Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Police Union Threatens Gate Boycott

Picture 2The news broke just before lunch—Police Union President Nelson Cuba was announcing his intentions to call for a boycott of Gate Petroleum, the family business owned by Mayor John Peyton’s father, in retaliation of the Mayor’s plan to call for pension reforms and salary freezes.  Nelson accused the mayor of threatening to take away the “basic necessities” police officers have become accustomed to.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 is one of the most powerful unions in the city and home to over 2,500 officers.  The union has long wielded considerable influence in city elections, including endorsing John Peyton and many of the current members of the city council.  Nelson’s call to members of the union to “send [their] own message and hit the Mayor in his pocket” is therefore not only a monetary threat—it is something designed to discourage any council member from supporting reforms that the union does not agree to.

UNF Political Science Professor Matthew Corrigan told David Hunt of The Florida Times-Union that the move by Nelson could backfire.  Corrigan said that, while the union is well-respected in the city, they risk losing that respect by refusing to share in budget cuts.

The full Times-Union article can be found here.  For breaking news on the Jacksonville political scene, follow us on Twitter.

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Push Begins for Police Review Board

A local Facebook group has been formed to build support for an independent commission to review police shootings by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Despite being the target of a tremendous amount of criticism over the high number of shootings, Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford has so far been successful in his efforts to resist the formation of an independent panel to investigate shootings—something the local police union is also opposed to.  

However, news this week that the Sheriff was behind efforts to institute changes to Florida law that will further complicate investigations seems to have sparked a backlash.  The new legislation pushed by Jacksonville’s Sheriff will allow cops to see all the evidence against them before they are interviewed in any investigation.  Police officers will now have a benefit that no private citizens has—the opportunity to speak with fellow officers and review any evidence against them to determine how a story should be relayed to investigators.  These changes could have sweeping consequences—for example, the Tampa officers who were fired after failing to put in a full work week had no idea that they were under GPS surveillance.  Had they known, they would have likely (by their own admission) relayed an entirely different story than the one that they did share with investigators.  

Imagine how this legislation will impact any investigations of police shootings?  Or, of incidents such as the one on Merrill Road where a JSO Officer is suspected of negligence in a crash that killed an innocent 86-year old man.

Up to this point, local ministers and activists have been willing to take the Sheriff at his word that he was working towards greater transparency, but news that he was one of the main authors of this troublesome legislation seems to raise doubts about his commitment.  Whether he will face political repercussions for his support of such controversial legislation remains to be seen.

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City proposes to spend $3.5 million for 15 jobs

Stimulus Watch contains the listing of “shovel-ready” projects for which the mayors of cities from each of the 50 states have requested federal stimulus funding. You can click on a project to read (and add to) its description. You can also discuss the project and vote on whether you believe it is critical or not. For a more local view, you can drill down to projects in a particular city. Just choose a state and then a city from the list.

I found two proposed Jacksonville projects of particular interest. 

Jax Muncipal Stadium HVAC upgrade

$2,500,000.00 – 10 jobs – Energy Program

Sheriffs Office Gun Range Upgrade

$1,000,000.00 – 5 jobs – Public Safety Program

15 jobs at a cost of $3.5 million?  Seems a little pricey even in Jacksonville terms. 

For the rest of the Jacksonville list, click here.


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Community forum: police involved shootings

Tonight Sheriff Rutherford participated in WJCT’s community forum with other community leaders discussing the subject of police-involved shootings.  The sheriff cited the statistics behind police involved shootings and proffered a solution:  restrict criminals access to guns.  Prior to the forum, the sheriff had interviewed with CBS 47 and had these suggestions:

“Some of the points include making it tougher for crooks to get their hands on guns.
He says people should not leave guns in their cars and should properly store them at home. 
He also wants people to report stolen guns right away to cut down on traffickers
He also suggests doing background checks at gun shows and making sure gun buyers have purchasing permits.

Here’s a link to the report issued by Rutherford on JSO’s response to resistance and the rise in gun violence in Jacksonville.

Harry Shorstein, who also participated on the panel, was busy pointing out that the sheriff often ignored his criticisms and suggestion on handling officers involved in shootings.  And the sheriff responded by telling Harry he didn’t know what he was talking about.  Now that’s a productive conversation, isn’t it?

In the meantime panelist Nelson Cuba was busy winning friends and influencing Jacksonville’s citizens by sharply criticizing fellow panelist Isaiah Rumlin, the leader of the local NAACP.  Geez….hadn’t Nelson already offended enough of Jacksonville’s citizenry yesterday with his threats to sue the City, i.e., us taxpayers,  if we don’t fork over early retirement benefits and guaranteed cost of living raises to corrections officers and then calling City Council members dishonest today? 

Before the kettle goes to calling the pot black, Nelson might want to recall the Ethics Office and IG Office investigation  last spring (2008-4) into the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board during his term of leadership which found improper procedures pertaining to purchases (17 of them in total – of which 6 had memos from the Mayor’s Office warning them to follow the correct procedures, with an E-mail informing the Board of the correct procedures issued prior to the last 3) and a lack of board meeting minutes – sunshine law/open government violations.

If you missed the debate tonight, the broadcast will re-air 6:30 p.m. Sunday on TV-7. It will also be shown 8 p.m. Feb. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4.

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JSO Officers to sue City?

Nelson Cuba, the President of the Fraternal Order of Police, has threatened to sue the City of Jacksonville if the City Council fails to pass pension plan legislation favored by the police union. After the City’s Finance Committee voted to defer the legislation, Cuba told the Daily Record he would pull out of contract negotiations and sue, unless the full City Council immediately bowed to his demands.

“I want a yea or a nay Tuesday night. If not, then I’ll sue,” said Cuba. “This is a collective bargaining agreement and the only way for the City to get out of it is to declare bankruptcy. If they cannot pay us, how can they pay any other contracts?”[Daily Record]

The defeat came after Councilmember Stephen Joost demanded to know where the money would come from. Interestingly enough, the City’s General Counsel’s Office—not typically a spokesperson for the City Council—told the Daily Record that the Council would likely vote on the bill, even without the support of the Finance Committee. That response, coming from an unelected official, shows the political power the police union continues to hold in Jacksonville. The story in its entirety can be found here.

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Lawsuit Against JSO Deputies Will Go Forward

The 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals has ruled that a Jacksonville woman may sue two officers who tried to arrest her at St. Vincent’s Hospital after she refused to wait for a ticket for running a red light. The woman, Melanie Williams, had informed the officers she was in labor and was bleeding.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Jacksonville deputies Matthew Sirmons and James Mills qualified immunity from Melanie Williams’s lawsuit.

“We will go to a jury and ask them to tell us what they think, whether this was an illegal arrest under the Constitution, or a false arrest under state law, and to decide damages,” said her lawyer, Mark Miller.[Associated Press]

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JAA and John Clark in new controversy

Jacksonville International [No we don’t have any international flights] Airport’s police are appealing to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to absorb their department, thereby removing them from under the dictatorial powers of high-flying John Clark, whose extravagant expenses and mind-boggling pay were previously discussed here. According to the Times-Union, a new bill is being introduced today that would require Sheriff John Rutherford and John Clark to discuss the merger. More can be learned here.

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It’s time for “Keep Jacksonville Beautiful” Nominations

It’s that time. Jacksonville residents have until February 16 to submit nominations for “Keep Jacksonville Beautiful” awards. These awards recognize individuals, businesses and organizations throughout our City that go the extra mile to keep our City beautiful.

Last year’s winners included: The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Felicia Boyd and Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

The nomination forms can be found here.

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Reggie Brown: Armed Robbery, Murder not “hard core”

Reggie Brown put his fledging political career on the line this week when he took to the stand in the trial of three Jacksonville teenagers charged with armed robbery and murder.  The newly-elected Jacksonville Councilman has spent years working in the black community as Executive Director of Project Reach, an organization that has worked to rebuild social structures that encourage accountability in Jacksonville’s poorest neighborhoods.  However, those efforts stand to suffer with Mr. Brown’s attempt to bargain for light sentences for the three teenagers who held Gate employees at gunpoint before fleeing from police.  Their attempted escape resulted in the death of their fourth accomplice when he pulled a gun on JSO officers.

“We’re not talking about hard-core individuals. What we’re talking about is young people who are lost,” Brown said in court.

Brown said he believes the teens’ sentences are too harsh, but then said, “When I say that, I have to be very careful. I know that we’re at a time now that we’re trying to make examples, but this is not where we are in life.

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Long-time Jax Crime fighter dies of gunshot wound

The story.

Sheriff John Rutherford, a close friend of Hires’s, went to the home on Old Plank Road and said there is no initial indication that foul play is involved. Rutherford said gun cleaning supplies were discovered at the scene and there is some indication Hires may have been cleaning a gun at the time of his death. Rutherford said police are still searching for a cause and an autopsy will be done.

I have known Mr. Hires for years.  My thoughts are with his family.

Other local blogs are covering the story.

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