The JACKSONVILLE Way

We have our very own way of doing things in Cowford.

Sometimes this works in our favor. Football team can’t score a winning record? Fans’ll keep coming back if you give ’em the NFL’s only in-stadium pool and the baddest scoreboards this side of the galaxy. Sure, we’d rather win the division, but the Carnivàle-meets-football experience is good ’nuff.

It doesn’t have to make sense to outsiders. It’s the Jacksonville way.

Take the pension fix, for example. (Though ‘fix’ is a strong word for ‘delayed payments.’)

The April 6 presentation of the mayor’s plan to city council left just about every thinking person thinking the same thing: W.T.F. As in, WTF sense does it make to kick the can down the road again when that’s exactly how we got in this mess in the first place? And WTF are the formulas they used to project the future revenue of the sales tax? Or population growth? How much it will cost to reinstate those sweet pension bennies that were 86’d in the 2015 negotiations? How much coin would the closed pension funds have earned if we’d kept paying into them as scheduled?

All great questions, sure. All questions the mayor would probably answer in some incredibly vague, kinda scolding way. Case in point: When repeatedly asked about his administration’s lack of transparency in this process, Lenny Curry sniped back a series of responses that essentially amounted to: “How transparent are deez nuts?”

There’s a lot we don’t know about how his administration reached its conclusions, and media, well-intended as many may be, have been approaching the pension situation with velveteen kid gloves instead of fightin’ dukes, ’cause, quite frankly, it’s a nightmare to cover. A lot of us can hardly define ‘actuary,’ let alone understand that actuaries are about as likely to agree on financial projections as a lakeful of alligators concur on who gets the largest share of tasty tourist.

Time will tell, but the smart money’s on a few city councilmembers rattling their dentures at the mayor’s office and voting for his plan anyway, of course after they’re reassured that their pet projects will get a nice slice of that budget pie.

Deferring payments may not be the best way to pay down nearly $3 billion of pension debt. But it’s the Jacksonville way.
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As long as we’re on the subject of things that just don’t make any damn sense, let’s dip a toe into the dredging project. For years, JaxPort has been whining and crying and pissing and moaning about how they need to get some deeper water already. The presupposition is that if we don’t dredge 13 miles of the St. Johns River from 40 to 47 feet, the port (a public asset, by the way) will lose future business. Which, to hear them tell it, is guaran-damn-teed, m’kay.

But the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that, dredge or not, JaxPort is never, ever going to be in a position to compete with Savannah or Charleston for cargo. Not to mention the fact that we don’t have the money to dredge. Not to mention that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn’t conduct a multi-port analysis because it didn’t foresee Jacksonville capturing a greater market share. Or that the projections of an economic windfall and jobs, jobs, jobs seem to 1) ignore that ports are increasingly automated; 2) be based on questionable, potentially erroneous, numbers; 3) not take into account lost value of the river itself caused by dredging; and 4) neglect to even consider that there are other ways to grow the port business that don’t involve the largest container ships and a roughly billion-dollar investment.

Yet the port pursues its mission of dredging to 47 feet unabated. Sure, it’s financially and environmentally irresponsible. But, hey, it’s the Jacksonville way. So we’re in with both feet first.
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Nowhere was the Jacksonville way on finer display than at the protest of the Syrian bombings in Hemming Park on Friday night. William “Gary” Snow Jr. is a well-known counter-protester. I’ve personally seen him get all up close and personal with protesters with whom he disagreed. Loud, annoying to a fault, and determined to drown out the message of anyone he disagrees with, his M.O. is essentially to walk right up to the line of the law, no matter how disruptive.

In these situations, police are privileged to create a small geographic separation between protest and counter-protest to allow both sides to enjoy their First Amendment rights, while avoiding situations pretty much exactly like what happened. Snow was allowed to harangue Friday night’s protesters without exception until it was too late.

In the aftermath of an incident that involved numerous camera angles showing cops beating civilians, including a young, deaf African-American man who was briefly hospitalized for his injuries, we all got to see our city splashed across international headlines. Which probably isn’t how anyone wanted to spend the weekend.

Most of us were disappointed in our city, but not particularly surprised by what went down. We’re used to it. It’s the Jacksonville way.

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