Board to pick new airport HQ

A Jacksonville Airport Authority plan to build an $8 million headquarters would cost $5.2 million more than simply converting a mostly vacant building the agency’s predecessor built three years ago.

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About that time, the authority considered using the building to house a headquarters. But at least some board members said they were unaware of the building, which is across the road from the proposed headquarters, and a conversion plan wasn’t considered.

“The idea of putting a headquarters in a warehouse just won’t work,” said former mayor Ed Austin, chairman of the authority’s board. “Public buildings are supposed to make a statement. They have to look right and make a statement.”

JAA minutes fall short of full session

Minutes from the first half-hour of Jacksonville Airport Authority meetings are nowhere to be found, despite a state law requiring a written record of public meetings.

No one kept records of what was discussed the first 30 minutes of each board meeting, when the authority’s executive director spoke with board members about topics not listed on the official agenda.

The authority hasn’t been keeping minutes of the discussions the board dubbed “executive sessions,” which are conducted by the board before its regular monthly meetings. And tape recordings of the executive sessions haven’t been made since the board formed in October.

Poor Economy Pinching Wallets Need for Recovery and Credit Counseling Services Typically Increase as Debt Problems Rise in a Recession

TALLAHASSEE —- Jeff Keeton and Ed Adams cruised through Tallahassee on a recent Saturday night, but the two men weren’t looking for the nearest nightclub.

Using a global positioning system on Adams’ laptop computer, the two recovery agents were looking for the best route to a rock quarry that contained what they were looking for: a $140,000 piece of construction equipment called a Caterpillar excavator.

A finance company wanted the equipment back because the company that bought it was four months and $20,000 behind in its payments. So the finance company hired Jacksonville’s Specialized Collateral Recovery to return the excavator.

Keeton, the son of SCR’s owner, Robert Keeton, said the quarry owners hadn’t responded to telephone calls about the equipment, so he decided to go there late one Saturday night to scout out the place.

After meeting with another co-worker in Tallahassee, the three men drove to the site in Carrabelle accompanied by a Florida Times-Union reporter. One of them lifted the cable across the quarry’s entrance as Keeton drove his pickup onto the property.

For 45 minutes, Keeton drove around the site that looked like a lunar landscape with acres of trenches illuminated only by the pickup’s headlights.

Despite hours of work and planning, the agents came up empty. The excavator was nowhere in sight, so they decided to go back to their hotel in Tallahassee for the night and return the following morning.

The recovery business is rarely easy, sometimes lucrative, but never slow — especially during a recession. And other professionals in the credit industry said they’re busy as the economy stalls and debtors begin to feel the pinch of hard times.

“When you get more layoffs, you get more repossessions,” said John Jackley, creator of the Web site.



The nation’s economy had been flagging for more than a year before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But the attacks had a major effect on credit payments because debtors suddenly had different priorities. Paying bills wasn’t at the top of the list, said John Rockhill, past president of ACA International, a trade organization of credit and collection professionals.

Rockhill, who also is the president of MCB Collection in Vero Beach, said payments have been slower and the recovery percentage has slipped at his company, which receives 30,000 new accounts a month.

Jerry Blair, director of operations for SCR, said he hasn’t noticed a big jump in repossessions so far. But he expects one soon because of a delayed reaction to the recession.

“Probably the next two years, there will be a real increase,” Blair said, “but then after that we look for it to level off to normal times.”

SCR, which recovers commercial property, such as equipment and heavy machinery, handles about 1,200 cases per year, Blair said.

Collection and repossessing experts said finance companies and other lenders may be more hesitant to repossess vehicles during slow economic times because few people are buying used cars. Indeed, some said the market is flooded with used cars because of the cash shortage combined with the zero-percent financing offered on new cars.

In November, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of South Florida had 55 percent more people contact the service than in the same month of the previous year. Last month, the service reported 14,000 telephone calls, that’s a 41 percent increase over last year, said Phil Garner, the service’s president and chief executive.

“A lot of people are seeking help and realize they’re overloaded,” he said. “In many cases it’s just people living too close to the edge.”



The business of repossessing property has never had a sterling public image, and a brief journey into the repo world does little to dispel that image. …

Airport puts end to prayer services

Travelers leaving Jacksonville International Airport on a wing and a prayer better keep their prayers to themselves.

The Jacksonville Airport Authority established new guidelines last week on the recommendation of its attorney that put an end to daily prayer services that started at the airport after September’s terrorist attacks.

The authority also closed the chaplain’s office and forbade clergy volunteers at the airport from identifying themselves as chaplains.

Authority officials said people can pray all they want at the airport, but the authority can’t sanction or promote religious activity at the publicly owned airport terminal.

“As an agency, we can’t advance or inhibit religion,” JAA spokeswoman Laurene Carson said.

Clark retracts gag order

The executive director of the Jacksonville Airport Authority last week retracted a written directive that threatened to fire authority employees who took complaints to members of the authority board or the media without his approval.

John Clark retracted the Oct. 24 directive in a second memo issued two days after the first, saying that his order didn’t promote good spirit within the authority.

“Further, this directive was issued in haste and penalizes our organization based on the actions of a few,” Clark wrote.

Clark has said the directive was prompted by an authority worker phoning a board member to complain about a new volunteer program at Jacksonville International Airport in which employees monitor curb-side parking at the terminal. He wrote in his directive that complaining to the media or board members “will be deemed inappropriate action and is grounds for termination.”

In the second memo, Clark said the directive wasn’t intended to limit freedom of speech, but he encouraged employees to take their problems directly to him or their supervisors.

“As a member of this organization you have many ways to communicate with the management team about issues or concerns,” he wrote. “It is my hope that as a valued member of the JAA you utilize one of the established methods to address your concerns.”


Memo: Stop talks to media, JAA board

The executive director of the Jacksonville Airport Authority issued a directive this week forbidding authority employees from speaking with members of the authority board or the media without his approval.

John Clark wrote in a Wednesday memorandum that such behavior “will be deemed inappropriate action and is grounds for termination.” Yesterday, Clark said the directive was prompted by an authority worker phoning a board member to complain about a new volunteer program at Jacksonville International Airport in which employees monitor curbside parking at the terminal.

The new restrictive measure is necessary because workers should take grievances to their supervisors instead of board members, who are responsible for making policy decisions, not dealing with individual employee issues, Clark said.

“We can’t have an organization where workers of the organization can freely go to board members or the media with grievances about the organization,” he said.

Such policies often are established to give an organization control over information by centralizing communication, said Sandra Chance, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. The measures aren’t unusual, but they can be troubling when a public body is involved, she said.

“Anytime a government entity tries to restrict speech, it implicates the First Amendment rights of the speakers,” Chance said. “If I were a member of the Airport Authority [board], I’d be asking, ‘Why?'”