Angela Corey is not happy — not happy with the Times-Union, not happy with us, just not happy. The state attorney — who, incidentally, once said of a Folio Weekly reporter, “I understand her need to spit venom. I do. I finally saw her for the first time” — believes that she is being unfairly maligned, perhaps maliciously, in the local press over her stances on civil citations for juvenile offenders [News, “Lock ’Em Up,” Susan Cooper Eastman and Derek Kinner, May 14] and transparency [Editor’s Note, “A Culture of Secrecy,” Jeffrey C. Billman, May 7]. From Corey’s perspective, we in the media have it out for her, or we just don’t understand, or we’re stirring up controversy where none exists, or something. And she’s not happy.
She pleaded her case last week in a pleasant half-hour conversation with this magazine’s editor (more on that in a second). Her back-and-forth with Frank Denton, the Times-Union’s editor — a conversation documented in emails that became public record — was considerably less pleasant, and liberally dosed with demands for apologies and implicit threats of legal action and over an editorial of which Corey didn’t approve.
It’s worth remembering that Corey is a public official, and these are matters of public interest, so the bar for libel is so extraordinarily high that most aggrieved politicians don’t even bother with such threats for anything short of calling them pedophiles.
Not so for Angela Corey, possessed as she is of a hair-trigger sensitivity to even the slightest hint of criticism. (Recall the time she threatened to sue Alan Dershowitz and Harvard Law School for his critique of her handling of the Zimmerman case?) And so, on May 1, when the T-U published an editorial slamming Corey for removing one of its reporters from a search committee’s deliberations over candidates for Jacksonville’s new medical examiner, Corey pounced: “It is unconscionable that your newspaper has not taken responsibility for its libelous actions,” she began. She did not “order” the reporter out of the room; no, she “announced the afternoon break and excused your reporter,” which is completely different somehow. “Your obvious malicious agenda has now been further solidified for your readers.”
Even though the search committee’s lawyer later reached the conclusion that, actually, the T-U had a right to be there after all, Corey insists she’s being maligned because the rules are ambiguous, and they’d received different advice from other lawyers earlier. And anyway, the committee’s recommendation has two more layers to go through — the state Medical Examiners Commission and then the governor — so what’s the big deal?
Denton declined her invitation to, um, retract the newspaper’s opinion. The case law, he responded, wasn’t that ambiguous at all. “We referred to the meeting as ‘secret’ because it was — not because the public was unaware of the meeting being held but because the public was barred from the meeting itself — which was ‘kept from knowledge or view,’ to use Webster’s primary definition of secret.”
Kicked the hornet’s nest, he did. “I ask you to have someone objective do an honest evaluation of the articles that you have written about me and this office,” Corey snapped, later adding, “Many citizens are now voicing their concern over your obvious biased agenda and wondering why,” and “Are you sure your reporter was really there to get the truth disseminated to the public? … By your opinion piece, you have gratuitously tarnished the good members of this committee and the process in which the committee engaged. We deserve a retraction and an apology. The fact that you and your lawyers refuse to do so will never obscure the truth for those of us who know, sadly [sic] it will only continue to mislead the readers to whom you owe a duty of accurate and fair reporting.”
Jacksonville City Council member Robin Lumb, a member of that committee not named in the editorial, was also less than pleased. “Because you continue to assert your right to smear me and other members of the committee with false charges I will repeat my request for a retraction and apology,” she wrote to Denton. “If you allow the editorial to stand as written you will have branded me, without any proof whatsoever, as someone who knowingly and intentionally violated the law. That is per se libel and defamation.”
No retraction or apology (or lawsuit, so far as we can tell) was forthcoming. On May 12, Lumb wrote that, while “the editorial did not paint an accurate picture,” “I consider the matter closed.”
In her conversation with us, Corey voiced many of the same objections to the Editor’s Note that made note of that search committee meeting. There was nothing malicious about the committee’s intent, just a difference of opinion on what the law required. The committee was going to discuss the background checks and potential medical issues of the job contenders, and they weren’t sure that stuff should be aired in public. (You could ask — and we did — why, if there’s any ambiguity, the default isn’t toward openness. Corey responded that the committee’s lawyers had previously advised against public deliberations, and they were just acting on that advice.) And because the all-volunteer committee has been subjected to this public scrutiny, Corey frets, next time people won’t be so willing to sign up.
“The true facts weren’t getting out there,” Corey says.
As for our civil citations story, Corey says that there, too, she is being misrepresented. Yes, she opposes the City Council’s nonbinding resolution to expand their use — a resolution the Council did not vote on as expected last week — but she has long supported the purpose behind them. In 2009, she points out, she called for their expansion outside of the School District and onto the streets, because that’s only fair. Corey also reiterated that she believes her office’s other diversion programs work just as well, so why is everyone so hung up on civil citations? “I’m not sure why it’s still a topic,” she says.
Corey also disputed some of the numbers in the story (we double-checked, and they’re correct*), and wondered why no one seems interested in her office’s other diversion programs (which the story mentioned) or the positive results they produce, or the fact that the cops, not her, ultimately make decisions about whom to cite and whom to arrest.
“I think this article is not fair to this office,” Corey says. “I really, truly don’t understand it.”
You know who else is not happy, probably? Most of this year’s One Spark creators. At least, according to Chris Markl, a former associate professor of economics at Florida State College of Jacksonville who now runs the consulting firm The Ekonomists. Drawing on One Spark’s data from last month’s festival, Markl offers what he believes is the first quantitative assessment of One Spark creators’ success, essentially comparing creators’ project goals to what they actually received.
In total, Markl reports, One Spark creators sought a total of more than $99 million in funding. And in total, they came up $98,667,742 short. “One Spark funding represents 0.36% of the aggregate One Spark project funding goal,” he writes.
Only 3 percent of projects reached their goals (and three of those five projects asked for $15 or less). Eighty-six percent, meanwhile, failed to achieve even a quarter of their goals. In comparison, Markl points out, 43.5 percent of Kickstarter projects reach their targets.
The result, factoring in supplies and time, is that most creators actually lost money on One Spark. The mean funding level was $598 (the median, $231), whereas most creators spent an estimated $753 to register, set up a booth and sit there (Markl assumes that creators’ time is worth Florida’s minimum hourly wage). Indeed, only 2 percent of projects took home more than $5,000.
“That’s a sad reality no one’s talking about,” Markl tells us.
There are a few caveats worth noting here: One, creators tended to ask for a lot of money, unrealistic sums, really — the mean goal was $162,881; the median, $24,000. It’s entirely likely that most creators never expected to pull in that much, and many just wanted exposure. In addition, Markl’s analysis doesn’t take into account the $3.25 million in potential capital investments for which creators could vie, because they vied for them alongside non-One Spark entrants.
Markl insists he’s not trying to crap on One Spark. Rather, he was intrigued by a quote from Jags owner Shad Khan — “One Spark right now is an idea and it’s a great party … but now it’s got to generate measured results, companies, jobs and economic growth.” Markl says he just wanted to quantify that stuff: “I love One Spark,” he says, “but I was wondering, how much money do these guys get?”
With a few exceptions, it seems, not much. “As the data reveal,” Markl’s report (available at onesparkimpact.org) says, “there is a disconnect between the financial needs of a One Spark creator & the financial capabilities of One Spark.”
The city as a whole fared a little better. According to a report last week from the University of North Florida, the festival drew 260,000 people and pumped $1.8 million into the local economy — not as big a number as you’d hope from that many people, but it turns out that most attendees were locals and only 1,010 stayed in area hotels.
*Save for one clarification: 147 juveniles who weren’t given civil citations were put into other non-arrest diversion programs in Duval County, not throughout the Fourth Judicial Circuit.