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The Heavy Hands Have It

Duval County’s Charter Revision Commission met for the fourth time last Friday, Sept. 13. It was an auspicious date, to be sure, and it proved most unlucky—at least for your average Jacksonville citizen. You see, this meeting made clear what so many have feared since the commissioners were appointed months ago: The CRC is going to be another classic power grab by self-serving and self-appointed oligarchs.

All this became clear when Chairman Lindsey Brock shut down the meeting over the heated objections of some of his own members. At issue was the amount of public input to be permitted at these CRC conclaves. Under normal circumstances, of course, public participation is a natural and necessary component of democratic self-government. Some officials even welcome it in an effort to better serve their constituents.

More fool them! Here in Jacksonville, elected officials know better. When you gain power, by hook or by crook, you run with it. U.S. Representative John Rutherford has famously never held a public town hall meeting. Jacksonville City Council President Scott Wilson recently cleared council chambers of pesky voters. Under the direction of Mayor Lenny Curry, City Hall is moving aggressively to churn out demolition and consultant contracts, green-light corporate welfare payouts and liquidate JEA to balance the books on rate-payers’ backs—and damn the torpedoes! The election is over, after all. You’ve done your part, good citizenfolk, now go home and let your leaders do as they please.

A funny thing happened on the way to bank, however. The people demand accountability, especially as the administration grows brazenly corrupt, as the revolving door swings ever faster, as the donor service takes on a lascivious look, and as some mighty unseemly back-channel coordination—conspiracy?—comes to light.

One flashpoint of public outrage has been education policy. City Hall’s unpopular efforts to chasten Duval County Public Schools (and its constitutionally independent school board) have been challenged at every step. In the spring, DCPS proposed a (constitutionally legitimate) referendum to fund school infrastructure maintenance. The Office of General Counsel’s early salvos against it were as transparently cynical as they were legally dubious. Later, when Wilson cleared council chambers, it was because constituents were there en masse to demand that City Council stop stonewalling the ref.

Yet the city’s power brokers continue to ignore overwhelming public sentiment. They’re getting their marching orders from elsewhere. Indeed, the louder the people speak, the more dramatically—and visibly—these power brokers are forced to act against them. This year’s numerous education skirmishes have exposed a concerted, coordinated effort to undermine not just public education, but the will of the people. The optics are bad; the reality, even worse.

To return to the Sept. 13 CRC meeting—it’s no surprise that this latest farce was precipitated by education policy. And it’s no surprise that it degenerated into the same show of force as Scott Wilson’s City Council fiasco. At the CRC meeting, commissioners heard education-related remarks by controversial Florida Rep. Jason Fischer (R, 16th Dist.) as well as DCPS Superintendent Diana Greene and School Board Chair Lori Hershey. When members of the public, including City Councilmembers Garrett Dennis and Matt Carlucci, wished to speak, Brock promptly terminated the meeting, stating there was no time for public comment. CRC member W.C. Gentry pointed out that, since the meeting started 15 minutes late, it should be extended 15 minutes, thus allowing time for comment. “The meeting is adjourned,” Brock answered bluntly. “I am not debating this.” In other words, Respect my authoritah! True to form, Dennis spoke anyway, and indicated that he would call for Brock’s removal as CRC chair.

The episode has confirmed suspicions. We had, and have, every right to be wary of the political appointees on the Charter Revision Commission, especially its chair. The CRC, which convenes every 10 years to suggest modifications to the consolidated city-county charter, will be used to further City Hall’s agenda, no matter what the majority has to say about it. Jacksonville’s political class as a whole is adopting a very ugly posture in the face of public calls for accountability and basic democratic legitimacy.


The Wizard of Oz

Toto was the hero of The Wizard of Oz. He was Dorothy’s canine companion who pulled back the huge curtain to expose a little man impersonating an all-powerful wizard. It’s the perfect analogy for our current situation, in which former Kids Hope Alliance CEO Joe Peppers has exposed corruption in city government.

Last month, The Florida Times-Union reported on a detailed internal memo in which Peppers “level[ed] an explosive allegation: Mayor Lenny Curry’s office was exerting ‘undue influence’ on him to give preferential treatment to a hand-picked groups of organizations that would soon seek grant money from the city agency.” The top two city officials identified by Peppers were Brian Hughes, the mayor’s chief of staff, and Sam Mousa. It was a courageous step, and it would cost Peppers his job. He was suspended two days after the Times-Union story.

Moved to action by the incident, Jacksonville City Councilmember Garrett L. Dennis sent a letter to Maria Chapa Lopez, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. “I write,” the letter stated, “to express serious concerns regarding recent allegations of procurement fraud by high-ranking individuals in the office of Mayor Lenny Curry.” Dennis concluded by calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to “investigate whether any crimes have been committed.”

As for Curry, his approach to governing was revealed immediately after he took the oath of office. The incoming mayor demanded the resignation of all citizens serving on any commission, board or agency in Jacksonville. Democracy in this city has tragically transformed into autocracy during his tenure. Autocratic government is characterized by one person with absolute power and a dictatorship. What about City Council? It’s a puppet regime whose strings are pulled by the mayor. At this point, Jacksonville does not have two independent and separate branches of government. The legislative is an extension of the executive. Only a few councilmembers, like Dennis, are taking the lonely stand for democracy.

It would not take a rocket scientist to guess who and what was behind Peppers’ suspension. The Kids Hope Alliance board met the following week, on Aug. 21, and its members were asked to approve City Hall’s unilateral decision to place their CEO on administrative leave. Vice-chair Barbara Darby demurred, observing that the board should have been consulted prior to the suspension. KHA leadership issues, she argued, are the board’s responsibility. City attorney Jon R. Phillips was present, and indicated that board approval was a mere formality. Peppers’ ouster was a fait accompli.

Dr. Darby raised a key point about organizational responsibility and operational control in her city agency. The larger question is this: How many other agencies, boards and commissions are being strong-armed, threatened and controlled by Mayor Curry and his cronies? Think of City Hall’s ongoing power struggle with Duval County Public Schools and its independent, elected board.

Toto saved the day by exposing the little man shooting out blazing flames and booming smoke behind the curtains. We know who’s pulling the levers of power in Jacksonville. Councilmember Dennis provided the answer in his letter to U.S. Attorney Lopez: “There have long been allegations of Curry, Hughes and Mousa using undue influence, threats, and retaliation to get preferential treatment for selected individuals, organizations and companies.” We need a Racketeer Influence & Corrupt Organization Investigation (RICO) to save city government and democracy in Jacksonville.


Gray is a very concerned citizen.

Bite by Bite

It’s a fact: Everybody’s got to eat. And lucky for those of us fortunate enough to live in the 904, there are so many places here to do just that.  Here at Folio Weekly Magazine Headquarters, we’ve culled some local restaurants from that vast assembly which offer diverse, innovative and delicious fare–everything from pizza, Southern-style chicken, Tex-Mex and seafood to Irish cuisine, fine dining, burgers, craft cocktails, Asian street food, locally brewed ales and beer and family-owned coffee shops. Click on the photos above for deets on some of Northeast Florida's finest eateries.

Screen Shots

One very popular recurring feature of this column has been our running list of songs about cannabis. It’s easy to write, easy to read and consistently useful (which checks damn near every relevant box in this business). We will continue bringing you more of that stuff every few weeks for the rest of my life, but this week let’s look at a couple of movies in which marijuana figures prominently in the plot. They also all involve the music business, which I’m sure Ansliger would appreciate.


The Gene Krupa Story (1959)

Krupa (1909-’73) was the drummer of choice for George Gershwin, and the man responsible not only for the arrangement of the modern drum kit, but (through his friendship with Avedis Zildjian) for naming several of its key components (such as the ride cymbal, crash cymbal, splash cymbal and the hi-hat). His tom-tom work on Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” (1937) may be the iconic sound of the Swing Era—it helped him become the first drummer in history whose fame eclipsed the other band members. He split with Krupa in 1938, and five years later was among the first group of celebrities busted for marijuana possession, a situation that plays for hilariously dramatic effect in the movie but, for realsies, nearly destroyed his career. The movie isn’t good at all, but it’s great, if you know what I mean. It has a lot of great jazz artists (Anita O’Day and Shelly Manne pop up in cameos); its soundtrack was anchored by Krupa himself. Ironically, the doomed and ruthlessly underrated Sal Mineo was chosen to portray Gene Krupa.


The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

This great movie, based on Nelson Algren’s greater 1949 novel, is not actually about marijuana, but aside from Reefer Madness itself, the classic scared-straight story may be the most notorious film about drug abuse ever made. Ol’ Blue Eyes, aka Frank Sinatra, plays Frankie Machine, a jazz drummer and card dealer nearly destroyed by a morphine addiction, which mirrors many real-life tales from the postwar jazz scene, which led directly to the opiate crisis wrecking our country today. The scene in which Frankie kicks the horse cold-turkey is the best depiction of the process in movie history, due entirely to Sinatra’s brutal yet oddly sexy pathos. The scene feels real because he was actually fighting an addiction of his own at the time—an addiction to Ava Gardner. (Incidentally, Algren also wrote the novel A Walk on the Wild Side, which lent its title to Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed’s most famous song. That nugget alone earns the author a special place in the long, sordid history of drugs in America.)


The Harder They Come (1972)

When then-president George W. Bush sent his twin daughters off to college (where they were famously smoked-out and then snitched-out by Ashton Kutcher, who gets a pass because he married Mila Kunis, etc.), he gave them a care package that allegedly included three CDs: Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Marley’s Legend compilation and the soundtrack to this classic Jimmy Cliff film. (This story confirms what we already knew about Dubya: bad president, great dad.) Exactly one year before “Catch a Fire” made Marley an instant international star, it was Cliff who brought reggae to mainstream America. He stars in the near-universal story of an aspiring musician who starts selling weed to pay the bills; we’ve all known that guy, or even been that guy.

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Pets Like Me: Tator

Dogs have many roles in everyday life, from household pets to hunting companions to pillars of internet culture. When it comes to their place on the farm, dogs play another role that’s just as significant. Livestock guardian dogs can be considered an upgrade of any old farm dog. They are intelligent, loyal and brave in keeping predators at bay.




Davi: How did you get your name?

Tator: I picked it for myself. My mom had lots of name suggestions which all sounded cool, but when I heard Tator,
I leapt for joy and spun in a circle.


What’s the most interesting thing about you?

I have an extra-keen sense of sight and hearing, so I can detect the faintest sounds and quivering movements from miles away. Then I bark until I feel the threat has gone.


Tell me something about livestock guard dogs that would surprise people.

Believe it or not, we’re some of the calmest breeds around. Plus, we love the great outdoors and will happily venture out to the most exposed locations even in the harshest conditions, which means winter is no problem.


What qualities make a good livestock guard dog?

Trustworthiness, so we don’t roam away or act aggressively toward livestock; attentiveness, so we’re aware of threats from predators; and protectiveness, so we attempt to ward off predators.


What is your daily routine on the farm?

I get up at the crack of dawn, gulp down breakfast, and patrol the pastures. My mom often visits and brings special snacks, and the pet dogs sometimes tag along. It’s nearly impossible not to run and play with these pups, but I can’t let it distract me from my responsibilities and tank my performance. After my evening chow, I pull the night shift before moseying into the barn and hitting the hay.


What do you love most about your job?

Lying under the big shady trees where I can keep a close eye on the farm and actively look for predators. It’s not laziness—it’s a way to conserve energy so I am able to spring into action at a moment’s notice.


Which predators are most intimidating?

I am not afraid of anything. I was bred for this kind of work, but I’d say coyotes may be the most daunting.


What’s been your biggest challenge?

The pig. He doesn’t really like me, so I’ve learned to give him a wide berth. But it’s fine. I do respect him, and he was here first.


What’s the biggest difference between a livestock guardian dog and a pet dog?

We spend our days and nights roaming the areas around the farm and responding to potential threats. We sleep outside of the house and, unlike other dogs, we don’t show devotion by wagging our tails and fetching slippers. Instead, we show it in our own way—by being alert and protecting our family from danger.


Not just any dog has the instincts needed for this job. Livestock Guardian Dogs are uniquely wired and must be treated and handled differently than pet dogs. They work around the clock, sleeping for short stints but all the while ready to protect the stock on the farm and keep an eye out for you and your family, no matter where you are.