Monday night, one of Mayor Alvin Brown’s top aides went to talk to a JEA board member — and former business partner — about the mayor’s latest plan on how the utility can help with the pension problem.
It didn’t go smoothly.
Peter Bower said he told Ronnie Belton, Brown’s chief financial officer, the mayor’s newest ideas revolving around the utility giving an additional $40 million each year would be “very difficult.”
He said Belton told him if he couldn’t support Brown’s plan, he should resign.
Belton denies saying that to Bower, with whom he helped start Riverplace Capital Management Inc. in the 1990s. He said Bower questioned some of the numbers presented to him and indicated the proposal “wasn’t going anywhere.”
On Tuesday morning, as a City Council committee considered Bower’s reappointment, Teresa Eichner, Brown’s council liaison, asked the committee to delay a decision.
She said she received a text from another of Brown’s top aides — Mia Jones, director of boards and commissions.
Hours later, Bower told his colleagues about the meeting with Belton and the fallout. One council member said the delay was political, another called the mayor a “bully.”
David DeCamp, the mayor’s spokesman, said Tuesday evening that Bower’s reappointment was delayed because the administration wants appointees who are “open minded” about big issues, such as pension reform.
Within four hours, Brown changed his mind.
DeCamp said Tuesday evening that after looking over the day’s events, Brown concluded it was appropriate to move forward with Bower’s reappointment.
Council President Bill Gulliford said Tuesday before the mayor’s change of heart that Bower was responsible to JEA ratepayers — not city government — and a final vote was “going to happen” next week after he pulls it from the committee level.
He also said he has “no doubt” of Bower’s story that he was pressured and questioned why someone in his position would fabricate the allegation.
Instead, he said, Brown is a “bully” and his administration is “full of bullies” to get their way.
In addition, Gulliford said he is considering delaying another JEA appointee that was approved Tuesday.
Husein Cumber, an executive vice president with Florida East Coast Industries, had the committee’s support to replace outgoing member Cynthia Austin.
Gulliford said he wants to have a “frank, important discussion” with Husein about any possible discussions he might have had with the administration about the pension proposal before he is confirmed.
Bill Bishop, a member of the Rules Committee and JEA liaison, said despite the mayor having the ability to appoint people to boards, the Bower incident was a “blatant political move” that is “very troubling.”
Bishop and JEA board members heard Bower’s claims in a pre-board meeting Tuesday afternoon.
When the appointment comes up Tuesday, Bishop said Bower will have his support.
“Mr. Bower is the kind of person we want on that board,” he said.
After 24 hours of hesitation, Brown apparently thinks so, too.
The controversy occured the day before a University of North Florida poll showed Brown’s approval rating dropped 11 points.
A lot can happen in 24 hours.