Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Paris, Anyone?

Ah, the perks of being the incoming Council President.  Before he is even sworn in to office, Richard Clark (along with his wife, Deatra) will be whisked off to Paris, France for the Paris Air Show courtesy of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA).  It also appears that other officials, including the Mayor,  JAA interim Executive Director  Ernestine Moody Robinson,  JAA employees Richard Rossi and Rosa Beckett, and JAA Board members Cyrus Jolivette and Ron Weaver, will also be traveling to Paris.

According to a recent news article, it’s costing the State of Washington, home to the largest concentration of aerospace workers in the world, $7,100 to send one person to Paris for the air show.  (And that’s the only person the state is sending.)  I guess John Clark’s exit hasn’t impacted JAA’s propensity for taking expensive, international trips.  I also guess that it’s just not as sexy to attend the US Air, Trade, and Technology Expo (USATT), the American equivalent of the Paris Air Show, that will be held in Dayton, Ohio in July.  Sure, the USATT doesn’t have the history that the Paris Air Show has; but, it also doesn’t have the high costs and would still provide good opportunities to network with the aviation industry.

Now that Councilman Clark has joined the computer age by making his E-mails public, perhaps we can persuade him to also twitter the air show for us.  I just hope they don’t decide to take $10,000 worth of limo rides while they’re attending the Paris Air Show like some other Jacksonville folks did awhile back.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

The Yellow Brick Road

With the recent opening of the Riverside Arts Market, the Jazz Festival on Laura Street, the Sail Jacksonville Tall Ships this weekend, and the Mayor’s announcement that he would focus his last two years in office on the river and downtown, it seems like downtown is becoming the place to be.  While these are great developments that are badly needed in Jacksonville, it may be wise to take a step back and lay a foundation to ensure the continued success of the urban core area.  In addition, the City also needs to lay the groundwork for a great mass transit system.  (Of course, that’s a little hard to do when the JTA folks don’t show up to their own public meetings.)  Otherwise, we’re potentially building our efforts on shifting sand – with one shot events that never have enough substance to result in a permanent or vibrant downtown.

In order to see where we want to go as a city, exercises like the recent Reality Check are certainly helpful to picture exactly how we would like Jacksonville to look.  However, in order for that vision to be successful we have to build the “regulatory” structure to ensure that we are encouraging the right development in the right place.  And that means we should examine the existing structure – the comprehensive plan, zoning code, subdivision regulations – and investigate new options such as urban growth boundaries and other measures that will discourage greenfield development and revitalize neighborhoods, protect open space, keep housing affordable, and provide more transportation choices.

Jacksonville is unique in its consolidated government, but that uniqueness has also caused us to have growth problems.  Other municipalities have boundaries within incorporated areas; our municipal boundary is the county line, giving lots more opportunities for sprawl than normally found in other cities.  While Jacksonville is more similar to Miami-Dade County, even Miami-Dade has numerous cities within the county boundaries. It also has an established urban growth boundary.

For many years, I-295 was Jacksonville’s defacto urban growth boundary.   Many developments sprang up, with the common joke being that the City rarely met a development it didn’t like.  Comprehensive plan amendments were passed out like candy treats.  Rezonings occurred in some cases with zoning signage laying down on the ground of the property to be rezoned, effectively eliminating input from potentially affected parties.   In  addition, transpostation concurrency funds paid by developers and intended to mitigate impacts to existing roads went missing from city accounts.  In some cases, roads or other improvements were not built ahead of the new or additional development, but rather waited until development was finished, if the improvements were built at all.  (See Council Auditor Report # 621.) Then in 2007, the Legislature passed HB 7203.  This legislation began a pilot project for several commuities, including Jacksonville, that allowed them to avoid state review for numerous development projects.  And so we find ourselves in the current situation – crowded streets, long commutes, and car-dependent.

This year, the Legislature passed what was supposed to be a glitch bill (SB 360) to fix some of the unintended consequences of previous growth management legislation.  However, the bill that passed will be of no help to Jacksonville’s growth management and mass transit advocates.

According to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), although SB 360 was intended to direct growth into urban areas, its implementation will present significant isssues and challenges.  For example, the legislation eliminates transportation concurrency and the DRI process (the primary regulatory tools for mitigating local and regional transportation impacts of development) without providing for any alternative methods of addressing these impacts.  Eliminating these tools without putting anything in their place will weaken the state’s growth management process according to the DCA.

In addition, if SB 360 becomes law, Jacksonville, along with 200+ cities, will automatically become a transportation concurrency exception area shortly ater July 1, 2009.  The legislation does not provide any transition period for Jacksonville and the other cities to adopt local replacements to transportation concurrency.  According to DCA”s analysis, the abrupt termination of transportation concurrency is likely to cause confusion and controversy and generate litigation over the power of local governments to adopt replacements for transportation concurrency.  DCA states that already there have been suggestions that local governments may need to adopt moratoria to give time to adopt new regulations.   The lack of regulatory certainty and predictability may impede, rather than encourage, economic development.

The Act contemplates future adoption of a mobility fee to replace transportation concurrency, but there is no guarantee that the Legislature will adopt a mobility fee system.  DCA and the FL Department of Transportation are required to put together recommendations for a mobility fee system to be provided to the Legislature by December 2009. However, even if the Legislature should adopt a mobility fee system in 2010, implementation may take a year or two.

According to DCA, the Act also creates substantial new workloads for local governments and DCA without providing any new resources to accomplish the tasks.  As a transportation concurrency exemption area, Jacksonville is now required to adopt land use and transportation strategies within 2 years to support and fund mobility, including alternative modes of transportation, such as mass transit.  Additionally, other local governments are authorized to adopt urban service boundary amendments that would also trigger these same requirements.  This could be a very expensive and onerous task – yet no financial support or new revenue sources have been provided to undertake this planning.

Further, until December 2011, local government commitments to provide potable water, wastewater, drainage, parks, solid waste, and public schools will not be subject to a demonstration that improvements adequate to achieve and maintain level of service standards will be supported by committed funding in the first 3 years of the capital improvement schedule.  This is critical for water supply, where the Legislature has mandated that the water management districts and local governments adopt 20 year and 10 year, respectively, water supply work plans, the first 5 years of which must be in the capital improvement schedule.

Finally, the legislation may create a stampede of plan amendments to take advantage of relaxed planning requirements.  DCA reports that it has already experienced an increase in the volume and geographic scale of future land use map amendments over the past two years.  DCA speculates that some of these increases may have been due to increased concerns over the Hometown Democracy constitutional amendment which may be on the ballot in 2010.

Numerous local governments, growth management advocates, newspaper editorial boards, and now CFO Alex Sink, have called for Governor Crist to veto the bill.  In addition, in a recent Jacksonville Business Journal poll, voters were 2 to 1 against relaxing growth management laws.   Governor Crist has yet to show which way he’s leaning, but with the deadline for gubernatorial action fast approaching (June 2nd), rumors have abounded that Crist may allow the legislation to become law without his signature.  If SB 360 does become law, Jacksonville potentially could be without a meaningful growth management regulatory structure for up to three years.

As Adam Smith, a reporter for the St Pete Times, recently tweeted: If Crist signs a growth management bill panned by all enviros and editorial boards – groups he cares about – should we assume his motivation is strictly donors?

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , ,

General Counsel’s Gag Order is Working

The City’s General Counsel, Rick Mullaney, must have issued a gag order to City Council concerning the no-bid contract for the operation of Trail Ridge Landfill.  The bill authorizing waiver of the City’s procurement code and entering into a contract with Waste Management to operate the landfill was withdrawn 18-0 with nary a peep from Council members.

Now on to the lawsuit portion of the program.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , ,

Bad Economy Could be Good for Trail Ridge Landfill

One good thing for the Trail Ridge Landfill has come out of the bad economy: less trash is being disposed of at the landfill. (See the latest Council Auditor’s quarterly summary report – click on Report #661 on the Council Auditor’s web page).   As it turns out, the bad economy could bring about another good result. 

While Mayor Peyton thinks he has the best deal he can get to expand and run Trail Ridge landfill, the bad economy could turn out to be good for the Trail Ridge contract as well – if City Council puts it out to bid.   Sarasota County just found that out for themselves with their proposed landfill expansion. (The Sarasota County landfill is projected to run out of space in the next year to year-and-a half.) 

“Not only are the bids coming in at lower amounts, but we are getting more bids,” says Commissioner Jon Thaxton.  Original estimates put the cost at more than $24 million, but because of the decline in the economy those prices have dropped [to $18.5 million].  The county was unable to find any local suitors to do the work.  The job will go to a North Carolina company.  Only a small portion will go to local workers.  “While we do want to emphasize the need for local contractors, we are not going to pay excessive money to get there.  That would be counterproductive and not good stewards of the tax payers money.”

Btw, Sarasota County was able to extend the life of their landfill by three years with an aggressive recycling program.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , ,

Truth or Dare

Most of us have played the Truth or Dare game in our lifetimes – particularly as teenagers.  You know, the Truth questions are the easy no-brainers that allow you to learn more about your friends.  But when a person picks Dare, they are generally afraid to tell the truth about things. Maybe they have something to hide and are afraid to get asked any question.

The adult version of Truth or Dare is happening this afternoon.  City Council will be asking questions of all the parties involved in the continuing Trail Ridge soap opera with the parties supplying answers under oath.

Will Peyton and his staff answer Truth? or Dare? 

Stay tuned.  With allegations of underhanded dealings, pressure to sign inaccurate affidavits, and the Mayor’s alleged request that City staff not be required to testify under oath, this soap opera is far from over.

In the meantime, I just couldn’t resist this you tube video on the subject of Truth or Dare. Enjoy.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , ,

Hung Out to Dry

 Let’s see if I have this straight.

According to a recent TU article, Alan Williams and Doug Wood, former City employees involved with the original Waste Management deal, were approached a couple of months ago by Alan Mosley, the mayor’s chief administrative officer. According to Williams, Mosley told him the original Waste Management contract was for the entire site and suggested that Williams sign an affidavit supporting that assertion. A few days later, Williams says he received an affidavit in the mail from Paul Harden.

At the same time that was going on (and as posted on Jaxpolitics before), the Mayor’s staff, including Adam Hollingworth and Alan Mosley (among others), were involved in regular meetings with Paul Harden, Waste Management’s representative.

So given that, does the following explanation in the TU make sense?

During an open forum at the First Coast Tiger Bay Club on Friday, Peyton was asked whether Mosley was acting on his own or under the mayor’s direction.

“He didn’t do it at my request or my direction,” Peyton said.

Peyton said he didn’t know Mosley had called Wood and Williams but did not see anything wrong with his aide trying to better understand the city’s legal risks.

Harden said that no one from the city directed him to follow up on Mosley’s conversations.

“I’m not acting on behalf of the city,” Harden said on April 11.

Of course, Harden’s original letter that accompanied the affidavit stated that the men’s signing of the affidavit would really “help Mayor Peyton.”  So, why do I feel like we aren’t exactly getting the whole story here?

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , ,

Trail Ridge Strategy Unraveling

The former chief of the City’s Public Works Department, Alan Williams, now says he was pressured into signing the affidavit supporting Waste Management’s interpretation of the contract and that had he refreshed his memory, he wouldn’t have signed it.  According to Williams, he signed an affidavit given to him by a Waste Management lobbyist, at the urging of one of Mayor John Peyton’s top aides.

The Mayor states that it has always been the City’s contention that the contract is for the life of the facility, not the life of the site.  So I guess I’m confused.  If that’s always been the City’s contention, why is one of the Mayor’s top aides urging a former City employee to sign an affidavit in support of Waste Management’s interpretation of the contract?

The Mayor will be presenting his side of the Trail Ridge issue at the Tiger Bay Club this Friday.  I, for one, will be interested in the Mayor’s response to this development.

Could this be the end of the line for the Trail Ridge no-bid contract?  Jacksonville’s residents can only hope so.  

Read more of the Alan Williams story in the TU here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , ,

Musings on Mullaney

How embarrassing for Rick Mullaney and the City’s Office of General Counsel. 

According to JaxDailyRecord.com:

 At Monday’s Rotary Club of Jacksonville meeting, Peyton said if the City went to court with Waste Management over the Trail Ridge Landfill contract, “We don’t have lawyers good enough (to handle the case) in the Office of General Counsel […].

Now that the Mayor has officially emasculated Mullaney and his staff, are Mullaney’s days as the City’s General Counsel numbered or will he just continue to limp along in the office?  You especially have to wonder how effective a General Counsel can continue to be when his own client (and boss), the Mayor, ridicules him and his staff in front of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville as being unable to defend a contract issue such as the one in dispute with Waste Management.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, , ,

Is Jacksonville Doomed to Repeat its Failures?

We all know the story of the consolidation of city and county government in the mid-60s that grew out of corruption scandals that resulted in the indictment of 11 city officials, including 4 of 9 city councilmen, 2 of 5 city commissioners, the city auditor, the executive secretary of the city recreation department, 1 of 5 county commissioners, the county purchasing agent.  The city tax assessor took the Fifth Amendment, refused to testify, and resigned. 

The grand jury presentment contained numerous findings and recommendations:

    1. Revise government structure to deny unlimited power and authority to a few political leaders. 
    2. Prevent city officials and their close business and political associates from using city employees and city contracts for their private and political purposes.
    3. Instill honesty and morality in the conduct of public affairs and restore confidence in our public officials.
    4. State audit of city financial affairs. 
    5. Revamp personnel structure and eliminate political patronage jobs. 
    6. Strict enforcement of laws prohibiting participation by city employees in political activities. (Burns Blitzers) 
    7. Require removal of public officials or employees who take the Fifth Amendment on matters pertaining to public duties, and suspend them from office after indictment, pending trial. 
    8. Severely criticized the community’s moral climate which tolerated these conditions, referring to businessmen and city employees who participated in the wrongful acts, or went along with them and did not step forward to disclose the practices and conditions discovered by the grand jury, until duress of a subpoena.
    9. Complimented those few employees who did assist–and the prosecutors, television, and newspapers who provided information from their own investigations. (Norm Vincent, Richard Martin) [Orangecountyfl.net]

    Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , ,

Legislature proposes doing away with County Clerks

From the Herald Tribune.  Bills introduced by leaders in the Florida House and Senate would eliminate many of the functions of the state’s 67 county clerks, moving the responsibility of collecting as much as $500 million a year to the state courts system. Among the duties that could be moved are: collect fines and court costs, processing appeals, managing court records and paying jurors.

The proposal has spawned a war of words between judges and the clerks – with judges and their backers saying millions of dollars could be saved by the switch, while clerks claim they run a more efficient collections system than judges could.

The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, says she is preparing estimates that the move would save as much as $200 million a year. Bogdanoff chairs the House committee that writes the state budget. The Senate sponsor of the bill is former Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

The law would not eliminate county clerks, which are required by the state constitution. But the clerks could be reduced to recording documents and essentially serving as the accountants for county commissions.  The clerk does not serve the accountant function in Duval County, however.  So locally, if the legislation should pass, the clerk would only be recording documents – a function the City at one time discussed taking over during  negotiations of an agreement with the clerk’s office last year.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, ,

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