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‘Significant public comment’ expected at Jacksonville City Council Tuesday

Should Jacksonville hire 100 more police officers? Should Jacksonville remove its Confederate monuments? Should legislators get three terms instead of two?

These are the hot-button questions that are expected to drive public comment Tuesday night, setting the stage for acrimony and theater, for low invective and high drama not seen since the city passed the Human Rights Ordinance expansion.

Plans are being made to potentially extend the meeting into a second day — if the hard stop of midnight comes without a vote on a bill that could put a referendum on the Aug. 2018 ballot to allow voters to change the current two-term limit to three, deliberations will resume Wednesday morning.

Council President Anna Brosche cited an “anticipation of significant public comment” during the meeting on the aforementioned issues, bringing special attention to the issue of Confederate monuments, which she heated up last week by calling for their removal before backing down from the position.

Brosche notes “the overall discussion on the latter topic has expanded due to the nature of the climate and activities taking place throughout the United States pertaining to Confederate Monuments and Statues.”

To facilitate discussion, there will be color-coded comment cards, and council members are urged to refrain from asking questions to speakers. As well, overflow seating will be in the Lynwood Roberts Room in City Hall, and the auditorium at the Jacksonville Public Library’s main location.

The only action item of the aforementioned: the vote to authorize a referendum that would allow voters to extend term-limits from two to three consecutive for elected officials — including incumbent Council members.

If no vote is held on this item — the last on the agenda — by midnight, discussion will resume Wednesday morning … conflicting with the Finance Committee taking up Mayor Lenny Curry‘s $131M capital improvement plan.

Bloomberg warns of ‘downward pressure’ on Jacksonville’s credit rating

Bloomberg Intelligence strategist Eric Kazatsky offered some cautionary words about Jacksonville’s bonds this week, relevant as the city continues to attempt to improve its perception in the eyes of ratings agencies.

“Despite stable fund and cash balances,” Kazatsky writes,  “the city has been challenged by a steadily increasing fixed-cost ratio, which could put downward pressure on credit ratings and add to debt risk.”

Here’s another negative: despite pension reform, the $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on the city’s defined benefit plans are still a burden … one that draws unwelcome comparisons to Chicago.

“At just under Chicago’s 34% fixed-cost ratio, Jacksonville, Florida’s ratio nearly tops the list of major U.S. cities
and calls attention to the city’s weak pension-funding levels. Between 2000 and today, the Police and Fire
Pension Fund, the city’s largest, had its funding ratio decline from 87% to 49%. The other Jacksonville pensions —
one for general employees and another for corrections officers — are funded at 64% and 45%, respectively,” Kazatsky writes.

Kazatsky also suggests that there may be better values in the muni bond market — including one that just had its own pension reform: “other AA credits that have passed recent pension reform, such as Dallas, appear much cheaper. The differential in yields between Dallas and Jacksonville is notable given that Jacksonville debt is appropriation backed (special revenue) vs. a general obligation pledge for Dallas.”

Kazatsky is somewhat bearish on Jacksonville’s pension reform, saying it “looks far in the future, very far.”

This gradualist reform, the Bloomberg analyst notes, “will cost Jacksonville almost $5 billion through 2049, via a longer reamortization of plan payments.”

Pay raises, including the 20 percent cumulative hikes for police and fire, will add to the “fixed costs” mentioned elsewhere.

Additionally, the Bloomberg analyst notes that new money probably isn’t going to pension paydown.

“While growth in the past few years has exceeded this rate, sales-tax revenue has only just returned to pre-crisis levels. While the sales-tax assumption will be evaluated annually by officials, any downward revision would lengthen the amortization of pension payments throughout the life of the sales tax,” Kazatsky writes.

“Suggestions by officials have included using any excess sales-tax growth to pay down pension debt earlier. Given
the rush of capital-improvement projects and increased hiring after passage of the pension reforms, the ability to
use future excess payments solely for debt reduction is doubtful,” Kazatsky adds.

Despite this bearish read, Jacksonville retains optimism about the present, noting that the ratings agencies reaffirmed the city’s AA rating recently.

“All three of the rating agencies affirmed our AA stable rating within the last two weeks. These agencies, – Moody’s, S& P, and Fitch – are the recognized authorities who all of the markets look to for financial assessment of the City,” asserted Marsha Oliver on behalf of the Mayor’s office on Monday evening.

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These warnings from credit markets (whether taken seriously by policymakers or not) put this month’s Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee’s consideration of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s budget into sharp relief — specifically, last week’s contretemps about emergency reserve levels.

Curry’s team proposes a bump up to 6 percent this year, and the hope is to eventually boost that number to 8 percent. To that end, a proposal was made to transfer over $10M from the general fund to boost the reserve.

The measure was ultimately postponed until the end of the budget process this week, potentially striking a blow at the fiscal policy of the Lenny Curry administration.

CFO Mike Weinstein “recommend[ed] greatly to put more money” in the emergency reserve.

Weinstein noted that AA- bond ratings are predicated on strong reserves, and Jacksonville is currently below AA levels in reserves.

“A 5 to 7 range [the current standard] puts us below what would normally be a AA rating,” Weinstein said, noting that an AAA rating would be predicated on 12 to 15 percent.

Sam Mousa, the city’s chief administrative officer, likewise pushed to keep “raising the reserves.”

Jacksonville’s reserves, according to the latest analysis from the City Council Auditor’s Office, have room for expansion.

The projected operating reserve: $74.1M, or 6.47 percent of the general fund budget.

The projected emergency reserve is less: 5.69 percent of the general fund budget, $65.2M.

These projections are adjusted downward in part because of $7.5M of Q4 FY 17 spending, including $1.92M for after-school sites, $1.46M for the city’s opioid-addiction pilot program, and $1.1M in matching funds for SAFER Grants.

 

Jax Environmental Protection Board calls for dredging workshop

Last week, the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board called for a public workshop on dredging the St. Johns River.

While it appears that some members of the Jacksonville City Council, as of Friday, were open to a shade meeting due to JAXPORT‘s concerns about legal exposure, JEPB Chair Nick Howland backed the call for a hearing in the sunshine.

“Several councilmembers have expressed a desire to have a public discussion of the project to include all relative parties – the US Army Corp of Engineers and JaxPort – and others that may have information to be considered. After a discussion at our August monthly meeting, we agreed to share with you our support of this public discussion, especially if it is to include the environmental impacts of the river dredging and any proposed mitigation,” Howland wrote to Council President Anna Brosche.

Friday’s hearing on JAXPORT‘s budget saw intense scrutiny from former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, a current City Councilman who sought more answers on the particulars of the project — including expected costs to the city in future budget, the costs of mitigation, and the potential environmental impacts to both the river and its tributaries.

Term limit two-step resumes Tuesday for Jacksonville City Council

Directly after what is certain to be an edifying round of public comment regarding the future of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments, the City Council is poised to feather its own bed Tuesday evening.

Councilors will vote to authorize an Aug. 2018 referendum that could, if passed, end the quarter-century long practice of term limits for most of Jacksonville’s public officials.

If readers are experiencing deja vu, it’s because this legislative body has been here before.

In the context of mounting controversy and phone calls to legislators, the City Council was faced with a vote in July regarding a referendum to change term limits that have been in place for a quarter century.

After some pitched debate, the body punted rather than make a tough decision, deferring action by a 15-4 vote until the Aug. 22 meeting.

The bill, sponsored by second-term Councilman Matt Schellenberg, applies to every office but that of mayor.

In addition to giving another term to City Council members, the measure would afford constitutional officers and School Board members a three-term limit, pending voter approval.

The discussion in July ran the gamut, with some Councilors calling it a “futile debate” given that this referendum will die an ignominious death should it make it to the ballot, with others theorizing that Jacksonville residents are somehow compelled to remove term limits due to the utterly stellar performance of the City Council in recent years.

Those who assert that changing the term limits formula is electoral poison found their positions bolstered by a group called U.S. Term Limits, which held a press conference earlier in August promoting a Rasmussen/Pulse Research poll that showed that people still favor term limits — contrary to what some on Council have suggested.

400 people polled via phone from Aug. 9 – 11 resoundingly opposed term limit tweaks, wanting to keep the limit for elected officials at two terms consecutive.

72 percent opposed the proposed change of terms from two to three consecutive; 71 percent believe that changes would benefit Council members, not the public; 52 percent were less likely to support a Council member that voted to rescind current term limits.

That last fact jibes with history: In 1991, six of ten incumbents who opposed term limits lost their re-election bids.

Jacksonville’s poll numbers, said the U.S. Term Limits representative, were consistent with findings across the state and the country.

He also noted the similarity between these results and the 1991 referendum to impose term limits, supported by 82 percent of people.

After what is expected to be hours of acrimonious public comment about Confederate monuments, it will be interesting to see how civil yet another discussion of repealing the current two-term limit — which will have its own public hearing before the vote — remains.

Confederate monuments and an eclipse of political capital in Jacksonville

Last week in Jacksonville politics, it was the Anna Brosche show. She was at the center of every news cycle for a provocative proposal to mothball Confederate monuments.

There are some who would say that, just as Jacksonville was set to experience a solar eclipse Monday afternoon, there was a commensurate eclipse of political capital for the aforementioned Council President, whose streak of almost uniformly laudatory coverage came to a halt when confronted with a seemingly intractable political reality.

Seven days before, Brosche took the most compelling position of her political life. She made the strong case that Jacksonville should conduct an inventory of the city’s Confederate monuments ahead of eventual removal.

“I intend to propose legislation to move Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers from public property to museums and educational institutions where they can be respectfully preserved and historically contextualized,” Brosche contended Monday.

Very quickly, the Jacksonville Civic Council backed her play.

Then, momentum slowed — even as the narrative cycle spun on.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was more cautious, saying that he wanted to see what came out of the process before taking a position. Very few Council members seemed enthusiastic about the proposal, with one of Brosche’s political opponents (fellow Republican Bill Gulliford) calling the proposal a “knee-jerk reaction” to the street violence in Charlottesville.

Hate mail came in, as predictable as an afternoon thunderstorm. It was brutal.

“I find your caving-in to nasty commie anarchist hebes and their black jungle-bunny friends to be repulsive,” the emailer wrote.

“You are an Asian!  You don’t belong here. You aren’t from here.  You just can’t cave-in to these sorry people and screw everyone else.  You should not even be on the city council,” the emailer added, saying “liberals and their n*** allies are making you look bad.”

We asked Brosche her thoughts.

“While I’ve received an email with a closing salutation of ‘FU,’ that was the worst email so far. It does not change my position either way,” Brosche said last week.

The position was to change, however.

On Friday, the Jax Chamber backed the call for inventory, but not for removal.

And Brosche, having given those who equate these monuments with the defense of slavery and white-supremacy hope that these monuments would eventually be out of public parks and squares, had already told those same people not to hold their breath waiting for anything to happen.

“We can develop a measured plan of understanding what we have — why it’s there, why it was erected — and be able to develop a very measured response, including understanding private funding, over how many years what’s going to happen, (and) where would they go if they went anywhere,” Brosche told WJXT Thursday.

We asked Brosche about the seeming daylight between her position at the start of the week and the end, and she told us the following: “I asked for an inventory to start a process of understanding what we have to determine next steps. Removal of the monuments remains an option,” Brosche said, “and I’ve received many alternative suggestions for consideration this week.”

By the time Brosche filed her “Sunday’s Lead Letter” to the Florida Times-Union, she had clearly taken those “alternative suggestions” to heart.

The letter: a few hundred words of spackle, one in which Brosche bandied about bromides (“Now is the time for a conversation, one that will be difficult, but one we must have if we are to truly become One City, One Jacksonville”), while avoiding any mention of removal of the monuments.

Indeed, Brosche managed to avoid taking a position at all — a neat trick just days after she took a genuinely iconoclastic position.

“I respect and appreciate the divergent perspectives regarding the Confederate monuments. To some, they are primarily symbols of our heritage and history. To others,” Brosche wrote, “they are primarily symbols of oppression of an entire race.”

Quite a gulf between those two positions. The same held true when those statues were erected; in Jacksonville and elsewhere, Confederate monuments were intended as a visual reinforcement of the Jim Crow social order.

For poor and lower-middle class whites, said monuments were affirmations of their superior position in the caste system of the post-slavery South. And for most African-Americans, those monuments were intended to remind them that the social order hadn’t appreciably changed.

The most controversial Confederate monument in Jacksonville, in Hemming Park, is just a few hundred feet from where the violence of Ax Handle Saturday commenced decades ago. Was that a “heritage not hate” moment? Or was that an outbreak of mob violence designed to reinforce a social order that was every bit as toxic as the polluted ground at the Shipyards nearby?

Brosche still got lit up in the comments for her “Lead Letter.” Her political adversaries sense vulnerability, and will exploit it.

Regardless of — or perhaps because of — Brosche’s position evolution on this matter, Jacksonville City Council public comment Tuesday evening is expected to be lively.

How lively?

Sources tell us that, instead of parking out in front of City Hall Tuesday evening, Council members and staff are being told to park in a garage inside the building.

They are gearing up for one of those marathon public comment events, with Southern partisan types on one side, and the group seeking to tear down the monuments on the other.

Brosche is all but guaranteed to preside over the most rancorous and unproductive public comment period of her presidency, and her allies and frenemies alike will be watching closely to see how she deals with it.

Jacksonville will witness a near-total solar eclipse on Monday. But that’s a temporary phenomenon. Will the eclipse of President Brosche’s political capital in the light of monumental pushback likewise be temporary?

Or is her tenure as Council President mortally wounded?

Jax Chamber backs Confederate monument ‘inventory’; Anna Brosche modifies position

On Friday, the Jax Chamber issued a statement after its Board of Directors meeting, backing the City Council President’s call for an inventory of Confederate monuments.

However, they did not call for removal of those monuments — as the Council President did on Monday … before seemingly walking back that position under fire this week.

Chamber Board Chair Darnell Smith asserted that the Chamber “support[s] the effort to inventory all of Jacksonville’s public monuments and conduct a swift, honest and thoughtful look at who we honor, and more importantly, who is missing from our public landscape. Discussions should include how we heal wounds that may still persist from our past.  Among those should be a consideration of how we memorialize our city’s history in public spaces, and will most certainly involve additional tributes to Jacksonville’s historical leaders.”

Council President Anna Brosche this week called for an inventory of monuments, ahead of an “appropriate plan of action to relocate Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers” and initially called for “legislation to move Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers from public property to museums and educational institutions.”

The Jacksonville Civic Council backed Brosche’s play, with its head Ed Burr lauding Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry for “taking the lead to thoughtfully consider removal of Confederate monuments from local public property, particularly in light of the tragic events of last weekend.”

Mayor Curry, meanwhile, had not fully endorsed Brosche’s audacious play, noting to local media that removal of monuments is not among his top priorities.

And it seems Brosche, who has taken considerable pressure inside City Hall and from the general public (including hate mail), is open to not removing the monuments after all

“We can develop a measured plan of understanding what we have — why it’s there, why it was erected — and be able to develop a very measured response, including understanding private funding, over how many years what’s going to happen, (and) where would they go if they went anywhere,” Brosche told WJXT Thursday.

We asked Brosche about the seeming daylight between her position at the start of the week and at the end, and she told us the following.

“I asked for an inventory to start a process of understanding what we have to determine next steps. Removal of the monuments remains an option,” Brosche said, “and I’ve received many alternative suggestions for consideration this week.”

 

Dredging draws intense scrutiny in JAXPORT budget review

Friday afternoon saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee mull the JAXPORT capital budget — and the big item of interest was dredging.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri — not a member of that committee — visited and raised standing questions he’s had about a lack of public discourse on dredging. And he wasn’t the only Council member to raise such concerns, specifically relative to the city contribution down the road.

For FY 18, JAXPORT has $42.1M budgeted for the dredge: $23.3M from its own finance, and $18.8M from the state.

While that’s definitely a start for the project, there is no guarantee of recurring funding. And for those who have environmental concerns about the impact of the 11 mile dredge to a 47 foot depth, time is running out for any real dialogue.

These conditions made Friday afternoon a bit more interesting than normal in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney, noting a hike in Asian container traffic, wanted to know how dredging would help.

JAXPORT CEO Eric Green noted that dredging had come in under bid by roughly 50 percent.

Then Hazouri took over with a series of questions.

“If you can’t answer some of these things because of what your attorney tells you, too bad because this is on the record.”

The first question: the length of the dredge, adjusted down to 11 miles from 13.

Green noted the board discussed this, and that those extra two miles may be needed down the road.

Hazouri continued to press Green with questions.

“What concerns me,” Hazouri said, “is I know y’all are anticipating 2020 before you come to the Council [for money] … I don’t want our hands to be tied.”

Hazouri pressed Green on cancelled board meetings.

“The July meeting was cancelled because there were no board items.”

Hazouri also pressed questions on mitigation — budgeted for $32M — expressing intense skepticism regarding the project affecting water quality.

“That particular question on mitigation is a slippery slope,” Green said, in light of the lawsuit.

“Where does that leave us in terms of a public entity knowing what you are doing? I don’t feel like you’re open to the public”

Hazouri expressed intense skepticism about impact on secondary tributaries, and flatly said he didn’t buy the job projections.

“The public wants to know. I hear them all the time … I don’t want to look like I’m trying to stave off the ability for the port to move on,” Hazouri said.

Port representatives noted that 15 years after the dredging wraps, the job projections will be fulfilled.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer suggested a shade meeting to resolve these questions, given that the independent authority is subordinate to the larger government in the charter.

“I want to crack the egg so we can get some light on this thing,” Hazouri said.

Finance Vice-Chair Danny Becton questioned the assertion that the dredge would provide ROI and draw business from Savannah.

A port representative noted that Jacksonville is new to the Asian market, and it’s already 30 percent of the port’s business.

“It’s the low-hanging fruit, and Savannah’s been doing it 20 plus years, maybe 30. We got into it in 2010 at the height of the recession.”

The port’s “aging infrastructure,” added Green, required capital investment. And because the harbor isn’t deep enough, Panamax ships come in and leave 40 percent loaded.

“You miss out on opportunities like that when you don’t have the facilities you need, as well as the depth of the harbor,” Green said.

The Council Auditor meanwhile wanted hard numbers and detail.

“I’d like the support that backs up the numbers,” Council Auditor Kyle Billy said.

‘Gangs can’t have our kids’: Lenny Curry boosts Jax after-school program funding

On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry teased an “important announcement” Friday regarding after-school program funding.

Curry Tweeted a picture of himself with Finance Committee member Reggie Brown and members of the Boys and Girls Club, suggesting a compromise solution that would, perhaps, preempt Finance Chair Garrett Dennis‘ latest bid for more after-school funding by essentially providing the funding.

Word going into Friday was that a wide swath of programs would be funded.

And sure enough, that will be the case, reads a release from Curry Friday afternoon.

“With his proposed recommendation to City Council of $2.69 million in additional funds, 21 sites throughout Jacksonville could now open, serving approximately 1,720 additional children. City Council (District 10) and Finance Committee member Reggie Brown plans to introduce an amendment at the proper time during the budget process to appropriate the funds,” reads a release from the Mayor.

“We are making every effort possible to maximize resources to meet the needs of at-hope children in our community,” said Mayor Curry. “When kids leave school campuses, they should be able to go to a community center or site to participate in recreational and enrichment activities. Gangs can’t have our kids!”

“As I’ve stated many times before, government has a role to play in making sure at-hope kids do not fall through the cracks. If there are ways for us to improve the lives of children, we’re going to do that responsibly and orderly with proper vetting and appropriate budgeting.”

Councilman Dennis is on board also, “very pleased that the Mayor has agreed to fund and expand the after-school programs throughout Jacksonville.”

“On Wednesday, once again, I filed emergency legislation to secure funding to reinstate and expand this very important program. I was not in the meeting with the Mayor, Mr. Martinez, Councilmember Brown and Mr. Tritt, but apparently something positive came of it, and for that, I’m grateful,” Dennis added.

“Over the past several weeks, I have received calls to my office pleading for me to do something to help the children of Jacksonville. I heard those pleas loud and clear! Now that funding has been reinstated and the after-school programs will be expanded, I am excited to withdraw my emergency legislation. Today, our kids won!”

This follows on a proposal floated Thursday in City Council budget hearings, to allocate $288,000 to open six currently unprogrammed community centers  and program them for similar programs — though there are still logistics to be worked out there, the Curry Administration supports the play.

Jax City Councilors mull JEA budget, ‘broken promises’ of Consolidation

Friday morning saw the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee review the Mayor’s proposed capital budgets for JEA.

The discussion sprawled close to 90 minutes — double the allotted time — and was one in which budget line items were often directly related to equity in services throughout the city.

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JEA was up first. The agency’s operating budget: $1.79B, with $1.26B in electric and $516M in water/sewer.

JEA’s capital budget for the year: $444M, including $153M in sewer projects; $205M of electric ($102M in electrical distribution projects, $27M in generation), and $75M in water projects.

75 percent of JEA’s capital budget goes to Duval County, with St. Johns and Nassau taking up most of the balance.

The first interesting discussion point: Councilwoman Lori Boyer asking about failed lift stations during Hurricane Matthew.

The problem, at least in theory, should not recur.

“We have inspected and evaluated all the electrical feeds to the 1,400 sewer lift stations. We have added backup generators; half of those are fixed,” said JEA CEO Paul McElroy, with portable generators available that weren’t before.

Boyer was also concerned about “overflows” related to flooding this summer, noting she was told that a report pending in September would address those flooding issues.

McElroy noted that some of the flood areas were low-lying, and that evaluation is ongoing. However, Boyer was chagrined that the capital budget did not include more detail regarding remedial efforts to address the flooding problems.

“Next time we have the same kind of storms, we’ll have the same kind of spills, and I don’t want to perpetuate this,” Boyer said, requesting more detail within the next week.

Councilman Reggie Brown pressed for detail on a lift station on New Kings Road, which Brown did not see in the FY 18 budget.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown brought discussion to the septic tank phaseout project, funded by the city and JEA with $30M over 5 years. Brown wanted that project expanded.

Councilwoman Brown also wanted to know about the JEA’s LED streetlight conversion. Major roadway lighting is complete; neighborhood lighting about halfway done. With 8,000 light changes a month, the project is on pace to wrap by 2019.

Councilman Brown tagged in from there, asking about pre-Consolidation neighborhoods and state funding; worth noting, Rep. Travis Cummings filed a bill for $15M of state money for this, but it didn’t clear last session.

Brown wanted more of a JEA contribution for septic phaseout; however, Boyer noted that the contribution formula was codified already.

Brown was still adamant that more needs to be done to address what he called “the area of broken promises.”

Councilman Reggie Gaffney was next to bless the mike, and his concern was old pipes in the Springfield neighborhood and beyond.

CEO McElroy noted there is an ongoing review of large pipes, to “evaluate the pipes’ health” and see what type of remediation or maintenance are required.

Older neighborhoods have older pipes, and JEA will formulate a plan to replace what needs to be replaced over the next five years, McElroy added.

McElroy went on to give happy talk about growth, but for Democrats representing older neighborhoods with shoddy, outdated infrastructure, growth doesn’t solve their problems.

“Some areas haven’t even come up to par with the standard,” Chair Garrett Dennis said. “Some segments of some areas have been left behind.”

McElroy cautioned him not to get his hopes up, noting that JEA lacks the “legal framework” to redistribute resources from affluent neighborhoods to those that lag behind, and any capital investment of that type would be done in conjunction with the city.

“We can do repairs,” McElroy said, but not “new connections.”

Vice-Chair Danny Becton encouraged JEA to find new products to sell, saying that the company would run out of customers in the decades ahead.

“I was trying to figure out how JEA could get more customers,” Becton said.

McElroy, noting that “we haven’t met the challenges presented in this meeting,” vowed to work further on getting resources for “initial capital costs” to connect unconnected neighborhoods.

The $30 million, he said, is just a start.

Other issues, including moving electric lines underground, will be held in abeyance beyond where they are already — as a full project would be $3-$5B.

“I don’t see us getting there anytime. We don’t have a plan to do that,” McElroy said, noting that while underground outages are fewer in number, they are much longer — with up to ten times the cost to go underground to repair.

As is the case with all of Jacksonville’s infrastructure, new construction neighborhoods get a better deal from JEA in terms of capital investment. And that’s not going to change.

McElroy also had to account for “miscommunication” in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a storm in which he was out of state.

 

Jacksonville Bold for 8.18.17 — Are we kingmakers?

Gov. Rick Scott pitched his tax-related ballot initiative in Jacksonville this week. By his side was House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

That was no coincidence.

All smiles for Speaker Richard Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott in Dirty Duval this week.

Corcoran was there to support the plan — but clearly, he was also there to make his presence known to a Jacksonville press corps often obtuse when it comes to statewide issues and pols.

Corcoran was quippy, making jokes about how he’d be a “horrible statewide candidate” since he couldn’t feign enthusiasm about teams outside of Tampa. And he was relatable, extolling Mayor Lenny Curry with specificity. In turn, Curry extolled Corcoran for his consistent political philosophy.

Democratic candidates for Governor have been playing in the Duval sandbox (Gwen Graham primarily, though Andrew Gillum also has shown up). However, the expectation is that Jacksonville will mean much more in GOP primaries and it’s interesting to see how everyone is playing it.

Adam Putnam has been through the area off and on since declaring his candidacy, and he can always count on coverage, though it’s hard to think of anyone in the local press corps who really “gets” Putnam or gets particularly excited about covering him.

Jack Latvala was through here earlier this month to meet with political allies at the Fraternal Order of Police.

In statewide general elections, Democrats don’t make aggressive plays here (see, Patrick Murphy 2016, Charlie Crist 2014, Alex Sink 2010). In part, it’s because the kind of milquetoast, vaguely center-left campaigns run are tailored for the I-4 Corridor, not for Jacksonville’s brand of Dems.

It will be, in 2018, a Republican year. And expect every Republican with a shot to come through and kiss Curry’s ring.

He has multiple friends in this race, and expect Curry to let the process play out before he endorses.

November sentencing for Corrine Brown

On Wednesday, motions filed by former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown for a new trial and acquittal were denied, setting the stage for a November sentencing.

Brown’s motion for a new trial was predicated on a claim that a discharged juror was incorrectly removed.

Sad times for Corrine Brown, who may be gone in November.

Judge Timothy Corrigan rejected that premise: “Corrine Brown is entitled to a fair trial with an impartial jury that reaches a verdict in accordance with the law. That is what she received.”

“I determined beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no substantial possibility that he could base his decision on the sufficiency of the evidence and the Court’s instructions,” Corrigan added.

Regarding the acquittal motion, Corrigan said that “Suffice it to say there was more than sufficient evidence to justify the jury’s verdict on each count of conviction.”

Brown’s contention was that she was careless with her finances, leaving herself open for exploitation by her former co-defendant and chief of staff. However, Corrigan said the evidence said otherwise — that Brown was active in the scheme to defraud.

Confederate monuments to go?

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche seeks the removal of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments in the wake of Charlottesville. The Jacksonville Civic Council backs her play.

The mayor thinks Jacksonville has some bigger issues than statues, meanwhile. And Brosche’s Council colleagues … well, let’s just say there is no consensus on this one yet.

Will the Confederate monument issue be as divisive as the HRO discussion was?

Those close to Curry have their concerns. One person wondered why this had to be hot-shotted in the way he believes it has been, when a more deliberate, less headline-grabbing process would have been more appropriate.

Regardless of timing, the band-aid has been ripped off. Jacksonville will have its own dialogue on Confederate reliquary.

For our writers, that means readers. For city officials, including those charged with public safety, more existential challenges — such as activists on the left and on the neo-Confederate side — are posed.

Mayor warns of ‘chatter’ from Confederate enthusiasts

During a Jacksonville press gaggle Tuesday, Curry warned of “chatter” heard by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in the wake of Brosche‘s proposal to remove Confederate monuments.

‘Chatter’ from Confederate enthusiasts concerns Mayor Lenny Curry.

Curry commented in the wake of questions posed to Gov. Rick Scott and him regarding the proposed removal of these monuments — a proposal fraught with controversy locally, with that controversy even extending to the Council.

“I do think it’s important when we talk about public safety to recognize that how this is pursued in our community is important,” Curry said.

“I get briefed by the Sheriff regularly. I can tell you right now from discussions with him, based on Council’s wanting to outright say they want to remove these — there’s chatter from these outside groups. People in Charlottesville are already talking about coming to Jacksonville. We want to keep those groups out of our city, and we want to work together as a community to have a civil discourse.”

“I’m not proposing we remove these monuments,” Curry said. “Certainly, if the public wants to have that conversation — now the Council President has said this is her priority to remove them.”

“I urge the Council to have that discussion, that debate, Whatever they decide, I’ll evaluate it when it lands on my desk at that time,” Curry said, refraining from a commitment to sign or veto the bill when asked.

Brosche addressed Curry’s comments later Tuesday afternoon, saying that she’s “kicked off a process for defining an orderly and respectful solution for consideration by the Council and Mayor. I hope the community can allow that process to work.”

Spotted — Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown at this weekend’s annual Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s policy conference in Tunica, Mississippi hosted by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Hate mail hits Council President’s inbox

More fallout still from the proposal to remove Confederate monuments, in the form of emails to the Council President.

One such email purported to be from a senior administrator at a local university which, it turns out, had a cybersecurity breach that this episode uncovered.

Anna Brosche is in the middle of the maelstrom, yet undeterred.

“I find your caving-in to nasty commie anarchist hebes and their black jungle-bunny friends to be repulsive,” the email wrote.

“You are an Asian!  You don’t belong here. You aren’t from here. You just can’t cave-in to these sorry people and screw everyone else. You should not even be on the city council,” the email added, saying “liberals and their n*** allies are making you look bad.”

We asked Brosche her thoughts.

“While I’ve received an email with a closing salutation of ‘FU,’ that was the worst email so far. It does not change my position either way,” Brosche said.

Red light cameras to go

Good news for those who hate red light cameras in Jacksonville; this is the last year for them, per Sheriff Mike Williams.

The technology isn’t where it needs to be, Williams said.

Red-light cameras soon to be extinct in Jacksonville, says Sheriff Mike Williams.

“That contract will end in December. We wanted to add crash avoidance to a number of intersections in Jacksonville,” Williams said, “but the technology just isn’t there yet.”

“That was the appeal of having a red-light camera to me. If we can’t do that, we know from the data that it’s not really reducing crashes in the intersections, maybe we just let this contract sunset and take a look at it years down the road,” Williams said.

One suspects that may be many, many years down the road.

White males abound on Jax boards and commissions

The slogan du jour: One City, One Jacksonville. But the city’s boards and commissions are mostly white and male. However, that could change soon.

Of 332 people currently serving, 65 percent are male — a number not substantially different between City Council appointees (64 percent male) and appointees from other parties, such as the Mayor (66 percent).

Seventy percent of all appointees: Caucasian. The percentage of Council representatives is even higher: 80 percent, per the most recent Boards and Commissions diversity report.

This ratio holds true, more or less, no matter who is in office.

Jacksonville City boards and commissions have an overabundance of white dudes.

And some would contend that needs to change.

On Wednesday morning, Brosche held a public-notice meeting to that end.

“The meeting is intended to increase awareness of opportunities to serve in hopes of broadening the pool of candidates that apply,” Brosche said.

“I will always choose the most qualified candidate among the pool of applicants that apply; I’d like to have a ‘pool’ of candidates larger than one application,” Brosche added.

Brosche has made an active push in diversity/social justice initiatives, as seen by her push to remove Confederate monuments from public display in Jacksonville just this week.

JEA nuclear deal safe from failed project fallout

Despite a major blow to the nuclear power industry this week, JEA is still on track to add nuclear to its fuel mix around 2020.

After a South Carolina nuclear project was scuttled Monday, the Waynesboro, Georgia, plants being built by Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia became the only active nuclear construction project in the country.

The owners of the dead South Carolina project pointed to Westinghouse Electric Company’s recent bankruptcy filing as the culprit. The Toshiba-owned company was contracted to construct the new nuclear reactors and was also at one point the contractor for the Georgia plants.

JEA has a 20-year agreement in place to purchase nuclear power from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia plants.

JTA autonomous vehicles move to test track

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous vehicle program is progressing apace, and the next step: a test track.

Emails between city officials reveal that track may be in one of the highest-visibility areas in the city.

A Friday email from Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa laid it out.

Autonomous vehicles: The time is now, per JTA.

Mousa wrote that “the JTA has approached the City about utilizing a section of asphalt pavement (driveway) in the Sports Complex as a test track for their autonomous vehicle program. The driveway is located south of and adjacent to Lot K, and controlled for the City by SMG. The City, SMG and the JTA have met and based on the attached memo, all seem to be in concurrence with this driveway use, pending further plan development, coordination, etc.”

AVs are the next generation for JTA’s fleet, intended to supplement and eventually replace the outmoded Skyway vehicles.

Mystery deepens on Times-Union ownership

Jacksonville residents are still trying to figure out what the recent sale of the Florida Times-Union means, and a recent Jax Daily Record write-up may or may not offer clarity.

It was previously reported that Gatehouse bought the T-U and other Morris Communications papers. And while that’s true, Gatehouse itself has an external owner after a 2013 Chapter 11 restructuring.

“New Media was created just four years ago to take control of the newspapers owned by GateHouse Media Inc. in a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring … formed by a real estate investment trust called Newcastle Investment Corp,” writes the Record’s Mark Basch.

The Times-Union has branded itself as aggressively local journalism — and that branding has stepped up in the last year, especially after a Morris mandate to endorse Donald Trump for President. The paper has gone hyper local with niche publications for Downtown enthusiasts (“J”) and aging scenesters (“Jack.)

Will the future of this branding and these initiatives change soon? Re-orgs are always interesting.

What the donor class can buy

Marc and Nicole Padgett are among Curry’s strongest supporters, and the Jax Daily Record reports that their future fundraisers for the Mayor will be held in fine style.

The couple is building a multi-story mansion in Fort Caroline, an older neighborhood in Arlington that has some of the highest terrains in the city.

Mrs. Padgett reckons that on a clear day, the couple will be able to see Fernandina Beach from the top floor of their building.

Mr. Padgett is on the Downtown Investment Authority; Mrs. Padgett, on the city’s Planning Commission.

What Aaron Bean is up to

On Monday, Aug. 21, state Sen. Bean will speak to the University of North Florida Student Government Senate at their first meeting of the fall semester, beginning 7 p.m. at 1 UNF Drive In Jacksonville.

The Fernandina Beach Republican will then speak to the Joseph E. Lee Republican Club Thursday, Aug. 24 to give an update on the 2017 Legislative Session, beginning 6 p.m. at The Salem Centre, 7235 Bonneval Road in Jacksonville.

Bean will give another 2017 legislative session update Monday, Aug. 28, at the Republican Club of West Jacksonville’s monthly meeting beginning 6 p.m. At the Harvest Time Church of God, 4502 Old Middleburg Road in Jacksonville.

The next day, Tuesday, Aug. 29, Bean will also give an update to the Rotary Club of South Jacksonville at 12:30 p.m., River City Brewing Company, 835 Museum Circle In Jacksonville.

Save the date

Atlantic Beach kickbacks?

Eleventh-hour drama in the Atlantic Beach Mayor’s race, where Mitch Reeves is dealing with an untimely ethics flap two weeks before Election Day.

Untimely bad press for Mayor Mitch Reeves. Will it matter?

“Atlantic Beach resident and mayoral candidate Ellen Glasser brought the possible conflict to the attention of city officials when she filed a complaint about Reeves July 27. In the letter, she said she believes his employment with G.T. Distributors is a violation of Section 66 of the Atlantic Beach City Charter,” reports the Florida Times-Union.

“Glasser said she felt she needed to raise the issue after looking over city emails and transactions between the city and G.T. Distributors since October 2016. Reeves is a copied recipient of at least four emails regarding specific sales between the company and the city,” the T-U adds.

Not a good look.

Three candidates will face off Aug. 29. If a runoff is needed, that will be in November.

Amazon in NW Jax: Ready to start processing orders

The Jax Daily Record reports that Amazon has begun hiring associates in NW Jax, with the fulfillment of orders set to begin Sept. 1.

Amazon is bringing thousands of jobs, with many in the $12-$16 per hour range

All told, the Pecan Park Road center will focus on small goods, and employ 1,500 people.

The Cecil Commerce Center location will focus on large goods, opening later in September.

“The city and state approved $25.7 million in incentives for the two large fulfillment centers. [The] legislation says the company’s total investment will be $315 million,” the Daily Record report adds.

AppointedMike Bell to the District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville. Bell, 53, of Fernandina Beach, is the vice president of public affairs at Rayonier, Inc. He succeeds Dr. Patricia White and is appointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

Loop Nursery wins medical marijuana license

Jacksonville-based Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses, Inc. reached an agreement with the Florida Department of Health, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The arrangement settles an extended legal dispute over the license and brings the number of firms approved to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana to 12.

Loop’s struggle to get a license began in 2014, after the passage of a law allowing the use of non-euphoric cannabis for limited types of patients, such as children suffering from epilepsy. The law, which opened the door to wider medical-marijuana legalization, created a process to award one license in each of five different regions of the state. Competition for those licenses sparked lawsuits from several growers, including Loop’s, ultimately reaching the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Now there are 12: After three years of legal fighting, Loop’s Nursery finally wins medical marijuana license.

State Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who is secretary of the Florida Department of Health, signed an order this week approving the settlement and Loop’s license. The DOH now has 10 days to formally license and register Loop’s as a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

Editorial: Deepen JAXPORT for stronger Jacksonville, Florida

A Florida-Times-Union editorial says for Jacksonville’s port to stay competitive, it should not turn away “from all the opportunities before it.”

“That means deepening the port, as has been done for over 100 years,” the T-U writes. “Ships are getting bigger. With federal and state help, Jacksonville is on the way to funding a necessary port deepening plan.”

History of the port is filled with naysayers, the paper notes, including the “black hat” who sought to retain the status quo a half-century ago, keeping intact the “corrupt city government and an underperforming County government.”

JAXPORT deepening: Good for Jacksonville, good for Florida.

Deepening the harbor will have a significant economic impact on both Jacksonville and the state of Florida.

Data from the Florida Department of Transportation shows that for every dollar invested in the deepening project will return $16 to $24 to the state’s economy: “JAXPORT is likely to be at the high end of that ratio, given its growing stake in the Asian trade market — which has increased by 57 percent in a five-year period.”

Conservatively, the Port supports about 130,000 jobs in Northeast Florida — more than 24,000 directly in Jacksonville — with the dredging creating 15,000-plus new jobs.

Uber, JAA reach agreement over trip fees

Action News Jax reports that Jacksonville’s main airport and ride-sharing service Uber have come to an agreement in principle over per-trip user fees.

In a statement, Uber gave details of the agreement: pickup fees for transportation network companies and taxi companies will be set at $2.50, changing to $3.25 for both as of Sept. 1, 2017.

JAA and Uber make nice over per-trip fees.

“We thank the airport’s leadership for working to ensure that Jacksonville residents continue to have access to affordable and reliable transportation options, said Uber Florida General Manager Kasra Moshkani.

Uber Florida Public Affairs Manager Javi Correoso told reporters JIA had been charging Uber $3.25, while Gator City cab paid $2.50 for the same per-trip fee.

“We are willing to pay fees at the airport, but we are just asking the leadership at the airport to be fair,” Correoso said.

After early scoring, Armada ends North Carolina match in draw

Jacksonville Armada FC scored twice early and held on for a 2-2 draw against league leaders North Carolina FC (NCFC) in Cary Saturday night.

Recently acquired forward Tony Taylor scored his first goal of his career with the club in just the third minute. In the 18th minute, Jack Blake scored on a penalty kick after a foul on Tony Taylor in the area to give the Armada a 2-0 lead. Just before halftime, North Carolina midfielder brought his club within one goal after a turnover in the Jacksonville box.

Newly acquired forward Tony Taylor shined once again in just his third match with the club.

“You give yourself no breathing room when it’s 2-1,” said Armada Head Coach Mark Lowry. “North Carolina has a lot of bodies coming forward, a lot of players going past you, and is a very hard team to go against if you don’t take your chances.”

“The first half we were good,” said Lowry. “One moment we fell asleep in the box, we didn’t clear our lines properly, we switched off for a second, and we got punished to make it 2-1. Then the second half was a completely different game.”

Following the break, North Carolina’s strong attacking play continued. NCFC broke through to level the match in the 69th minute when Lance Laing was in the right place at the right time for his seventh league goal of the year. The score remained level at 2-2 for the duration.

“If you take away the first 10 minutes, we were exceptionally good,” said NCFC Head Coach Colin Clarke. “But, you can’t to do that, so we’re still answerable for those poor goals we gave up at the beginning. The reaction after [Jacksonville’s] early goals was very good with our play and passing. With a little bit more luck and some better finishing, we could have gotten all three points.”

The Armada play Puerto Rico FC at Hodges Stadium Wednesday.

 

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