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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 23, 202012:30 PM EST

City plans to file ‘ASAP’ for $33 million federal RNC security grant

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An omnibus bill filed with City Council would create a Convention Overlay Zone near the Sports and Entertainment Complex and free speech areas.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Justice notified the city it will receive a minimum of $33 million for security at the Republican National Convention, according to a Mayor Lenny Curry administration official.

Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury said in an email July 22 that the city still needs to apply for the DOJ 2020 Presidential Nominating Grant. City Council is scheduled to vote July 28 on an emergency omnibus bill that would release the money paying for the city’s RNC security obligations.

“My understanding is DOJ is finalizing their discussions with Charlotte, (North Carolina),” Elsbury said. “We received a notice to apply and have been notified we will receive a minimum of $33 million. We will apply ASAP and expect notice of award shortly.”

Council President Tommy filed Ordinance 2020-399 July 22 at the request of Curry. 

Hazouri, a Democrat, told the Daily Record in a July 22 text message that he doesn’t support the bill.

In addition to the security appropriations, the bill asks Council to allow the Curry administration to sign and enter a service agreement with the Republican National Committee and the nonprofit Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee that details the financial and facility obligations of each party. 

Hazouri said there still are questions about the convention’s health and safety impact to Jacksonville.

 “There are 18 Council members of whom I expect lots of tough questions, Democrats and Republicans alike,” Hazouri said. “We are looking for honest answers so that we can make a prudent and honest decision. The public expects no less.

“I don’t support this bill, and I’m not inclined to unless I am convinced that the health, safety and welfare of the community are protected,” Hazouri said. “And that welfare includes not appropriating any city monies for the convention.”

The legislation will need approval from 13 of the 19 Council members for the emergency to move forward and for the bill to be approved. The Council meeting is July 28.

The map of the RNC Security Zone included as an exhibit in the bill seeking Council approval for its creation. The blank area is part of the exhibit.

Convention Overlay Zone

The legislation allows city officials to create a “Convention Overlay Zone” for the Aug. 24-27 event. The zone will include the Downtown Sports and Entertainment and Working Waterfront districts extending north to include city-owned parking lots W, XX and Y at TIAA Bank Field, according to the legislation.

The bill would allow the city to issue a temporary use permit inside the Convention Security Zone determined by the U.S. Secret Service. 

The bill states the security zone will be within the convention overlay. The use permit will define activities allowed in the convention area and provide a uniform approval process for the vendors, road closures and other uses for the RNC.

The national GOP, city and host committee plan a designated speakers’ platform and “parade route,” more commonly known as free speech zones.

Organizers and speakers will be required to apply for a permit to demonstrate in the designated areas. The city will set up the speakers’ platform in the southwest corner of parking lot XX, the bill states.

The parade route and speakers’ platform will be active from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 24-27. 

A mutual aid agreement attached to the bill would allow the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to contract with other Florida and out-of-state law enforcement agencies to increase personnel for the convention.

The service agreement makes the host committee responsible for all convention fundraising with the exception of the security grant “to account for all costs and expenses it incurs in hosting the convention celebration,” the document states. 

“For the avoidance of doubt, neither the RNC nor the city shall be responsible for raising the convention funds or paying for the Host Committee’s obligations which shall be the sole responsibility of the Host Committee,” it states.

The agreement lists VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, 121 Financial Ballpark, TIAA Bank Field, Daily’s Place Amphitheater and Daily’s Place Flex Field as official event venues.

The Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center, included in a draft of the agreement as a designated workspace for news media, was removed from the final version. 

The RNC will choose a media workspace, according to the agreement.

The host committee has a Aug. 14 deadline to notify the city if the RNC does not intend to use one or more the venues.

The parade map included in the legislation seeking Council approval.

Council uncertainty

The estimated $100 million in economic impact the host committee projected the convention would bring when the RNC’s move to Jacksonville was removed from the final bill. 

A draft version of the legislation obtained in a public records request July 21 used the figure as a benefit of the convention.

Curry acknowledged in a July 22 news conference that with the RNC downsizing and limiting attendance, he expects the economic impact on Jacksonville to be less. 

Council Finance Committee Chair Matt Carlucci held a meeting July 20 with Curry administration officials and city attorneys to discuss the bill and RNC contracts.

He said he left the meeting unsure of his support.

Carla Miller, director of the city’s Office of Ethics Compliance and Oversight, and Council Auditor Kim Taylor also attended the meeting.

The officials reviewed drafts of the convention service agreement, the omnibus bill and a mutual aid agreement.

“What concerns me is whether the sheriff’s office can adequately provide security for the event and the rest of the city at the same time and if $33 million is adequate to cover an event like this,” Carlucci said.

Carlucci said he is supportive of the RNC’s move to downsize the event and the mayor’s decision to require face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But Carlucci said those decisions leave little justification for relocating the event from Charlotte, which could not promise President Donald Trump and a full convention venue due to the pandemic. 

“Jacksonville has a great ability to rise to the occasion, so I’m not saying we can’t get it done. I can’t vote for something if we’re not sure we’re going to get this amount,” Carlucci said.

This is a map created by the Daily Record of the parade route and speakers' platform areas.

Spending depends on grant 

The Department of Justice awarded $50 million to Charlotte for security. Although the GOP pulled the convention’s celebration events from Charlotte, including Trump’s nomination acceptance speech, the RNC’s official business will take place there.

Miller’s notes from the meeting obtained through a public records request show the Curry administration gave Carlucci, Taylor and Miller assurance that the city will spend no money on the RNC until the federal grant is finalized. 

Miller’s notes state that Jacksonville’s budget is based on projections from the city of Cleveland’s grant award from 2016. 

Miller cautioned in a July 16 email to city General Counsel Jason Gabriel and Curry’s CFO Patrick “Joey” Grieve that the grant could be delayed by the federal Office of Justice Programs if the city is in noncompliance with federal regulations linked to the award.

The bill filed July 23 authorizes the mayor to ensure all federal procurement guidelines for the DOJ grant are met.

“Not only will we be monitored for compliance with Federal regulations, but we will be monitored on all of our existing procurement policies and any special conditions of the grant award,” Miller said. 

 

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