JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Sink Calls on Crist to Veto Growth Management Bill

Alex Sink, the presumed Democratic candidate for Florida Governor, has called on Charlie Crist to veto the growth management bill recently passed by the legislature.

CFO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink suggested to Buzz that she thinks Charlie Crist should veto the controversial SB 360 growth management bill.

“It’s the classic example of something that probably started out being a good idea and a good concept and by the time it got to the end it had so many christmas ornaments on it it was an ugly pig. That would be an example of something I (as governor) would be engaged in along the way to work collaboratively with the Legislature to end up hopefully with a better product instead of something that’s very flawed. When you have local governments and environmental people opining about how flawed and how negative and bad it is that’s not the outcome you want to have.”

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics

Sunday Night Detour: Herbie Hancock

A week late perhaps, but a little jazz in honor of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival.

Filed under: Sunday Night Detour,

Legislature tries to muzzle local governments

From the Orlando Sentinel (via Sayfie Review):

Decrying an attempt to “muzzle” local leaders, city and county officials are mounting a lobbying effort urging Gov. Charlie Crist to veto a bill that would prevent them from waging PR campaigns on ballot issues.

Cities, counties and school boards would be banned from using public funds for political advertisements on ballot issues, although the expenditures would still be allowed if the information was purely factual. And elected officials could still express their opinions, as long as they don’t use taxpayer resources to do it.

Even so, cities and counties say the bill is nothing more than an attempt to silence local leaders on controversial issues.

Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan said local leaders have a responsibility to let their constituents know how they feel about issues like property tax reforms backed by Crist and the Legislature that she blames for devastating city and county budgets.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, ,

Taxpayers Foot Federal Lawmakers’ Bills

Members of Congress get taxpayer-funded allowances to cover “official and representational expenses.”  House members get a government expense allowance of $1.3 million to $1.9 million a year. Senators get $2.9 million to $4.5 million.  Rules prohibit the use of the allowances for campaign, political, personal, and committee expenses.  However, “incidental” use is permitted as long as it is “negligible.”  Many of the lawmakers use the allowances for items such as staff salaries and bonuses.  Some congressional representatives use them for high-end electronics, leasing cars, and personalized calendars.

Federal lawmakers billed us for some interesting items in carrying out their day-to-day duties this past year.  For example,  Rep. Alcee Hastings spent $24,730 in taxpayer money last year to lease a 2008 luxury Lexus hybrid sedan.  Rep. Tim Mahoney’s account included an $11,000 payment on his House-issued credit card to cover airfare for him and an aide incurred in September, with the line “A/F Mahoney/Mitchell.”

Members of the public can request specific receipts, but lawmakers aren’t required to provide them.  And unfortunately, their expense records aren’t available electronically.  So, here’s a big shout out to the Wall Street Journal for conducting the review.  Read the article here.

Hat tip also to St. Pete Times/Adam Smith.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics

CFO Candidate’s Former Bank Among State’s Weakest

The Republican Party may want to re-think their strategy against former Bank of America Executive Alex Sink and her bid for the Governorship with this news about Jeff Atwater, the presumed front-runner for the GOP nomination for Florida CFO.

Riverside National Bank, where Senate President Jeff Atwater worked as a regional president, was again ranked among the weakest banks in the nation, according to a list from TheStreet.com. The bank, based in Fort Pierce, was also identified as deeply troubled and given one of the lowest safety ratings last month from BauerFinancial. Our story about that here.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, left the bank in February, but the association could haunt him in his upcoming campaign for state chief financial officer. The Republican Party of Florida, for example, opened the spin cycle of the 2010 campaign season by identifying Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s current CFO who is running for governor, as “banker Alex Sink.”

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, , , ,

US Senator Corrine Brown?

Several weeks ago, Jacksonville Representative Corrine Brown said that she was considering forming an exploratory committee to explore a run for higher office and it lit up the local Twitter discussion. Tonight, St. Pete Times reporter Adam Smith has Twittered that Corrine Brown is definitely exploring a run for US Senate.  State Senator Tony Hill is said to be considering a run for her seat.  He, of course, would be only one of many possible candidates to fill a seat that is considered a “safe” Democratic seat.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Politics, ,

JTA Stepping into Sign Ordinance/1st Amendment Buzzsaw

I wonder if Mike Miller, JTA spokesperson, has a death wish or is just into masochism. He, and JTA, are back – attempting to get City Council to pass exemptions from the sign ordinance for ads in transit shelters – a continuation of an ongoing JTA campaign covering at least 4 years and now 2 separate legislative efforts. 

Let’s go back in time to 2005 and the beginning of JTA’s first campaign push for bus shelter ads – a controversial proposal from the very beginning of its introduction by Councilman Art Shad.  JTA’s pitch went something like this: Establish public-private partnerships wherein private companies would build bus shelters and maintain them and their company ad would be placed on or in the bus shelter in return – just as long as it didn’t advertise certain subject matters. 

Proponents of the legislation argued that allowing bus shelter ads and these public-private partnerships would result in more bus shelters being built and more people riding the bus.  Interestingly, the Times Union happily jumped in and ran numerous editorials supporting Shad’s proposed legislation.  As it turned out, the Times Union’s parent company, Morris Communications, also happened to own (and still does to this day) Fairway Outdoor Advertising – an outdoor advertising/billboard company – jading the public’s view of the newspaper’s objectivity in  its calls for passage of the legislation. 

Opponents of the legislation argued that bus shelter ads where nothing more than billboards disguised as a bus shelter.    Former councilwoman Suzanne Jenkins argued that allowing ads on bus shelters would undermine sign regulations aimed at at fighting “visual pollution” and halting the spread of signs across Jacksonville.  (The sign ordinance had been promoted and passed as a citizen initiative in 1987 in response to a 1985 Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. study on visual pollution recommending the elimination of bus bench advertising throughout the City.) 

In addition, opponents of the proposed legislation clearly pointed out to City Council that the City couldn’t restrict the subject of any bus shelter ads due to constitutional free speech concerns.  Joining in along the way to support former Councilwoman Jenkins were some of the architects of the City’s sign ordinance and its strongest supporters: names still recognizable as major players today – Bill Brinton and Bill Scheu – along with two current City Council members – John Crescimbeni and Denise Lee. 

True to expectations, Shad’s proposal hit several snags.  Just as it was to be voted on in February 2006, Shad pulled the bill from the City Council agenda after a meeting with opponents.  Although things appeared to be smoothed over with opponents after that, the bill’s troubles were definitely not over.  In August 2007, the Planning Commission also opposed the proposal and recommended denial of the legislation.  City Council once again asked for additional time to consider the proposal.

Fast forward to 2009, now.  On April 29th, the 2005 bus shelter ad legislation was administratively withdrawn from City Council, and just two short weeks later, 2 new proposals were introduced.  On May 12th, Councilpersons Jones, Joost, and Johnson introduced legislation that provides an exemption from the sign ordinance for ads in transit shelters and restricts the subject matter of the ads (closely tracking the original 2005 legislative proposal). On that same date, Councilman Crescimbeni also introduced a bill; but Crescimbeni’s bill proposes to prohibit ads in transit shelters.

Enter one Mike Miller, JTA spokesperson and apparent masochist, on the scene once again. In a recent Jax Daily Record article, Miller pointed to a 9th circuit court of appeals decision saying that the situation for bus shelter ads had changed because of that decision.  According to Miller, the court decision stated that ads in bus shelters were permissible, especially if those shelters were for a public purpose.  I’m not sure what definition of “permissible” Miller is using, but my dictionary defines permissible as “capable of being allowed” – not required  to be allowed, so I’m not really sure exactly what the court decision changes.   Of course, I’m no lawyer, but then neither is Miller, so I guess that means our opinions stand on equal footing –  on this issue at least. 

Miller was further quoted in the Jax Daily Record article as saying that some potential ad subjects would be taboo if the exemption to the sign ordinance were passed.  Specifically, “alcohol, tobacco, firearms, gambling, political ads, anti-abortion, pro-choice and religion are among the topics banned.”   Even though I am no lawyer,  I recognize that under the First Amendment we all have the right of free speech and that right hasn’t changed since 2005 when it was originally pointed out that the City couldn’t restrict the subject matter of any bus shelter ads.  Of course that right to free speech does come with some restrictions.  For example, you don’t have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is no fire.  But  certainly ads for alcohol, tobacco, firearms, etc.  on bus shelters could not be restricted – at least not without a potential court fight. 

So, if in renewing their efforts to get public-private partnerships with bus shelter ads in place, Miller and JTA are looking for another fight over the City’s sign ordinance and advertisers’ First Amendment rights, I believe they may have just found themselves one.  A public hearing on Jones, Joost, and Johnson’s proposal is scheduled for the next LUZ committee meeting on June 2nd and an additional City Council hearing has been scheduled for June 9th.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , ,

A Transparent Florida on the Way

Some good news for Florida’s citizenry:  on Wednesday, Governor Crist signed the Transparency Florida Act into law – making it easier for citizens to track state spending down to state workers’ cell phones and agency cable television charges. The legislation requires the Governor’s Office to create a website that provides information on every appropriation found in the General Appropriation Act for each branch of state government and state agency. At a minimum, the data must include expenditures, appropriations adjustments, the status of spending authority for each appropriation, and position and rate information on state employees (but not their names).  

The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee will oversee the website and will propose additional phases of information to be made available. The committee will provide a proposal by March 1, 2010, to be submitted to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, that will include a schedule of additional phases of information by the type of information to be provided for specific governmental entities, including local government units, community colleges, state universities and other government entities that receive state appropriations.

The first installment of expenditure information will likely be available to taxpayer scrutiny by July of this year.  While the Transparency Forida Act is not necessarily everything one could want in terms of level of detail (the required information for now is restricted to information currently available in the financial management system and for expenditure information extends to the name of the payee, the date of the expenditure, the amount of the expenditure and the statewide document number), it certainly is a big step in the right direction.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , ,

Back to the Future

Courtesy of the Sarasota Herald Tribune:

The 1960s. Ah yes. Those were the good old days when fast-talking developers could divvy up swampland, sell it to Yankees and skip town, leaving it to someone else to pave the roads and extend the water lines and build the schools for all the newcomers.

It won’t be a pretty place.

Now, we are taking a giant step back to those times courtesy of the Florida Legislature and Senate Bill 360, awaiting the governor’s signature.

OK, it’s not quite that bad, but, under the guise of more local control, the legislation does gut some key growth management protections of the last two-plus decades.

For instance, rules now require that an area have adequate roads to handle a development, whether it’s a residential subdivision or a Super Wal-Mart. Under the new legislation, developers would pay less, and you-know-who would pay more when roads have to be built. In the meantime, we’ll all sit in traffic jams.

The old rules tried to ensure that schools had enough classroom space to accommodate a new development. The new legislation would count portables as part of that capacity. Sure, students can learn in portables, but installing them smacks of afterthought, hardly an image we want to foster in legislation that pretends to advocate sound planning principles.

The new proposal would also practically eliminate the Development of Regional Impact concept, which acknowledges that a large development in one area can create expensive problems for an adjoining area, problems that have to be addressed before approval.

In the short term, the erosion of growth management might create a few jobs and line a few pockets, but it would cost someone dearly.

If growth does not pay for itself, existing residents have to pay, starting with the owners of the 300,000 houses sitting vacant statewide right now.

If they wanted to stimulate the economy, legislators could have concocted incentives for businesses trying to develop alternative energy sources. That might have encouraged a different type of growth, one not dependent on a population explosion.

Instead, state lawmakers fell back on the same old, same old. They raised taxes on cigarettes and drivers licenses. They talked about drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

And, they tried to jumpstart what they hope will be the next real estate boom to be followed by the inevitable bust.

Back to the future.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , ,

Revisiting Downtown Development

Mayor Peyton’s announcement last week that he intends to devote the last two years of his term to a renewed focus on revitalizing downtown Jacksonville has received mixed reviews.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his announcement was the timing of it.  The Mayor, after all, had just left the morning session of Reality Check First Coast, where one of the major topics of discussion centered on how to create a renewed focus on our city’s unique riverfront.

The Mayor’s critics point to a series of incomplete or abandoned initiatives during his term in office, including the Duval County Courthouse project, the Shipyards project, plans to reopen Cecil Field and the “Jacksonville Journey” crime prevention program, to name a few.  In addition, some have noticed that the renewed focus on downtown is strikingly similar to previous ideas floated, and quickly abandoned, not too long ago.  That aside, downtown Jacksonville and the riverfront are community treasures that deserve and desperately need the attention of city leaders.

Few cities in the southern United States can claim a history as rich and unique as Jacksonville.  The St. Johns River, or Rivière du Mai as the French originally named it, has played a central role in our development and emergence as a great city for well over a century.  We have spent millions cleaning it up, and it is therefore natural that our next step should be to expand the public’s access to it.  This goal, however, would be of marginal value without a significant revitalization of downtown Jacksonville.

Adam Hollingsworth, Mayor Peyton’s Chief of Staff, has said that the river will be at the heart of the Mayor’s plans.  “Opening up the park to the river and to the sports/entertainment complex, with a more cohesive and engaging design will create a community destination and gathering place,” he said.   “We need these up and down the river. That’s why the Mayor also talked about Friendship Park, the JEA site and future uses for the courthouse, annex and shipyards properties.

Certainly, a vibrant downtown is a key to a successful, thriving city.  The city’s downtown core and surrounding historic districts are in effect the “glue” that holds the diverse and widespread sections of this city together.  When the city’s core suffers from neglect and disrepair, we begin losing our identity as a unified community and become nothing more than a disparate collection of neighborhoods and suburbs.  Developing new and revitalizing old waterfront parks would serve as a tremendous draw in bringing people back to downtown.  The Mayor realizes that, says his chief of staff.  “He’s been inspired by the success of the Riverside Arts Market, Art Walk and many of the great events hosted week after week and year after year. It’s a density and diversity of activity we need to build on.  It will make downtown Jacksonville the place to be, prompting, we hope, additional retail and commercial activity.  Remember, downtown development is the most efficient for taxpayers.  It is designed for density and already has the infrastructure in place.”

However, how will Mayor Peyton convince the public this cause is one that he is personally committed to and will fully support through any potential opposition until it becomes reality?  This will be a major obstacle requiring the Mayor’s best leadership and persuasion skills, particularly in light of the aforementioned “Jacksonville Journey” initiative that he appeared to abandon several days after assuring community leaders of his support.  People’s memories can be very long in relation to those types of actions, and if the Mayor needs the support of many in that group, as he most certainly will, convincing them that this initiative will be different may prove to be his most daunting challenge.  Another obvious challenge considering today’s economic environment is funding.  In a time of extremely tight budgets across a wide spectrum, how will the city manage to fund public acquisition of private property along with necessary improvements?

None of these reasons should prevent the Mayor from aggressively pursuing this plan, but they do represent the challenges he will face as he works to implement this plan and others in an effort to build a legacy during his final years in office.  One of the first ways he could demonstrate his commitment to this cause would be by opening discussions on strengthening the City’s comprehensive plan and revamping the city’s zoning code in Chapter 656 of the City Ordinance Code.  The Mayor could always follow in the example of Portland or Miami by establishing an urban growth boundary.  He could push for measures that discourage greenfield growth and encourage urban infill.  These actions would send a much louder signal than a press conference ever could.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , ,

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