in his first-term. Jim Love is a pledged supporter.

Wilson, likewise a Republican in his first term, sought the VP role last year but was steamrollered in the vote by current VP Aaron Bowman.

Council votes on these offices Tuesday, and pledge meetings will take place throughout the next week.

New officers take control July 1.

Bean, Daniels present check to YMCA

State Sen. Aaron Bean joined state Rep. Daniels this week to present a $250,000 check on behalf of the state of Florida to Eric Mann, president and CEO of YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, the YMCA’s Metropolitan Board of Directors and the YMCA’s Senior Leadership Team.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, Bean and Daniels worked together to help secure state funding for teen programming at the James Weldon Johnson Family YMCA in Northwest Jacksonville.

Aaron Bean, Kimberly Daniels present a $250K check in state funding to the Johnson Family YMCA.

“The YMCA is consistently a leader in advocating for Florida’s youth by providing programs that positively impact their lives and give them the opportunities needed to succeed,” Bean said. “This funding will allow the YMCA to increase programming for at-risk adolescents in the most underserved areas of Jacksonville, which will truly change lives and benefit our entire community.”

Daniels added: “It was an honor working with Senator Bean on the Johnson Family YMCA appropriation … This facility is strategically placed between Cleveland Arms and Washington Heights, which are high crime housing areas. The youth in these neighborhoods will benefit from the program expansion, and I am excited about what is ahead for our community.”

The funding will allow the Johnson Family YMCA to launch new programming and grow programmatic opportunities for teens and pre-teens in Jacksonville’s most disadvantaged areas. The Johnson YMCA will also use the funding to provide life skills training, job and career preparation, health education and summer employment opportunities for teens. These new programs will serve approximately 120 additional youth in the community.

Not so fast on ‘no sale’ bill

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee deferred a bill expressing opposition to selling the local utility, a hot-button issue in recent months.

The bill will be considered in three weeks when committees next convene.

2018-248, a resolution introduced by Councilors Jim LoveJoyce Morgan and Reggie Gaffney, would put the kibosh on moves to potentially sell JEA.

This discussion comes at a time when moves to sell or privatize all or part of the utility find a phalanx of detractors and no public advocates in the present tense.

Though official positions of both JEA Interim CEO Aaron Zahn and Jacksonville Mayor Curry boil down to advocating a pause of some indeterminate length in a discussion of privatization of the utility, many observers of the process do not take those assertions at face value.

The deferral motion from Councilman Love seemed to catch co-sponsor Morgan and Councilman Garrett Dennis by surprise.

Dredge, baby, dredge

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting bids for the second phase of the harbor deepening project, estimated to cost between $125 million and $200 million.”

Dredging continues in Jacksonville.

This phase, “Project B,” is expected to cost $187 million and will deepen miles 3-8 of the shipping channel.

Project A, still in progress, is expected to be wrapped next year.

Federal funding, which has been in place, is not assured for this part of the project. Jaxport could front the funds in hopes of eventual federal reimbursement.

The dredge, all told, will go from 11-13 miles, deepening the channel to 47 feet.

C. Brown drama lingers

A year has passed since Corrine Brown was found guilty of various counts of fraud and tax evasion related to her former nonprofit, “One Door for Education.”

Brown is imprisoned, yet the appeal process continues, predicated on whether the removal of a juror who claimed to be guided by a “higher power” was the reason she was found guilty.

Corrine Brown’s defense and appeals have been fruitless thus far.

This week, prosecutors again rejected the proposition that the discharged juror was the difference maker.

“The decision to remove a sitting juror is a significant one that justifiably warrants careful, albeit deferential, review by this (appeals) court,” the document said. “The district court’s decision here handily withstands that review. The court took this issue very seriously and removed the juror only after having carefully considered whether that juror would be able to follow the court’s instructions and decide the case based on the evidence. And the court did so only after having concluded that the juror’s decision — that he had been told by the Holy Spirit before deliberations had even begun, that Brown was not guilty of all 24 charged crimes — was not based on the juror’s evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence.”

Brown, who was convicted last year on 18 felony counts and sentenced to five years in prison, has focused her appeal on the decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to dismiss the juror.

Bestbet doubles down

In another gambling case that could reach the state Supreme Court, a Jacksonville casino is appealing the state’s decision to end its quest for a slot machine license.

Bestbet doubles down on slots hopes.

Jacksonville Kennel Club, which does business as bestbet, filed a notice of appeal Tuesday to the 1st District Court of Appeal after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) turned down its application last month. The department regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering.

Any expansion of slots is opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which pays the state millions each year for the exclusive right to offer slots at its casinos outside South Florida.

And a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November would require the statewide approval of voters before any expansion of gambling — and its backers say the measure would have retroactive effect.

The crux of the Jacksonville appeal is last May’s Supreme Court decision denying slots to a track in Gretna, Gadsden County, and in other counties that passed local referendums allowing them. Duval was one such county; bestbet Jacksonville wants to add slots to its poker and simulcast wagering.

Jags’ Bortles plays a little defense

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was in the rare position of playing defense last week. Not on the football field, but in his own home.

News4Jax reported that a young neighbor, Joseph Horton, was able to get into Bortles’ truck parked outside his home while the quarterback was hosting a party. The 18-year-old Horton tried to steal the truck, but was unable to navigate through multiple cars belonging to those attending the party.

Blake Bortles is playing defense at home.

Not satisfied to take Bortles’ wallet, which was in the truck along with the keys, the teenager went into the house full of partygoers and went upstairs. When no one recognized him, police were called.

When they arrived, Bortles and two friends were standing guard over the young man, who claimed to enter the house in search of a girlfriend. No one had heard of her.

In the end, Horton was arrested, where it was later learned that he lived in a multi-million-dollar home with his parents on the Intracoastal Waterway. He was charged with burglary, trespassing, and grand theft and later released on bond.

A Twitter account called Blake Bortles Facts used the incident to take a gratuitous slap at the Cincinnati Bengals tweeting “Blake Bortles has prevented more truck thefts (1) than the @Bengals have Playoff wins since 1991.”

For the record, the Jaguars and Bengals do not play each other this year.

Jacksonville City Council JEA committee talks Aaron Zahn selection, November straw ballot

The Jacksonville City Council’s special committee on the future of JEA contemplated a light agenda Thursday, a marked contrast to the pitched pyrotechnics of the panel’s bygone conclaves.

One highlight: Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche addressing the panel, just days after JEA Board member Fred Newbill questioned her motivation in inquiring as to the board’s process in selecting its interim CEO Aaron Zahn.

Newbill contended Brosche was using the issue to launch her run for mayor. Brosche contended, per the Florida Times-Union, that her inquiry was responsive to “major questions in the community.”

Brosche noted that she has yet to receive a response from the board on her questions.

These included documentation of the selection process, SOP on employee screening, employee screening on Zahn, documentation of meetings between Zahn and board members after he left the board, awareness of Zahn’s intention to leave the board to become CEO, a background check for Zahn, and reference checks on Zahn.

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Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan also addressed the committee, noting that a 22 percent turnout is expected in the primary, and a 50 percent turnout in the general.

Hogan contended that a straw poll on JEA privatization on a November ballot could create a second page on the ballot, which would cost $100,000 in printing costs.

That’s not necessarily guaranteed.

“Right now, everything fits,” Hogan said. “But if there’s additional candidates … I don’t know what you’re going to do regarding the vacancies for Council.”

Hogan noted that if a ballot is front/back, “a lot of people don’t go to the other side.”

Lenny Curry, Jacksonville officials defend handling of public records requests

The city of Jacksonville’s approach to handling public records has taken criticism from multiple sides in the last week.

Among the charges: that the city is contravening the letter and the spirit of open government by slow-walking requests, by vetting seemingly problematic applications with affected officials before fulfilling them, by claiming exemptions from disclosure, by not providing complete email and text records for public officials, and so on.

On Wednesday, Mayor Lenny Curry denied those assertions, a day before city officials took questions from City Council President Anna Brosche‘s “Task Force on Open Government.”

“I’m proud of our record on transparency,” Curry said. “Me, myself, and my administration, we comply with the Sunshine Laws, which result in transparency and when and how you provide information. And so, yeah, I’m proud of our record.”

“Any public record that the media wants,” Curry added, “[that] is in accordance with the law, when asked, is provided.”

After the media panel wrapped last week, one of his OGC colleagues, per the minutes of the meeting, “expressed doubts about the public records obstacles and delays described by the media panel.”

Thursday saw administration officials drawing a narrative of substantial compliance with requests.

Documentation was provided showing that citizens’ public records requests are substantially fulfilled, even as math didn’t always add up. For example, in FY 16/17, 1527 requests were received, with 1478 closed and 61 cancelled (a total of 1,533). And thus far in FY 17/18, 845 requests have been received, with 783 closed and 29 cancelled.

Of course, the issue for media last week wasn’t substantial compliance with media requests, but elided material, or material presented at a prohibitive cost. Included among that latter category: Florida Times-Union requests for applications for the Kids Hope Alliance CEO position (estimated at $170), and requests for emails regarding two specific search terms that resulted in months of negotiation and an invoiced cost of $130 for 4.5 hours of work.

Marsha Oliver, spokesperson for the Curry administration, and Craig Feiser, records custodian from the Office of General Counsel, addressed what Chair Sherry Magill called a “difference of opinion” regarding the internal process of review of sensitive requests and timeliness of response.

Feiser noted, vis a vis the examples, that by and large requests don’t have those kinds of charges enumerated above.

Feiser, who has been on the job for six months, noted that his role is to process media requests in conjunction with the administration.

“We’ve been reasonably prompt,” Feiser said, saying that he had no request that was currently open, and that he offers “advise and counsel” to the administration regarding the release of sensitive requests.

“I can count on less than one hand the times we’ve had … internal discussion about whether something may or may not be exempt,” Feiser contended. “That has not happened very often. I have provided almost every single thing that was requested of me.”

Feiser also contended that occasions in which charges have been estimated have been few and far between.

“I haven’t had any complaints about that,” Feiser said, noting that “the charge hasn’t been much.”

“Frankly, I’m proud of the way things have gone the last six months,” Feiser said, noting that he himself is a “former journalist” who understands “the importance of open government,” and that he and the administration are “absolutely committed” to transparency.

Oliver, who came to city employ from the School Board, noted that the city has a “very specific process” with someone who “knows the law handling it.”

Broad search terms, such as “The Landing,” brought forth 40,000 emails, which created responsivity issues, Oliver said, requiring refinement.

The “review” process, Oliver added, is intended to ensure accuracy and protect confidentiality.

“We have to review every single email,” Oliver asserted.

Feiser added that the costs, roughly $19 an hour for review via a paralegal, are reasonable.

Oliver noted that the city rarely charges for requests, describing the city’s “practices and procedures” as “quite generous.”

Another city lawyer, John Philips, pushed back harder, noting that the city ultimately decides whether something is confidential or not.

An example of confidential information, said Oliver, would be information regarding cybersecurity, which is privileged in light of the “potential threat” to the city. (An example of that: the request from Reuters from earlier this month).

“It’s rare that we’ve done that,” Feiser added.

A task force member noted that internal emails spotlighted Feiser writing to an administration member that “I don’t have a problem giving this to a reporter unless you do.”

Feiser allowed that an administration member could have a “concern,” noting that he may not have chosen that language “carefully.”

Email accessibility, including a complete record of city emails and calendars, was also spotlighted by the task force.

Feiser said he didn’t know of “incomplete calendars” being available, and said he’d told reporters that information that hadn’t been uploaded could be resolved via request.

Oliver noted that the Mayor’s emails are uploaded up to three times a day, a “tool the city’s implemented to facilitate and make that process easier.”

Oliver contended that all emails to the Mayor are made available, and that many of them are grist for story ideas.

A task force member noted that there were no internal emails for days to the mayor.

“For the most part, the mayor does not use email internally to communicate,” Oliver contended. “I have not emailed the mayor in weeks.”

Oliver allowed that Curry “probably” does use text messages, and said the public can request those messages.

Oliver also defended the administration practice of not allowing department heads to talk to press, saying that she doesn’t “support that type of environment” given the inability to refine messaging.

“The goal is to be able to build collaborative relationships with media professionals … to ensure we are aware of the information and the inquiry,” Oliver contended.

Last week, at least one panelist noted that historically access was provided directly, without the conduit.

“I certainly don’t want to open the newspaper to see a department head [taking a position] on behalf of the administration of which we have no knowledge,” Oliver said.

Jacksonville ‘Sunshine Law’ flap piques prosecutors’ interest

Friction and fractiousness continued in Jacksonville City Hall this week, with City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis calling a public-notice meeting to express concerns about potential Sunshine Law violations in the race for the Council presidency.

Council Vice President Aaron Bowman charged Dennis with trying to talk multiple Councilors into vacating their pledges to back Bowman, who is running unopposed and has a majority of pledges; Dennis believed that Bowman wouldn’t have been able to know that without having conversations outside the sunshine.

The meeting was ultimately inconclusive, involving Dennis lamenting on not getting an opportunity to confront his “accusers.”

However, the pitched context of the meeting resulted in no fewer than three representatives from the 4th Circuit State Attorney’s Office: Mac Heavener and L.E. Hutton, two chief assistant state attorneys, along with Tim Adams from the same office.

Why were they there?

“We attended a publicly noticed meeting with a stated purpose of discussing allegations of Sunshine violations. No further comment is needed,” asserted David Chapman, spokesman for State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

While Dennis, at the advice of the Office of General Counsel, stopped short of asserting that Bowman violated the Sunshine Law, what’s clear is that the region’s chief lawyers are watching.

Leadership elections for the Jacksonville City Council, which will see a new president and vice president, take place Tuesday afternoon. Those elected will assume their roles July 1.

As primary challenge looms, Al Lawson plans Tuesday town hall in Jacksonville

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson plans a Tuesday evening town hall in Jacksonville, as he looks to repel a challenge in the Democratic primary from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

The meeting kicks off at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at Florida State College Jacksonville’s downtown campus.

Among the topics: food insecurity, gun control, affordable healthcare, disaster relief and recent legislation Lawson has introduced.

Lawson hosted a town hall in the same location in 2017, at a point in his term before the Alvin Brown challenge had yet to manifest.

Lawson has started his re-electioncampaign slowly and with a high burn rate.

As of the end of March, his campaign had just under $160,000 on hand — roughly half of the almost $320,000 raised, with very little laid out in the way of a campaign infrastructure.

Brown, who raised $167,000 in his first quarter in the race, had almost $128,000 on hand.

Brown has yet to seize on local issues as campaign talking points, preferring instead to message on gun control primarily.

Those on hand Tuesday, meanwhile, will watch to see how Lawson makes the sale to people on the eastern flank of the sprawling east/west 5th Congressional District.

Boise State vs. FSU game illustrates intersection of Jacksonville politics, policy

Jacksonville’s tradition of hosting neutral site, destination college football games continues, with city officials announcing an Aug. 31, 2019, clash between Boise State and Florida State.

FSU has made a habit of neutral site games, and the game against Boise State is a compelling interconference matchup between the perennial ACC power and the perpetual Mountain West Conference champions.

Showcase games like FSU vs. Boise State don’t happen on their own. As speakers at Wednesday’s news conference made abundantly clear, a convergence of events, personalities, and passions enabled Jacksonville to get the kind of high-profile event that cities like Dallas and Atlanta vie for (and get) every year.

Ed Burr, chairman of the FSU Board of Trustees, is one major player. He was on hand at the news conference and introduced another key FSU personality with a major Jacksonville connection: President John Thrasher.

Thrasher was “delighted … to come back now and announce a major football game at the Gator Bowl,” he said, a reference to the stadium’s familiar, pre-corporate sponsorship name.

Thrasher lauded Jacksonville’s most prominent football fan, Mayor Lenny Curry, calling him an “old friend” from politics who has “obviously gone a lot further than I did.”

Curry, of course, has maximized a synergy with Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan that has seen $88 million in city money poured into infrastructural improvements at Jacksonville’s sports complex: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard during the Alvin Brown administration, and under the Curry administration, half of a $90 million buy-in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

And more is expected, as the Jaguars have entered into a development agreement with the Cordish Companies.

Back in July, Khan took Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa on a tour of Cordish developments in Baltimore and St. Louis.

Curry referenced the plans during the presser, referencing “innovative things we’ve done,” and the “partnership” with Khan, while alluding to future improvements to come, via “private capital invested in this area over the next ten years.”

“When you look at the plans, the private capital that’s going to go in and around and down here, with retail and entertainment and commercial,” Curry said, “that will be one more big thing that can demonstrate to universities we’re trying to recruit here for big-time college football.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Curry said. “Right now, it’s not an annual thing … [but] we’re going to pursue more collegiate football.”

There are good economic reasons for that.

The last neutral site game, a 2016 tilt between Navy and Notre Dame, was estimated to have a $30 million economic impact for the city.

Curry noted that there will be financial incentives in play, but did not have those figures at the media event.

Favorable conditions, in terms of the FSU connections Burr and Thrasher, have allowed for favorable terms. Per JAXSPORTS head Rick Catlett, the teams get no guarantees for this game (money which often equals $5 million a team for these major neutral site contests). But “bowl game prices” will prevail for this matchup, which looks like a preview of the bowl season, but in August.

Catlett expressed optimism that the momentum behind college football in Jacksonville puts the city “back in the national championship hunt.”

Lenny Curry not worried about possible challenge from Anna Brosche

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche may be exploring a run for Mayor, however incumbent Lenny Curry isn’t worried, he said Wednesday.

“I have almost a three-year record in office now,” Curry said. “A strong record of action and getting things done. Big things that I’ve communicated to the public as I’ve tried to tackle them, and I have evidence that they’ve supported me in trying to tackle those.”

“I’m going to continue to pursue the priorities that I’ve laid out,” Curry added, “and make the case to the public.”

“I have the resources to make the case to the public,” Curry said, alluding to having raised $1.75 million and counting in the opening months of his re-election bid.

“I’m going to continue to do that,” Curry said, “and I’m confident that the engagement and interaction I have with everyday people will result in Lenny Curry being mayor, not just through this next year, but in the years ahead.”

Speculation has swirled about a Brosche run for Mayor, including this week when JEA Board member Fred Newbill posited, per the Florida Times-Union, that Brosche’s interest in how the utility is functioning was more political than practical.

“I may be out of order, but in my opinion, she’s going to run for Mayor, and is going to continue to find matters that make us look controversial so they can pull down the <ayor,” Newbill said. “So as a board member, I’m saying if you’re going to run for Mayor, announce your candidacy, but leave JEA out of it. We’re an independent authority. We’re not controlled by you or the <ayor. Let us do JEA business.”

Of course, “JEA business” has been a flashpoint of tension between Curry and Brosche.

Curry was open, at least at one point, to exploring a sale of JEA, a proposal first floated by Tom Petway — a leading Curry supporter from when the Republican first got into the mayoral race.

Petway, leaving the JEA board in 2017, said it was time to explore privatization.

Brosche has contended that the Mayor’s Office leaned on her to expedite legislation that would allow the sale to be explored.

John Rutherford gets plum spot on House Appropriations Committee

In what is a major coup for Jacksonville, first-term U.S. Rep. John Rutherford is the newest member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee.

“I am honored to join the House Appropriations Committee and take on a greater role in ensuring that precious taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” said Rutherford.

“Responsibly prioritizing our nation’s spending is one of Congress’s most fundamental constitutional responsibilities,” Rutherford added, “and I look forward to working to rebuild our national defense, properly care for our veterans, and promote efficiency and accountability within every federal agency and program. I extend my thanks to Chairman Frelinghuysen for the invitation to join this vital Committee.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, noted that with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, the committee “needed to bring a new Member on board, and have made additional changes in Subcommittee leadership as well.”

“We welcome Rep. John Rutherford to the Committee,” Frelinghuysen said, “and I look forward to working closely with him over the next weeks and months to complete all 12 Appropriations bills in the House, and to fulfill our fiscal commitments to the country and the American people.”

Rutherford, even before his election in 2016, worked on building strong relationships — such as his dynamic with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who appeared at a Jacksonville fundraiser for Rutherford.

Rutherford is a strong favorite to be re-elected in his safely Republican district. He has $300,000 cash on hand, while his general election opponent, political neophyte Ges Selmont, has no name ID and $6,000 on hand as of the latest filing.

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis forms statewide political committee

Garrett Dennis, a Jacksonville City Councilman who has yet to file for re-election in the 2019 election, launched a statewide political committee Wednesday.

Together We Stand is the name of the committee.

Dennis noted that the committee, being statewide, has the “ability” to help candidates outside of Duval County.

He was non-specific about the purpose of the committee when asked.

“This is an opportunity to support issues and elect great candidates.  Candidates supported by ‘Together We Stand’ will be individuals who have a heart for the community and are true public servants.  Issues supported by ‘Together We Stand’ will focus on priorities that are important to the community,” Dennis asserted Wednesday morning.

Dennis, a first-term Democrat, has clashed repeatedly with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and his allies, including the next City Council President, Aaron Bowman.

Bowman, who handles business recruitment as VP of the Chamber’s “JAXUSA Partnership,” this week contended that multiple sources told him that Dennis urged them to pull pledged support from his candidacy for the presidency of the 19-person body.

Dennis has also charged Mayor Curry and his senior staff with serial intimidation in recent months.

Dennis’ summation of the administration’s strategy: “If you don’t do this, we’ll do this.”

He reiterated claims of “threats” levied on him “in offices,” “comments from the Mayor” in which Curry purportedly said that he would “make sure the money spigot is turned off in [Dennis’] district.”

“Now you see the full staff at council meetings,” Dennis said, with “all the [Mayor’s] top lieutenants on the first and second row” with an “intimidating” look and “subliminal tactics.”

Dennis has seen his legislation killed, including an ill-fated attempt to establish “hit-free zones” on Jacksonville city property.

Dennis had described a climate of fear before, of course, issuing troubling allegations in January of this year.

“Let me be honest and clear … standing up is not easy. I’ve been threatened by this administration. I’ve been told that I’m a ‘walking dead man’,” the councilman said.

“It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to go get a concealed weapon permit and carry a gun on me because I’ve been told by this administration that I’m a walking dead man,” Dennis said.

The Curry administration has consistently denied Dennis’ accounting of events.

Dennis currently is the Finance Chair; however, with Bowman poised to take the presidency in July, it remains to be seen how much power Dennis will have after his ally Anna Lopez Brosche gives up the gavel.

Meanwhile, Dennis will face opposition should he file for re-election.

Marcellus Holmes, a former NFL player, filed earlier this spring.

Holmes has yet to record fundraising through two months in the race.

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