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Jax Daily Record Saturday, Nov. 16, 201911:30 AM EST

JEA sale negotiations on hold for review over potential conflicts of interest

At issue is post-employment consulting jobs for utility's senior leadership team.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

Negotiations in the potential sale of JEA are on hold as the Florida Commission on Ethics reviews possible conflicts of interest in the process.

Daily Record news partner reports that the state ethics commission is reviewing a provision that would give CEO Aaron Zahn and the other 12 members of the city-owned utility’s senior leadership team post-employment consulting jobs with the purchasing company if JEA is sold.

City ethics director Carla Miller reviewed the contract benefits for the senior leadership staff of JEA on Oct. 28, according to records obtained by News4Jax. 

Miller notified the city Office of General Counsel that she recommended a review of the conflict analysis by the state ethics commission for an opinion before appointing the proposed negotiators. 

Miller then requested information from JEA’s attorney on whether the negotiators had been appointed, in light of the pending conflict questions.

The JEA attorney stated on Nov. 1 that “it was noted for the record that OGC (city Office of General Counsel)  and SEC (state ethics commission) conflicts review has not been completed and that the team, barring any emergency circumstances, would not proceed with substantive action unless and until such time that the review was completed,” News4Jax reports. 

JEA told the city ethics commission that negotiation meetings for the sale of JEA had not started or been scheduled as of Thursday.

In an emailed statement Friday night, JEA Media Relations Manager Gina Kyle said it was JEA that asked for the legal opinion and the public utility’s invitation to negotiate is moving forward.

“Out of an abundance of caution, JEA asked for the City of Jacksonville office of General Counsel and the City’s Ethics Office to clear potential negotiators of any real or perceived conflicts of interest. The local office couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer the question, so JEA asked for it to be answered by the State Ethics Office,” Kyle wrote.

Nine companies were selected to enter negotiations on JEA’s possible sale.

JEA issued the invitation to negotiate Aug. 2, saying a sale could be the best option to solve projected declining energy sales and revenue. 

To be accepted, all bids must include minimum requirements of a $3 billion cash payment to the city, $400 million in customer rebates and a commitment to keep employees in Downtown Jacksonville.

JEA officials canceled its monthly board meeting in November because of a “light agenda.”

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