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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Feb. 4, 202008:50 PM EST

City Council sets scope of investigation into JEA privatization effort

Three-member special investigatory committee will hold its first meeting Feb. 10.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

City Council President Scott Wilson released the scope of a public investigation into the issues linked to the push to privatize JEA. 

In a Feb. 4 memorandum, Wilson detailed the charge of a three-member special investigatory committee.

The charge includes further inquiry into issues related to JEA’s invitation to negotiate the sale of its assets to a private company, as well as review of existing records and materials.

The memo calls for the committee to investigate the implementation of JEA’s canceled Long-Term Performance Unit Plan that could have cost JEA up to $600 million if the utility had been sold.

The JEA board killed the employee bonus plan Dec. 17 and halted the potential sale of the utility Dec. 24.

The committee will hold its first meeting at 8 a.m. Feb. 10. 

Wilson announced Jan. 20 he would create the investigative committee.

He appointed District 13 Council member Rory Diamond, a Republican and former special assistant U.S. Attorney, to chair the committee.

District 10 member Brenda Priestly Jackson, a Democrat, and District 14 member Randy DeFoor, a Republican, will serve on the committee. Both are attorneys.

The charge gives the committee a June 1 deadline to issue a report of its findings “unless the special committee is otherwise extended or terminated,” the memo states.

The memo defines the breadth of the Council probe as investigating “JEA matters related to the recent pursuit of the strategic option to potentially privatize JEA.” 

The committee's charge includes investigating JEA’s decision-making process in the push toward privatization and the bonus plan.

The special committee will be able to request that the Council Rules Committee issue subpoenas for testimony and documents. The Rules Committee will convene special meetings to consider the subpoenas. 

In an interview Feb. 4, Wilson said the Rules Committee would have the authority to vote against granting a subpoena. However, Diamond, DeFoor and Priestly Jackson all serve on the committee. 

District 1 Council member Joyce Morgan, a Democrat, chairs the seven-member Rules Committee. Council members Michael Boylan, Matt Carlucci and Sam Newby are the remaining members.

The city Office of General Counsel worked with Wilson to draft the language of the charge.

The memo gives a five-point direction to the committee on how to organize its review: 

•   Discussion of procedures and protocols.

•   Historic timeline of events.

•   Review of existing records, resources and materials from the Office of General Counsel; Office of Inspector General; JEA; and other sources.

•   “If necessary,” conduct further investigation into matters related to the charge.

•   Analyze matters that, through the powers invested in this legislative body, could be prevented in the future through legislative action.

The memo directs “all city and JEA employees” to comply with the investigatory committee. But the memo does not specifically call for the cooperation of elected officials.

Wilson said that according to his understanding, anyone subpoenaed by the committee will have to comply. He added that witnesses will have the right to refuse to answer questions that cause self-incrimination.

“This is my personal opinion, but I think you’re going to see a lot of that because (the hearings are) public and people know they could be called by federal investigators,” Wilson said. 

The Council investigation is independent of the ongoing probe by federal officials. State Attorney Melissa Nelson turned over her JEA investigation to the federal justice system Jan. 13.

Council hired Smith Hulsey & Busey Chairman Stephen Busey as its independent attorney in December to provide research and analysis for the committee. 

The outside firm was contracted for $1.85 million while JEA’s sale process was active. 

City attorneys and their staff also will provide committee resources.





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