Investigator says there were “close connections” between the city and Florida Power & Light during last year’s sale attempt.
The City Council Rules Committee will vote on issuing subpoenas for companies linked to Mayor Lenny Curry’s former political consultant Tim Baker.
The Council Special Investigatory Committee voted 3-0 on Oct. 12 to advance subpoenas for Baker and four of his companies — Bold City Strategic Partners LLC; Conventus LLC; Data Targeting Research LLC; and Timothy Baker Consulting LLC.
At issue is Baker’s work for NextEra Energy Inc. subsidiary Florida Power & Light. NextEra offered to pay $11.05 billion for JEA in the city-owned utility’s canceled invitation to negotiate in August 2019.
Smith Hulsey & Busey attorney Stephen Busey, who is aiding Council’s JEA investigation, said his team found “close connections” between the city and Florida Power & Light in the lead up to and during the ITN.
He said it falls within the committee’s legislative charge to find out how the attempted sale happened.
“I think that the committee would be subject to criticism now that we’ve uncovered these facts that I just outlined if you do not pursue the communications between Mr. Baker and Florida Power & Light while he was advising JEA in the ITN process,” Busey said. “It’s just such an obvious question that at least the committee should inquire.”
Busey said Bold City Strategic Partners entered into its contract with FPL on Dec. 21, 2017, the day after the city issued a privatization request for proposals for JEA.
Former JEA Treasurer Joe Orfano told Busey in a September interview that JEA privatization was a “major component” of the RFP to provide financial advisory services, according to the special counsel’s Sept. 25 memo to the Council committee.
Busey wants to obtain communications and the Bold City contract with FPL.
Baker attended a July 10, 2019, JEA senior leadership team meeting at The Club Continental in Orange Park where plans were drafted for the resolution that JEA’s board of directors would vote on July 23, 2019, to issue the ITN.
The Rules Committee could vote on the subpoenas at its Oct. 20 meeting.
Links to council members
Busey said that Baker was a paid consultant on several Council members’ 2018-19 election campaigns.
Data Targeting Research was contracted by at least six Council campaigns between May 2017 and May 2019, according to filings with the Duval County Supervisor of Elections.
Council members LeAnna Cumber, Terrance Freeman, Randy White, Ron Salem, Special Investigatory Committee member Randy DeFoor and former Committee Chair Rory Diamond have used Baker’s company for consulting and campaign services.
DeFoor asked Busey on Oct. 12 to make clear that the order for subpoenas is based on his legal recommendation and not personal feelings about Baker by any committee member.
“I just want to make sure that this isn’t being done on the basis of anybody’s feelings — my feelings, (Committee Chair Brenda) Priestly Jackson’s feelings or (Committee member) Scott Wilson’s feelings,” DeFoor said. “Your recommendation is based on your legal and thorough review of the matter. Is that correct?”
“The fact that Mr. Baker was a consultant for Florida Power & Light at the same time he was advising JEA on regarding the auction process in my judgment deserves the Council’s attention,” Busey said.
In a text message Oct. 12, Baker called the committee’s action “an unconstitutional overreach.”
“I look forward to vigorously defending my constitutional rights,” Baker said.
Asked if he thought his overlapping consulting work for Florida Power & Light, JEA and Council campaigns was a conflict of interest, Baker said, “I have, and will always, follow the law.”
Busey said Oct. 12 that he intends to move forward with the committee’s request to conduct informal telephone interviews with five former JEA board members. The special counsel also said his team plans to speak with 10 current and former Council members about the attempted sale.
In an email response after the meeting, Busey declined to identify them.
Priestly Jackson said the committee intends to meet its Dec. 31 target to release a final report and Council President Tommy Hazouri asked it be presented at a full Council meeting in January.