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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jul. 27, 202002:50 PM EST

City Council committee subpoenas former Curry aides, three more in probe

President Rory Diamond said former JEA officials were destroying public records pertaining to the Council investigation. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

A Jacksonville City Council committee investigating JEA’s failed sales process ordered subpoenas July 27 for Mayor Lenny Curry’s former political consultant Tim Baker, former city Chief of Staff Sam Mousa and three other people tied to the utility.

Committee members Brenda Priestly Jackson, Scott Wilson, Randy DeFoor and Rory Diamond voted 4-0 to seek subpoenas for Baker and Mousa’s sworn depositions. 

The committee also ordered subpoenas for The Dalton Agency PR and Social Media President Michael Munz, former JEA board member and attorney Alan Howard and Foley & Lardner LLP partner Kevin Hyde. 

Council’s outside attorney Stephen Busey of Smith Hulsey & Busey called the five witnesses “central figures” in JEA’s failed 2019 privatization attempt.

“We have lots of documents that tie these people in a lot of fronts,” Busey said.

Mousa declined to speak with Busey’s team through a letter to the city Office of General Counsel in June from his attorney Chuck Arnold.   

Mousa served Curry before retiring and starting the Mousa Consulting Group LLC, a lobbying firm. 

In documents provided to the committee May 15 in response to a subpoena, Florida Power & Light Co. parent NextEra Energy Inc. listed Mousa Consulting and public consultancy firm Bold City Strategic Partners LLC as lobbying firms the company employed as it took part in JEA’s invitation to negotiate a sale.

Baker founded Jacksonville-based Bold City Strategic Partners in 2016 with Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes. 

Hughes and Baker were political strategists in Curry’s 2015 mayoral campaign, helping him unseat incumbent Alvin Brown. 

Hughes sent a letter to Diamond on May 19 and attached state filings showing Baker removed Hughes from Bold City in December 2017.

Baker and Mousa were pictured with Curry, Hughes, fired JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and then-Council President Scott Wilson at an Oct. 4 Atlanta Braves game while City Hall officials were negotiating with nine private companies, including NextEra, that bid to buy the publicly owned utility.  

The photograph from the game showing the men in the stands was first reported by The Florida Times-Union in February. 

Busey said his team asked Hughes during a sworn deposition last week why the city officials and NextEra lobbyist would be “sitting in a premium box in Atlanta while the cone of silence is in place and while negations with JEA are going on.”

“Mr. Hughes said that that was really just an invitation to go to a ballgame with friends and that’s why he was there,” Busey said. 

The attorney said Hughes suggested Council investigators ask Baker about the trip.

The Daily Record requested transcripts July 27 from Hughes’ decision from the general counsel’s office.

Busey said Council investigators have documents that prove Munz, whose firm had a consulting contract with JEA, wrote scripted answers for the board’s July 23, 2019, meeting where the ITN was approved and, possibly, the June board meeting.

“His communications with the senior leadership team of JEA would be critical as to why and how he scripted those questions and answers,” Busey said.

Hyde provided now-fired JEA Chief Administrative Officer Herschel Vinyard a legal opinion that a failed Long Term Performance-Based Unit Plan complied with Florida statute, despite other outside counsel and, later, the city attorneys stating the contrary. 

That plan could have cost JEA ratepayers more than $600 million had JEA been sold, according to the Council Auditor’s Office.

Howard’s firm, Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam & Renner, received a consulting contract with JEA.

Busey said Baker, Mousa, Munz, Howard and Hyde were among 27 additional witnesses city investigators said they’d want to depose. 

He said the remainder are attorneys and employees for JEA consultants Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; Foley & Lardner; McKinsey & Co.; JP Morgan Chase & Co.; and Morgan Stanley.

The subpoenas will have to be approved by the Council Rules Committee, chaired by Priestly Jackson, before they are sent to the five witnesses.

Busey said he is prepared for the subpoenas to be challenged by one or more of the witnesses, taking the issue to the 4th Judicial Circuit Court.

Per committee rules, Baker, Mousa, Hyde, Howard and Munz would be questioned by attorneys and give their sworn statements publicly in front of the committee if the subpoenas are upheld.

Deleted data

Busey’s team and city attorneys have taken sworn testimony from more than a dozen other current and former city and JEA officials as part of the probe.

JEA former Chief Information Officer Shawn Eads admitted to Busey’s team during a July 1 deposition that he deleted data from the iPad of former utility interim CEO Melissa Dykes by entering an erroneous password multiple times. 

His actions locked the tablet, Busey said.

Eads did not state in his deposition that this was an intentional act, but Diamond asked city General Counsel Jason Gabriel to investigate it as “intentional destruction of public records.”

“To me, that’s outrageously inappropriate and illegal, and I think the public needs to know that’s what we’ve been dealing with over at JEA under the old administration that, literally, they were intentionally destroying documents,” Diamond said.

Time and budget

The committee also voted 3-0 to approve a $300,000 extension for Smith Hulsey & Busey.

To date, the law firm has billed the city $766,921 for its work on the JEA probe. Council approved $1.8 million in October to pay for the special counsel.

Busey said a final report on the investigation should be ready to submit to Council by the end of October.

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