BEST OF JAX 2013

News & The Media

The best stories, media, personalities and more

Photo: Dennis Ho, Photo illustration: Chad Smith
One Spark won Best Thing to Happen to Northeast Florida, Best Volunteer Effort and Best News Story.
Dennis Ho
Melissa Ross won Best Radio Personality for her weekday program "First Coast Connect," which won Best Radio Show. Her station, WJCT, won Best Radio Station.
Dennis Ho
WJXT's "The Morning Show" won best Best TV Morning Show.
Dennis Ho
St. Johns Riverkeeper won Best Environmental Activist, while pollution in the St. Johns River won Best Environmental Abomination.
Dennis Ho
Nicholas Martino of Florida State College at Jacksonville won Best College Professor.
Dennis Ho
Brent Martineau of Action News (FOX 30, CBS 47) won Best TV Sports Anchor.
Dennis Ho
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Best Thing to Happen to Northeast Florida

Best Volunteer Effort

Best News Story

One Spark

It started as an ember of an idea. Friends and local creative/entrepreneurial forces Elton Rivas, Dennis Eusebio and Varick Rosete frequently chatted about ways to help others — especially those who might not otherwise get public exposure — promote their ideas, to foster innovation, collaboration and creativity, and to connect people and ideas. Their chats, usually over java (the drink, not the computer programming language) at local coffee shops, eventually developed into One Spark, the first world crowdfunding festival. Hundreds of “creators” from around the country submitted ideas, works-in-progress or finished projects in the areas of art, music, science and technology, to be showcased at venues ranging from the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville to Hemming Plaza to The Jacksonville Landing. Over the course of the five-day event held in April, 130,000 attendees descended on Downtown to meet the creators, learn about the projects and vote for those they deemed worthy of a piece of the $250,000 crowdfund. Jaguars owner Shad Khan also pledged up to $1 million in capital investments. By all accounts, One Spark was a resounding success: fostering the creative community, giving creators an unparalleled opportunity to share their ideas and establishing Jacksonville as a hotbed for invention and innovation. A daunting task to say the least, organizing a first-time event on such a large scale (for Jacksonville, anyway) is a testament to Rivas, Eusebio and Rosete’s vision for giving a voice and platform to other visionaries and promoting Jacksonville in general. The fact that the festival ran so smoothly and efficiently was also due, in large part, to the more than 700 dedicated volunteers who did everything from set-up and breakdown to serving as onsite ambassadors and selling One Spark merchandise. Rethreaded, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “unravel the effects of the sex trade by fighting business with business on a global and local level,” took the top spot for audience vote, while Kona School, a Jacksonville middle and high school “fusing academics, action sports, nutrition and sustainability into a comprehensive private educational experience,” earned the most monetary donations from attendees. Rivas said the One Spark team hopes that attendees and participants spread the word, and the event, scheduled for April 9-13, 2014, becomes one of the best events for people to launch new ideas. — KS

 

Worst Thing to Happen to Northeast Florida

Killing of Jordan Davis

It was the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, 2012, when Michael Dunn pulled his Jetta into a parking place outside a Jacksonville convenience store on Southside Boulevard. While his girlfriend was inside, Dunn exchanged words with four black teenagers inside an SUV parked nearby, asking them to turn down the music blasting from their car stereo. Dunn, 47, said he felt threatened and said he thought he saw a shotgun, so he reached into his glove box and pulled out a handgun. He fired several shots into the SUV. Two of them struck and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn faces trial in early 2014 on one charge of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. State Attorney Angela Corey will personally prosecute the case. — RW

 

Local Hero

Shad Khan

Maybe it’s the ’stache. Maybe it’s the Spark. Either way, the honeymoon between Northeast Florida residents and Jaguars owner Shad Khan is still going strong, despite disappointment on the football field. Khan pledged as much as $1 million earlier this year to the projects in the first One Spark festival — just a year after completing the purchase of the Jaguars. His financing of the historic Laura Street Trio brought renewed hope to Downtown Jacksonville, and his purchase of the Premier League's Fulham Football Club (we call it soccer) raised eyebrows. Voted Local Hero for the second year in a row, he rose from No. 179 to No. 122 on the Forbes 400, with an estimated net worth of $3.8 billion. After hiring a new general manager and coach, Khan is still waiting to see similar returns in victories for the Jaguars. — DJ

 

Local Zero

Best Wacko

Corrine Brown

Once again, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has placed herself smack in the middle of controversy — on changing the location of the Supervisor of Elections warehouse and the sentencing of Marissa Alexander, who is spending 20 years in prison after failing to convince a judge that she was standing her ground when she fired a warning shot against an abusive husband. In August, Brown claimed that moving the elections office from Gateway Shopping Center into Imeson Park was racist because it would eliminate an early voting location in a predominantly African-American community, and she told City Council members seeking her help from Congress they should “lose my number.” She also said that Alexander was harshly treated because she was a black woman and the legal system treats blacks differently than non-blacks. — RW

 

Best Reason to Love Northeast Florida

Beaches

You have to be willing to “cross the ditch” (aka the Intracoastal Waterway) to get there, but townies who make the effort find Jacksonville’s beaches epitomize life in the Sunshine State. The air smells different. The pace slows down. The colors seem brighter. The people know how to relax. From the tranquil sands of Atlantic and Ponte Vedra beaches to bustling Jacksonville and Neptune beaches, each stretch of beach has its own personality — and personalities. — KS

 

Best Reason to Hate Northeast Florida

Heat and Humidity

Sunburn, fogged-up eyeglasses, butt sweat, frizzy hair, steering wheels too hot to touch (let alone use to drive), sand that scorches your feet … feeling like you’re living in an oven and trying to breathe in a sauna: heat and humidity are just two of the perks that come with living in the Sunshine State. With an average of 90-plus degrees in June, July and August and off-the-charts humidity, summer can be brutal. Just remember those days in January. — KS

 

Hottest Celebrity

Nikki Kimbleton, WJXT

Nikki Kimbleton wasn’t just being modest when she first heard about her award-winning looks and charisma. “I’m shocked — especially since I’m pregnant and feel really roly-poly. Definitely not sexy,” said the co-anchor of Channel 4’s “The Morning Show.” “But it’s great to hear … and my husband [Scott] will love it!” Proving that true beauty is on the inside, the perky blonde serves as a board member for Blessings in a Backpack, to which she and her husband donate 100 percent of the profits from their original seasoning line Martha’s Mix. — KS

 

Best College

University of North Florida

With a dynamic president, stellar professors, popular majors and 16,358 students, the University of North Florida has grown from that sleepy little college on the edge of town to an economic and educational powerhouse. This year’s entering freshmen had a weighted grade point average of 3.9 and an average 1,212 SAT score. UNF, boasting a notable environmentally friendly campus, continues to rank highly with Forbes magazine, U.S. News & World Report and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. — RW

 

Best College Professor

Nicholas Martino, Florida State College at Jacksonville

Nicholas Martino is teaching students the fundamentals of law in the same school where he began his career as a champion debater: Florida State College at Jacksonville. Martino is a practicing attorney who received law degrees from Florida Coastal School of Law and Beasley School of Law at Temple University. Martino, who teaches a full load in the paralegal studies department at FSCJ, is adored by his students, one of whom wrote on ratemyprofessors.com, “He made a tough subject very interesting with real world information. He is a great professor.” — RW

 

Best Environmental Abomination

St. Johns River Pollution

Best Environmental Activist

St. Johns Riverkeeper

“I’ve lived in this community for 15 years now, and my life has been basically on the banks of the St. Johns,” said Lisa Rinaman, whose time as Riverkeeper was preceded by a decade in and around local government. The organization currently has more than 1,400 members, including an “active volunteer base” of nearly 200 and a 30-person “river control group.” The more things change, the more they stay the same, and Folio Weekly readers retain a real passion for the region’s waterways, starting with the main artery. “There’s been such budget constraints. We’ve lost institutional knowledge in the Environmental Quality Division … the staff that’s there doesn’t have the capacity to enforce what’s on the books. Mayor Brown loves the river; he’s done a lot of great things with access. Unfortunately, with budget constraints, there’s not as much enforcement as there needs to be.” — SH

 

Best Neighborhood

Riverside

The city’s longtime cultural hub, where most of its artists and musicians live, continues driving progress across Northeast Florida. CoRK Arts District has helped springboard the arts scene to unprecedented visibility, housing artists ranging from Jim Draper and Noli Novak to Shaun Thurston and Overstreet Ducasse. The King Street bar district is at high ebb, and Five Points is back on the upswing. — SH

 

Best Nonprofit

K9s for Warriors

With talk of possible military action on the front burner right now, it’s good to have organizations like K9s for Warriors to remind us all of war’s human cost. The Department of Defense says 20 percent of returning vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and one in six consider and/or attempt suicide. The Ponte Vedra-based group specializes in using dogs (95 percent from rescue shelters) to help ease what can be a difficult transition. Winning this award for the second year in a row is just a token of our readers’ appreciation for all that they do. The phrase “man’s best friend” has never meant more. — SH

 

Best Trend

Food Trucks

Earlier this year, the Jax Truckies annual Food Truck Championship attracted 7,000 attendees; Truckin’ on the River at The Jacksonville Landing drew a crowd of 5,000. Then there’s the fact that on any given day, dozens of food trucks are serving hundreds of gourmet meals to hungry locals who don’t mind trading table service for a unique dining experience, featuring cuisine ranging from Swedish and Puerto Rican to cupcakes and shaved ice. Considering food trucks won the same category last year, it doesn’t look like a trend that’s nearing an end. — KS

 

Best Folio Weekly Cover Story

Bite by Bite

Hungry for info on where to eat out in Northeast Florida, readers ate up our March and August Bite by Bite issues. Encompassing ultra-casual to upscale restaurants with cuisines spanning the globe (Chinese, Italian, Ethiopian, Dominican, French) and locations throughout the First Coast, the culinary compendium listed hundreds of eateries, including coffeehouses, sports bars and neighborhood hangouts. And without the cranky comments à la Yelp. — KS

 

Best Scandal

Allied Veterans of the World

Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, who claimed he was only advising his clients, was convicted Oct. 11 of 103 counts in the Allied Veterans of the World scandal. Prosecutors said Mathis, 50, was the mastermind of a $300 million gambling operation set up to look like a veterans charity. Mathis could face up to 100 years in prison after jurors found him guilty of racketeering, helping run a lottery and possession of an illegal slot machine or device. Mathis has vowed to appeal the verdict. Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuban and the FOP Vice President Robbie Freitas still face trial in the scandal that forced Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to resign because she had done some work for the organization. Top Allied leaders pleaded no contest to charges to avoid jail time. — RW

 

Best Teacher

Randal Lessen, Jean Ribault High School

Randal Lessen, a language arts teacher at Ribault, is in his eighth year as a Duval County instructor. Lessen, 38, also taught two years in Arizona and two years in Clay County. In addition to instructing high school students on the finer points of the language arts, Lessen is an adjunct professor at Virginia College and Florida State College at Jacksonville. Lessen received his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Phoenix and his Master of Arts from Arizona State University. — RW

 

Best Use of Public Money

Public Libraries

Best Library Branch

Downtown Main Library

More than 4.5 million customers checked out books, DVDs and other materials more than 8.4 million times last year from the Jacksonville Public Library System, making it one of the most popular city services. Readers in Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties also treasure their libraries, considering them a cultural and educational resource. “Families, job seekers, entrepreneurs and all those who love to learn value their public library,” said Library Director Barbara Gubbin. “We are so pleased that Folio Weekly readers believe libraries are a good investment.” Mayor Alvin Brown proposed closing six branches and there were fears the Main Library would close on Saturday, but the final city budget spared them all. At more than 300,000 square feet, the Main Library is the largest public library building in the state. With more than 568,315 items and more than 863,160 visitors coming through its doors last year, the Main Library is a popular community hub, an escape in the midst of a bustling Downtown. — RW

 

Best Waste of Public Money

Duval County Courthouse

Despite being open for more than a year, the Duval County Courthouse project is still viewed as a white elephant to many. A recent Folio Weekly story outlined its security flaws. The courthouse finally has a certificate of occupancy, and officials spent about $281,000 making the courthouse doors meet ADA requirements. David DeCamp, a spokesman for Mayor Alvin Brown, said the new courthouse, plus renovation of the adjacent old federal courthouse for the state attorney’s office, will meet its $350 million budget. Now that the new building’s warranty has expired, expect more problems. — RW

 

Best Blog

Kerry Speckman, The Specktator, Folio Weekly

The orange-spectacled writer who has turned “specktating” into an art form moved her personal blog to coincide with the relaunch of folioweekly.com in January. Kerry Speckman quickly gained fans who relish her singular perspective on funky Northeast Florida. From buoyant and bubbly to smartass and silly, Speckman spoofs nearly any topic that catches her gaze. She exposed who Gov. Rick Scott was following on Twitter, critiqued Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget presentation (the flourishes, not the facts), and polled designers’ opinions about local sports logos. She’s a professional stalker who enjoys photo-bombing celebrities almost more than meeting them. If you’re doing something cool in Northeast Florida, she’s your biggest fan — unless you misspell the name of a Jacksonville landmark. — DMR

 

Best Twitter Account

@jaxmayorbrown

Better known as “the fake mayor” to his loyal followers, @jaxmayorbrown parodies Alvin Brown with his tongue-in-cheek take on local issues, media and the Jacksonville City Council (which he describes as “next level down”). As for his foray into social media, he said — in third person, of course — “Whether it be through parades, ribbon-cuttings, press conferences, talking points or simply giving someone a hand, Mayor Brown has always taken the direct route. Direct is far more effective and efficient than indirect, isn’t it?” — KS

 

Best Facebook Page

Jax Truckies

With food trucks megatrending locally, it’s no surprise that the Facebook page that got the wheels rolling, so to speak, is so popular. Jax Truckies keeps its nearly 12,000 fans informed of the trucks’ daily whereabouts (as well as what trucks are off the grid), announcing new additions to the fleet and organizing and hosting truck food-fueled events, including the annual Jax Truckies Food Truck Championship, benefiting local charities. Full disclosure: Folio Weekly Bite-sized columnist Caron Streibich is a co-founder of Jax Truckies with her fiancé Mike Field. If you love food trucks, this should be your first stop. — KS

 

Best Instagram Account

igersjax

For nearly two years, local Instagram users of all ages and walks of life have been sharing their photos of the 904 via igersjax (“igers” is an abbreviation for “Instagrammers”). Creator Stefan R. Stears started using the hashtag #igersjax as a way of showcasing his own photography and encouraged others to do the same for their photos. Now with an official Instagram account, igersjax has approximately 5,000 followers who have posted 45,000 photos (Stears has personally posted more than 660). — KS

 

Best Radio Personality

Melissa Ross

Best Radio Show

‘First Coast Connect’

Best Radio Station

WJCT

It’s taken some time, but WJCT is now moving toward establishing a brand identity that is viable beyond its broadcast range, more in the mold of other NPR affiliates around the country. It has done so by generating more of its own local programming, using people who know what listeners want to hear. WJCT’s success in recent years begins with Melissa Ross, whose run at the helm of “First Coast Connect” gives the station a credible lead voice to anchor the diversity of its other shows, like “Indie Endeavor,” “Lost in the Stacks” and perennial faves “This is Jazz” and “Electro Lounge.” They’ve actively sought to appeal to the hipster set, the very people who think terrestrial radio has nothing left to offer. “First Coast Connect” is the show of record for local politics and public affairs and the likely impetus for local TV stations to begin moving in that direction. And now, having Al Letson’s “State of the Re:Union” officially established there opens the door to really boost WJCT’s profile, both locally and nationally. That, in turn, can only increase the station’s revenue base. Like WJXT, WJCT proves that going local is good for business. — SH

 

Best Sports Radio Personalities

Jeff Prosser and Dan Hicken, 1010 XL, 92.5 FM

If sports talk radio is a virtual lion’s den, then the hosts of “Sports Final Radio” (which airs 6-10 a.m. Monday through Friday) are the guys in the center, holding whips and chairs. Dan Hicken’s evolved over the years from the enfant terrible of local sports media to the point all sports reporters eventually reach: the curmudgeon who's usually right. Until the no-compete clause with First Coast News expires, audiences must content themselves with his inimitable interplay with longtime co-host Jeff Prosser, and the occasional tweet. — SH

 

Best News Website

news4jax.com

As a general rule, traditional media websites suck. Sloppy, outdated designs over cluttered fields of data that are difficult or impossible to navigate. Old media’s inability to manage their own information effectively is one reason why so many organizations have lost so much market share to so-called “new media.” The News4Jax site is probably the easiest to navigate, which is important, because this is Florida, so people are combing through that content on a regular basis — usually for blog posts about how weird Florida is. Between the site itself and WJXT’s new mobile app, news4jax.com has become the go-to resource for the kinds of stories that seem to happen only here. — SH

 

Best Investigative Reporter

Vic Micolucci, WJXT

It’s been a rough year in the River City — the kind that makes even veteran journalists flinch and falter. But “Vic Mic” has quietly worked his way up the ladder to become a workhorse for The Local Station’s investigative machine, working in the field on some of the year’s most compelling and controversial stories. His most interesting story involved a pilot who was shot while flying over the urban core on New Year’s Eve. Micolucci is literally on a whole other plane. — SH

 

Best TV Anchor

Bruce Hamilton, WJXT

“I’m your typical guy who doesn’t like doctors, ignores the warning signs, and this was a wake-up call for me,” said Bruce Hamilton, who nearly died during heart surgery in July. “I’ve got four boys who give me every reason to live, so it’s onward and upward.” The humor he displays so often on-air sheathes the cold steel of a veteran newsman. Born in Philadelphia, “The Morning Show” anchor, who cites Tom Brokaw as a role model, has been a local fixture for more than a decade: His first day at WJXT was Sept. 11, 2001. — SH

 

Best TV Morning Show

‘The Morning Show,’ WJXT

Let’s keep it real: WJXT has the best morning show anywhere in the United States, and that has been the case for years. “We’re just the face — we’re just the talking-head,” said weather forecaster Richard Nunn. “We have these awesome producers. They give us this time freely; they let the story be told through the energy of the story itself.” Adding more local music coverage has helped make it must-see TV among the types who are more likely to be going to bed at that hour than waking up. “We spend so much time together that we really do become like family to each other,” anchor Bruce Hamilton said. — SH

 

Best TV Weather Forecaster

Richard Nunn, WJXT

“I’m a bonafide nerd — I want to have answers,” said Richard Nunn, who has taken the timeless “wacky weatherman” gimmick and raised it to high art during his 10 years at WJXT. “First, as a meteorologist, Richard’s first-rate; he knows his stuff,” colleague Bruce Hamilton said. “Second, he’s unpredictable. He knows a little something about everything.” Whether he’s running marathons for charity or cooking vegan vittles on the air, Nunn always comes off like someone who truly enjoys his work … because he does. — SH

 

Best TV Newscast

First Coast News, WTLV, WJXX

WJXT’s dominance in this year’s balloting was broken up only sparingly by the competition. Donna Deegan’s retirement a year ago left a void impossible to fill, but the transition was smooth enough to leave nary a scratch, as our readers certify with this award to First Coast News. Shannon Ogden has gelled in the lead anchor spot alongside the venerable vet Jeannie Blaylock. Dan Hicken’s exit leaves Chris Porter ensconced atop the sports department, and Tim Deegan remains Tim Deegan, which is all you really need. — SH

 

Best TV Sports Anchor

Brent Martineau, Action News, FOX 30, CBS 47

For Brent Martineau, unseating perennial favorites Sam Kouvaris and Dan Hicken just adds to what’s already been a great year. For all his on-screen ability, Martineau’s biggest impact this year came from his efforts to poach Hicken from First Coast News — a game-changing power move any sports fan can appreciate. Martineau was unavailable for comment by deadline; he was on a West Coast run with the Jaguars, whose early-season slump will be the first big test of the new Action Sports team. — SH

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