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For Jay Fant, ‘liberals on Fake News’ are driving gun control debate

As the nation mourns the massacre of 17 people in a Parkland High School, a Republican candidate for Attorney General asserts that calls for gun control are the province of “liberals on Fake News.”

Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, tweeted Friday that “Liberals on Fake News keep saying gun control is the answer. It’s not. Evil people will break any laws we can dream up to commit their evil acts.”

Fant asserted that “our Second Amendment right to bear arms is Liberty – meaning something government can’t take away. Giving up this liberty and letting the government ultimately be the only entity with weapons is a slippery slope toward a country where the government is more powerful than the individual.”

On Facebook, Fant expanded on the tweeted comments.

“Liberals will always think government and laws are the answer. But, that ignores the larger truth that those who are intent on carrying out illegal acts will break as many laws as we can dream up. The right to bear arms is not fundamentally about hunting and sporting. It’s about being able to protect and defend ourselves as a free people from the power of government,” Fant asserted.

“Taking away guns from law abiding people and giving them only to the government will not stop evil people from evil acts, it will only weaken the liberties of law-abiding Americans. Those liberties were created by our founding fathers to be sacred above all else – and specifically above any act to further empower government,” Fant added.

“The evil Parkland killer has taken enough from us. We must not let him be used to steal our constitutional rights too,” Fant noted.

Fant, who had challenged AG race opponent Ashley Moody to a “Second Amendment Debate,” seems to be predicating his campaign on an appeal to gun enthusiasts.

After a brief break in the immediate wake of the Parkland atrocities, he’s clearly back on message.

Alvin Brown links Al Lawson to Donald Trump in Tallahassee ad buy

What’s clear: former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has a strategy to win the Democratic primary against Rep. Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Brown is running a TV ad in Tallahassee, Lawson’s home base, proclaiming Lawson to be President Donald Trump‘s “favorite Democrat.” [SEE THE AD HERE]

The ad juxtaposes Trump approving of Lawson applauding him during the State of the Union address with Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people on both sides” during the violence in Charlottesville over Confederate monuments, incidents that saw peaceful protesters besieged by white supremacists, with one casualty.

“From his defense of racist neo-Nazis after the tragedy in Charlottesville, to his slash and burn agenda that cuts infrastructure, Medicare and education to give more tax cuts to the top one percent, Donald Trump has shown time and again where his loyalties lie. The people of the 5th District deserve a leader who will condemn and stand up to Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on our community — not applaud him and his hate-fueled rhetoric,” Brown said Friday.

Lawson’s ability to defend the seat is increasingly questioned by Jacksonville Democrats, given a combination of lackluster fundraising and endorsements that have gone Brown’s way.

Clearly, a Tallahassee ad buy is meant to suppress Lawson’s share of the vote in the district’s western flank.

There will be a digital ad buy for the spot also, Brown’s first in this campaign.

Worth noting: underfunded Corrine Brown was not able to run TV against Lawson, who had one ad in the Jacksonville market when Lawson won the Democratic primary race in 2016.

In a three-way race, Lawson garnered just 47 percent of the vote, beating an already-indicted Brown by fewer than 10 points.

Jacksonville Sports and Entertainment head Dave Herrell resigns

A shakeup in the office of Mayor Lenny Curry ends a particularly eventful week in Jacksonville politics.

Sports and Entertainment head Dave Herrell resigned, capping an almost four-year run after being appointed in 2014 by former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. The role, per Brown, was “a key position to build Jacksonville’s momentum as a premier destination for major sports and entertainment events.”

“It’s a sweet job for Herrell, who will earn $155,000,” observed the Tenneseean newspaper when Herrell was hired

Herrell was responsible in a previous role for elevating the status of the Fiesta Bowl; however, the TaxSlayer Bowl was not particularly elevated in his term.

Budget hearings between Herrell’s department and the Mayor’s senior staff, at times, were contentious, with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and others questioning the necessity for the department as it was constituted.

Herrell’s Resignation Letter indicates that, while the resignation is effective April 10, the actual departure date was February 9.

Herrell will use his leave time to “pursue professional opportunities.”

Meanwhile, there is a vacancy to fill in Curry’s senior team, as Chief of Staff Brian Hughes continues to settle into the role.

Marsha Oliver, spokeswoman for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, confirmed Friday that Herrell resigned, but gave no indication as to why beyond providing the letter.

Developing story, expect updates.

Jacksonville general counsel clears Brian Hughes in dispute with City Council assistant

Brian Hughes, chief of staff for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, has been cleared of charges that he violated any laws in an interaction earlier this week with a City Council staffer.

Hughes had been accused of “accosting” Jeneen Sanders, assistant to Council President Anna Brosche, in a conversation over Curry’s office not being copied on an email from Brosche discussing the Mayor’s Office.

However, the General Counsel’s letter, reflective of the investigation, “conclusively demonstrates” that Hughes violated no laws in his interaction with Sanders.

The two witnesses, an administrative assistant and the front office manager of the Mayor’s Office, were interviewed. Video of the event and written statements from Hughes and Sanders were also considered.

Sanders said Hughes “accosted” her on the 4th floor of City Hall Monday afternoon.

“The next time your boss sends an email, she needs to CC this office,” Sanders claims Hughes said.

Sanders cited Hughes’ “aggressive tone, facial expressions, and his physical movements” as causes for written complaint for creating a hostile work environment.

Hughes had called the accusation “baseless” and “false,” and the city’s lawyers stood by him.

Meanwhile, there is still pitched acrimony between the offices of the Mayor and the Council President.

It manifested most recently in a brutal three-hour City Council meeting Wednesday, in which President Brosche would not recognize Curry to speak on the subject of the JEA Valuation Report.

Brosche refrained from comment when we asked her on Thursday afternoon.

Hughes said he was “grateful to the Office of General Counsel – the legal team for the entire COJ government – for conducting this review.”

“With the distraction behind me,” Hughes added, “I’m proudly working with the mayor and city leaders to accomplish positive results for the people of this great city.”

Jacksonville warns Klansman about littering in wake of leaflet drop

In January, Jacksonville residents complained about the return of Ku Klux Klan flyers to city streets.

“I am visiting Jacksonville, and was disturbed to see these flyers (such as those pictured) rolled up and strewn along Riverside Ave. in Five Points in short intervals.  They are everywhere in the area between the Publix and Bell Riverside Apartments, and beyond.  Regardless of the content of the messages, it is illegal to litter City rights of way and private property like this, per the Florida Litter Law, Section 403.413(4)(a) and (c), Florida Statutes,” one wrote.

The cover described the “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” as “fighting for the white race.” The interior text referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “communist alcoholic pervert.”

The city was slow to respond, and that response included a suggestion to set up an “Adopt a Road” program.

The story doesn’t end there.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa was made aware of the issue not through internal communications, but “through the media.”

Mousa was emphatic in an email to the complainant: “I was not happy!!”

The city, meanwhile, has attempted a remedy of sorts; namely, a letter to the man it deems responsible for the flyers, Chris Barker: a Klansman from North Carolina.

Citing Jacksonville’s “zero tolerance” litter policy, the letter from Neighborhoods head Stephanie Burch notes that littering fines start at $150, and go up to $500 by the third violation.

Each leaflet, Burch wrote, constitutes a violation.

“In the event future violations may occur,” Burch wrote, the city can “pursue enforcement” against Barker or his “organization” without notice.

The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan do have professed operatives in Jacksonville, per Folio Weekly.

One of those operatives, Ken Parker, describes a flyer drop.

“I don’t even know where they all threw them out at … there was like 1,600 fliers thrown out that night,” he told the Jacksonville alt.weekly in 2016.

Parker made news in 2017 when he was banned from the University of North Florida campus. The Florida Times-Union described the 37-year-old undergraduate as a “Nazi.”

Duval GOP chair backs Lenny Curry, turns on Anna Brosche

At the request of Mayor Lenny Curry, the Jacksonville City Council met Wednesday to discuss a “valuation study” commissioned by local utility JEA, as what many observers see as a prerequisite toward “next steps” toward selling the utility.

Council President Anna Brosche was adamantly opposed to the meeting, and expressed such Monday, which led Curry, for the first time since elected mayor, to call a special meeting of the legislative body.

The drama-filled three-hour meeting revealed that the city could turn $3 to $6 billion on a sale of JEA under the right conditions.

That splashy figure isn’t what’s being talked about the day after the meeting. Rather, the focus is on a spectacle, stunning to those who haven’t covered City Hall closely, in which Brosche denied Mayor Curry time to speak on the microphone.

That was the first time Brosche had refused to recognize a speaker since taking the gavel in July.

The unprecedented actions by Curry and Brosche speak to an unprecedented rancor between Jacksonville’s leading elected officials, one made all the more notable by the fact that both politicians, CPAs by trade, are also Republicans.

Duval County Republican Party chair Karyn Morton weighed in on the contretemps Wednesday night, siding with Curry (himself a former chair of the local GOP).

“Whatever your opinion of the JEA, or it’s potential sale, the actions at tonight’s City Council meeting are unacceptable,” Morton wrote.

“I implore Council leadership to conduct themselves in a professional and honorable fashion — including respecting fellow city leaders with whom you may disagree. It is imperative that Jacksonville’s elected officials forego disrespectful and ‘gotcha’ antics and instead find a way to work together to solve our city’s problems,” Morton added.

Brosche sees the matter differently than Morton.

“I agree with her that professionalism and respect are very important, and I have no obligation to honor and respect someone that does not honor and respect me. It was disrespectful for the Mayor to call a meeting that I respectfully declined. Tonight’s events proved my position that a meeting was premature,” Brosche asserted Wednesday night.

The relationship between Council President Brosche and the Duval Republican Party has been rocky for years.

When Brosche ran for Council in 2015 against DINO Kim Daniels, many local Republican Executive Committee members asserted that they would prefer it if Daniels won, asserting that Brosche’s willingness to support LGBT rights was a deal-breaker.

That said, Morton showed up for Brosche’s election to the Council presidency, taking a victory lap of sorts.

Brosche’s reaction after the fact could be described as measured, even skeptical.

“At least in the president’s race, she had a Republican running against a Democrat. I’m not sure she had a choice in that race. She’s about supporting Republicans,” Brosche said of Morton’s enthusiasm.

Though the chair of the local Republican Party has shivved the Council President in favor of the Mayor, the chair of the Duval Democrats sees Brosche’s actions differently.

“The time for deference is over,” asserted Duval Democratic Party Chair Lisa King.

“For the past 3 years, Mayor Curry has treated City Council as his subordinates and bullied them to approve his priorities. This is evident even in the manner the Special Council Meeting was called tonight — using the power of his office to facilitate political theater,” King asserted.

“Council President Brosche had an obligation to the council and citizens of Jacksonville to ensure this hastily called meeting was free from politics and interference. I know President Brosche to be a stateswoman of integrity, professionalism, and honor. She and I have disagreed in the past, but she has always treated me with respect. My disagreements with Mayor Curry have been markedly different,” King added.

King notably was replaced as head of the Jacksonville Planning Commission by Mayor Curry in 2015, as part of what critics called a “purge” of Jacksonville’s nominally-independent boards and commissions to bring in people who, as former Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart put it, “aligned with the mayor’s vision.”

King described Morton’s attack on Brosche as “the height of hubris.”

Brosche has yet to file for re-election to her at-large council seat. Curry has yet to file for re-election for Mayor.

The “first election” (a blanket primary) for each is 13 months away.

Jacksonville City Council pushes back hard against JEA sales pitch

In what has been one of the roughest weeks in the tenure of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, his administration presented to a skeptical City Council — and a more skeptical overflow crowd — a controversial report outlining the benefits of the sale of the local public utility.

Profits could be up to $6 billion, the report said. But for City Council members, there was a desire to put the brakes on before moving as quickly as the study would suggest is optimal to make the biggest profit.

With JEA brass saying there would be no move without a “commitment from the community,” what was clear was the Council did not want to commit.

That lack of commitment was underscored toward the end of the meeting. When asked to stand up if they opposed the sale, the entire audience did so as one.

The valuation study from “Public Financial Management” was pushed out in draft form last week, and it suggested that this is the best time ever for Jacksonville to unload all or part of its public utility.

JEA Board Chair Alan Howard had requested a City Council meeting. He was rebuffed by Council President Anna Brosche, who nonetheless had to preside over the meeting anyway when Curry called a conclave.

The halcyon days of Curry and Brosche cheerleading the Jaguars during Friday pep rallies in Council chambers are gone, lost in a phalanx of claims and counterclaims, character assassinations that included the Mayor calling the Council President a liar when she said Curry wanted an authorization to explore a sale in Wednesday’s meeting (then tweeting out a quote from “On War” by Clausewitz) followed by Brosche’s assistant saying Curry’s chief of staff “accosted” her, creating a hostile work environment.

The charter change that would allow all or partial sale, per a General Counsel memo, would require a two-thirds vote of the City Council, with follow-up votes for dispensation of assets being a simple majority.

That would be the proverbial heavy lift, given that most on council who had an opinion going into Wednesday were skeptical. Some wanted a referendum (which is not permissible, per the memo). Others think a sale is bad business.

And for many of those skeptics, it wasn’t lost on them that Curry patron Tom Petway, a board appointee who replaced one of Alvin Brown‘s picks soon after Curry took office, was the primary pusher of the sale option last year.

Lots of prologue for this meeting, essentially.

Brosche noted, with an edge in her voice, that the valuation report would be given out only after the presentation — another sign of the chilly dynamic between the Council President and the Mayor.

Brosche also maligned anonymous phone calls to citizens alleging JEA mismanagement, saying that “whoever is playing politics [with this issue] should come forward.”

JEA CEO Paul McElroy took the mike with Chairman Howard, and dynamics were chilly: Brosche noted that the notice discussed an “e-valuation report,” then, with an edge in her voice, said she’s “really looking forward to this.”

Brosche was not looking forward to hearing from the Mayor; she refused to recognize Curry to speak.

Curry tweeted that “it is unfortunate the Council President refused to call a public meeting to distribute a public document in a transparent manner. I called this meeting so all could get this document at the same time. I called this meeting for information purposes. No action to be taken … Also unfortunate she publicly refused a request for me to make brief remarks. Here is what I would have said. I am not against or for privatization of the JEA. My focus is &will be 1. what is good for rate payers/ taxpayers 2. What is good for the hardworking folks of JEA.”

“We are presented with a historic opportunity,” Chairman Howard said, a “once in a generation” chance to sell.

Howard, seemingly oblivious to the dynamic, discussed going forward with “unity,” before introducing Michael Mace of PFM to present.

Mace noted that the report was intended to provide a value range for the utility as an “overall enterprise … for the sake of simplicity.”

Proceeds, the report said, could be between $2.9 billion and $6.4 billion after the retirement of debt. Mace stressed that is a range of values, and he verbalized the range as “three to six billion.”

Values range from $7.9 billion up to $10.1 billion, based on cash flow, price/earnings ratios, and other metrics.

The report noted that as recently as 2012, a sale would not have been in JEA’s interest; however, conditions (low-interest rates, high stocks, and a thirst for expansion/consolidation by big service providers) have changed. Lower corporate taxes make transactions more attractive, Mace said, along with a decrease in capital investment in the industry.

Utility stocks and assets, Mace said, were highly valued, doubling since 2009 to a price/earnings ratio of 20.

While markets can change during a transaction, Mace’s contention is that the time is good to make a move.

Debt retirement to the tune of $3.9 billion would be paid for with proceeds, as would other costs.

Once a commitment to sell is made, the process could take up to nine months ahead of regulatory hurdles, which could take up to a year.

“This is a very complex undertaking,” Mace said.

Curry addressed media after the presentation, saying he wasn’t “for or against” privatization, and saying that those who noted one of his biggest donors made the proposal were guilty of “political gamesmanship.”

Curry had “no idea” of the value range listed in the report pre-presentation, saying that the report suggested it “may be a good time to sell.”

From there, Council members posed questions for Mace.

Many of those questions — such as Councilman Reggie Brown asking if a sale would benefit areas in town that have waited half a century to be put onto city sewer — were outside the scope of the report.

Displaced employees and contractors, and lack of local control, were concerns for Brown, as were rectifying long-neglected infrastructure promises.

CEO McElroy said that in some scenarios, there may be little change to that local control.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri likewise was skeptical of the lack of experience with mergers and acquisitions by the consultant. Hazouri, normally a reliable ally of the Mayor, questioned the honesty and reliability of the report.

“Our number one concern is the ratepayers and employees,” Hazouri said. “I worry about the employees and pensions … I feel like we’re being rushed … pressured. I don’t know why we’re even dealing with this.”

CEO McElroy noted that the board had been watching markets for 18 to 24 months, noting that the environment is “different” now, when asked if major political donors drove the exploration of a sale.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” Councilman Danny Becton said, saying that the valuation report was incomplete in terms of pros and cons.

Becton, the most outspoken fiscal watchdog on the Council, questioned the lack of evaluation of why the city would even want to sell.

CEO McElroy noted, toward the end of the meeting, that there would be no move forward without a “commitment from the community” to do so.

Judging from the spectacle Wednesday afternoon, with even reliable allies of the mayor asking skeptical drill down questions, such a commitment is a long way away.

Councilman Garrett Dennis closed the meeting by calling for the JEA Board chair to step down, calling the meeting a waste of time and a fumble.

Bullying charge against Brian Hughes investigated; no laws violated

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s recently hired chief of staff, Brian Hughes, was accused of bullying by Council President Anna Brosche‘s executive assistant.

However, the charge was dismissed by the city’s general counsel Thursday.

Original story below:

As reported by every outlet in Jacksonville at this point (with WJXT‘s Lynnsey Gardner being first)Jeneen Sanders alleges that Hughes “accosted” her on the 4th floor of City Hall Monday afternoon.

“The next time your boss sends an email, she needs to CC this office,” Sanders claims Hughes said.

Sanders cites Hughes’ “aggressive tone, facial expressions, and his physical movements” as causes for written complaint for creating a hostile work environment.

Sanders complained to Executive Director Cheryl Brown. Brown forwarded the complaint to Employee Services, the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Brosche offered a statement.

“Every employee of the City of Jacksonville should be valued, treated respectfully, and have an expectation of working in a safe environment. I have no further comment regarding the complaint and will allow the formal process to take its due course,” Brosche told Florida Politics.

Brosche has taken further measures, disabling Hughes’ keycard to Council offices on Wednesday.

By Thursday, Mayor Curry’s office reactivated the access, and now it will be up to the Office of General Counsel to resolve this issue.

On behalf of Curry’s office, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa made a statement.

“We were made aware of a complaint filed by an employee of the city council against a member of the mayor’s staff. There is a process in place to handle all such matters and we will fully comply with that process. I have reviewed the compliant, have spoken with the staff member and reviewed the attached video. I find the conduct alleged to be extremely out of character and not reflective of my colleague who I have worked closely with and not reflected in the video. This video will be a part of the review of this matter and we will adhere to all aspects of the review process,” Mousa asserted.

Multiple media outlets have requested the video, but technical issues have plagued that release.

Hughes, who asserted that the “complaint is false … the accusation is baseless,” is not on leave during this review process.

Hughes’ narrative is supported, at least in the part of the interaction that happened in the mayor’s office, by Alice Newman.

Newman, who has been in her role for 19 years, interacted with Hughes and Sanders when they entered the Mayor’s office.

Newman told WJXT that “they were having a conversation. I don’t know what the conversation was before that. I only know what I saw. And then she said what she had to say, then started talking to me in the other young lady who was sitting there.”

Newman said something similar to this outlet Tuesday afternoon, noting that Sanders talked to her and another person at the front desk after Hughes went toward interior offices past the front desk, and that conversation was casual and light in nature.

This is the second straight day of drama between the offices of Council President Brosche and Mayor Curry.

Much of Monday was taken up by competing narratives regarding the upcoming JEA Board/Jacksonville City Council meeting on Wednesday.

Brosche claimed that Curry wanted emergency legislation pushed. Curry said that was a “disgraceful” lie.

Bullying charges have been on the uptick in City Hall of late.

In December, a Curry staffer decried what she called “aggression” from City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis.

Dennis, in turn, charged the Mayor with bullying tactics at a recent press availability from which he was excluded.

At one point, Dennis claimed that he had acquired a concealed weapon permit and had been told by a member of Curry’s staff that he was a “walking dead man.”

Civil rights history task force, CRA bills moved by Jacksonville City Council

Tuesday evening saw the Jacksonville City Council move two bills Florida Politics has covered through the process.

The reboot of the KingSoutel CRA was passed by the Council.

Hopes are that a recrafted CRA, expanding the boundary to include 1,100 linear feet of right of way on Norfolk Avenue, will drive the tax base in the Northwest Jacksonville CRA that has been slow to build up funds despite being in place since 2008.

The City Council also approved a 25 person civil rights history task force on a one-cycle emergency.

The task force proposal is a reaction to Jacksonville and Florida not being on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, a cause for consternation in the meeting given Jacksonville’s civil rights history and iconic residents who were central to the movement.

The task force, a volunteer group, will report its findings by the end of June.

Committee messages against JEA privatization

Save JEA now.

That’s the rallying cry of a political committee (Florida Committee for Infrastructure Investment) designed to stop the exploration of selling Jacksonville’s utility in its tracks.

The charge: “Mayor Curry and his buddies are trying to sell JEA behind your back. He has already been caught giving misleading statement to the media about the sale. Executives have already been promised a golden parachute after the sale.”

The timing of the committee is no accident; the joint meeting of the JEA Board and Jacksonville City Council to discuss the sale is at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Mayor Lenny Curry is open 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 Mayor’s race.

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

A draft valuation report commissioned by JEA came to the same conclusion; the final product will be released Wednesday.

City Hall is steeped in drama: the Jacksonville City Council President’s assistant accused Mayor Curry’s chief of staff of “accosting” her on Monday.

That Council President, Anna Brosche, has stated that she wants a referendum as a precondition for exploring a sale, and made a charge that Curry wanted emergency legislation pushed Wednesday to authorize next steps. Curry has denied that.

However, this particular political committee comes from outside of City Hall. Its registered agent and treasurer, Michael Langton and Heather Pullen, both have connections to Lisa King, the chair of the Duval Democrats.

With resistance on City Council to exploring a sale of JEA, and Mayor Curry’s political adversaries sensing an opportunity to score a victory, what is clear is that Wednesday will be a day of confrontation in the City Council chambers.

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