On Tuesday night, the Jacksonville City Council passed a trio of bills designed to close the books on a conflict between neighborhood activists in Springfield, disability rights groups, and ultimately, the federal Department of Justice.
Two Jacksonville City Council bills (2017-68 and 2017-69) closed the book on an issue that first emerged during the Alvin Brown administration.
To recap: in 2014, Ability Housing set out to renovate an apartment building in Springfield to create 12 units of housing for the chronically homeless and disabled.
The planning director balked, likening the proposed use to that of an assisted living facility. Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice, Disability Florida, and Ability Housing sued.
The proposed settlement ensures that the city not discriminate via zoning against those with disabilities, including via so-called zoning “overlays” such as Springfield and other neighborhoods have, and allows Ability Housing to become eligible for Jacksonville Journey funding again.
Ability Housing and Disability Rights Florida will receive $400,000 and $25,000 respectively per the settlement. Jacksonville also will be required to grant $1.5 million for the development of permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities, after a competitive grant process including Ability Housing.
A rewrite of a related zoning bill, 2017-36, passed by a 16-3 margin, along with the two aforementioned bills Tuesday evening.
Per the bill summary: “As it pertains to the City Zoning Code, language will be revised to provide, among other things, for such reasonable accommodation requests to be considered as a request for an administrative deviation, identify a permanent supportive housing use and define the term ‘supportive services’, and to authorize group care homes and residential treatment facilities by exception in Springfield.”
The ongoing Corrine Brown drama pushed our legislative roundup back a week — but given the drama that ensued this week regarding what the Duval Delegation accomplished, that’s just as well.
Boils down to this: the legislators think they brought home the bacon, and some in City Hall believe that they brought home crumbs.
As you will see below, the drama came to a head Tuesday, when a Jacksonville City Councilman published a letter in the Times-Union dripping with delegation disses … just before doing an event with Gov. Rick Scott with delegation members who contend otherwise … and told us their thoughts on the councilman’s comments.
We have that in here, and more, along with deep-dive interviews with most delegation members and a few other notable stories …
NE FL Delegation finds money for local asks
The indispensable Tia Mitchell went through Northeast Florida Legislative Session asks in the Florida Times-Union and found some success — especially given that most delegation members were new to Tallahassee and The Process.
Of 37 projects with asks of over $1M, locals got some money for 22 of them.
“In my mind, we are just getting started based on the leadership and potential of our delegation,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, a Clay County legislator who carried one Jacksonville bill successfully in 2016 (the state legislation allowing for a pension reform referendum), and got spiked this session on a $15M request for state money for Jacksonville septic tank removal.
There is room for pessimism, even in Mitchell’s breakdown: many of the requests may have gotten some money … but not everything they wanted.
St. Johns River State College Palatka campus renovations, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Payne, got just $4M of a $16.1M ask.
And the North Florida School of Special Education expansion project, sponsored by Cummings, got just a quarter of a $2M ask.
Still … it’s a start.
Matt Schellenberg says Duval Delegation brought home ‘crumbs’
Jacksonville City Councilman Schellenberg went on the record to grouse about the Duval Delegation — a favorite off-record game among some in Jacksonville’s City Hall.
Smart move? The jury is out. Schellenberg — the city’s representative to the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties — got pilloried by two State Senators (Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean) that he lobbied in Tallahassee.
Mayor Lenny Curry also rejected the premise that the delegation isn’t getting the job done.
And Rep. Jason Fischer — who Schellenberg called out in an interview for leaving the School Board early in 2016 to jump to the state House — likewise pushed back.
Schellenberg wouldn’t rule out a 2018 primary challenge to Fischer when we talked to him, setting the stage for a rare contested primary in NE Florida.
However, Fischer would be the one with every advantage: the mayor’s backing; the mayor’s political team; and money coming in from political committees hither and yon.
With many measures making it to the final budget, the Governor’s veto pen serves as their primary impediment.
Bean pointed to “little bills” with big impact and a “huge pass rate … underneath the radar screen,” such as a push for the shared use of school playgrounds, the ‘keys to independence’ bill helping foster kids drive, the ‘disaster prep tax holiday,’ and others.
A big bill with impact, meanwhile: SB 476, a bill Sen. Bean filed at the request of Gov. Scott, which amends and expands existing statute regarding terrorism.
The bill creates a more expansive definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist activities” in the wake of the Pulse massacre in June.
Additionally, the measure explicitly prohibits “using, attempting to use or conspiring to use” training from a “designated foreign terrorist organization.”
Session ‘best ever,’ enthuses Aaron Bean
Bean noted that this was, perhaps, the “best ever … one of the most successful” sessions of the 13 he’s been involved.
Bean pointed to local approps wins, including money for ShotSpotter and the state match on the COPS Grant from the feds, which will allow Jacksonville to hire more police officers.
“We had one of the best sessions in history,” Bean said.
Among Bean’s accomplishments: Neptune Beach can look forward to $400,000 for stormwater culvert improvements on Florida Boulevard: Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd (who seems to be moving into the House Leadership discussion, based on scuttlebutt) put in the work there.
$5M of that is recurring, ensuring that the project to replenish the lakes may happen at long last.
“People have been talking about restoring the Keystone lakes for as long as I can remember, but nothing ever happened. We finally have a plan and the financing to implement it,” Bradley asserted.
Bradley carried one of the most important and controversial bills of the session: SB 10, which allowed for the building of reservoirs to shore up Lake Okeechobee. That, of course, was a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.
“It was a year for bold action in the environmental policy arena. The president and I worked together. I managed his audacious Everglades bill, and he supported our audacious plan to fix the Keystone lakes. There’s a reason why both of those projects had never been done: they are expensive and require a ton of political capital. This year, the stars aligned and both happened,” Bradley added.
Clay Yarborough talks rookie year
Yarborough, a former Jacksonville City Council President, appraised the Legislative Session as a win for Jacksonville.
“Glad we could get some things for Jacksonville,” Yarborough said.
Indeed, Yarborough himself brought home the bacon, with two priority projects: $1.1M from the State Transportation Trust Fund is provided for the installation of pedestrian signals, refuge islands, sidewalks and street lighting and $1.231M for Crosswalk Countdown Traffic Signal Heads Installation.
We asked Yarborough — one of the most concise quotes in local politics — for what he saw as his biggest accomplishment and the biggest surprise of the session.
“Biggest accomplishment: Working with Sen. Travis Hutson to tighten the law on sexual predators (HB 327/SB 336). Biggest surprise: How fast things can move at the end of the session.”
Tracie Davis talks Dozier apology, relationship building
Rep. Davis was the least likely member of the Northeast Florida Delegation to be in Tallahassee. That said, despite Davis’ unlikely arrival in the House, she was characteristically reflective as to the value of the experience that almost didn’t happen.
Davis described her first Legislative Session as being “significant and exciting to be honest … specifically being a freshman in the minority party.”
The bill with the most emotional resonance for Davis “the FL House apology (HR 1335) to the men that suffered at Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools,” which “will always reign supreme for” Davis.
“So honored and grateful to have played a leading role with Sen. [Darryl] Rouson and Speaker [Richard] Corcoran then to have all of my colleagues unanimously support and participate with the apology that day was emotional and phenomenal,” Davis asserted.
Davis, despite being a Democrat in a GOP town, feels she has room to maneuver — and collegiality creates that room.
“I felt that building relationships with my colleagues across the aisle was going to be key for any success. The surprise for me was that those relationships happened easily … The relationship building helped me develop friendships, share perspectives, and get bills moving the House (which is not an easy task).”
Jason Fischer extols ‘balanced budget’
When asked to evaluate the Session, Fischer — who has been talked about as a potential Speaker down the road — had a more holistic read than some.
“We gave our citizens much-deserved property tax relief and a balanced budget,” Fischer told FloridaPolitics.com. “Families work hard for their money; Government should take less and do more!”
Fischer has some specific appropriations accomplishments: $350,000 for the LaSalle Pump Station project.
And $250,000 for a driverless shuttle program that will go to Baptist Health.
The money will go for a local deployment of the Olli minibus, a Local Motors vehicle made in part with 3D printing and powered by IBM Watson technology.
Fischer extolled the Duval Delegation, saying the group “worked together really well,” was “very cohesive,” and focused on “doing what’s best for Jacksonville.
One of the stories worth watching this year: will DeSantis run for Florida Governor?
Conversations DeSantis is having about the race are the kind of stakeholder talks one would expect in the pre-candidacy phase — “open” conversations with local, state and national figures.
Those conversations reveal a “real hesitation about Adam Putnam,” we are told.
DeSantis has a lot of positives: fundraising prowess; a place in the Fox News Channel guest rotation; youth and eloquence.
Despite representing an area to the south of Jacksonville, his roots are deep locally: wife Casey DeSantis has been on-air talent on local television in this market for years now.
Northeast Florida has wanted a House Speaker for a while. But — ironically enough — the Governor’s Office is probably more within reach … should DeSantis decide to run, a campaign that would launch late in the summer.
Adam Putnam brings roadshow to Jax Beach
We were the only outlet in the room when Putnam made his play for Jax Beach voters.
Results were mixed.
Putnam served up the material that had been heard statewide, a pitch of Florida exceptionalism and requisite haranguing of “bureaucrats.”
But when it came to specifics of local interest, Putnam didn’t offer much, opting instead for shopworn hokum.
He mentioned JAXPORT, Mayport and “the river.” Great.
But for those who might want an actual Northeast Florida candidate, it’s unclear if Putnam delivered — or can deliver — enough to stop some donor class dithering.
Moody’s dings Jax pension reform
Jacksonville got its pension reform package through, yet bond rating agency Moody’sasserts that it’s not all peaches and crème.
The write-up boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”
The biggest poison-pen moment: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets — while city contributions are going to be reduced.”
Policy makers considered these risks, as the discussion got less heady and more sober as the final vote approached. The defined contribution reforms and the one-half cent sales tax are correctly seen as “tools in the toolbox.” Not panaceas.
Still, it’s reasonable to conclude Jacksonville may already be at its ceiling regarding bond ratings, if Moody’s report is any indication.
Dick Kravitztalks SOE gig
Former Jacksonville City Councilman and State Legislator Kravitz may have gotten spiked in his run last year for State House. However, Kravitz is still on the public payroll, as the Jax Daily Record reports, working for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections under old friend Mike Hogan.
Part of his role: helping with lobbying efforts in Tallahassee.
“There are some people in the Senate that I served in the House with for eight years. It’s about personal relations, so it’s easy to get appointments, and there’s a lot of trust among us,” Kravitz said. “I tried to add to what the paid lobbyists were doing and help out a little to promote some of the bills.”
With session wrapped, Kravitz is helping run student elections at local schools. No word on whether or not he is debriefing them on the dark arts of robocalls and shadowy consultants.
Appointed — David “Hunt” Hawkins and Thomas “Mac” McGehee to the Florida State College at Jacksonville District board of trustees.
Questions arise over health of CSX CEO Hunter Harrison
Ahead of next month’s CSX shareholder vote on his compensation, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the 72-year-old Harrison often works from home and occasionally uses oxygen because of an undisclosed health issue
Harrison told reporters that doctors cleared him to work, and he believes he can lead the turnaround he began in March at CSX.
“I’m having a ball, and I’m running on so much adrenaline that no one can stop me,” Harrison told the WSJ. “Don’t judge me by my medical record, judge me by my performance.”
CSX Executive Vice President Frank Lonegro said Harrison remains fully engaged. Lonegro spoke at a Bank of America Merril Lynch conference, and he said using oxygen hasn’t slowed Harrison.
“I’ve gotten a dose of leadership from him while he had supplemental oxygen. I’ve had a dose of leadership from him when he hasn’t had supplemental oxygen and they were equally as blunt and equally as effective,” Lonegro said. “So, no question about who’s in charge and no question about how engaged he is.”
CSX shareholders will vote early next month on whether the Jacksonville-based railroad should pay the $84 million in compensation Harrison forfeited when he left Canadian Pacific railroad earlier than planned. Harrison has said he will resign if the compensation isn’t approved.
Jacksonville Zoo Endangered Species Day
Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens is celebrating the 12th annual Endangered Species Day, free with Zoo admission, including school groups. Events include extra keeper chats with special collector cards. Collect all 10!
Keeper chat times:
— Penguin Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. at the Penguin exhibit in Play Park (African Penguin card).
— Gorilla Chat — 12 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. at the gorilla exhibit in the Great Apes loop (Gorilla card).
— Manatee Chat — 10 a.m. & 12 p.m. at the Manatee Critical Care Center in Wild Florida (Vaquita card).
— Whooping Crane Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. at the Whooping Crane exhibit in Wild Florida (Whooping Crane card).
— Wild Florida Chat — Times TBD at the Wild Florida Pavilion in Wild Florida (Western Pond Turtle, Sea Turtle cards).
— African Plains — 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Africa Boardwalk near Main Camp Train Station (Black Rhino and Cheetah cards).
— Elephant Chat — 12:30 p.m. at Elephant Plaza on the African Boardwalk (Asian Elephant card).
— Stingray Chat — Times TBD at Stingray Bay (Sharks card).
Armada lose to Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-0 in St. Petersburg
The Tampa Bay Rowdies cruised into the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 3-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada U23s at Al Lang Stadium Tuesday night.
The Open Cup is a knockout tournament featuring teams from all levels of the American soccer system, including qualifying amateur clubs.
Kyle Porter, Alex Morrell and Martin Paterson scored the goals for Tampa Bay as the Rowdies moved on in the competition.
“I thought it was a really, really professional performance by the team,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We went out and got the job done, which was to win the game and get into the next round. … The game is done and dusted, and we have games coming up in the league, so we’ll shift our focus to that now.”
Playing an opponent from the fourth-tier NPSL, the Rowdies didn’t have to wait long to claim a lead.
With the ball at his feet on the right sideline, Porter spotted Jacksonville goalkeeper Juan Fajardo off his line and took an audacious shot that Fajardo got a touch to, but couldn’t keep from going over the line for a 1-0 Rowdies lead in just the third minute.
Up a goal, the Rowdies dominated the remainder of the first half but didn’t double their lead until the 43rd minute when Morrell stole the ball off an Armada U23 defender and raced toward goal before beating Fajardo from a sharp angle for a 2-0 lead.
“Luckily, the guy had a bad pass, and I picked it off,” Morrell said. “I made the most out of it and scored on my old keeper from college. That was nice.”
Paterson finished the scoring in the 68th minute, tapping in a low cross from Darwin Jones for his second goal of the season in all competitions.
The result was never really in doubt, particularly after Jacksonville was reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute when Dener Dos Santos was shown a red card. The Rowdies took six shots on target and didn’t allow one from Jacksonville.
It was Tampa Bay’s seventh clean sheet in 10 matches in all competitions.
Jacksonville University Golf earns 1st NCAA Championship berth thru playoff
Before this season, Jacksonville had never qualified for the NCAA Championship in men’s golf. That changed this week as the Dolphins defeated Northwestern in a playoff to grab the fifth and final NCAA Championship berth out of the NCAA Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Regional.
Golfweek reports that after Jacksonville and Northwestern had finished at 19 over, the Dolphins, which carded the final round of the day (1-over 289), and Wildcats each shot two over using a play-five-count-four format on the par-4 18th hole.
The teams then moved on to the par-4 10th hole. Jacksonville’s first three players combined to go one over while Northwestern’s two players in the first group went one over. In the second group, Jacksonville’s two players shot even par and Northwestern, which had a player hit a drive out of bounds, conceded defeat.
Jacksonville began the day in seventh place and didn’t get off to a fast start on the back nine. However, the Dolphins’ four counting players combined to shoot two under on the front nine. Raul Pereda birdied Nos. 4-7 as part of a 1-over 73. Davis Wicks’ closing 71 led the team.
The real impact of Chinese imports on American factories has been discussed to death. But if you look closely, you can find a counter-narrative emerging.
One example of that was demonstrated in Northwest Jacksonville Thursday afternoon, where Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other local dignitaries came together for the grand opening of a 121,000 square foot stainless steel Hans-Mill garbage can factory.
A vital business in an area of town that needs them; an initiative made possible by Wal-Mart, which has committed to buy $250M of American products over the next ten years.
Garbage cans from Jacksonville — and not China — will be part of that narrative. And at least 50 new jobs will be created. All of that with local incentives. And five of those jobs are to be for Northwest Jacksonville residents.
James Han, the CEO of the manufacturer Hans-Mill, said that Jacksonville was “the right location … the total package” for the manufacturing of these cans.
His company makes 750 items worldwide, and hopes to bring more production stateside, to decrease the company’s “carbon footprint” and take advantage of local sourcing.
This plays into Wal-Mart’s strategy, which prioritizes local sourcing — and has a time element, said Cindi Marsiglio, VP of U.S. Manufacturing.
“Go fast, go big,” was her summation of Wal-Mart’s rapid-fire ramp-up of domestic production.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, meanwhile, said “Jacksonville continues to roll” and “we’re going to continue to roll.”
“This today is big,” Curry said. “We’ve had a number of local expansions … companies move into Jacksonville for the first time.”
“This has been in process for a period of time. This is a big deal,” Curry said.
Despite uncertainty regarding the future of economic incentives on the state level, JAXUSA — an arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — has brought in 2,000 jobs this year to date.
While Curry noted the importance of state dollars, he said the city is going to fight for jobs regardless.
“Clearly, they’re important. But if it doesn’t go the way we’d like it to go … Jacksonville’s not going to lay down and cry and moan. We’re going to find a way to have a competitive advantage and compete for jobs,” Curry added.
“There’s always incentives available,” Curry said about the city, if they conform with the “scorecard” model Jacksonville uses to determine ROI.
“We can figure out how to get there,” Curry added, “often.”
Of course, it’s not just incentives that make the sale, said Tim Cost, President of the JAXUSA partnership.
Collaboration between political leaders and the “incredibly cooperative” business community help with making the sale to businesses relocating, Cost added.
Just as films and books have reviews, the municipal bond sector has its own critiques from bond ratings agencies.
In the case of Moody’s, which dropped its report Wednesday on Jacksonville’s status after pension reform, the writeup boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”
And Moody’s also asserts that there may be a ceiling in terms of how the agency will see Jacksonville’s performance: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets – while city contributions are going to be reduced.”
“By eliminating defined-benefit pensions for new employees, the city will shed investment performance risk over time. However, Jacksonville will also provide costly new benefits and salary increases under the plan, which it can only afford because it will defer a significant portion of its legacy pension costs to the 2030s,” reads the report.
“The city’s pension reform efforts come at a cost. While the city will carry no investment performance risk with the defined-contribution benefits for new employees, it will still contribute 25% of payroll for public safety employees. Public safety employees do not participate in Social Security,” the report adds.
Benefits, meanwhile, can be described as a mixed bag: “The longer that the sales tax for pensions must stay in place, the more difficulty the city could face in garnering support for other revenue resources, should the need arise. On the other hand, the city will immediately begin shedding investment performance risk relative to the status quo as new employees with only defined contribution benefits grow as a proportion of the city’s work force.”
Raises for city employees — delayed over a decade — are also factored into the mix.
“By 2020, these raises will increase the city’s salary spending by $120 million annually, which will amount to roughly 10% of the city’s general fund revenues by 2020…. Jacksonville will primarily offset these new costs by lowering its legacy defined benefit pension contributions…. The city will account for the dedicated future sales tax revenues as pension assets, which will reduce reported unfunded liabilities and thus lower its pension contribution requirements. Through this approach, the city will effectively lower its pension costs for the next 12 years, but it must significantly hike contributions once the new sales tax revenues become available.”
This describes the “deferred contribution” approach to pension reform that Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief lieutenants sold the city on over many months.
“Defending the Constitution and enforcing the rule of law is something that can keep me up at night and get me out of bed in the morning,” Fant said Monday.
“The Legislature has been a wonderful experience, but I’m more of someone who likes to administer public policy for an organization, as opposed to standing on the soapbox and screaming all the time, which is what we have to do in the Legislature,” Fant added.
So Fant is interested in “enforcing the rule of law,” rather than making laws — an important point.
“Culturally, there seems to be a lot of pop culture bent against law enforcement, kind of neo-1960s dismissal of our law enforcement people,” he said. “I think that’s a harmful trend, and I hate to see people go after our guys and girls in the blue.”
Johnson is known for virulent anti-homosexual rhetoric, which has even been an embarrassment to fellow Republicans.
Fant’s campaign asserts that Johnson is “not a hire.” Fine. But why was he the point of contact for the launch for his campaign?
Al Lawson has ‘favorite son’ town hall in Gadsden County
U.S. Rep. Lawson may have a learning curve in “Dirty Duval.” But he is golden, a “favorite son” in Gadsden County, according to the Havana Herald.
Highlights? There was some new info from his town hall last week.
Georgia Rep. John Lewis has been mentoring freshman legislators, Lawson said.
“He is truly there to help us get a chance to congregate as freshmen,” he said.
Lawson also discussed food deserts and nutritional deprivation, noting that some school students are hurting so bad for a decent meal that “kids on Fridays put food in their backpacks because they might have no other food on weekends.”
As you can see below, hunger was also a theme in a Jacksonville appearance.
Lenny Curry committee makes it rain in April
April was a big month for Jacksonville Mayor Curry, as he was making the final sale of his pension reform to the Jacksonville City Council.
To that end, his political committee [“Build Something That Lasts”] spent big: $122,000.
Of that money, $100,000 went to ad buys — which facilitated an effective television ad that drove people to call the Jacksonville City Council and show support.
The ad worked: pension reform passed without a no vote.
Curry secured $55,000 of donations in April, with Tom Petway, Michael Munz and John Rood giving.
The committee has roughly $230,000 cash on hand, and with Curry staying put in Jacksonville after withdrawing from the CFO search, he will have time to replenish the coffers.
Paul Renner delivers big for Flagler, St. Johns dune restoration
When Flagler County commissioners recently workshopped an update on recovery from Hurricane Matthew, concerns arose over money appropriated by the Legislature.
More specifically, what was not being appropriated.
“I’m hearing we might not even come close to the $10 million we were hoping for,” Commission Chair Nate McLaughlin told FlaglerLive.com.
However, Republican state Rep. Renner, whose district includes all of Flagler County, came to the rescue. By the end of the 2017 Session, Renner secured $13.3 million for emergency repairs in his district.
But the money came with the catch, as far as Flagler is concerned: it would have to be shared between Flagler and St. Johns counties, leaving a certain uncertainty over how the Department of Environmental Protection will split the amount. The DEP oversees administering the money and of some of the beach-restoration work for Hurricane Matthew repairs, after the storm sheared off enormous chunks of beach sand and dunes in Flagler County.
“DEP will administer that based upon the county’s needs,” Renner said in an interview. “So, we believe that that in combination, with the possibility of some funds from the main beaches budget, will be adequate to cover the entirety of the local match in Flagler County.”
Laura Street Trio, Barnett Building in play
Good news for those wanting downtown development to continue on the upswing! The Florida Times-Union reports that Curry is committed to the renovation of the properties, and the city is willing to put in $9.8M in incentives to make that happen.
“With a keen focus on increasing economic development throughout the city, building public-private partnerships, and ensuring a return on the city’s investments to taxpayers, my administration has been able to successfully negotiate a redevelopment agreement where others have stalled and failed,” Curry asserted.
“Any redevelopment project I present to City Council will reflect a return to taxpayers,” Curry added. “This one is no exception.”
City incentives are “part of $78 million worth of work to turn the buildings into a mix of apartments, hotel rooms, restaurants, rooftop bar, bank and bodega market,” the T-U report added.
All of this would be done within about three years.
School Board, Nikolai Vitti rail against HB 7069
Newsflash: the Duval County School Board and the state Legislature are sideways on education reform, with board members and outgoing Superintendent Vitti messaging hard against changes Monday before the legislature approved the bill, as WJXT reports.
“Not only are we underfunded for infrastructure, but we will see less funding and an acceleration of funding to charter schools,” Vitti said. “This “reform” is — I call it reform because that’s what the Legislature is calling it — it’s not reform. It’s hijacking of the legislative process to favor charter schools. In other words, to favor the few over the many.”
The controversial bit of the bill: the “Schools of Hope” program, incentivizing charter schools taking on students from failing schools — and upsetting the funding formula.
Police Union 1, ‘F— the Police’ 0
In the wake of a springtime clash between anti-Trump protesters and Jacksonville police officers, a very public clash soon ensued on Facebook between Jacksonville Ethics Commission nominee Leslie Jean-Bart and Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona.
That clash — which involved, among other things, Jean-Bart defending protesters using the inflammatory phrase “f — the police” by posting that “Also, F*** the Police is protected free speech. I’m not going to condemn it because there is no reason to do so” — has now reached the denouement.
And it appears Jean-Bart will not be moving toward the Ethics Commission anytime soon, with the City Council withdrawing the bill that would put her on.
The nomination was withdrawn at the request of its sponsor: Public Defender Charles Cofer.
In the words of Ice-T: “Freedom of speech … just watch what you say.”
Save the date: Florida Foundation for Liberty is hosting a fundraising reception for Rep. Renner Thursday, May 25. Reception begins 5:30 p.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr. #3500, in Jacksonville. RSVP to Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UF Health North cuts ribbon on new inpatient hospital
The 92-bed tower is connected by walkways to the current medical office complex, the heart of the campus, which has been open since 2015. The new hospital consists of five floors, four for patients with all private rooms.
There is a 20-bed unit dedicated to labor and delivery and other women’s services, a 24-bed floor dedicated to the intensive care, two 24-bed floors devoted to general medical inpatients, and one floor of administrative services, a chapel, a cafeteria and more.
Night at the Zoo
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be in a whole new light with Night at the Zoo events from 6:30-10 p.m. Live music, food trucks, cash bars, and visitors will have a chance to see animal exhibits until 8:30 p.m. on June 23, July 14, July 28 and August 11.
There will be animal encounters, keeper talks, bounce houses and more. Tickets for members are $5/adults and $3/children (3-12); nonmembers are $10/adult and $5/children (3-12). Child 2 and under: free (but still require a ticket) Tickets are available by pre-sale, online purchase only.
JAXPORT adds Hans-Mill Corporation
Hans-Mill Corporation, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of metal and plastic household products, is opening a state-of-the-art manufacturing center near the JAXPORT North Jacksonville marine terminals.
The 121,000-square-foot facility IS for manufacturing, assembling and distributing stainless steel trash cans and plastic household products sold at major retailers around the world.
Hans-Mill will use JAXPORT to import materials used in its manufacturing process from Asia, as well as for the import of finished goods for U.S. distribution. In addition, the company has been granted permission to operate within JAXPORT’s Foreign Trade Zone No. 64. The facility, which already serves as the company’s headquarters, stands for an $11 million investment in Northeast Florida, creating 23 new, direct jobs.
Some good news for fans of minor league baseball in Jacksonville, from First Coast News.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are showing a 73 percent YOY increase in attendance — a validation of the once-controversial and once-derided change of the team’s name from the Suns.
Purists balked. But with new promotions and a new look, baseball is juiced once again at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
That’s the biggest increase in turnstile traffic in minor league baseball. The second biggest has a local connection as well: the Columbia Fireflies. The South Carolina A club features Tim Tebow at the plate, and casual fans at the gate, with a 43 percent uptick year over year.
Armada remain undefeated thanks to late equalizer
The Jacksonville Armada FC recorded a late comeback to draw with the New York Cosmos Saturday night. In the 95th minute, Zach Steinberger nailed a clutch goal to give the Armada FC (2W-4D-0L) a 1-1 draw with the New York Cosmos (2W-3D-1L) after trailing from the 23rd minute onward.
Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that New York’s early goal came courtesy of Javi Marquez. Jacksonville goalkeeper Caleb Sewell-Patterson had a great game once again making key saves to keep the Armada within striking distance.
“That performance was the best performance I’ve ever seen from the Armada against the New York Cosmos, who are one of the best teams in the NASL over the past few years,” said head coach Mark Lowry. The Cosmos have won 3 of the last 4 NASL Championships.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Armada Midfielder Kevan George. “We’re a team. Our chemistry and grind from preseason is what brought us to this point. Are we surprised that we tied the game? No, we knew we had it in us. We just have to keep going and get wins.”
Jacksonville faces North Carolina FC in NASL play Saturday. The Armada will be looking to continue its undefeated run and jump back into first place with a win. Jacksonville has drawn four straight games.
Meanwhile, the Armada FC learned who they’d face in next week’s US Open Second Round. Miami United will be the opposition after a late winner sunk Boca Raton FC. Local playing legend Nacho scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute for Miami in a game where Boca Raton recorded the majority of chances, particularly in the second half. Miami’s goal against the run of play was impressive and showed the side could counterattack well, something Lowery and the Armada FC will have to account for in next week’s matchup.
The match will take place Tuesday, May 16, at Hialeah’s Ted Hendricks Stadium.
Today, there are approximately 200 teacher openings in Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) for the 2016—2017 school year, which ends next month. That means students in 200 classrooms are being managed by a substitute.
The teacher shortage is not surprising, but the Duval County School Board’s consideration to cut Teach for America (TFA) is. If the school board gets its way when it meets Monday, there will be 325 openings soon.
In lieu of funding TFA in Jacksonville, this board is considering using the $400,000 originally earmarked for those 125 teachers to instead pay for marketing — yes, marketing.
More specifically, Chairwoman Paula Wright proposed using the money for DCPS billboards, which to be frank, is a bad idea. While Ms. Wright likes billboards, readers should know what TFA actually does.
TFA is a program that trains, supports, and places many of the nation’s top college students in the country’s lowest-performing Title I schools, where there is the greatest need for teachers.
It infuses racially and economically diverse educators into neighborhood schools and provides successful role models that look or came from households like the students they teach. In 2015, 64 percent of TFA Jacksonville corps members identified as people of color or from a low-income background.
Since TFA opened in Duval County in 2008, more than 30 TFA corps members have won Teacher of the Year in their school, including two finalists for Duval County’s Teacher of the Year.
Not only does TFA help fill critical teaching positions, but it also seeks out schools with the greatest shortages in the most vital subject areas: math, science and language arts. TFA corps members were a considerable share — 14 percent — of new math hires in Duval this year.
In a climate of teacher shortage crises, the decision to cut TFA makes no sense, especially with only three months until teachers report for the 2017-2018 school year. This consideration reeks of politics from an ineffectual school board that recently drove out its superintendent with pettiness.
This is not about students or stewardship of taxpayer dollars. This is about attempting to take out a program that many of the entrenched status quo interests have resented since the day it began in Duval County.
TFA has its shortcomings like any organization and it is not a silver bullet for education reform, but it has a proven track record of creating tangible impacts on student achievement in classrooms across Florida and the nation.
In a state where the average public school teacher comes and goes in 3.5 years, 70 percent of 2014 TFA Jacksonville corps members continue teaching beyond their two-year commitment and remain in the classroom today.
Many former corps members also become school administrators or choose to make Jacksonville their permanent home, no matter their profession, which is a boon for attracting well-educated, high skilled workers and their families to Jacksonville.
Without TFA in Jacksonville, the teacher shortage problems in Duval will just worsen. The number of vacancies could more than double to 400 vacancies or more.
That’s why it’s extremely misguided to think $400,000 worth of billboards and advertising will be the key to filling those 200 vacant teaching positions. Other strategies are needed to fill these roles.
Moving forward, TFA and its impact in Jacksonville should be regularly evaluated with renewed public attention and debate. For right now, the 125 TFA corps members and 95 TFA alumni teaching in Duval County, along with the many other talented administrators and education-focused professionals who are borne from TFA, are sorely and desperately needed in this city.
Anyone who cares for our most vulnerable students should implore their board member to make the right decision. Pettiness and politics from our school board should not get in the way of children’s best interests.
Dave Chauncey is an education, labor and employment attorney in Jacksonville. He was a 2010 TFA Corps Member in Jacksonville. You can tweet him @DaveChauncey.
Is there a politician in Florida right now on more of a hot streak than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry?
This issue of Bold tells the tale.
Curry’s pension reform appears to be on a glide path toward ratification — a major accomplishment.
His moves toward downtown revitalization have a major shot in the arm, with Shad Khan getting the green light to go forward with Shipyards redevelopment.
And he is still in the CFO discussion — bigly.
It is a political season where everyone in Tallahassee looks a bit more diminished with each passing news cycle.
Yet, Curry — vilified as a “party boss” during the campaign two years ago — is looking like the embodiment of leadership.
At 70 percent in an internal poll (and above 60 percent of Democrats), the question has to be raised: Is Jacksonville enough for Curry, or is it time for him to make a play for something statewide?
Pension reform a done deal … almost
It appears that the long and winding path toward comprehensive pension reform in Jacksonville has all but completed after the Jacksonville City Council “committee of the whole” voted to recommend 14 pension reform bills to the full Council Monday.
What this means: all that’s left for the body to do is vote once more for the bills they approved in committee.
Of the bills, 11 ratify collective bargaining agreements. One authorizes the ½ penny sales tax extension, which provides actuarial certainty that there will be money to pay down and eventually pay off the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability. And two more bills reconfigure the city’s retirement plans.
Existing defined benefit pension plans will close to new entrants. Hires after Oct. 1 will enter defined contribution plans.
Done deal — and maybe the biggest accomplishment of Curry’s political career.
Thus far …
Curry visits Tallahassee, not lobbying for CFO
Curry made his way to Tallahassee this week … but not to buck for the CFO slot.
Curry, who is at 70 percent in a recent internal poll conducted by his political committee, was there advocating for a friend and CEO of a Jacksonville company, reports Tia Mitchell.
“Curry introduced APR Energy Chair and Chief Executive John Campion to Scott and explained the company’s issues, which have tied up $44 million and could cost even more. He asked Scott to reach out to President Donald Trump in hopes of that the president can help bring the yearslong case to resolution,” Mitchell writes.
Turbines owned by APR were rented by an Australian company that went bankrupt, frustrating attempts to retrieve the equipment.
Curry, meanwhile, is willing to have a “conversation” about the CFO position, he told Mitchell.
Does Jacksonville need block grants?
Does the city of Jacksonville need Community Development Block Grants? As an urban city with all kinds of legacy problems, one would think the federal money would come in handy.
But getting Curry to take a position on CDBGs has been a slog.
The city kicked off the beginning of a week of events designed to call attention to the utility of CDBGs with a mayoral proclamation — but with no one authorized to deliver it.
TV was there — no worries, they didn’t notice. But there is a school of thought that Curry’s reticence is related to the desire of President Trump to zero out these grants — weekend travel to one’s private clubs isn’t cheap.
Curry’s spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, projected agnosticism on the issue on behalf of her boss.
“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.
Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.
Aaron Bean is lobbying for CFO
Sen Bean — already filed for re-election to the Senate — is in the mix for the CFO opening that will be created soon.
“My name is in the hat for CFO,” Bean said. He has met with Gov. Rick Scott, who said he would announce the process for selection “after Session ends.”
Bean is part of a crowded field of candidates, which includes Curry and Pat Neal, who has been touted by statewide political media as a strong candidate for the caretaker role.
Trouble for Paul Renner?
Rep. Renner has made no secret of his desire to be House Speaker in 2022 — and that may be a dealbreaker.
A week after POLITICO Florida reported Renner discussed his speaker’s bid with House Republicans — violating prohibitions against campaigning for the slot — new draft rules may knock him out of the running.
Peter Schorsch lays it out.
“According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules,” Schorsch writes.
Adopted last year, those rules state a “candidate for the office of Republican Leader-designate may not have directly or indirectly solicited or accepted a formal or informal pledge of support before June 30 of the year following the general election which the final members of their legislative class were elected.”
Conference rules go on to say a violation would render that candidate “ineligible to stand for election before the House Republican Conference as either the Republican Leader-designate or the Republican Leader.”
Corrine Brown trial boasts witness star power
Federal court awaits Brown next week, and political watchers will appreciate the star power brought forth to testify on the questionable charity graced by Brown’s name.
Among the defense witnesses: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.
Jacksonville luminaries will also testify, including former Mayor John Delaney.
Testifying for the prosecution: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville super-donors John Baker and Ed Burr, Jacksonville lawyer, and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.
Testifying for the state: the congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown and her two alleged co-conspirators: Carla Wiley and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons. Simmons also is on deck for the defense.
Both Wiley and Simmons have pleaded out, and their sentences are contingent on cooperation with the feds.
Brown faces 22 federal counts, with a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all charges are found valid.
Nikolai Vitti, Motown-bound
The Detroit Free Pressreported this week that Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is moving on to the Motor City, wrapping up a tenure that saw Vitti with more buy-in from community “stakeholders” than rank and file.
Going forward, It looks to be a wild ride for Vitti.
The Free Press reported “jeers” from some audience members, with the objection being that Vitti is not African-American.
And there is a lawsuit challenging the openness of the search process also.
And the teacher’s union wants the interim superintendent kept on as an assistant superintendent.
Vitti’s tagline during this process has been a claim that he has Detroit in his DNA.
There’s still time to order a kit from 23AndMe, doctor.
Meanwhile, the Duval County School Board meets Friday to discuss next steps.
Shad Khan gets greenlit for Shipyards development
The “future of the Shipyards” is in the hands of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan.
No, it’s not kismet. Rather, it’s the result of Khan’s Iguana Investments emerging as the best of three competitive bids for redevelopment of the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park. Indeed, Iguana’s score of 85.5 was well ahead of the other two hopefuls.
Action News Jax reports that “Khan’s vision for Downtown stays true to his prior ‘Live. Work. Stay. Play’ pitch. His aim is to create an atmosphere around the stadium where the City and Jaguars both benefit. In addition to residential and park space, the plan calls for a luxury hotel that connects to the stadium through a pedestrian tunnel and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge park, similar to the High Line in New York.”
City Council will approve this deal later this spring.
Jax Chamber pushes Players economic impact
The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce ascribes $151M of economic impact from May’s PLAYERS Championship for Northeast Florida.
The Chamber hosted a news conference this week that involved representatives from the PLAYERS and US Assure, and as has been the case previously, all parties discussed the unique economic synergy created by the event.
“The tournament has hosting opportunities for businesses of all sizes and the PLAYERS Club is an excellent way to showcase our community, the tournament, and your company. If you have not already, I would highly suggest reaching out to staff of THE PLAYERS to figure out how they can help your company host clients at this amazing event,” US Assure chief operating officer Ryan Schwartz asserted.
“During May 9-14, Northeast Florida is on an international stage thanks to THE PLAYERS Championship,” Jax Chamber Chair Darnell Smith said. “As a community, we must continue to take advantage of this spectacular tournament and venue to showcase how wonderful this city is and to help grow business here in Northeast Florida.”
Ed Burr, double booked
When it comes to the JEA Board, almost-Chair Burr has left the building, reports the Florida Times-Union.
“Mayor Lenny Curry appointed Burr, along with other business leaders, to the board in 2015 following a shake-up of the board in the wake of controversy over governance at JEA. Curry reappointed Burr for another term this year, but Burr asked for his name to be withdrawn from reappointment because of continued ambiguity in state law about whether he is a dual officeholder,” Sebastian Kitchen writes.
Burr, chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council and a Lenny Curry ally, also serves on the FSU Board.
Tom Petway will serve as interim chair until a new chair is formally selected.
March Madness comes to Jacksonville in 2019
The NCAA awarded Jacksonville a Division I Men’s Basketball Regional for 2019. The Florida Times-Union reports it is the fourth time since 2006 that the city has been a part of March Madness.
Jacksonville is the Florida site chosen for an NCAA regional for the next two years. Tampa received a regional for 2020.
“We have worked on this for the past year, and I think our track record from hosting in 2006, 2010 and 2015 spoke for itself,” said Alan Verlander, chief operating officer and executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Council. “We’re very excited to welcome March Madness back to Jacksonville.”
University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium will host the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Outdoor Championships in May 2019 and May 2021.
“We are thrilled to welcome NCAA Championship events back to Jacksonville,” said Curry. “Our community continues to demonstrate that we are a premiere destination for many of the biggest and brightest sporting events. This is another great opportunity to support and celebrate student-athletes who are competing at the highest level.”
Motivational Speaker Doug Dvorak to give Flagler College commencement
Approximately 358 Flagler University students will get a motivational speech from Doug Dvorak when they receive their diplomas at a commencement ceremony next weekend.
Dvorak, an alum who graduated from Flager with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1984, is the CEO of DMG International, an organization that assists clients with sales, productivity and motivational workshops. His background in sales, leadership and management has allowed him to become one of the world’s most sought-after consultants, lecturers and teachers, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame.
JAXPORT now offers expanded service to Asia through Hamburg Süd’s new Asia- North America East Coast rotation. JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminalserves as the last port of call for the new service offered through the 2M Alliance. Ships in the rotation offer direct service from Jacksonville to Busan in South Korea as well as Qingdao, Xingang, Shanghai and Ningbo in China. SSA Marine furnishes stevedoring services at Blount Island.
UF Health Jacksonvilleneurology patients needing medical imaging are getting scans much quicker after an in-house, multiple-department efforts have reduced turnaround times. The change brings more efficiency, increased throughput, and improved patient satisfaction. Overall, there was a 52 percent decrease in the number of scans that took more than a day to complete. Data for the study were collected through early 2016.
Jacksonville-based Community Hospice of Northeast Florida has a new name — Community Hospice & Palliative Care. The Florida Times-Union reports the change reflects Community Hospice’s growing line of services and programs. Since 1979, Community Hospice has served the end-of-life needs of patients and families in Northeast Florida. In February it received a certificate of need start offering hospice services to an 11-county region of north and north-central Florida.
Armada FC appoints Marshall Happer as chief operating officer
Coming off a 0-0 draw this week with San Francisco that kept the Armada unbeaten, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports the club has promoted Happer to chief operating officer. Happer was appointed by the North American Soccer League (NASL), which took over ownership of Armada FC in early 2017.
A former NFL executive, Happer helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations. He has been with Jacksonville since it kicked off NASL play in front of a crowd of 16,164 at EverBank Field on April 4, 2015, against FC Edmonton. The Armada beat Edmonton twice to start the 2017 campaign and now picked up a draw against San Francisco.
Happer will lead the club’s day-to-day business efforts and manage its front office staff. Under the current ownership landscape, all Armada FC assets have been transferred to the NASL. The Jacksonville Armada FC Youth Academy will continue to operate as a separate nonprofit organization.
“It’s an honor to lead this club and continue to bring high-level soccer and quality entertainment to our loyal fans here in Jacksonville,” Happer said. “The team is off to an undefeated start on the field, the front office is eager to connect with the community in new and exciting ways, and the move to Hodges Stadium — a new facility for us — has been extremely well-received by the Armada FC faithful.”
The Armada’s quick start has raised eyebrows throughout the NASL. The club sits in first place with seven points through three games and has yet to concede a goal. Jacksonville travels to New York to face the defending champion Cosmos on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on beIN SPORTS USA nationally.
This year’s model says that the city has derived $393M from CDBGs since 1975; the 2015 iteration said it was just $388M.
Both versions also promise a week of events.
However, there’s one key difference between 2015 and 2017: the principals involved, and the political context of CDBGs.
In 2015, Democratic President Barack Obama was cruising toward the end of his second term, and Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown didn’t have to worry about Obama eliminating these grants.
Business as usual.
In 2017, Republican President Donald Trump eliminated CDBGs in his “skinny budget.” And Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, who has bet chunks of his political capital on building a relationship with the Trump White House, signaled his first meaningful break from the Trump Administration by participating in National Community Development Week.
In that Trumpian context, block grants are more of a political hot potato.
And thus this event, anodyne in other years, proved to have a more compelling 2017 narrative.
City employees on hand were surprised when this outlet mentioned that no one from the mayor’s office planned to be in attendance. Others were surprised when the expected proclamation from the mayor’s office wasn’t delivered.
“We do have a proclamation,” a speaker said, “but we don’t have anyone from the mayor’s office.”
[In a phone conversation later on Monday, Curry’s spokeswoman Marsha Oliver noted that other city employees were on hand and that the proclamation could have been delivered.]
LaCree Carswell, the manager of the Housing and Community Development Division, said it bluntly when she said “these funds are on the chopping block.”
Carswell said that the $17M in CDBG money the city gets yearly is “used wisely,” with the annual event in a building on a HBCU that was constructed with CDBG money being an example.
Among the allocations funded with block grants at the so-called “Community of Hope” center: an elder-health literacy program … something essential for those in one of Jacksonville’s most economically-challenged communities.
Politicians were on hand — but they were all Democrats.
Former State Sen. Tony Hill, speaking on behalf of Rep. Al Lawson, noted that Lawson told HUD Secretary Ben Carson not to cut this program.
“We need to have it and we need more of it,” Hill said.
Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis emphasized the importance of the center, as it fulfills three goals of CDBGs: benefiting low and moderate income people; mitigating blight; and promoting health and welfare.
“Whatever I need to do,” was Dennis’ commitment to those on hand.
The City Council “will do what we can to advocate for more funds,” Dennis added.
Dennis, when asked after the event about the absence of representation from the Mayor’s Office, said “maybe it missed someone’s calendar … I’m not sure.”
However, Dennis added, “I plan on following up.”
“Him not being here doesn’t signal good or bad for this project. Why wouldn’t he want federal money coming to Jacksonville,” Dennis continued.
That said, “anytime the mayor uses the bully pulpit on an issue, it helps. Whether it’s pension, CDBG funding, homeless, whenever the mayor comes out, it really makes a statement. In no way do I think he’s avoiding CDBG or is scared to challenge Trump,” Dennis added.
We asked the mayor’s office for a statement. It was brief.
“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.
Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.
Charles Moreland of the Mayor’s Office is expected to be at a Wednesday afternoon event, which runs opposite the Jacksonville City Council discussing his pension reform legislation.
Questions still remain as to whether Congressman Lawson understands Jacksonville, as his visits to the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday, and town hall Wednesday indicate.
On Tuesday, one could sense among certain council members (specifically, those representing districts that overlap Lawson’s) a grating irritation over Lawson’s constant use of Eureka Garden Apartments as a stand-in for All Things Jacksonville
Councilwoman Katrina Brown (a Corrine Brown ally) asked about community development block grants and pointedly noted that Lawson had yet to visit her district.
Wednesday’s town hall saw had no elected Jacksonville officials in attendance; a point perhaps less meaningful if Lawson demonstrated an understanding of local issues.
Instead, he wasn’t able to.
Discussions of an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in Fairfax and the city’s participation in the federal National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) program revealed a fundamental ignorance of local issues.
NBD. Only the biggest city in the district.
Lawson, when asked about his Jacksonville disconnect, noted that there are lots of “city commissions” in his district. While true, that is also tone-deaf, especially with a lot of locals looking at Florida’s 5th Congressional District and seeing it as a Jacksonville seat.
Lots of Jacksonville folks wanted to run Corrine Brown out of town on a rail.
“Oh, the corruption,” they said. “She’s such an embarrassment,” they said. “Go Gata,” they quipped — as Corrine Brown served as a punching bag for white liberals and conservatives who didn’t understand how instrumental she was to the local appropriations process.
Lawson, when asked, couldn’t even name a local appropriation he is championing.
CD 5 was a Jacksonville seat. Now it’s a Tallahassee seat.
Lawson is pushing 70 and has been at this for over a year, counting the campaign; he has five minutes worth of talking points for a city of a million people.
Issues Lawson faces … a lack of both seniority and local connections.
2018 will get real. And the Corrine Brown machine will reconfigure, even without her.
Like a Transformer, there is more than meets the eye.
Will the Corrine Brown machine reassemble with a different face? Time will tell.
The 43-year plan takes center stage
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is, more than likely, less than two weeks away from knowing if his pension reform plan will be approved by the City Council.
Its actuaries thought the plan was too optimistic in assumptions regarding both payroll growth and sales tax revenue, speculating that even after the proposed sunset of Jacksonville’s halfpenny tax in 2060, the $2.8B unfunded liability for the defined benefit pension plans that would be closed this year still would not be resolved.
The big news was the downward impact of adjustments to payroll growth projections and COLA calculations after Monday’s meeting of the Police and Fire Pension Fund.
“We still save a lot. But we save less,” was how Jacksonville’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, described the impacts of $13M of tweaks that would hit the process for FY 2018.
Though some council members, especially those in Districts 7-10, seek commitments for allocations funded by the budget relief provided by the pension reform plan, most see the mechanism as a “tool in the toolbox.”
The discretionary sales tax: not a magic bullet, but part of a larger arsenal.
That’s the sales pitch, and the administration can get at least 13 votes with it.
Interesting tweet of the week:
Ben Carson talks HUD reform
In Jacksonville with Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Lawson, HUD Secretary Ben Carson discussed his plans for HUD reform.
Carson’s meandering rhetoric (at one point, he discussed external malefactors wanting to “destroy” America) didn’t always jibe with what one might expect from HUD secretaries of the past.
But his reform proposals are worth noting, including “housing savings accounts,” which would (in theory) allow HUD residents to save money for incidental repairs or for down payments on their own homes.
Carson sent mixed signals about allocations, hinting that a large portion of Trump’s proposed $1T infrastructure infusion would go to HUD projects.
Meanwhile, he also outlined the importance of public-private partnerships in terms of HUD construction and rehab.
CBN lauds Kim Daniels for school prayer bill
State Rep. Kim Daniels got Hosannas recently from the Christian Broadcasting Network for her “big win for prayer,” via HB 303 — a measure she introduced to the Florida House to permit religious expression in public schools.
CBN notes that her testimony has been featured previously on the 700 Club.
In a session where the diminished clout of the Duval Delegation has been a depressing leitmotif for local political watchers, Daniels’ bill (poised to become law once signed by Gov. Rick Scott) is a high-profile success.
Jason Fischer extols Session accomplishments
In an email to constituents, state Rep. Fischer offers a “glimpse of what we’ve accomplished in Tallahassee so far this session.”
Among the accomplishments Fischer cites: “HB-65 Civil Remedies for Terrorism, unanimously passed the House floor … HB-245 Self-Defense Immunity passed the House floor … HB-969 Pregnancy Support and Wellness Services passed the House floor.”
Beyond these measures, Fischer also thanked the Florida Association of Sheriffs for backing his “HJR-721, Selection and Duties of County Sheriff.”
The resolution proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would require the constitutional officer of sheriff be an elected position, Fischer notes.
Sens. Keith Perry and Audrey Gibson led the field. Perry was a ham sandwich away from a $30,000 March, and already has $102K to defend his competitive Gainesville seat. Gibson (also chair of the Duval Democrats) broke the $20,000 barrier; she will face no competition for re-election.
Meanwhile, the political committee of Rep. Jay Fant (“Pledge This Day”) raised $54K of establishment Jacksonville money. Fant, described by many as persona non grata in the House after bucking Speaker Richard Corcoran on incentive voters, is still looking at a run for Attorney General.
Those with long-term memories will remember that, in October, Fant ran against a write-in for re-election to the Florida House … and burned through $70K on advertising designed to drive name identification up.
Could he use that money now?
It will take more than ambidextrous handshaking to get Jay Fant to the next level.
Osteopaths name Aaron Bean Legislator of the Year
The Florida Osteopathic Medical Association announced this week that Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Bean is its 2017 Legislator of the Year.
FOMA said the annual award goes to a lawmaker that has proved their support for osteopathic medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the citizens of Florida.
“I am beyond honored to be FOMA’s 2017 Legislator of the Year,” Bean said. “As a longtime advocate for health care issues and a former chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand how important it is to be constantly working to improve our health care and adopt treatment, prevention and alleviation advancements that benefit all Floridians.”
Jax Sheriff: Gary Snow ‘catalyst’ of Hemming Park melee
What happens when someone working a pro-police gimmick gets tagged, by the sheriff no less, as being a “catalyst” of a riot?
This is what happened to Gary Snow, a Rust Belt transplant who moved to Jacksonville last year and was immediately cradled to the bosom of the local GOP.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told us Tuesday that Snow, in fact, was a “catalyst” of the melee in Hemming Park between protesters and police — and the JSO is reviewing video of the event, as well as its procedures.
“That event Friday — he clearly was a catalyst” for the violence that occurred, Williams said.
“We had dozens and dozens of protests in Jacksonville, peacefully. We’ve got a great working relationship with the Progressive Coalition and many other groups in that protest.”
With another protest slated for April 15, it will be interesting to see the short-term and long-term procedural changes with regard to managing protests and the counter-protester, whose actions “catalyzed” what is sure to be numerous lawsuits and news cycles to come.
Curry talks Journey to One
Though Duval County is now down to 55th among Florida’s 67 counties, Curry is still pushing the city toward a “Journey to One.”
That #1 spot is held by St. Johns County.
Jacksonville residents, reports WJXT, lost 75,000 pounds last year in response to Curry’s challenge to the city to lose a million pounds; 3,900 locals participated in the mayor’s challenge.
“I am here today to support this, to remain committed to it,” Curry said. “While I am very good at the daily exercise I will tell you, the daily diet continues to be a fight and struggle, but I’m accountable knowing that we are all in this together.
Springfield Overlay controversy grinds on
Springfield residents continue to resist changing their zoning category to allow a 12-unit residential facility for the disabled and the chronically homeless.
There are a number of bills related to zoning changes and to financial settlements with the federal government, Disability Rights Florida, and Ability Housing that keeps getting deferred by the Jacksonville City Council. And a Monday public notice meeting offered little that looked like resolution.
Community activists and advocates won the battle, challenging all manner of zoning changes, with the backup of certain council members who objected to the zoning change legislation.
More meetings will follow, says Land Use and Zoning Chairman Danny Becton. But given the realities of pension reform, they won’t be anytime soon.
Appointed — Sara Gaver to the Florida Rehabilitation Council.
Appointed — Christopher Joson as Special Officer of CSX Transportation.
Spotted —Marty Fiorentino at Omarosa Manigault‘s wedding and reception in Washington, D.C. at Trump International Hotel. She married pastor John Allen Newman. Also in attendance were Kent and Ashley Justice, Eric and April Green, and Cantrece Jones. Jacksonville’s Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. and Bishop John E. Guns served in the wedding.
More jobs may be coming to Jacksonville, reports WOKV.
“An economic incentives agreement filed for City Council consideration as ‘Project Avalanche’ says a health care information technology services business that already exists in Jacksonville is considering three cities for its expansion. They say the incentives are a ‘material factor’ for whether to choose Jacksonville,” WOKV says.
Jacksonville leaders have sounded the alarm for economic incentives, including passing a City Council resolution in support of Enterprise Florida this week.
The company, located in Southeast Jacksonville, seeks a $1.25M QTI grant. The company, unnamed as a condition of negotiations, has 300 employees — and would add 250 more.
Important, as Jacksonville reels from the massive cuts to the CSX workforce.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao taps Fiorentino as senior ports adviser
Addressing an American Association of Port Authorities event in Washington last week, POLITICO Florida reports that Chao announced Fiorentino, former chairman of the Jacksonville Port Authority, is serving as her senior adviser on ports. “We are less than two months old in this new administration, and I so desperately needed veterans and experts,” Chao told the gathering of port officials. “So please be assured that you have someone, your advocate, in the office of the secretary.”
JAXPORT honored for auto excellence
JAXPORT announced last Thursday that it picked up an award for auto excellence from Automotive Global Awards North America.
The 2017 Terminals and Ports Operator award recognizes the port for its collaboration with auto processors and ocean carriers and was presented at a ceremony in New Orleans.
More than 600,000 vehicles moved through JAXPORT during the 2016 fiscal year, and the port is home to three major auto processors which offer processing facilities as close as 100 yards from ship berths.
Kartik Krishnaiyer’s Armada recap
The Jacksonville Armada FC are off to a flying start — one that’s caught Armada fans and NASL watchers off guard. The club under Mark Lowery has beaten Edmonton in successive weeks by back-to-back 1-0 scorelines to race out to the top of the NASL table. The surprising start for the Armada puts the club in early contention for the most surprising team in any U.S.-based professional soccer league.
The Armada made quick work of the Eddies in Alberta on Saturday, recording the winning goal in the eighth minute. After an aggressive start, Jacksonville won a corner. Playing a short corner to Zach Steinberger who was positioned at the corner of the area, resulted in a clean finish from the Armada midfielder into the bottom left corner.
Edmonton appeared shellshocked and didn’t really push the issue with the exception of an 18th-minute chance until the second half. In that second half though the Eddies pushed forward with numbers, creating several chances and half chances. Caleb Patterson-Sewell, the Armada goalkeeper, kept a second successive clean sheet, making four saves in the process.
“They put a lot of pressure on us in the second half,” said head coach Lowry, “but I’m a big believer that you have to stick to your principles. Our principles are trying to play, trying to pass the ball, and trying to build out from the back. Edmonton made it very tough for us to do that tonight but we stuck to it. If you stick to your principles, you get the reward.”
The Armada will test its fast start against the San Francisco Deltas at Hodges Stadium Saturday. Kickoff is 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on beIN Sports.
You may notice a running theme with this issue of Bold: much of it deals with crossroads situations (to borrow a phrase from 90s rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony).
Will the city dredge JAXPORT? Or will years of deliberation and consternation lead — as they so often do — to nothing?
Will Corrine Brown beat the rap on the One Door charges? Or will we see her in orange — delighting those outside the process, who see her as a caricature, much more than those who got to know and have worked with her over the years?
Will Lenny Curry sell his pension reform deal? If so, what will victory look like? And what happens to the mayor’s messaging, as the Alvin Brown era recedes further into the memory hole with each passing news cycle?
Will the city’s budgets stabilize?
Moving beyond the current issue, questions linger about what happens with Jacksonville in D.C.
Our local lobby presence is strong — but are both members of congress getting in appropriations requests for long-deferred infrastructural upgrades?
Does Curry manage to cash in on stumping for Trump?
Never mind other questions — like who the next city council president will be.
So many questions, and time will resolve them all.
Former U.S. Rep. Brown will spend a couple of weeks at the Jacksonville federal courthouse, the last live defendant in theOne Door for Education case.
Wednesday’s status conference revealed the contours of the case. Both the state and Brown’s defense team will need about a week each to make their case in the trial starting April 24.
After a two-day jury selection process, the actual trial will start April 26.
Expect a couple of sitting members of Congress to testify on Brown’s behalf.
However, once the trial starts, don’t expect her to talk to the press.
“The one thing she respects is authority,” her lawyer said after the hearing.
An enterprising story
If Jacksonville had a statewide stroke, the fate of Enterprise Florida would not be an issue.
While city leaders aren’t always pragmatic, most know full well Jacksonville needs incentives more acutely than other major cities in the state.
Hogan knows best
In 2015, Mike Hogan defeated current Jacksonville State Rep. Tracie Davis to become Duval County Supervisor of Elections. And two years later, Hogan is still throwing salt in Davis’ game.
Exhibit A fromTia Mitchell: Hogan lobbying Sen. Aaron Bean to water down a voting access bill.
In a Senate committee this week, a Bean amendment neatly eviscerated the intent of the bill, by allowing SOEs to opt out.
“Early voting being a project that I literally made my own while I was there, I’m very disappointed that Duval County was the only county today making a request to opt out,” Davis (a former deputy SOE) said.
The House version lacks an opt-out clause.
The waiting game
Jacksonville City Council Rules Chair Garrett Dennis is a Democrat on a majority GOP council. Faced with a loss on a controversial commission appointee,Mike Anania, Dennis had a novel solution Tuesday in Rules.
He ran out the clock.
The vote appeared to be headed toward a 4-3 party line split in favor of moving the abrasive Anania through the committee — his third vote by the body.
However, there is a rule this year by the committee: a 3:15 “hard stop,” to facilitate the special committee.
Anania’s appointment was the last item requiring a vote, and a meandering procedural discussion about whether there could be a truncated, quasi-probationary three-year term ate up some time.
Though the Republicans on council groused, wanting a vote, Dennis noticed the clock — and adjourned the committee, with Anania and the chair of the local GOP in the crowd.
The next day, Dennis was ready to outline his case to the Finance Committee — however, Anania withdrew his nomination, in a stunner of a move that, because it happened in committees, won’t go any farther than chatter among the city’s political junkies.
Jacksonville, Liberty Counsel spar over HRO judge
The Liberty Counsel wants Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance expansion (the city has LGBT rights now) thrown out.
They filed a case — and the judge’s mother is a prominent anti-HRO activist, one who was on a corporate board with Roger Gannam, the Liberty Counsel’s lawyer.
For the Office of General Counsel, that’s problematic — impeaching the credibility of JudgeAdrian Soud.
The Liberty Counsel, meanwhile, asserts that there is no conflict of interest that would require the judge to be disqualified — and that the city’s claim is specious, desperate and untimely.
The city, meanwhile, thought the judge would recuse himself. But that didn’t happen, and the beat goes on.
Local preacher takes wedding on the road
Tough break for Rev. John Allen Newman. He wanted to marry reality show star/presidential aide Omarosa Manigault in his Jacksonville church — yet threats raised “security concerns.”
So Newman and Manigault are slated to get married in DC this weekend.
And for another, a special surprise guest walking Manigault down the aisle.
Newman, arguably one of the most professorial Jacksonville pastors, likely never expected a wedding in the White House of the most bombastic occupant since Lyndon Johnson.
But politics makes strange bedfellows. And, by all accounts, the soon-to-be-newlyweds are headed for connubial bliss — with a yuuuge wedding ceremony in the nation’s capital.
Fanatics gets Majestic
Another audacious acquisition this week for sports merchandising colossusFanatics.
Fanatics bought VF Corp.’s Licensed Sports Group — which includes the Tampa-based Majestic Athletics, the official Major League Baseball uniform provider until 2020.
Fanatics’ model involves acquiring licensing, often in collaboration with major sports leagues and collegiate conferences, and then aggressively promoting the product by dominating SEO and PPC.
Not bad for a company started in the 1990s as a retail store selling “Jagwire” gear in the Orange Park Mall.
JU professor finishes Jeopardy! run after two wins
Jacksonville University English professor Julie Brannon came up short on Final Jeopardy! Thursday, but she said she has no regrets about the way things turned out.
Brannon was the victor in two episodes of the show, with winnings totaling $47,000, but opponents out-wagered her Thursday, even though she had the right answer to the final question.
“I just threw down a number when I should have bet everything, but then I started second-guessing myself and that’s all she wrote,” Brannon said.
Brannon’s had to keep quiet about how her stint on the show went down, but now that her final episode has aired, Brannon is expecting a big check to arrive.
“They send them out after the final air date, so I’m not sure when I’m going to get them. I can’t spend it just yet,” she said.
JAXPORT gets new liquefied natural gas tanks
JAXPORT is now home to a pair of 260-ton cryogenic LNG tanks, thanks to the Crowley Maritime Corporation’s new shore-side fueling facility.
The massive tanks made it to Jacksonville on a vessel from Hamburg, Germany, and it took a special 26-axle trailer to get them to their permanent spot at the Talleyrand Marine Terminal.
The tanks will be used to provide a greener way to fuel up Crowley’s “Commitment Class” ships under construction for the Puerto Rico trade lane.
United Airlines chief talks global aviation at JU
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz will stop by the Jacksonville University business school next week to give a talk on the “Changing Global Dynamic Commercial Aviation.”
Munoz, the former president and chief operating officer of CSX Corp., has served in various financial and strategic positions at major brands such as Coca-Cola and AT&T. The talk is April 13at noon at the Davis College of Business. It is open to the public.
Jumbo Shrimp look to make a big splash at Home Opener
When team owner Ken Babby decided to explore a new name for Northeast Florida’s Jacksonville Suns minor league baseball franchise, he knew there would be pushback. The decades-old Suns brand was well-known in the community, but Babby’s arrival in Jacksonville and acquisition of the team coincided with a renewed effort to rework and re-energize the city’s Class-AA ball team.
“This is a way for s to differentiate itself,” Babby told Channel 4 News. “We are not trying to be the NFL team in town or any other sports team. We are about affordable family entertainment. And that is what the Jumbo Shrimp are here to do and we are excited about it.”
Now several months beyond the new name — Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp — the energy is expanding far beyond Jacksonville. The team has sold merchandise in all 50 states and internationally to customers in Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Babby and fans across the city are eagerly awaiting the Shrimp’s debut April 12 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Tickets are available at theJumbo Shrimp website.
Jacksonville Zoo Conservation Speaker Series
Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens presents its Conservation Speaker Series withSave the Frogs!— a discussion about the amphibian extinction crisis, and current threats facing amphibian populations, and what individuals can do to help. Event is May 11, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. with Michael Starkey, International Campaigns Coordinator and Ecologist, Save the Frogs! Ticket prices: Members, $30; Non-Members, $35; Children, $10. Ticket includes dinner, 1 drink, the presentation and a zoo experience with amphibians.
Jacksonville Zoo Garden and Art Festival
The Zoo’sAnnual Garden and Art Festivalwill be April 22-23 from 10 a.m. — 4 p.m. The two-day event centers around the botanical gardens with a plant, tree, flower and art sale on the Great Lawn. The event is free with Zoo admission and features over 20 garden and art-themed vendors selling their products, plants and consultations. Enjoy live music, and sip on beer and sangria for sale while you shop. The First Coast Plain Art Society artists will also have booths spread out throughout the festival to enjoy. Garden Encounter workshops will occur throughout the day Saturday, and Garden tours will occur throughout the day Sunday.
On Saturday, April 22, Dr. Craig van der Heiden from the Institute for Regional Conservation will be speaking on the importance of native plants and the benefits of restoring gardens with exotics back to native fauna. The program is at 11 a.m. and free with Zoo admission.
Kartik Krishnaiyer’s Armada recap
Coming off a tumultuous offseason where founder Mark Frisch sold the club to the league with the intention of finding a new long-term owner, the Jacksonville Armada opened its 2017 campaign Sunday afternoon. UNF Hodges Stadium is the club’s new home, with a more soccer-friendly atmosphere, albeit one removed from the center of town, compared to the Armada’s former home of the Baseball Grounds.
A crowd of 3,472 fans saw the Armada won its season opener 1-0 against FC Edmonton. J.C. Banks scored the lone goal which gave the club who has finished near the bottom of the table in each of its first two NASL seasons an important victory to open the 2017 NASL campaign. Banks goal which came in the 78th minute was the perfect tonic for the home crowd that was seeing a squad largely made up of new players on a strict budget as the club is being managed by the league.
“I think everybody that got here is pretty hungry,” Banks said. “All the things in the offseason, we know you have to perform to stay in the business.” Neither side had recorded a shot on frame in the first 70 minutes but Banks says that inspired the team and coaching staff to push forward late on. ” Winning games and championships in this league is not always pretty,” Banks said. “With about 30 minutes to go, I turned to our staff and said, ‘There’s three points here. We can win this game.’”
Jacksonville is competing in a largely new-look NASL. Historic rivals Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay will not be competing in the league this season with the former taking a year off to reorganize its ownership and the later having shifted to the competing second division USL amid a push to join Orlando City SC in MLS. The Armada, led by Mark Lowery, who is entering his first full season as manager, has had to put together a playing squad in rapid fashion and in an economically efficient manner. The club’s future was uncertain until NASL stepped up and kept the club alive by buying the Armada in January. Lowery and his staff had to put together a squad in a short period — under two months, but the early returns are promising.
The team aspect that Lowery has emphasized was on display late on as repeated Edmonton attacks tested the defensive solidity of the Armada — but Jacksonville held and ran out worthy 1-0 winners.
The Armada play Edmonton again this weekend, in Alberta Saturday. Game time is 9 p.m. ET.