Buzz: A New UNF Pool, T-U Sues the Mayor, Animals on the Lose and More

UNF Dives Right In

The University of North Florida is planning to build a new Olympic-sized NCAA-regulation swimming pool and diving complex. UNF said the Andy Sears Pool in the UNF complex needs about $3 million in repairs, although college spokeswoman Joanna Norris said UNF does not have an estimate for what the new pool will cost. The current pool will close March 1 at the end of the 2013-’14 women’s swimming and diving season. During the time it takes to fund, design and construct a new pool, the UNF swim team will train and compete at Episcopal School of Jacksonville.


Everyone, Get a Lawyer

The Florida Times-Union is suing Mayor Alvin Brown and the Police & Fire Pension Fund alleging that they violated Florida’s Sunshine Law by conducting collective bargaining negotiations in private. The lawsuit was filed June 6 in Duval County Circuit Court. The lawsuit, filed by attorney George Gabel, asks the court to void the agreement and keep the city from implementing it. City General Counsel Cindy Laquidara and Chris Hand, the mayor’s chief of staff, negotiated for the city and signed the mediation settlement agreement on behalf of the city. Officials of the police and firefighters also signed the agreement. Laquidara‘s office said the office doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The City Council voted in May to hire its own legal counsel to sort through the specifics of the pension agreement. A motion will also be filed in federal court contending that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over city pension issues. “In more than 35 years as a labor attorney, handling hundreds of cases involving public employees, I have rarely seen a lawsuit as off base and uninformed as what The Florida Times-Union filed today. This case is legal fiction, pure and simple,” said Michael Grogan, an attorney representing the city of Jacksonville, in a statement. “Strangely, the Florida Times-Union never had a problem during the more than 20-year period when past mayors and City Councils approved settlement agreements related to police and fire pensions. So, we are surprised and disappointed that the Times-Union is forcing the city to spend taxpayer dollars defending a case that has absolutely no basis or merit.”


Holes in City Budget

City officials claim police and fire retirement reform will have a big impact on the size of the city’s budget deficit. In a June 3 letter to the City Council, Chris Hand, the mayor’s chief of staff said, “The projected deficit is approximately $64 million without retirement reform and $18 million with retirement reform.” The Council has hired its own attorney to check out those figures. Regardless of the holes in the budget, the Council will have to figure out how to balance it before the start of the new fiscal year. On a positive note, projected revenues for the upcoming fiscal year are $950 million, up from $947 million this year.


DIA Selects First CEO

Aundra C. Wallace, executive director of the Detroit Land Bank, has been named the first CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority. Wallace was one of two finalists interviewed by the DIA Board June 6. The other finalist was Kevin Hanna, director of real estate for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. The DIA is one of the key components of Mayor Alvin Brown’s economic development strategy and is responsible for creating and managing economic development, recruitment and marketing plans in the Downtown area.


Archaic Paper Budget for Duval Schools

What’s the best way to keep taxpayers and teachers in the dark about what’s in Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s first budget? Only make it available in paper form and sell it for 15 cents a page for the 70-page document, or $10.50. School spokeswoman Marsha Oliver said the document was not available in electronic form. Oliver said the budget is the work of several people and not easily posted on the Internet. But, if the school system were really interested in transparency, it would put the budget online and make it searchable. The city of Jacksonville emailed a copy of its budget to City Council members in early June.


Companies Plan Jacksonville Expansions

Energy Intelligence Worldwide Corp., Total Quality Logistics LLC and the Bank of America are each proposing expansions in Jacksonville. Combined, the companies’ projects are expected to create 320 new high-wage jobs, with an average annual salary of more than $50,000 and about $14 million in capital investment in Jacksonville. Mayor Alvin Brown announced the plans June 5. Bank of America is planning to expand operations at two Southside Jacksonville campuses to accommodate Bank of America and Merrill Lynch lines of business. EIWC, a company that provides energy management solutions, is interested in locating its global corporate headquarters in Downtown Jacksonville. It would create 45 new full-time jobs. Total Quality Logistics, the second largest freight brokerage company in the nation, is planning on opening a Jacksonville office, creating 75 new jobs. Legislation will be filed with the City Council to provide incentives to the three companies.


Boas, Iguanas and Scares, Oh My!

It’s turning into a zoo at the beach, and we’re not talking about the Memorial Day brawl. According to The Florida Times-Union, an 8-foot-long boa constrictor named Alice and two 5-foot-long iguanas, Chuckles and Alice, have escaped to enjoy the nightlife in Jacksonville Beach. If you spot the missing creatures, call Jacksonville Beach Animal Control at 247-6167 or the Jacksonville Beach Police at 270-1667.


Longer Terms in Fernandina?

Fernandina Beach residents will have the opportunity to vote in November on whether to change the terms of city commissioners from three years to four years. If approved by voters, commissioners would be elected every two years in conjunction with state and federal elections. If the Charter Amendment is approved by voters, Ed Boner and Pat Gass will have their current terms extended by one year, the News Leader reported.

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