Jacksonville Bold for 4.17.24: Changes ahead

Gun Rights

Big changes are coming to the leadership of Jacksonville’s utility and public school system, and right now there are more questions than answers about the way forward.

The big news of the week: CEO Jay Stowe is leaving JEA.

He stepped down from leadership Monday to be replaced by interim CEO Vickie Cavey.

Stowe opened his remarks by stressing that his departure doesn’t mean that “JEA is for sale,” before thanking employees and acknowledging the labor union’s “courtesy and respect,” then describing the “honor” of serving as JEA’s leader in recent years and accomplishments, such as the “lowest combined utility rates” in a Florida metropolitan area and rebuilding “trust” and reviving corporate values “in a place that had been hurt and broken for too long.”

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Vickie Cavey is named JEA’s interim CEO.

The utility will now be tasked with replacing a leader who stabilized the public perception of the power and water company after Aaron Zahn’s tenure. Zahn’s attempts to privatize the utility, which would have brought him and other chief executives a massive windfall, ended in ignominy and led to an eventual conviction on federal charges.

Employees — the “rank and file” — have questions about the timing and circumstances of the well-liked Stowe’s departure, which was rumored last week and soon enough effectively confirmed.

Mayor Donna Deegan, unlike former Mayor Lenny Curry, doesn’t want to privatize the utility, and no one else will admit to wanting to, so the way forward will be resolved at least on that front.

Meanwhile, the Duval County School Board is getting closer to considering final candidates for its permanent superintendent role — Diana Krisnar has been the interim leader since Dr. Diana Greene parted ways with the district last year.

Former Lee County Superintendent Christopher Bernier, Ronne Dotson of Kentucky, Sito Narcisse of Louisiana, Corwin Robinson of Tennessee, Carlos Perez of Miami Beach, and Sylvia Mitchell of Texas (a candidate with considerable charter school experience, as the Florida Times-Union notes), are all in the mix.

DCPS isn’t for “sale” either, but the next superintendent will have to deal with attrition of the student population in recent years amid a surge of charter enrollments and a plan to consolidate some neighborhood schools into different feeder patterns.

These leadership jobs typically aren’t career-long gigs, of course. During the years Bold has existed, we’ve covered churn in the C-suite of both institutions. And we expect to cover more in the years to come.

That being said, Jacksonville faces two big choices this Summer, and the futures of the district and the power company will be revealed in how they are resolved.

Army Corps cash

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio are urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fund key projects in Northeast Florida.

As you finalize the planning and selection process for efforts that will receive funding in fiscal year 2024, we request that all proposed and ongoing projects in Florida receive full and fair consideration of their value to local communities, our state, and our nation,” the Senators write.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio hope to keep federal money flowing to Northeast Florida projects.

These include Jacksonville Harbor Outer Channel Improvements, the St. Augustine Back Bay Study, and Continuing Authority Program projects for Big Fishweir Creek and Fort George Inlet in Jacksonville, as well as the St. Francis Barracks Seawall in St. Augustine.

Floridians depend on the expertise and diligence of the USACE — often in partnership with nonfederal interests — to study, design, construct, maintain, and operate important water resources infrastructure across the Sunshine State,” the Senators write.

Fair enough

Speaking of Scott, you weren’t seeing things if you think you saw him at the Clay County Fair last week.

“Scott said his favorite fair snack is deep-fried doughnuts. He also said he enjoys riding the Ferris wheel with his grandchildren,” reports Jack Randall of Clay Today.

Rick Scott heads to the Clay County Fair.

Scott attended the opening night in Green Cove with Sheriff Michelle Cook, who is (like Scott) also facing voters this year in hopes of getting a second term.

Cook has no GOP Primary opponent, but former Sheriff Darryl Daniels, who was removed from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020 after he was charged with obscuring evidence in an effort to hide an extramarital affair turned sour, is running as a No Party Affiliation candidate. He was acquitted in 2022.

Cook has raised more than $185,000, while Daniels has brought in less than $14,000 so far, suggesting that name identification will have to buoy him to make him competitive.

Rutherford rakes

A Republican member of Congress from Northeast Florida is not taking his re-election for granted, with strong fundraising in the first quarter of the year.

John Rutherford reports raising $507,011 for the 2024 cycle so far, on top of $143,080 raised in Q1.

John Rutherford posts strong fundraising to keep any potential challengers at bay.

Despite spending $78,443 this quarter and $293,307 thus far this cycle, he still has $504,113 on hand, putting him in a strong position for a looming August Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Duval and part of St. Johns County.

Donors of interest this quarter include the following names and more: Palmer Luckey, the founder of Anduril Industries; defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics; the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); the National Apartment Association, the National Propane Gas Association, and the National Shooting Sports Association.

Rutherford’s opponents haven’t reported Q1 fundraising, but they have ground to make up based on what they raised in 2023.

Mara Macie, who launched another campaign for Congress this year over Rutherford’s refusal to support Freedom Caucus Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio for Speaker, ended 2023 with a little more than $10,000 cash on hand.

Macie was one of two Primary challengers to Rutherford in 2022. She was unsuccessful, getting 18% of the vote and finishing in a distant second place, with Rutherford taking 66% in that election.

Perpetual candidate Gary Koniz is listed as a candidate with the state Division of Elections but does not appear to have a campaign account recognized by the Federal Elections Commission this cycle.

Bucking boards

So much for civilian review boards that potentially could have a say over police misconduct, after Gov. Ron DeSantis went to St. Augustine Friday to sign HB 601.

“Today’s legislation will ensure law enforcement can do their jobs without the threat of harassment. While blue states vilify and defund the police, Florida will continue to be the friendliest state in the nation toward our law enforcement community,” DeSantis claimed.

Bill sponsor Rep. Wyman Duggan lauded the move.

Wyman Duggan is praising a new law that seeks to end law enforcement ‘persecution.’

“We are no longer going to allow a civilian oversight/review process to be a vehicle for the persecution of individual officers. I thank the Governor and the Speaker for their support of this legislation and am honored to have worked on it with the State Fraternal Order of Police under President Steve Zona’s leadership.”

HB 601 bans a “county, municipality, special district, or other political subdivision of the state” from trying to “pass or enforce any ordinance, resolution, or rule relating to the receipt, processing, or investigation of complaints of misconduct by law enforcement officers and correctional officers.”

This specifically addresses civilian review boards that offer residents an opportunity to evaluate potential misconduct by the police officers whose salaries they pay, eliminating their central functions. This prohibition includes any “ordinance, resolution, or rule relating to civilian oversight of a law enforcement agency in relation to the investigation of complaints of misconduct by law enforcement officers and correctional officers.”

Jacksonville has seen a push for such a board amid conflicts between activists and rogue cops, but Duggan’s bill brings an end to that.

Splash

DeSantis signed another bill that matters to a regional Republican since our last edition came out.

SB 544 is a passion for sponsoring Sen. Travis Hutson of St. Johns County for good reason: His nephew once fell into a pool but due to swimming lessons, was able to avert tragedy by knowing to flip over and float.

“If he had not gone through the program, who knows what would have happened?” Hutson told Florida Politics’ Gabrielle Russon earlier this year. “Granted, I was fortunate enough to put my kids through the program. Some of those in Florida are less fortunate, and they need the help to save lives.”

Travis Hutson is cheering a new law to create a state Swimming Lesson Voucher Program.

SB 544 compels the Department of Health (DOH) to create a Swimming Lesson Voucher Program to “increase water safety in this state by offering vouchers for swimming lessons at no cost to families with an income of no more than 200% of the federal poverty level who have one or more children 4 years of age or younger,” the measure stipulates.

Each county would be required to have one vendor.

It’s unclear what the program will ultimately cost the DOH.

One committee analysis advanced a possibility of a “significant negative (fiscal) impact due to the bill’s provisions requiring the DOH to develop an application review process and maintain a network of swimming lesson vendors in each county.

The eyes have it

An “optometrist of the year” from Ponte Vedra apparently has visibility with the Governor’s Office.

Evidence for that? DeSantis tapped Dr. Bryan Stam for the Florida Board of Optometry.

Stam, the former President of the Florida Optometry Association, scored the “optometrist of the year” designation just last year.

Ron DeSantis taps Bryan Stam for the Florida Board of Optometry.

Stam graduated from the Bolles School in Jacksonville in 1991. He then earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Florida State University and his Doctor of Optometry from Nova Southeastern University.

In private practice for nearly two decades, Stam “specializes in primary care optometry including basic comprehensive eye exams for eyeglasses and contacts as well as medical exams for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, glaucoma, macular degeneration,” per his company biography.

They like Leek

Rep. Tom Leek’s campaign for Senate District 7 announced endorsements from State Attorney R.J. Larizza and Public Defender Matthew Metz, both of Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit.

Larizza previously worked in the Florida Department of Corrections, then as an Assistant State Attorney and pursued a private practice career before successfully running for State Attorney. Metz was felony division chief over the 7th Judicial Circuit before being elected Public Defender in 2020.

Tom Leek is enjoying another wave of high-profile endorsements.

“I am proud to support Tom Leek in his bid for state Senate. He recognizes the complex needs of the state of Florida, including maintaining law and order and a firm, trustworthy criminal justice system, and his leadership in the Florida Legislature has already proven he has a unique understanding of the responsibility that comes with public office — and it is a responsibility he bears well,” Larizza said.

Metz added, “It has been a privilege to work with Rep. Tom Leek, representing Volusia County these last eight years, and I strongly support his campaign to continue his dedicated service in the state Senate. Tom Leek is a man who defends liberty, upholds constitutional rights, and strives to represent his constituents well and I know will continue to exemplify these characteristics through his continued service in the Florida Legislature.” — Drew Wilson.

Survey says?

Interested in weighing in on Jacksonville and Northeast Florida transportation conundrums?

Well, the North Florida TPO is ready to hear from you about its 2050 Long-Range Transportation Plan.

The survey allows interested parties to use an interactive map to “drop a point to mark a location and fill out the form to help us better understand your idea” for locations from Palm Coast to Nassau County’s border with Georgia.

Jacksonville wants to hear from you about the future of transportation.

The data will have ramifications going forward.

“The North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) uses the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) to guide the use of Federal, State, and other funds to create a transportation system that moves people and goods creates jobs and strengthens communities within its planning area.”

“The North Florida TPO also works with citizens, the private sector, and its planning partners to ensure that the transportation options funded in the PathForward 2050 plan best represent the direction chosen in the context of policy direction from the North Florida TPO Board,” the TPO notes.

Speed kills

The small city of Lawtey in Bradford County went live this week with a camera-enforced program to crack down on school zone speed demons.

RedSpeed USA is providing the technology that the Lawtey Police Department will use to identify and ticket speeders traveling 10 mph or more over the posted limit.

According to the Florida Department of Education, just one public school campus — Lawtey Elementary School — is situated within the city’s 1.51-mile bounds. The technology will be used there and at a nearby private school on two roads with posted school zone signage, a RedSpeed spokesperson said.

Speed demons in Jacksonville beware!

“Every day, students make their way to school, and they depend on and trust that drivers will make responsible decisions. Fast and reckless driving is an unacceptable, preventable risk to the safety of our school children, and it is our responsibility to address the issues with reasonable solutions,” Lawtey Chief of Police Jerry Feltner said in a statement.

As local residents may remember; Lawtey was historically a notorious speed trap. But it’s joining a trend with camera adaptation.

Neptune Beach approved using school speed zone cameras last month. TrafficSafetyTeam.org says Jacksonville and Waldo are also considering or have plans to use speed detection systems around schools.

Humdrum housing

The Northeast Florida housing market is still struggling to rebound following a sluggish beginning to 2024, according to the latest monthly regional home sales report from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR).

March brought a nominal month-over-month increase in single-family home sale prices in the six-county First Coast real estate region. NEFAR officials report that the median sales price for a home in the region last month was $389,000, up by about 1% over February.

The housing market struggles in the First Coast. Image via AP.

The year-over-year comparison was more upbeat in Northeast Florida, though. The median price saw a 6.6% jump from March 2023.

There were 1,895 closed sales in the First Coast region in March, which is an impressive 21.3% spike compared to February. But that’s still a 13% decrease from March 2023.

NEFAR President Rory Dubin acknowledged that there is still an unsettled housing market on the First Coast. But as the home-selling season heads into late Spring and Summer, there’s an optimistic outlook among Realtors in the region. — Drew Dixon.

Science Week 2024 kickoff

Jessica Harvey, a renowned environmental conservationist and the daughter of Guy Harvey, will be the keynote speaker for the Flagler College Science Week 2024 kickoff event.

“Make Your Legacy an Adventure” will provide a rare opportunity to hear from a leading figure in environmental conservation. It will take place Sunday, April 21, at 4 p.m. in Flagler College’s Ringhaver Student Center.

The presentation is free and open to the public.

Jessica Harvey is one of the leading figures in the conservation movement.

Harvey, born and raised in the Caribbean, credits her parents for instilling in her a profound love for wildlife and the great outdoors. Her journey led her to a fulfilling career as an environmental conservationist.

As the Chief Executive Officer of the Guy Harvey Foundation, Harvey collaborates with her team to expand the STEAM-driven marine educational resources provided by the foundation and its partners to move our global community toward a greener economy and healthier environment — one country at a time.

Science Week: Celebrating 10 Years of Science! will honor the 10th anniversary of Flagler College’s Coastal Environmental Science (CES) major. Professors Barbara Blonder and Terri Seron, the faculty mentors who implemented the Capstone Symposium 10 years ago, will lead the occasion, showcasing our students and their research in the CES and Biology programs during the 25th Science Symposium Capstone Presentations.

To learn more about Science Week 2024 and to RSVP for the events, please visit flagler.edu/scienceweek.

Power move

St. Johns County is in the process of acquiring its seventh utility service since 2005, and sights are set on a coastal community area that might be small, but is a popular destination for visitors to the hot spot for tourists.

North Beach Utilities Inc. services about 1,400 customers in the beachfront communities north of St. Augustine. Recently, the St. Johns County Commission unanimously agreed that the St. Johns County Utility District should pursue an acquisition project.

The area of South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach is the stretch of coastal communities serviced by the utility. It’s across a bridge and just north of St. Augustine and straddles the popular State Road A1A.

It’s relatively small, but it’s in an area that services many beachfront visitors in the tourism-rich county. Smaller hotels and private residential vacation rentals dot the area. Vilano Beach has also undergone a major community renewal transformation in the past two decades drawing increased businesses and visitors. It’s also one of the key entryways to driving on the beach in St. Johns County just north of the St. Augustine Inlet.

North Beach Utilities provide water and wastewater services for the residents and businesses of the area and is expected to require an investment of at least $4 million to upgrade the infrastructure of the service upon any completed sale, according to county estimates.

Black History Museum

The Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources announced that St. Johns County was one of four finalists for the home of the first Florida Museum of Black History.

The Florida Museum of Black History Task Force ranked St. Johns County No. 1, followed by Eatonville/Orange County, Sarasota, and Opa-locka. The task force invited St. Johns County to a special meeting in Tallahassee April 19 to answer questions about its proposal.

The top three sites will go to the state for final consideration.

St. Johns is the top seeded location for the state’s Black History Museum.

Upon learning the news, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) quickly passed a motion to approve the draft and negotiation of a Purchase and Sale Agreement with Florida Memorial University which is subject to the state of Florida’s selection and provision for funding of a Florida Museum of Black History in St. Augustine.

The site would be used to develop a campus-style museum of African American history, performing arts, cultural exhibits, and more.

County Commission Chair Sara Arnold said, “Let’s go get this and make it happen!”

Lawrence gets back to work

It’s a different kind of offseason. That much is clear for the Jaguars.

A year ago, Jacksonville was building off a season that included a playoff run and a home postseason victory. The Super Bowl was mentioned. Then, a second-half collapse left the Jaguars out of the playoffs.

This week, the players were back in the building as the off-season workout program opened. That included quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who said it took him until last month to completely heal from an injury-riddled 2023 season.

Trevor Lawrence is ready for the off-season workout program.

“It’s a new year now. It doesn’t matter who won the Super Bowl last year. Now everyone’s kind of turning the page and going on to 2024,” Lawrence said. “We’ve talked about and addressed some of the things that happened, maybe some things that we didn’t do well, some things that we might have done OK.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction. And we know what we need to do, and we’ve got to take this offseason and be really intentional. There’s very tangible things we need to get better at.”

Lawrence will have at least two new teammates in the offensive huddle this year, both free-agent additions from the Buffalo Bills: wide receiver Gabe Davis and center Mitch Morse. While Lawrence has not had the chance to be on the field with either of the new additions, he has heard a lot about them from their former quarterback and Lawrence’s friend Josh Allen.

“Gabe seems just like a super hard worker from what I’ve heard about him,” Lawrence said. “He is a guy that likes to work, wants to work, (is) really competitive (and) goes about his business the right way. Mitch, kind of a similar deal. I mean, I’ve heard nothing but good things. To have two guys from Buffalo, their reputations speak really highly of them and how they carry themselves. So, I think (they are) great additions for our team, and it’s going to raise the level of everybody’s play around them.”

The Jaguars will be on the field for the first time May 20 when off-season practices open. That’s when some of the physical work begins. Including the work that can help a player stay healthy all season long.

“Physically, this is the time of year where I feel like you can devote most of your time to physically training, getting stronger, you know, getting your body ready for what’s going to come and that takes a lot of time, you know, you don’t you can’t just start doing that in training camp. It’s too late. You’re going to break down.”

Therein lies the most important factor in the Jaguars 2024 season: keeping Lawrence healthy. Some of that falls on Lawrence, some on the offensive line, and some on lady luck. If the Jaguars can repeat the first half of 2023 and the second half of 2022, they can expect a return to the postseason.

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