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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 31, 202002:07 PM EST

Four ‘central figures’ agree to testify in City Council's JEA probe

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Council attorneys are negotiating with Mayor Lenny Curry’s former political consultant Tim Baker for voluntary testimony.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Four witnesses linked to JEA’s 2019 attempt to privatize have agreed to give sworn depositions to Jacksonville City Council investigators after a committee voted to seek subpoenas for their testimony.

According to the city Office of General Counsel, 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 have agreed to answer questions from Council attorneys about their knowledge of events leading up to JEA’s canceled invitation to negotiate with private companies vying to buy the city-owned utility.

This comes a day after former city Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa’s attorney Chuck Arnold emailed Council’s independent attorney Steve Busey of the Smith Hulsey & Busey firm agreeing for Mousa to testify under the threat of subpoena. 

City General Counsel Jason Gabriel said in a July 30 email that Busey is conferring with attorneys for Mayor Lenny Curry’s former political consultant Tim Baker to secure his testimony without a subpoena. 

Busey said in a phone interview July 31 that the deal by Council investigators to conduct the interviews and forgo subpoenas is contingent upon the witnesses producing requested documentation.

The Council Special Investigatory Committee on JEA Matters voted 4-0 on July 27 to seek subpoenas for the five witnesses. 

During the meeting, Busey called them “central figures” in JEA’s failed 2019 privatization attempt.

Busey said that 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.

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 Brian Hughes who is now Curry’s chief administrative officer. 

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

Hughes sent a letter to Council member and then-investigative committee chair Rory 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 in February by The Florida Times-Union.

If Baker and Council attorneys do not reach a deal, the Council Rules Committee could vote as early as its next meeting Aug. 4 to issue final authorization for the subpoena.

Agreeing to testify willingly and not under subpoena will allow the witnesses to interview privately with city attorneys instead of publicly facing the four-member committee. 

Busey said in a July 31 email that the interviews have not been scheduled, but Mousa will interview in private at the Smith Hulsey & Busey offices.

Transcripts for depositions taken in the Council’s investigation are subject to public record. Some have been made public.

Mousa first declined in June to speak to the Council investigatory committee.

Mousa, though his attorney, revealed in a June 18 email to Busey and Gabriel that he has provided information to grand jury investigators in a federal probe.

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida issued a grand jury subpoena April 21 demanding documents, communications and records from top utility and City Hall officials related to the attempt to sell JEA. 

Federal prosecutors also are looking for communications and documents from lobbyists, JEA’s contracted legal and financial firms and consultants involved in the utility’s invitation to negotiate and failed stock option style-employee bonus plan.

Mousa’s attorney advised him that testifying for Council “would interfere with the work of the United States Grand Jury for the Middle District of Florida.” 

Arnold told Council attorneys in the July 30 email that Mousa is willing to provide verbal testimony and any documents in his possession pertinent to the probe:

 “As previously advised, Mr. Mousa has provided information to the Grand Jury. I also advised you he would be glad to give an interview after the Grand Jury completed its important work.

“It is Mr. Mousa’s understanding that after considering his request to delay the interview the committee has decided that you should go ahead with the interview.

“Mr. Mousa is a 50 year resident of Jacksonville and served as a stellar public official of the City of Jacksonville for 20 years. He has been recognized by all he has worked with as one of the best public officials to serve our community. Therefore, he feels a continuing obligation to serve his community when called upon by Jacksonville’s public officials.

“Since the committee believes Mr. Mousa has information that may assist in the committee’s work, this is to notify you that he will voluntarily submit to an interview. Per our phone conversation, I look forward to finding a mutually agreeable date.

“As we further discussed Mr. Mousa will also produce, prior to the interview, any documents you may request that are in his possession and are relevant to the committee’s inquiry. I look forward to receiving your email identifying the documents you want to receive.

 “Charles W. Arnold, Jr. Attorney for Sam Mousa.”

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