OPTIMIST’S CLUB

Earlier this year, when the so-called Liberty Street Collapse happened, a narrative emerged that, amazingly enough, is continuing to flower.

It was created by the Lenny Curry campaign. His spokesperson and strategist, Brian Hughes, is not one to let a crisis or a news cycle go to waste.

“The lack of urgency displayed by the mayor’s office after the Liberty Street collapse is irresponsible,” Curry claimed. “Brown’s absence of a plan in time of crisis mirrors his lack of leadership as mayor. Instead of taking immediate action, the mayor waited nearly two weeks to simply accept his role in the failure, then only offered minimal relief to the people of this community.”

Meanwhile, Fabien Levy, the deposed spox for the Brown campaign, countered with, “It’s sad that Lenny Curry is playing politics and creating a political sideshow when others are actually delivering solutions to help Jacksonville families.”

In terms of gamesmanship, Levy was playing Go Fish while Hughes was playing Global Thermonuclear War. The framing of that narrative was just one example.

For whatever reason, the Brown side was slow to act. Brown’s communications director, Dave DeCamp, got sent to the disaster zone for a press conference from which he may be still recovering. And as Brown’s time in office ended, almost six months after the Liberty Street Collapse, nothing tangible had been done.

Shortly after Curry’s inauguration, he pushed FDOT to move its safety inspection up a few weeks, saying that this is the kind of “urgency” and “dedication” that his administration would deliver. Then, they were rather quiet, up until last week, when Council President Greg Anderson, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, and Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein rolled out an ambitious proposal.

Anderson led off, describing the zone as “unsightly” and a consequence of “deferred maintenance,” which was a hallmark of city government in recent years as property tax revenue flatlined.

The solution, said the council president, would turn a “showplace for blight into a showpiece for our city,” creating “an exciting new waterfront addition to our downtown” that would “last 50 to 60 years into the future.” The $37M capital improvement project encompasses these efforts:

 

I. Replacing Coastline between Newnan and Market

II. Replacing and extending the Liberty Street Bridge to the St. Johns River

III. Removing the section of Coastline between Market and Liberty

IV. Removing the Courthouse Parking Deck

V. Providing streetscape improvements to rerouted sections of Northbank Riverwalk

 

The only drawback? “Contractors are not quite as hungry as they were, so they are able to jack up their prices a little,” said Sam Mousa about the current building boomlet, in a quote that Marvin Edwards likely will file away for future use.

Mike Weinstein, the city’s finance officer, discussed the 25-year repayment schedule, which would not require an adjustment of debt service until next year.

“We’re borrowing about $70 million, and coming down on debt obligation by about $140 million [from last year’s proposed budget]. This adjusts our debt $12 million more next year,” Weinstein said last week. “We still go down on debt obligation … even with the $20 million borrowed next year.”

“It is going to be done through debt service, and it is going to be something we’ll all be very proud of.”

The notoriously tough Finance Committee softened. They approved the project unanimously, with only logistical questions. All agreed that this was the kind of infrastructural renewal that the oft-maligned Capital Fund was designed to do. Whether that was because of the soft power of the Anderson/Curry alliance, or because of the project’s merits, or both, is the question that bears asking.

Some have wondered how this Council would receive the current budget if Alvin Brown’s team had proposed it. One thing that was apparent, at the end of Wednesday’s Finance Committee budget review, was that that never would have happened. Comments were made by councilmembers about steam not coming out of the ears of Council Auditor Kirk Sherman this year, and “not having to move a decimal point in this budget,” and how delightful and refreshing it was for Finance to work with Mousa and Weinstein.

Are these critiques fair? Who the hell knows? But they are part of the narrative that has emerged, one that frames the reasonably harmonious relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Curry’s biggest worry at this point is not reining in Council. It really is what’s happening in China, what happened in Greece, what will happen with Fed Policy. Left unsaid is that Brown’s budgets arguably were what they were because the city was crawling out of the recession created by the crash of 2008. Smoke and mirrors, maybe. But it wasn’t done for the sake of pulling magic tricks.

Mousa and Weinstein are very smart men, and they know every angle; as well, they are great quotables and sources of historical insight. But there is no city government in the country with a strategy to counteract what looks like a looming macroeconomic disaster. Stocks are soft, commodity markets are in decline, and Lucille looks set to leave us with four hungry children and a crop in the field. Picked a fine time, that one.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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