It’s easy for those of us on the outside of the process and look at the $90 million capital improvement package for EverBank Field and cast aspersions.
A narrative that has emerged: that Council didn’t “vet” the deal, that citizens were up in arms, and that the media was complicit in some grand attempt to sell the deal.
The first point is debatable; the second point even more so; and the third is untrue, at least as far as Folio Weekly’s and the T-U’s news operations go.
Weeks back, a column ran in this space: “Shad Khan Owns You.”
It pissed off a lot of people, including people very close to Shad Khan, though not Shad himself, who has heard worse.
And, also, because he knows there is some truth in the headline. Jacksonville has looked for a savior for a long time. Shad Khan, rebuffed in his attempts to acquire the Rams a couple of years before buying the Jaguars, was looking for a place where he didn’t have to be defined by the hardball Union busting of Flex-N-Gate, a place where he could be branded with novelty fake mustaches, and get a rock star reaction.
Shad was going to bring a winner here, the smart set said. The same smart set that thought Del Rio would be an upgrade on Coughlin. And so on.
Jacksonville is still waiting on that winning football team, of course, but that’s beside the point.
Jacksonville and Shad Khan are yoked. The last thing we want is for the rumors that the Jags could relocate to have credibility. Khan, meanwhile, sees a city with untapped resources and potential, one in which he can have an investment stake at very agreeable terms.
With that relationship in mind, even though the mayor’s office’s own estimates say that we have a 25 year obligation ahead of us paying off the last two rounds of stadium upgrades, and even though the bed tax we’ll be using to pay it off is “notoriously volatile,” the upgrade package was a done deal when it was introduced.
Part of the reason for that: what is pejoratively called the Good Ol’ Boy network.
A lot of the negotiations for the deal first happened long before there was any legislation advanced, between folks like Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and Jags’ lobbyist Paul Harden.
By the time there was legislation to “amend” the Jaguars’ lease, there was no daylight between the positions of the executive branch and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But changes happened to the bill. The Council Auditor offered his tweaks. And so did three of the four committees that reviewed it. (Rules, dominated by the entertaining barbs between Chair Matt Schellenberg and his antagonist, Tommy Hazouri, did nothing with the bill).
Dozens of amendments. Every caution that could be heard was heard. Council opted to, in the words of Mike Weinstein, “be bold.”
There was, of course, one holdout: Danny Becton, who made the administration’s life miserable in committee meetings for two days.
Becton made the case of fiscal rectitude, for a pause. He wasn’t thrilled with the terms of the bill.
Then came the Council meeting last Tuesday. And the scales fell off Becton’s eyes.
Becton told the press that he had been thinking about voting with the rest of the Council directly after the Land Use and Zoning meeting a week before the full Council vote.
The question, of course, is what flipped it. Did Sam Mousa use telepathy?
Or did Paul Harden talk to Becton and make him see the issue the Jaguars’ way?
Harden and Becton agree that they had a conversation, though Becton says it was half an hour and Harden says it was 90 minutes.
Beyond that, both men basically agree that the gist of the conversation was along the lines of “how can I flip your vote?”
Becton wanted concessions; he didn’t get them; he went along with the team anyway, telling media that he was just trying to negotiate a better deal.
Of course, the mayor already has his negotiator. And Becton, in flipping on this vote, did himself no real favors. The Jags and the executive branch know they won. And they marginalized Becton in doing so.
We are seeing a mayor, so far, with as much stroke as John Delaney had with Council. That is, in part, because Mousa is running the offense. He is the fixer; the straw that stirs the drink.
On another issue, the big talk is “perhaps we should have a referendum.”
What would have happened if the Jags’ package had gone to referendum, though?
Would it have passed with 100 percent of the vote?