Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Former Governor Releases Book With Help of Jax Attorney

From the St. Pete Times:

Bob Graham, the former U.S. senator and Florida governor, is out with a new book, America, The Owner’s Manual.

Published by CQ Press (formerly of the Times empire, but no longer), Owner’s Manual offers citizens a step-by-step guide for moving their ideas or issues into the realm of public policy. Graham will be signing copies at 2 p.m. Friday at the University of Florida Graham Center for Public Service, Pugh Hall.

“Each chapter starts with a real case, showing citizens tackling a step in the process, and ends with a checklist and a series of questions to help put Graham’s game plan in action,” a press release said. “By offering concrete guidance, an array of resources, and advice for troubleshooting and overcoming barriers, this compact user’s guide moves far beyond traditional learning.”

He wrote it with the help of Chris Hand, a Jacksonville attorney and longtime Democratic strategist.

The book can be purchased here.


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Save the St. Johns River!

It’s not too late to make your voice heard on Seminole County’s plan to draw nearly a billion gallons of water from the St. Johns River each year.  The only way for Jacksonville’s residents to make their voices heard on this issue is to attend the meeting of the St. Johns River Water Management District in Palatka on Monday:

 Monday, April 13th at 1:00 p.m. 
SJRWMD Headquarters
4049 Reid Street
Palatka, FL 32177

St. Johns Riverkeeper will be providing bus transportation from Jacksonville to Palatka. To reserve a seat on the bus, e-mail Neil Armingeon, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, at narming@ju.edu and type “Bus Trip” in the subject line.

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Best City Council Meeting Ever

This is an old video that is in the process of going viral.  I just thought it was rather funny and appropriate to share with our readers.  It’s not altogether different from what we might see at a Jacksonville City Council meeting:

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Christian Coalition Wants To Tax Smokers

The Christian Coalition of Florida, a group that exists to (in their own words) “protect innocent life, return education to parents, protect citizens from gambling and pornography, strengthen the family and ease taxes on families,” has announced their endorsement of an increase in the so-called “sin tax”—the tax on cigarettes.  Their Executive Director, former Florida lawmaker Dennis Baxley, stated his support of the increase in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel.

“Something like the cigarette tax is something that could be considered acceptable, not only in shaping acceptable [health] behavior in the future but keeping us out of an arena [gambling] where we’re depending on people losing a tremendous amount of money,” he said.

While one can certainly understand a principled opposition to gambling, it’s hard to understand why the Christian Coalition would feel the need to weigh in on a tax increase. (One assumes they certainly are not recommending the elimination of the special sales tax exemption for religious materials.)  Studies have shown that the average income of cigarette smokers is lower than the general population, and thus any increase in the cigarette sales tax would disproportionately affect the poor.  Is that what Mr. Baxley feels Jesus would do?  Balance the state’s budget by taxing the poor?

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JAA Appoints Interim CEO, Gets Federal Money

Jim McCollum, a former BellSouth Regional Director and current member of the JAA Board, has been appointed by the JAA Board to serve as Interim CEO until a permanent replacement has been hired.  JAA also announced that they have “approved the establishment of a Cecil Field Development Policy that allows the JAA to offer special considerations, such as lease concessions and incentives, to help stimulate development at Cecil Field during this difficult economic environment. The policy will be in place for five years or until such time the U.S. economy and financial markets have demonstrated a trend of recovery – whichever comes first.”

In addition, the Board announced that they will appropriate $1.5 million dollars in order to receive matching federal stimulus grants of $4.6 million for airport improvement projects at Jacksonville International Airport.  The specific projects have yet to be identified, but JAA management will report to the Board before awarding any contracts.

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Florida’s Insurance Regulator Finalist for Award

Kevin McCarty, Florida’s first appointed Insurance Commissioner, is a finalist for the Lexis Nexis Insurance Law Center 2008 Person of the Year Award.  McCarty was nominated in the Insurance Regulator of the Year category which covers the international, federal, state, or local regulator who had most impact during 2008.

Here’s a sample from the supporting remarks for McCarty’s nomination for Insurance Regulator of the Year:

Kevin McCarty has been at the forefront of the industry, working tirelessly through the complex issues facing Floridians ravaged by catastrophic loss. This is a commissioner with the confidence to speak his mind who has the knowledge and savvy that are required to work through the difficult task of balancing the competing interests of the industry he regulates and the consumers he serves.

The Board anticipates making its final selections for the Insurance Law Center’s Person of the Year and announcing the honorees on March 20.

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Should the Mayor take over Duval Public Schools?

Before the idea is dismissed as out of hand, bear in mind that one of the top issues Jacksonville voters regularly bring up to the Mayor and the City Council is public education—even though neither party has any control over it.  This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday:

More U.S. cities are considering scrapping a longstanding tradition in American education, the elected school board, and opting to let mayors rule over the classroom.

Dallas and Milwaukee are currently mulling mayoral control of the city’s schools, and Detroit is under pressure to try it — for the second time. A dozen major school systems, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., already have a form of mayoral control.

Advocates say the structure, in which mayors generally appoint school boards and have the power to pick superintendents, enables tough-minded reforms by promoting stable leadership and accountability. Giving the idea more currency, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, until recently the Chicago schools chief, is a fan and product of mayoral control. And, this week, President Barack Obama promoted some controversial initiatives that have been pushed heavily in districts with mayoral control: charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and accountability, based on rigorous testing standards.

Read the article in its entirety here.

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Jax Politics Introduces New Design, Features

We’ve continued to grow at Jax Politics and we’ve made a few changes that we believe will improve our site. For starters, you now have the option to visit the site at a new domain name—http://jaxpoliticsonline.com. (There is no need to update your bookmarks or feeds, as the site will be readily accessible at the previous address as well.) Additionally, we’ve updated our design, adding room for a new feature on the right-hand column—Twitter. That’s right, we’ve joined the Twitter revolution. You can follow us online here or by viewing the feed on our homepage.

We hope you enjoy the new upgrades.  We continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and are on track to hit over 65,000 visitors during the 1st quarter of 2009.  As always, your feedback is welcome.  Feel free to contact me via the “About Us” page.  I am always happy to pass information along to other members of the team.  

The last feature that I would like to point out is something that is not entirely new, but certainly something that we all hope you will take advantage of.  Visit our “Government Contacts” page for information on how to contact your local elected officials.  Make your voice heard!

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Orlando thinking ahead on trash

From the Orlando Sentinel:

If Orlando leaders get their way, your trash will eventually be used to power your refrigerator and TV.

City officials are working on a plan to build a high-tech plant capable of taking plastic, food scraps and other household garbage, extracting a flammable gas and piping it to the Orlando Utilities Commission to fuel its power plant. A test plant — which could lead to a bigger operation capable of taking all of the area’s garbage — could start construction in as little as 18 months.

For the city, the advantages are clear: energy without the pollution that comes from coal and natural gas, and a way to divert old shoes and dirty diapers from a landfill that costs tens of millions to expand. “The environmental benefits are numerous,” said Orlando Public Works Director Alan Oyler. Read the rest of this entry »

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JAA Board retreat at posh Amelia Island – again

This week’s Folio examines the JAA Board retreat held this week at posh Amelia Island.  Folio Weekly’s article  expresses concerns over public accessibility to a meeting subject to the Sunshine Law that was being held out of the county and at a gated resort.  JAA’s Michael Stewart response?  “I’m sorry you think we would do business like that.”

But this isn’t the first time that the JAA Board has held a retreat there.   Let’s flash back to 2002.

According to a March 29, 2002 Times Union article,

The Jacksonville Airport Authority spent nearly $13,000 on a two-day retreat for staff and board members on Amelia Island in January. But the head of the authority said he plans to conduct such retreats every six months, and board members said the expense was justified.  Costs for the Jan. 18-19 retreat at the Amelia Island Plantation included $35.95 for 14 soft drinks and a $1,444.50 dinner bill for 25 people.

The largest portion of the 2002 retreat cost was a $5,400 bill from professional meeting facilitator Bruce Barcelo of Barcelo & Co. Barcelo moderated the retreat, but the invoice listed no itemized hours.  

(As an aside, you might recognize Bruce Barcelo’s name from another Jacksonville Politics post.  Just who is paying Bruce to attend the Mayor’s Trail Ridge Landfill meetings anyway?)

So getting back to Amelia Island, I’m guessing that Amelia Island prices probably haven’t gone down over the past 6 years. The 2002 news article makes me wonder exactly how much the two day retreat at Amelia Island this week cost taxpayers.  According to Michael Stewart’s way of thinking, I should be sorry for thinking that JAA would do business like that, too. But I’m not.

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