Mark my words …
One of my favorite details in the story about Mayor Lenny Curry’s travel: His office made a point to disclose that he has received some gifts, including a plate of cookies from Crowley Maritime.
But those flights on private jets? Undisclosed trips to undisclosed destinations?
That’s none of your business, even if it might involve city business.
You, the taxpayer, are more likely to be told whether those cookies were chocolate chip than to be told what the mayor ate while traveling on a private jet, who was with him, where they went and what they did while there.
As Nate Monroe made clear in the story, this is perfectly legal.
Curry is taking advantage of Florida campaign finance law, which allows politicians to take official trips paid for by political committees and keep the details secret.
This is somewhat new territory for Jacksonville.
Curry is the first mayor to maintain an active political committee after his election. And the biggest donor to the committee, Build Something that Lasts, has been Jaguars owner Shad Khan, contributing more than $200,000 of the more than $1.4 million raised since 2015.
So when Curry flies on a Khan’s jet, his committee can reimburse Khan’s company, using money donated by Khan. But before you play “The Price is Right” and try to guess the value of such a trip (which has included some choice seats for a game), you should know that state law also says politicians can merely pay the price of an economy-class ticket on a commercial flight.
This has allowed Curry to be a frequent flier. We don’t know exactly how frequent. But how about those cookies?
To a certain degree, this is part of what you want a mayor to do. Encourage people with money to put some of that money into projects that benefit the city. Promote the city. Examine what has (and hasn’t) worked elsewhere.
And we should be glad Khan wants to be involved in more than what happens at EverBank Field. There are cities where that isn’t the case, where the owner of the professional sports franchise does little to impact the city.
But the state’s lax campaign finance laws open the door for all kinds of issues. Conflicts of interest, lack of transparency and, for Curry, some hypocrisy.
When he was running for office, his campaign criticized former Mayor Alvin Brown’s travel as “political perks.”
One mailer featured the body of a man wearing a suit, one hand tucking a pile of $100 bills into the breast pocket. It quoted from a Times-Union story: “Travel paid for by third parties was not disclosed as gifts …”
That was then and this is now.
Again, by using his political committee, this travel is legal. And the story about it included this gem of a reaction from Curry adviser Brian Hughes: “The actor Eli Wallach famously said, ‘Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck.’”
It’s a great quote from the actor perhaps best known for his role as the buffoonish bandit in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Which would make a good title for what can happen with Florida’s campaign laws.
• • •
You may have seen that this week Dictionary.com announced the word of the year for 2017: “complicit.”
It made me wonder: What if we had a local word of the year? What would it be?
Candidates could include “surge,” “flood” and, based on Google searches, “receipt.”
Earlier this year, before Irma, Google unveiled the most common spelling searches for each state. The most searched word in Georgia was “gray.” In four states, it was “pneumonia.” In Wisconsin, it was “Wisconsin.” In Florida, it was “receipt.”
I’m not sure what to make of this. My hunch is that it was tourists and business travelers, asking Google, how do I spell receipt? And, while you’re at it, how do I make my bar receipt look like it was dinner?
Finally, a shameless plug. Some of you have asked if I’ll be doing any book events before Christmas. I’ll be signing copies of “Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks” on Saturday morning at REI. Terri Mashour will be signing copies of “Backcountry Trails of Florida” from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.