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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Apr. 7, 202008:00 PM EST

Curry’s nominees for JEA board advance to full council

The utility's next board could be selected by the council and mayor.  
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Jacksonville City Council will take a final vote April 14 on Mayor Lenny Curry’s seven appointments to the JEA board. 

The Council Rules Committee voted April 7 to advance all seven nominees, making it likely the utility’s next board of directors will be in place by its April 28 meeting.

UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr. was the only appointee to split the Rules Committee, approved in a 4-3 vote. 

Committee Vice Chair Rory Diamond and Council members Randy DeFoor and Brenda Priestly Jackson were concerned UF Health’s annual city funding could be used as leverage to pressure Haley’s decision-making and independence on the board.

UF Health Jacksonville, formerly Shands Hospital, received $26 million from the city in fiscal year 2019-20, an $8 million increase from the previous year. Haley said April 7 the health system’s total budget is more than $800 million. 

“I don’t think anybody can be completely independent because of that. If there was any pressure put on Dr. Haley to vote a certain way, it quite frankly would put Shands at risk for funding,” DeFoor said. “I think right now Dr. Haley is best served, in this pandemic especially, focused on Shands and the healthy and safety of our community. That’s where we need him most right now. Not on the JEA board.”

UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr.

DeFoor, Priestly Jackson and Diamond make up the Council’s three-member Special Investigatory Committee looking into JEA’s failed push to privatize.

DeFoor also was concerned that Haley hired former city Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and former Curry political aide Tim Baker in January as lobbyists for UF Health Jacksonville. Mousa and Baker’s electronic communications with JEA officials have been requested as part of the Council’s JEA probe. 

Haley said he understood their concerns. He said that although UF Health Jacksonville is “in lockstep partnership” with the city to provide local health care and despite the hospital’s city financial backing, he would remain independent.

“If you can separate me from the organization, I believe I’m a man of integrity. I have been in practice for more than 30 years, have had multiple leadership positions and am currently leading this organization through a crisis that, quite frankly, is only just beginning,” Haley said. 

“I can give you my word, to the degree that I can, that I’m an honest individual,”he said. “I will be as independent as humanly possible.”

Council members Matt Carlucci, Michael Boylan, Samuel Newby and Rules Committee Chair Joyce Morgan voted in favor of Haley’s confirmation.

Nominees John Baker II, executive chairman and CEO of FRP Holdings Inc; retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo; IberiaBank Executive Vice President and Regional President Marty Lanahan; The Regency Group President Robert “Bobby” L. Stein; and Senior Vice President, Ascension Healthcare & ministry market executive of Ascension Florida Tom VanOsdol were approved 7-0. 

The committee approved the nomination of A. Zachary Faison Jr., president and CEO of Edward Waters College, in 6-1 vote. Priestly Jackson was the only “no” vote. She was concerned about funding the college received from the city and how that would affect Faison’s independence.

Kurt Wilson, JEA’s interim vice president and chief government affairs officer, told the committee the new board’s first action item April 28 will be launching the utility’s CEO search.

Curry filed legislation with Council Feb. 12 with his seven JEA board picks after the current board left as five resigned and one reached the end of her term.

The five told Curry Jan. 28 they intended to resign after the failed effort to privatize the utility and voting to fire former Managing Director and CEO Aaron Zahn. A seventh member resigned earlier.

Board members Henry Brown, Dane Grey, Camille Lee-Johnson and Chair April Green agreed to stay on until Council confirmed a new board at Curry’s request.

The JEA board’s Jan. 28 resignation is the second time during Curry’s tenure that the JEA board resigned. He asked for the resignations of all board members and made new appointments after his first-term 2015 election.   

Future board appointments

The seven pending nominations could be the last solely appointed by the mayor. 

A bill asking Duval County voters to allow the Council to split JEA board appointment power with the mayor is headed to the full Council on April 14. 

Ordinance 2020-0100 calls for a voter referendum to change the city charter and give the Council four appointments to the board and the mayor three. A Rules Committee amendment says the Council’s fourth appointment will come through an open application process. 

The Council president will nominate an applicant who is a former JEA employee or a person recommended by an employee, union or group of current or former JEA employees.

The Finance Committee added another layer to that process, amending the bill to create a three-member Council committee to vet the open applications and recommend a selection to the Council president. 

The final decision on that nomination will remain with the Council president.

The Council would have the ability to remove their picks under the charter change, and the mayor would need a two-thirds vote of the Council to remove his appointees.

JEA board member terms and appointments will be staggered, allowing a different Council president to nominate a person to fill a board vacancy every year.

Members serve four-year terms.

The Council Finance Committee approved the bill 7-0 on April 7 after previously deferring the legislation.

The Rules Committee voted unanimously 7-0 on March 3 to advance the bill, which created a temporary impasse between the two committees.

Council member Garrett Dennis introduced the bill Feb 11. He argues that Council members have little to no influence in JEA without the ability to pick appointees.

If approved by the Council, the next JEA board could be up for reconsideration within months if the charter change is approved by Duval County voters Nov. 3. 

A Rules Committee amendment also asks Curry to select three of his latest JEA board appointees to remain if the referendum is successful. The Council would nominate the other four. The Council could ask the other four Curry appointees to stay or make its own selections.

The Council vote to set the referendum will be April 14.

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