Lenny Curry Archives - Florida Politics

Opioid lawsuit, Hart Bridge study await Jacksonville City Council Tuesday

Among Jacksonville City Council agenda items this week: moving forward on a lawsuit against Big Pharma for opioids and a study of the future of the Hart Bridge’s off ramps.

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Opioid action: Resolution (2017-674) would allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

The bill allows the city’s general counsel to consider outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria considered.

The bill is on the consent agenda; barring someone deciding to pull it, there likely will be no discussion of the matter.

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Total eclipse of the Hart: No, they don’t want to tear down the Hart Bridge. But they are looking at a way to get federal money to reconfigure the offramps from the Hart, with the current justification being to improve freight traffic headed to Talleyrand.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa pushed in committees last week for $1.5 million for a “design criteria project,” a prerequisite for moving forward on this “shovel-ready project.”

This design criteria project could be done in as few as four months, or as many as eight.

This would include a survey of the current conditions, preliminary design alignments (such as lane location and speed rates), and other such basic criteria.

This $1.5 million is important, said Mousa, because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

The bill cleared committees, and won’t get meaningful pushback Tuesday night.

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Eureka, they’ll fund it: Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671, which would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds for  Millennia Housing Management (MHM) to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments,” was approved by Council committees of reference last week.

Along with the new money was supposed to come new names; 400-unit Eureka Gardens, 94-unit Moncrief Village, 74-unit Southside Apartments & 200-unit Washington Heights would be known as Valencia Way, Estuary Estates, Oyster Pointe and Charlesfort Commons, respectively.

However, three Finance Committee members with one of these properties in their districts balked at the renaming, saying (correctly) there wasn’t any local connection to the names chosen by Millennia. This led to a floor amendment to strike the new names from the bill.

The Finance substitute will be on the table.

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Pension tension: The full Jacksonville City Council likely will get a chance to do what two committees did last week — reject a bill that would allocate portions of increased general fund revenue in future years to defraying the city’s $3.2 billion unfunded pension liability.

Pension reform restructured the debt on the city’s defined benefit pensions, allowing for payment to kick in, in earnest, in 2030, when a current half-cent sales surtax will be shifted to the defined benefit debt burden.

However, Councilman Danny Becton has advocated for more money to be spent on the obligation ahead of 2030, and — despite no enthusiasm for the concept from Mayor Lenny Curry, a fellow Republican, the Councilman has pushed forward.

The bill was bounced from Finance and Rules last week, with Council President Anna Brosche — a co-sponsor of the measure — sitting in committees as the bill was voted down.

Will the bill come up Tuesday night? It’s still on the agenda. Becton declined opportunity to pull the bill and workshop it further, despite suggestions to do just that in Finance.

Jax Jaguars President punts when questioned about Shad Khan controversy

Friday saw Mayor Lenny Curry join Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping, to announce the 2017 recipients of the Jacksonville Veterans Resource and Reintegration Center community grants.

Ordinarily, the main interest would be in the organizations, and the Jaguars’ tangible multi-year commitment to military and veterans’ organizations.

This year, there was gaggle interest in the comments of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan, who has lambasted President Donald Trump in the wake of Trump’s criticism of national anthem protests.

“You have to give Trump credit, people are confused on the First Amendment versus patriotism, that if you exercise your First Amendment, you’re not a patriot, which is crazy … People are confused on it, (Trump) knew he could hit on it and take advantage. I think what we’re seeing is the great divider overcoming the great uniter.” Khan said earlier this month.

Khan also lambasted Trump’s response to the death of a serviceman,  Army Sgt. La David Johnson, recently.

“It’s so bad,” said Khan to USA Today. “It’s below the lowest of the lowest expectations. It doesn’t sound rational. It’s bizarre.”

Khan then said that the President was more offensive than NFL protests of the national anthem.

“Let’s get real,” Khan said. “The attacks on Muslims, the attacks on minorities, the attacks on Jews. I think the NFL doesn’t even come close to that on the level of being offensive. Here, it’s about money, or messing with — trying to soil a league or a brand that he’s jealous of.”

In that context, the response of the Jaguars President — who issued a formal apology letter for the Jaguars kneeling in London, a letter that has seen its veracity questioned — and Mayor Curry, a political ally of Trump, were of interest.

To sum: Lamping showed an elusiveness the Jaguars haven’t seen since the Fred Taylor years, while Mayor Curry gave a direct enough answer, one that reconciled the incompatibility of views between his biggest donor and his party’s President.

Lamping attempted to avoid discussing the comments, instead discussing the Jaguars as “the sports franchise that does the most to honor the military … a model franchise.”

“What we control is what we do here in Jacksonville,” Lamping said, as if the comments of the team’s owner are somehow separate from that.

“I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent with what the Jaguars do in this community to support the military,” Lamping said, dodging yet another direct question about Khan ethering Trump and his adviser, Steve Bannon, as intentionally dividing people and playing to the right-wing base.

“I’m not sure if it really matters what I say,” Lamping continued, saying that what mattered was that “Shad, Tom Coughlin, and I got together with a group of military leaders representing current and retired military members and their families.”

“We had a wonderful discussion,” Lamping asserted. “We talked about things that are important to them, what our experience was, and we left that meeting with a very clear path.”

That path, said Lamping, was illustrated at the Jaguars’ last home game, where the players asked “everyone to join them in a prayer, a moment of reflection, for those that are serving and have served our country, for first responders … for people that suffered through Hurricane Irma … for the tragedy in Las Vegas.”

Lamping contined in that vein for a while longer, clearly deciding that — despite multiple opportunities to address the Jags’ owner becoming the sports world’s leading critic of the President — it was better to spin and move on.

Curry was more direct.

“You know where I stand. I’m a Republican. The President’s position — he’s a businessman, his position on job creation, economic development … as inartfully as it is expressed at times….”

Curry then pivoted to a description of a policy dinner recently, in which the speaker was asked to sum up much of what comes out of the Trump administration.

“If I’m a passenger on the plane,” Curry said, “I’m pulling for the pilot … Right now, we’re all passengers on the plane. Last time I looked, we’re still in the air. And I’m rooting for the pilot. The President’s the pilot.”

“As inartfully as the policies are expressed at times, we’re all passengers on the plane right now. I’m pulling for the pilot,” Curry said.

We then asked Curry if he thought Khan was still “pulling for the pilot.”

“I don’t comment on other people — look, I have my positions. I am aligned with the Jaguars organization in terms of support for the military. We are aligned on economic development, jobs, trying to do things to make this a better city,” Curry said.

“I have been very clear on my position with the [Trump] administration,” Curry said. “And my support in the past, and I remain where I was yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.”

We asked Curry to evaluate Khan’s acidic comments about Steve Bannon; the mayor pivoted.

“I have been crystal clear in the campaign and since the election that as inartfully sometimes as the policies have been expressed,” Curry said, “I’m a passenger on the plane, I’m rooting for the pilot, and we’re still in the air.”

Jacksonville area sees lower unemployment in September

Friday saw Gov. Rick Scott‘s Department of Economic Opportunity release September job numbers for Northeast Florida, a mixed bag in the wake of Irma.

The good news, via the DEO: the Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in September, down 1.4 points from September 2016.

Unemployment rates ranged from 2.7 percent in St. Johns County to 4.5 percent in rural Putnam County.

The governor’s office prefers year-over-year comparisons, and to that end some results are interesting.

Two industries that have lost jobs over the year augur a potential economic slowdown: leisure and hospitality (-3,800 jobs) and mining, logging, and construction (‐500 jobs).

All told, non-agricultural employment in the Jacksonville MSA was 677,000, an increase of 2,900 jobs (+0.4 percent) over the year.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.20.17 — Winning is everything

Politics in Northeast Florida — except when hot-button social issues like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights or Confederate monuments are in play — is often a matter of mechanics.

Much of what we see in this week’s Bold: a matter of fundamentals, blocking and tackling.

We see it with our region’s two congressmen, raising money for the re-election and working together on a veterans’ bill.

We see it with a House Speaker of the future, who looks to use state law to take on “rogue” liberal cities run by “Bernie Sanders” types.

And we see it in City Hall, where the Mayor essentially is Ric Flair, his team The Four Horsemen, and everyone who gets in their way is grist for the mill.

While chaos and drama are typically what get the TV cameras to City Hall, the real action is far more quotidian and subtle: behind-the-scenes conversations, allegations and counter-allegations, and a well-timed forearm shiver for a pol who may have gotten ambitious at the expense of a larger agenda.

And just outside of City Hall, what bears watching is a rapidly developing 2019 field of Council candidates — men and women who could prove to be a dispositive, influential bloc of voters after those elections.

The idea behind Jacksonville Bold: to provide actionable, meaningful insight into the process.

Anyone can tell you who wins after the fact. We generally tell you before a lot of observers even know a game is being played.

House incumbents bank cash during third quarter

Republican John Rutherford of Congressional District 4 and Democrat Al Lawson of CD 5 continue to sock money away for 2018 re-election bids.

Of the two, Rutherford had the more active third quarter of 2017.

Northeast Florida’s Congressmen are prepping for re-election bids. Via WJCT

Rutherford’s total receipts are now up to $241,484, with $146,044 cash on hand.

Rutherford hauled in over $155,000 of that $241,000 total from January to June 2017, meaning he raised over $85,000 during the last three months.

Lawson has $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand.

As of the last quarterly report filed in July, Lawson had brought in over $158,000, doing even better than Rutherford. However, it’s clear that fundraising momentum slowed down, with roughly $32,000 delivered in this quarter.

Rutherford, Lawson collaborate on veterans’ bill

Rutherford and Lawson, meanwhile, have joined forces for a new piece of veteran-friendly legislation.

HR 3965 — the “Veterans Armed for Success Act” — would appropriate $5M for job-related training and “transition assistance” for military veterans.

John Rutherford addressed media about his latest vet-friendly bill.

That $5M would go to eligible organizations in the form of federal matching funds, defraying up to 50 percent of costs.

In Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon at “Operation New Uniform,” Rutherford — who introduced the legislation —  addressed local media, explaining how the bill would work in helping military veterans with “transitioning into stable-long term employment.”

“Veterans get the job done and get the job done right,” Rutherford said, adding that his bill would help “set up veterans for success.”

Paul Renner takes on ‘rogue’ local governments

Rep. Renner foreshadowed some of what his speakership may look like in a recent interview noticed by Flagler Live.

Paul Renner takes aim at ‘Bernie Sanders’ type rogues in liberal local governments.

Urban values — more “liberal” than the rest of the state — look likely to be challenged.

“Part of this, to be real blunt about it,” Renner said, “what you’re seeing and this is part of a larger conversation could have is the concentration of support for a more center-left or left-wing viewpoint, and this is again not Flagler County, but our major cities, San Francisco, New York.”

“The Democrat Party has really become a party of dense urban areas, and the rest of the country tends to be more conservative, more Republican,” Renner added.

He continued: “So part of the fight, part of the sub-context of this whole discussion, is the reason we think they’re going rogue is because it’s Bernie Sanders in charge of your local city government or county government in some cases, and doing things that really are sharp departures from the way the country has become so prosperous, so strong and so free, and so states are stepping in to say, look, we’re not going to let you destroy all the good work that we’re doing and all the economic growth we’re creating in the state for people by trying to ban or shut down particular industries that you don’t like.”

“So there is that ideological struggle that I think may become more and more prevalent,” Renner added, “where you see battles nationwide, more battles between states as a whole that tend to be more as a whole, center-right and cities, again as a whole more big cities than Palm Coast, tend to be more to the left.”

Sanctuary cities were an example spotlighted in the article. But some fear an expansion of discussion parameters to matters like Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance as well, expanded in 2016 to include protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in public accommodations, housing and employment areas.

Business as usual

Florida Times-Union writer David Bauerlein has been routinely frustrated in his attempts to get an interview with Councilwoman Katrina Brown regarding $590,000 of city money that went to her family business for a BBQ sauce plant that ended up flatlining.

Sauce loss: Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s company has ‘jerked’ the city around.

Fifty-six jobs were supposed to be created in the 2011 deal, but none were.

Bauerlein’s piece amply documents a slipshod review and oversight process that spanned two mayoral administrations, while avoiding editorial comments.

It would be interesting if city officials were willing to review the incongruity of Brown sitting on the Council’s Finance Committee even as she deals with these issues. However, the reality is that is not going to happen. There will never be moves to remove Brown from Finance.

The Council lacks a willingness to police its members. And the head of the Ethics Commission is subject to Council approval in an upcoming legislative cycle.

Opioid lawsuit from Jax seems inevitable

On Monday and Tuesday, Jacksonville City Council panels OK’d a resolution (2017-674) to allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Will Big Pharma make a big payout to Jacksonville? Council seems to want it.

Full Council approval will be a formality and will almost certainly be conferred next week.

The resolution calls out “pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors” as potential lawsuit targets, yet does not rule out other targets.

The bill allows for general counsel to consider outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria reviewed by general counsel, and no out-of-pocket costs would be absorbed by the city.

The city would need its own legal action to secure its own potential recovery. This would not be a class action suit, as each city has its individual impacts.

Jax poised to move forward on Hart Bridge study

$1.5M looks poised to be earmarked for a “design criteria study” or changes to the Hart Bridge in Jacksonville — a priority of the Lenny Curry administration, albeit one with shifting rationales.

Curry first floated the project last year, telling the Duval Legislative Delegation that the idea was to route traffic onto Bay Street to drive traffic toward the Sports Complex and related attractions.

Now the rationale is different: the goal is to help semi-trucks drive freight.

Will Jacksonville get a federal grant to change traffic flow on the Eastside? Time will tell.

The project, supported by FDOT, would provide for “free-flowing truck traffic,” with a T intersection at Gator Bowl Boulevard to route traffic onto Talleyrand Avenue, to help improve freight transport.

This $1.5 million is important because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from the state of Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

Stakes are high: if the federal money falls through, so does matching money from the state.

Jacksonville has one of three similar grant applications pending with the federal government, currently, though there is no timetable on when a grant may be approved.

Curry wins another pension argument

To the surprise of few, Councilman Danny Becton’s latest attempt to sock away more money for pension liability went bust in Council.

Becton sought increases in general fund revenue earmarked toward pension obligations. The Mayor’s Office doesn’t support the bill, yet it has been around for months.

It was killed again this week in Finance Committee, where Becton is a Vice-Chair, and co-sponsor Garrett Dennis is the Chair.

Another co-sponsor — Council President Anna Brosche — was in committee but didn’t speak up.

Danny Becton-nomics: a “no sale” to Council colleagues, despite leadership backing.

CFO Mike Weinstein threw cold water on the bill early on, saying “we thought pension was basically finished,” noting that changes to the bill haven’t changed the Mayor’s Office’s position on the bill.

Weinstein also noted that, even when growth abates, the compounding of interest hikes will demand higher payments regardless — creating a potential unfunded mandate.

“If we’re neutral one year, we still have to make a compound increase to the pension fund,” Weinstein said.

Another win for Curry. Another political lesson for those who stand in the way of the machine. In the words of Rocky Horror Picture Show, let’s do the time warp again.

Ron Salem gears up for race against Bill Bishop

A Jacksonville City Council race worth watching in 2019 features two Republicans: former Councilman Bill Bishop against Ron Salem, a well-connected 61-year-old making his first run for office.

Ron Salem finally has competition in the 2019 Jax Council derby.

Salem had the same reaction as many did when Bishop announced he was running for Council.

Given that Bishop declared his intentions to run again for mayor after the 2015 race, Salem wondered why Bishop had deviated from his confident declaration.

“[Bishop] decided to run for Council for reasons that were unclear to me,” Salem said.

In what has to be seen as an irony, Bishop may not be running for mayor again — but he will get a second chance at Curry’s political team, as Tim Baker and Brian Hughes are running Salem’s campaign also.

Currently, Salem has banked $101K.

In 2015’s mayoral race, Bishop garnered roughly 17 percent of the vote. He endorsed then-incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democrat, after his loss in the “First Election.”

LeAnna Cumber, Rose Conry launch Council runs

In the last week, LeAnna Cumber and Rose Conry each filed paperwork to launch long-expected campaigns for Jacksonville City Council.

Cumber, a well-connected Republican, will be running to replace termed-out Lori Boyer in District 5. Conry, a likewise well-connected Republican who will be a Jax Chamber favorite, is running to replace Matt Schellenberg in District 6.

LeAnna Cumber is well-suited to continue the Lori Boyer tradition in the district.

These campaigns — like those of District 13 candidate Rory Diamond, District 14 hopeful Randy DeFoor, and at-large candidate Ron Salem — will be run by Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, Curry’s political advisers who seem to be cornering the market on pragmatic Republican candidates.

There are those who wonder how Baker and Hughes are able to shape narratives. Spoiler alert: they outwork their competitors in this market, as insiders and those who cover the game know better than those who watch from a safe remove.

RIP, Jim Tullis

Jacksonville lost a former City Councilman this week; Jim Tullis died at the age of 75.

Former Council colleague Eric Smith was quoted remembering Tullis in the Florida Times-Union.

Jim Tullis was an insurance agent by trade.

“He was all about what was best for his constituents and the city of Jacksonville,” Smith told the T-U. “He was a very fair council president, fair with the public and worked very well with his colleagues.

“Jim always embraced the tough assignments and relished a hard task,” Smith said.

“ … He spent months on working out the comprehensive plan, which included zoning and other issues.”

So sorry, I said

Just as the Jacksonville Jaguars roll over on the field, their president did so in a grovel-by-numbers letter to Jacksonville City officials, apologizing for team members protesting in London during the U.S. national anthem.

Jaguars’ apology for national anthem protest — will it help with restive fans?

The team “was remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country.”

“Similarly, we today can better appreciate how standing for God Save The Queen may have been viewed negatively by our armed forces here in Jacksonville and beyond …  today we can understand how the events in London on Sept. 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it.”

One meeting attendee has already come out saying the apology was bunk.

April Green to JEA Board

Jacksonville’s JEA Board will have a new member soon — pending City Council approval.

April Green has been selected to fill a vacancy left by Ed Burr, who stepped down from the board earlier this year.

Ed Burr’s spot on the board took some months to fill, raising questions for some media.

Legislation will be introduced by Curry this week, and City Council approval will be necessary for Green to join the utility’s board.

Green, an Air Force Veteran who served in Desert Storm, brings to the table extensive experience in business and marketing, along with a deep-seated connection with the community through religious faith and philanthropy.

Currently, Green is the chief operating officer for Baxter Technology, in addition to being the CFO/chief operating officer for Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville.

Previously, Green served as corporate tourism director for the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A member of the Board of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Green also is a 2015 Leadership Florida graduate.

Buc-ee’s to SJC; 120 gas pumps

In the world of convenience stores, bigger is better, apparently. And Texas chain Buc-ee’s will test that theorem as it brings one of its supersized one-stop-shops to St. Johns County.

This will be, reports the Jax Daily Record, a 52.6K square foot facility at the World Golf Village exit on I-95.

Expect these billboards up and down I-95 next year.

The board of county commissioners will mull the proposal within the next three months and could greenlight it from there.

If variances are needed, the process could take another three months, the Daily Record adds.

St. Augustine’s monumental decision

All those people gassing up in St. Johns County will need something to look at afterward. So why not Confederate monuments in St. Augustine?

First Coast News reports that the city manager is poised to recommend that the city keep its monuments — but with added verbiage offering “contextualization.”

‘Contextualization’ of monuments should solve everything.

“There are two options not being recommended by staff. First would be to do nothing, and miss an opportunity to tell the city’s complete history. The other would be to relocate it which raises a number of challenges including how to move it without physically destroying it, the cost and who would pay, and identifying a place for relocation,” a news release from St. Augustine city government said.

Staff recommendations will be discussed Monday at a city government meeting.

Debbie Buckland Chair-elect of Jax Chamber

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Debbie Buckland is the chair-elect of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber is on the forefront of what is happening in our city and leads on important issues,” Buckland said in a news release.

Buckland is the fifth female chair since 1901.

She will be the chair in 2019 after former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton wraps his tenure.

Jacksonville University highlights new downtown campus

JU is showing off its new downtown Jacksonville campus this week, a return to the neighborhood helped by a $274,000 renovation loan from the Downtown Investment Authority.

“It’s a proud moment for us,” JU President Tim Cost said in remarks reported by the Florida Times-Union. “It’s a red-letter day for Jacksonville University to re-engage its presence downtown.”

JU is showing off its new downtown Jacksonville campus at the SunTrust tower this week.

Three days a week, around 100 students will attend classes in the SunTrust Tower, which will be staffed by 30 faculty and support members full-time. With the planned executive MBA program this spring, more students, including some who will fly into the region, will be taking classes on the 18th floor.

According to the T-U: “The downtown campus is oriented to older students who don’t care as much about the traditional trappings of college life. They are more interested in being in an urban setting, and the SunTrust Tower fits that bill, university officials said.”

Burrito Gallery to open near St Johns Town Center

Local casual food chain Burrito Gallery is opening in the growing Southside area, nearby the St Johns Town Center.

Metro Jacksonville notes the restaurant’s fourth location will be at the southwest corner of Gate Parkway and Deerwood Park Boulevard, roughly between St Johns Town Center and the 335,000-square foot Ikea set to open in November at the corner of Gate Parkway and the I-295/9A East Beltway.

Burrito Gallery will be located in Gateway Village at Town Center, an 18.5-acre mixed-use development owned and developed by Cantrell & Morgan. Metro Jacksonville also reports that long-term plans for the $75 million Gateway Village at Town Center include “a 289-unit luxury apartment complex, a RaceTrac gas station/convenience store, an urgent care facility and over 38,000 square feet of retail uses.”

The proposed Gateway Village at Town Center site at Gate Parkway and Deerwood Park Boulevard. Image: Cantrell & Morgan.

Launched in 2005, Burrito Gallery was part of a wave of new businesses opening ahead of Super Bowl XXXIX. It soon expanded to Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood.

Specializing in handmade tacos, burritos, quesadillas and salads, Burrito Gallery was a local leader in the ‘Jax Mex’ concept, named ‘best burrito’ by Folio Weekly as “Best of Jax” and “#1 in the 904” poll every year by Void Magazine.

Jacksonville Zoo 30th anniversary ‘Spooktacular’

In October, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens celebrates the 30th year of “Spooktacular” Halloween.

The popular fall event will be three weekends:

— Oct. 13-15

— Oct. 20-22

— Oct. 27-31

Visitors of all ages are encouraged to take part by wearing family-friendly costumes for trick-or-treating, music, dancing and special scare zones.

Jacksonville Zoo celebrates 30 years of “Spooktacular” Halloween.

This year’s features include Sweet Pete’s Candy Trail, an all-new scare zone, zombies, pumpkin sculptures, and a two-way guest path.

“This is such an exciting time of year here at the zoo,” Zoo executive director Tony Vecchio tells News 4 Jax. “The entire staff pulls together to put on what has become Jacksonville’s premier Halloween event. We have been thrilling Jacksonville for 30 years and this year will be better than ever.”

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will open each night from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Ticket sales end at 9 p.m. nightly.

‘Tons of fun’ at ZOOLights

Welcome the holiday season among sparkling lights and brilliant hues at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Fifth Annual ZOOLights. Thousands of LED lights will transform the Zoo into a luminous winter wonderland filled with “moving sculptures, forests of lighted trees and animal silhouettes.”

The event will feature sculptures and performances by local artists — including some from UNF — a fairy village in the Range of the Jaguar courtesy of Rockaway Garden Center, and votives created by students of JU’s ceramics program. Along with thousands of lights and holiday music, guests can enjoy a unique view of ZOOLights by boarding the Zoo’s lighted train (the train only runs from the back of the Zoo to the front).

Guests can also enjoy carousel rides, the 4-D Theater featuring the Polar Express, marshmallow roasting, warm weather “ice” skating and more for an extra charge.

ZOOLights will be Dec. 9 -11 and Dec. 16 — Jan. 7. Closed Christmas Day.

— 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday — Thursday

— 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday

The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will reopen for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $10/Non-Members; $8/Zoo Members; save $1 when you order online. Special activities are an extra cost.

New this year: ZOOLights Value Tickets! Adults: $15/Non-Members; $12/Zoo Members.

Includes train, 4D Theater, Stingray Bay and Carousel (Children 12 and under).

Armada playoff hopes dented, tied for fourth in NASL

North Carolina FC earned a valuable point on the road Friday night at Hodges Stadium with a 1-1 draw against Jacksonville Armada FC. The draw keeps NCFC five points ahead of Jacksonville in third place and puts a dent in the Armada’s playoff hopes. The top four teams in the NASL table qualify for the playoffs and Jacksonville currently sits in a fourth-place tie.

In the 21st minute, Jacksonville broke open the game with a goal from Zach Steinberger. The Jacksonville midfielder found an opening in the NCFC defense and converted a chance that ended a 380-minute shutout streak for NCFC.

North Carolina FC dented the Jacksonville Armada playoff hopes at Hodges Stadium with a 1-1 draw.

NCFC responded just before the halftime whistle in the 36th minute, as Renan Gorne slotted home his sixth goal of the year. Combination play from Nazmi Albadawi and Steven Miller freed up Albadawi behind the Armada defense. The Raleigh native fed Gorne who converted the chance at the back post.

Following the break, the sides played an end-to-end game, but neither could find the back of the net in the second half and the game ended in a stalemate.  The Armada had several half chances but didn’t find a breakthrough.

“That was a really high-level game of football. You could tell by the speed of the game from start to finish,” head coach Mark Lowry said. “We did enough to win. I thought the guys were fantastic, we showed tonight that we can beat anybody and play with anybody.”

The result leaves the Armada out of the final playoff position on a tiebreaker with three matches remaining. The most critical of these three matches will come Sunday at Hodges Stadium against the New York Cosmos. The teams are currently deadlocked in the NASL table in the fourth and final postseason position. First, the Armada must contend with FC Edmonton who visits Hodges Stadium Wednesday night.

Jacksonville concludes its NASL season Saturday, Oct. 28, in San Francisco against the Deltas.

With Kids Hope Alliance bill, Lenny Curry consolidated Jax City Council behind his vision

A week after the Jacksonville City Council passed his Kids Hope Alliance bill, Mayor Lenny Curry signed the reform bill into law Wednesday.

The KHA, a new seven-person board that will replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, will command a roughly $35M budget for services for what the Mayor calls “at-hope kids,”  handling oversight of various programs.

The bill passed 18-1 , after a chippy discussion that lasted almost four hours, exposing and exacerbating fissures on the Council that have moved from hallway gossip to fodder for mainstream media.

The sole no vote: Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who had his own competing legislation that now rests in the scrapheap of dead bills.

This was after City Council President Anna Brosche attempted to stall the bill out from being heard on the night of the vote, saying the public needed more time to review it and that she had unanswered questions, accusing the Curry administration of trying to hide the bill from the public (a contention that Curry strenuously refuted).

And the sponsor of the KHA legislation, Scott Wilson, was himself an interesting choice. Wilson had been very vocal about geographic limitations in the funding program of the Jacksonville Journey in 2016, and it didn’t seem coincidental that he was carrying the replacement.

Wilson was lacerating in dealing with Dennis’ stall tactics during bill discussion, calling them “disgusting” on more than one occasion.

Such procedural drama: in the rear view mirror, as Curry signed the bill.

Indeed, Curry didn’t even want to address the drama that preceded the bill passing; the ceremonial signing at Daniel Kids on Jacksonville’s Southside was described by Curry as a “celebration.”

However, it was a celebration that excluded Brosche and Dennis, who did not make the trip to the Southside.

Curry described the reorg in big-picture terms, saying that it was about trying to make children’s services closer to “perfect” in the city.

Curry also, in what could have been seen as a rebuke to those who thought the previous structure was canonical, noted that long after he’s gone, he expects that advocates for children’s services will attempt to reform the KHA.

“This legislation worked how all legislation should work,” Curry said, noting that the collaboration and one-on-one meetings with Council made the bill better, with key changes that included ensuring that special needs children were addressed in the legislation.

Curry lauded Councilman Wilson, saying that the Councilman “took an interest early on in how we provide services to kids” and was “willing to lead” on this bill.

Indeed, Wilson — in whose district Daniel Kids is located — noted that a key feature that he liked about this bill was language that allowed qualified applicants anywhere in the city to receive services, a difference from the Zip Code based Jacksonville Journey model.

Council VP Aaron Bowman — the odds on favorite to be Council President next year — issued a ringing endorsement of Curry and the bill, one even more meaningful given Brosche’s absence and the unresolved conflict between the Mayor and the current Council President.

“You say you’re gonna do something, you do it,” Bowman said, “and involve all of us.”

And regarding the bill?

“I can’t offer a change to make it better.”

Among the other Councilors in attendance: recent Republican Council Presidents Lori Boyer and Greg Anderson, along with fellow Republicans Jim Love and Sam Newby, and Democrats Katrina BrownReggie Gaffney, and Tommy Hazouri.

The Council calendar is poised to slow down as the year wraps up, but what is clear is that any restiveness among the city’s legislators has been quelled, and the One City, One Jacksonville vision — embodied on Kids Hope Alliance, in both concept and actualization — has prevailed.

This, despite the Council President and the chair of the best committee on Council standing on the sidelines.

April Green to be nominated for Jacksonville’s JEA Board

Florida Politics has learned, via a source outside of City Hall familiar with the process, that Jacksonville’s JEA Board will have a new member soon — pending City Council approval.

April Green has been selected to fill a vacancy left by Ed Burr, who stepped down from the board earlier this year.

Legislation will be introduced by Mayor Lenny Curry this week, and City Council approval will be necessary for Green to join the utility’s board.

Green, an Air Force Veteran who served in Desert Storm, brings to the table copious experience in business and marketing, along with a deep-seated connection with the community through religious faith and philanthropy.

Currently, Green is the COO for Baxter Technology, in addition to being the CFO/COO for Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville.

Previously, Green served as corporate tourism director for the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A member of the Board of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Green also is a 2015 Leadership Florida graduate.

Green’s husband, Eric, is CEO of JAXPORT.

More details on this potential appointment will follow as made available.

Hart Bridge ‘design criteria project’ cleared for Jax Council vote

Last November, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry made an audacious ask of the Duval County Legislative Delegation: $50M to remove and replace the Hart Bridge offramps.

“The ramps were originally designed to bypass the industrialized waterfront,” Curry said in 2016, a purpose outmoded in the half-century since the original construction.

Curry’s ask: “To knock the [current] ramp down,” and create a traffic flow onto Bay Street, thus resolving a “public safety issue, a traffic flow issue, a downtown in-and-out issue also.”

The Duval Delegation didn’t carry this ask, and as a result, Curry changed his strategy — leading to a bill now under consideration by the local City Council, a measure that would allocate $1.5 million for a feasibility study for the project.

On Tuesday, the Finance Committee approved the bill — the second and final committee to OK the legislation, setting it up for Council approval via the consent agenda Tuesday night.

The project is deemed necessary by the Curry administration, which has invested in capital projects for the Sports Complex, and which anticipates a ramp-up for the Shipyards rehab project from Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

And the rationale for the project has evolved as well — to improve freight traffic to the port, a rationale not mentioned in 2016, via Talleyrand Avenue.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa said the money was to create a “design criteria project,” a prerequisite for moving forward on this “shovel-ready project.”

This design criteria project could be done in as few as four months, or as many as eight.

This would include a survey of the current conditions, preliminary design alignments (such as lane location and speed rates), and other such basic criteria.

This $1.5 million is important, said Mousa, because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from the state of Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

Stakes are high: if the federal money falls through, so does the matching money from the state.

Jacksonville has one of three similar grant applications pending with the federal government, currently, though there is no timetable on when a grant may be approved.

Once the DCP is complete, the project could take 30 to 36 months.

“We’re not asking you to appropriate the $12.5 million,” Mousa said in Monday’s committee, noting that the federal grant would be for “freight movement,” which the FDOT says would be “highly improved” by bringing the ramp down, “providing easier access to Talleyrand Avenue.”

The project would provide for “free-flowing truck traffic,” with a T intersection at Gator Bowl Boulevard to route traffic onto Talleyrand Avenue, to help transport freight.

Jax Council panel bucks leadership, votes down controversial pension bill

The office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry believes it is done with pension reform. Yet Council President Anna Brosche and other allies, including the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Finance Committee, disagree.

That conflict set the stage for the latest skirmish related to a bill introduced months back by Councilman Danny Becton.

The bill, brought back yet again recently, was mulled in the Finance Committee Tuesday, ahead of consideration in Rules Committee Tuesday afternoon.

The Finance hearing was the most favorable of all potential terrains for the bill; Finance Chair Garrett Dennis is a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Finance Vice-Chair Becton and Council President Brosche.

Yet, despite Council Leadership supporting this bill, it was clear after some discussion that there was no path even on the home court of two prominent co-sponsors.

Despite this, Becton called the question — forcing a 4-3 vote against the bill, and offering a setback for the Council President, the Finance Chair, and the Finance Vice-Chair. It won’t do better in Rules.

____

2017-348 seeks an accelerated paydown of the city’s $3.2B unfunded actuarial liability on the city’s pension debt, based on increases in general fund revenue.

The current iteration of Becton’s bill offers a phased-in approach, moving from a 7 percent rate in FY18/19 and moving that up 2 percent a year, hitting the 15 percent threshold in FY 22/23. Assuming a 3 percent growth rate, that would add up to an extra $504M in city coffers by the end of FY 30/31, per Becton’s projections.

The code requirements could be waived if financial circumstances mandated.

The general employees pension fund — the best funded of the three city defined benefit plans — would no longer receive these proceeds, per Becton; they would go to the police and fire pension, and the corrections pension funds, both of which face deeper funding shortfalls.

CFO Mike Weinstein threw cold water on the bill early on, saying “we thought pension was basically finished,” noting that changes to the bill haven’t changed the Mayor’s Office’s position on the bill.

Weinstein also noted that, even when growth abates, the compounding of interest hikes will demand higher payments regardless — creating a potential unfunded mandate.

“If we’re neutral one year, we still have to make a compound increase to the pension fund,” Weinstein said.

Soon enough, Councilmen Matt Schellenberg and Reggie Gaffney joined the chorus of skepticism, with Schellenberg suggesting this bill be held in abeyance until budget discussions next August.

Schellenberg’s concern: a drop in ad valorem taxes, via changes in homestead exemption from the state, could take $26M off the table — and with that, the ability to invest in quality of life issues.

Clouding the forecast fuller: approximately $30M in un-reimbursed costs from Hurricane Matthew, and an as-yet-unknown fiscal hit from Hurricane Irma.

Yet another concern — “a significant amount of capital improvement needs throughout the county,” per Mousa.

“There would just be less monies for capital improvements,” Mousa told the panel.

Becton fought back, saying the Mayor’s Office caution on this bill is misplaced, given that “tough decisions” are made routinely by the Council.

“This is a situation where we do this every day in terms of appropriating funds that go out into the future,” Becton said, “and there isn’t a question.”

Becton also asserted that his bill got a favorable reception from the Curry Administration in the Spring — an assertion countered vigorously by the Mayor’s Office.

As well, Becton forecasted an economic downturn, noting that Pew, Moody’s, and Bloomberg all advocated for increased allocations to offset Jacksonville’s pension burden, potential “asset losses and low investment returns.”

Despite Becton’s argument, not everyone was sold.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer took issue with assertions from the sponsor that there are “deficiencies in the pension reform we passed,” which “does exactly what we committed to do and what the citizens voted for,” regarding an eventual “dedicated source of revenue.”

Boyer also had problem with the bill language, which had mandates rather than targets — “good goals.”

“I can’t support the bill as written,” Boyer asserted.

Councilman Reggie Brown noted that his district had water and sewer issues that hadn’t been addressed for decades, and it would be a “conflict” for him to support pension savings when basic infrastructure is neglected for his constituents.

“Promises made, promises broken”: Brown’s summation of the city’s approach to “existing communities not having the same quality of life as other areas in Jacksonville that were years behind in development.”

Jacksonville Bold for 10.13.17 — Power, money and timing

Jacksonville Bold is intended to appeal to a discerning audience, particularly to those who see politics for what it truly is — a confluence of money, power and timing.

We see evidence of that in every Bold — and this week is no different, as Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance reform bill advanced through the City Council by an 18-1 vote.

Its success comes as no small feat, given Council President Anna Brosche attempted to forestall both discussion of the bill and the vote itself, even going so far as to accuse an administration member and a city lawyer of working to keep the bill from the public.

And Brosche was the sole vote against discharging the bill to the Council floor — a nearly unheard of repudiation of a legislative body’s presiding officer.

In the end, though, Brosche overcame those qualms and voted for the bill — but not before Curry issued a statement condemning her accusations. Of course, there have been schisms between Council presidents and mayors in the past; but this one is different.

That’s because politics in this region are different.

Stakes are higher. Money is bigger. Operatives work 27/6. Nowadays, the way to win a political argument is not through churches and town halls. It’s all targeting and microtargeting, persuasion of the “velvet glove, iron fist” variety, and an understanding that when a bluff is called, most people will cave.

As we move toward the 2018 election cycle — and the 2019 local derby — file those insights; they may end up being predictive.

Fundraising roundup

September was not a record-breaking month for campaign finance reports in Northeast Florida. Blame Hurricane Irma.

State Senate incumbents, however, did well in amassing money for re-election bids — Aaron Bean brought in $33K, and Audrey Gibson brought in $12K.

In state House races, HD 15 Republican hopeful Wyman Duggan topped $10K for the month. And his Democratic opponent, Tracye Polson, brought in $51K in September. Otherwise, no one topped $7,500.

There was, however, marginally more exciting committee action: Palm Coast Speaker-of-the-future Paul Renner saw his committee give $20K to Speaker-of-the-present Richard Corcoran — who just may be running for Governor as soon as next year’s Legislative Session ends.

Lenny Curry’s political committee cleared $38K in September — and $25K of that came from Shad Khan. And Sheriff Mike Williams finally paid for a controversial August poll through his committee; price tag was almost $9,000 … more than he brought in.

Lenny Curry reaches up for high-fives with Jags’ owner Shad Khan.

The big play of the month came from Attorney General candidate Jay Fant, who loaned his campaign $750,000 — just the kind of thing a candidate that’s not part of the “establishment” does because all the cool kids have three-quarters of a million bucks sitting around. Fant had faced questions about his fundraising, but with one stroke of the pen, he established resource parity with Ashley Moody.

Will that bring Downtown Jacksonville around?

One candidate who won’t be loaning herself $750,000 — Jacksonville City Council hopeful Randy DeFoor. DeFoor, in his first month in the District 14 race, brought in $51,000 — more money, by far, than every other active local 2019 candidate combined brought in during September.

Her political committee brought in an extra $25,000.

Rob Bradley: Senate sentencing bill a ‘win-win’

Florida’s prison industry has endured scrutiny in recent years, and a new bill from Sen. Bradley may offer some relief for the sector.

SB 484 will authorize a court to sentence prisoners to county jail for up to 24 months if that county has a DOC contract.

The bill would also require prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. Those prisoners will have sentences that don’t run longer than 24 months, and most felony convictions are exempt from this proposal.

State prison overcrowding could mean stable revenue for counties with room in jails.

On Wednesday, Bradley told Florida Politics that this is not a new idea.

“This is an idea that I’ve discussed with Senate and House colleagues for a couple of years now,” Bradley asserted.

Part of the problem is that the state has more prisoners than its facilities can handle, Bradley said.

“Right now,” Bradley said, “the state incarcerates 100,000 inmates. After dealing with this issue for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that our infrastructure and personnel is simply not equipped to handle that number. We need to reduce the state population. This is a strategy to accomplish this goal.”

Good news/bad news as Bradley bill clears committee

WGCU reports a good news/bad news scenario for a Bradley bill to put more money into the St. Johns River and North Florida springs.

St. Johns River money, a priority of Rob Bradley, may not be the Senate’s priority in the end.

Latvala chairs the Appropriations Committee.

“At some point in time — probably [on] the Appropriations Committee — we’ll have to put all those bills that we have this year, and the bills that we’ve passed over the last couple cycles on one sheet and figure out how we divide it up,” Latvala said.

With budget pressures mounting for Florida on several fronts, Bradley’s attempt to bring more Amendment 1 money to North Florida will be worth watching. It might be a heavier lift than locals hope.

Aaron Bean backs Jay Fant

One favorable augury for Fant: An endorsement this week from Republican state Sen. Bean.

Jay-mentum continues as Aaron Bean support sprouts for the AG hopeful.

“Senator Bean has been a longtime voice for conservative politics in Northeast Florida,” Fant said. “His endorsement is one to be very proud of. We look forward to working with Senator Bean on our conservative platform for years to come.”

Fant still has his last year to serve in the Florida House; since he is not running for re-election, candidates have filed already on the Democratic and Republican lines both in his House District 15.

Fant has gotten roughly a dozen House colleagues to endorse him; his strategy seems to be as the regional candidate who can roll up his sleeves and talk to the grassroots.

Rory Diamond launches Jax Council run

It was no surprise that Neptune Beach City Councilor Rory Diamond started a campaign to succeed Bill Gulliford on the Jacksonville City Council.

Rory Diamond is a candidate to watch for 2019, and likely beyond.

What will be a surprise: If anyone can mount a serious challenge to the Republican alum of the George W. Bush White House and Arnold Schwarzenegger Governor’s Mansion.

A broad cross-section of the city’s power elite supports Diamond and is very comfortable with policy discussions — including those affecting the broader expanse of Duval County, as well as the more granular issues relative to Jacksonville Beach.

Expect him to message heavily on public safety — and, bearing the gravitas of a former federal prosecutor — meaningfully. One of his recurrent theorems: that a lot of the Beaches’ crime problem is coming over from the other side of the ditch.

Censure for Councilors?

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche raised the possibility of censure for two legislators who supported her run for the Council presidency.

The subject: A confrontation between Councilors Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown and police officers after a Council meeting last month.

Gaffney has issued the expected mea culpa statements for attempting to leverage his power as a Councilman to check the officers who pulled him over. However, Brown — who accused officers of racial profiling — has yet to apologize.

That point was not lost on the Fraternal Order of Police, which saw its national and state presidents in Jacksonville Tuesday night to condemn Councilwoman Brown’s accusations and unwillingness to walk them back.

“The ultimate repercussion is going to be leveled by their districts … if there is any,” Brosche said.

Brosche has requested “options” from the General Counsel, including what authority Council has, and expects them at the next Council meeting.

“The question is around censure — is it an option for Council,” Brosche said.

Did Irma kill crops?

It’s a race against time for Northeast Florida farmers, per the Florida Times-Union. Hurricane Irma devastated crops last month, and yields — and farms themselves — hang in the balance.

Irma created a big problem for large — and small — farms throughout the state.

Per a Florida Farm Bureau representative: “Many of the losses will be calculated in coming weeks. It’s very difficult for folks to make a total estimate if they’re still struggling to get to their fields, their pastures, round up animals, to repair buildings.”

Among the potential culinary casualties: Christmas coleslaw from St. Johns County.

Clay County, hit hard by Irma, may have suffered more grievously had it not been for delayed planting … as heavy rains had already pushed back planting schedules.

Turn around, don’t drown

The Tampa Bay Times published a long-form, damning article laying out Jacksonville’s vulnerability to flooding during a hurricane.

“The city is dangerously flood-prone,” the TBT attested, as Irma was merely a tropical storm by the time it affected Jacksonville … and the storm could have been worse.

Floods from Irma were unprecedented … yet could be the future in Jacksonville, per TBT.

Of course, some caveats led to the epic flooding: a full moon drove the storm surge, the rain was another factor. But where the TBT article makes its point is a twofold contention.

— Jacksonville has not put money into drainage in older neighborhoods, especially those close to the water.

— Jacksonville officials have no real plan to deal with the matter.

The city’s finances are stretched: millage rates are low, there is no political appetite to raise them. Pension reform offered some fiscal relief, but the recurrent investment of that aid is in human resources — public-sector unions, legacy costs.

John Thrasher enters Confederate monument debate

Florida State University President Thrasher set up a 15-person committee to review Confederate markers and monuments, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I expect them to be deliberate, to be thoughtful and to seek input from the entire Florida State community as they do their work,” Thrasher said about the new  President’s Advisory Panel on University Namings and Recognitions.

John Thrasher is involved in a monument controversy, but not the local Jacksonville one.

The Democrat reports that “the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society has sought the removal of the statue of Francis Eppes near the Westcott Building. Eppes, the grandson of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, is a former Tallahassee mayor who helped found West Florida Seminary, the forerunner of today’s FSU.”

JTA CEO elected chair of national org

JTA CEO Nat Ford this weekend was elected as Chair of the American Public Transportation Association and calls the election “one of the greatest honors” he’s received in his career.

JTA CEO Nat Ford has been named Chair of the American Public Transportation Association.

Ford expects his chairmanship to bring “national attention” to Jacksonville, a city that is currently involved in attempts to modernize its approach to mass transit through various infrastructural investments — including a regional transportation center under construction.

Among his focuses in the APTA chair: “leveraging big data,” “enterprise risk management,” and the “new mobility paradigm” — which, we hear, will also double as the name for Ford’s indie rock group.

Jax loves Shad; Republicans cool to Jags

University of North Florida polls shows high approval ratings for both the owner and coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

While Shad Khan and Doug Marrone sit at 65 and 58 percent approval, there nonetheless is still some grievance from Republicans toward the home team’s anthem protest in London.

Republicans are less likely to watch games on television or attend, per the survey; almost 63 percent indicated they were less likely to watch NFL games and 57 percent said they were less likely to attend games.

Democrats are unmoved; while 14 and 11 percent respectively said they were less likely to watch or go to games, a full 18 percent of Dems are more likely to watch and attend.

Pollsters conducted the live-dial survey with 512 registered Duval County voters between Oct. 2 and Oct. 4.

The first-place Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Los Angeles Rams at home, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Bean calls for elected Secretary of State

This week, the Fernandina Beach Republican filed a proposal to ask Florida voters to make the secretary of state an elected Cabinet position, removing the governor’s power to appoint Florida’s highest elections official. The News Service of Florida reports that SJR 506 seeks to undo a change approved by voters in 1998 that reduced the size of the Cabinet to three members.

Under that ballot measure, the positions of secretary of state and education commissioner became appointed in 2002 and dropped the Cabinet posts of comptroller and treasurer. It also created a new Cabinet position, chief financial officer, while keeping the attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

For inclusion on the 2018 ballot, Bean’s proposal must be approved by three-fifths of both legislative chambers and would ultimately need approval from 60 percent of voters. Bean sponsored similar legislation in the 2017 session, with the Senate approving it in a 33-2 vote, but failed to advance in the House.

Able Trust lauds Bean

“Senator of the Year” — that’s the designation the Able Trust put on Sen. Bean Monday.

“I look forward to continuing to work with The Able Trust to ensure that Floridians with disabilities are never left behind and are given the opportunities they so rightly deserve,” Bean added.

Sen. Aaron Bean gets plaudits from the Able Trust.

This has been Bean’s third award from the Able Trust. He has historically fought to ensure the nonprofit received funding that was on the chopping block.

Meredith Charbula to Duval County Court

Eric Roberson’s vacancy, left when the former Duval judge moved to the 4th Circuit Court, has now been filled.

Meredith Charbula counted Lenny Curry as an ally.

Meredith Charbula, 59, of Jacksonville, will leave her role as Director of the Legal Division for the Office of the State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit to fill the slot.

Charbula, an alumna of FSU’s law school, was recommended four times by commissions … and passed over four times in the past, reported the Florida Times-Union.

“Some people call me stubborn. I call it tenacious,” she said when asked why she kept trying.

Leadership moves for KIPP Jacksonville

After more than eight years with KIPP Jacksonville Public Charter Schools, Executive Director Tom Majdanics has passed the leadership torch to Dr. Jennifer Brown, who will move from her role as Chief Academic Officer.

Zach Rossley, formerly Chief Operating Officer, will now serve as president and COO, taking on new and added responsibilities.

New Executive Director, Dr. Jennifer Brown, with students at KIPP Jacksonville Elementary.

Brown joined the KIPP Jacksonville team in 2015, with more than 15 years of experience as an educator and leader in large urban, rural, and nonprofit settings. She earned both a B.A. and M.A. in English from Winthrop University and an Ed.D. in Education Leadership and Policy from Vanderbilt University.

Brown is also a proud U.S. Army Veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

KIPP Jacksonville Schools are part of the KIPP non-profit network of college-preparatory, public charter schools.

Police line

Poll: Crime preoccupies Jacksonville voters for third straight year

A new poll from the University of North Florida says that crime is the number one policy preoccupation for Duval County’s registered voters.

And despite concerted investments in public safety in the city’s last three budgets, crime concerns more voters than in previous polls — and that is especially true for females surveyed.

Crime was the number one issue concerning 40 percent of voters — up from 38 percent in 2016, and 33 percent in 2015. And the crime issue is a central preoccupation of 50 percent of female Duval voters surveyed, as compared to 27 percent of males.

For black and white voters both, crime is the runaway choice for top concern. However, when it comes to Hispanic voters, crime is the primary concern for just 13 percent of those surveyed, running behind transportation, improving Downtown, and improving education.

2015 saw a Mayoral campaign predicated on public safety themes, with Mayor Alvin Brown being pilloried for force reductions in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office by his then-opponent, Lenny Curry, and a key surrogate — former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford.

That tack worked on the campaign trail: Curry is in the Mayor’s Office, Rutherford is now in Congress, and Alvin Brown is, two and a half years after that election, planning his next move.

Since taking office, Curry has pushed through three budgets that have added 260 police positions, with another 80 community service officers.

Despite those force additions, reduction of the homicide rate has proved elusive. Per the Florida Times-UnionJacksonville already has 101 homicides this year — with almost three months left.

Jacksonville had 120 homicides in 2016, and 114 in 2015 — and absent a sudden abatement in the trend, Jacksonville will see more murders year over year yet again.

In late September, Jacksonville’s Mayor, Sheriff, and the area’s State Attorney converged at City Hall to discuss the public safety focus of Jacksonville’s now-current budget.

This was Curry’s third straight budget to pass without a no vote, and includes 100 new police officers, which — when combined with 80 new officers and 80 new community service officers in Curry’s first two budgets — rectifies what Curry called “dangerously low levels” of police on the street when he and Williams were elected.

“People want this city safe,” Curry asserted, “and they want the right investment made in law enforcement.”

While the personal favorability numbers of both Mayor Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams suggest that both men are insulated from any serious 2019 challenge at this point, it will be worth watching next year’s UNF poll results to see if concern over crime begins to abate — thus indicating that concern about crime is starting to fade in favor of confidence in the city’s strategy to abate it.

512 registered Duval voters were polled by live dial between Oct. 2 and 4,

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