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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 7, 202004:32 PM EST

Lobbyist Hicks forms business consulting firm

He owned property with fired JEA CEO Aaron Zahn.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Deno Hicks, a lobbyist linked to fired JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, has formed a business consulting firm.

Hicks resigned in January as the Jacksonville managing partner of The Southern Group, a lobbying firm that worked with JEA and several Northeast Florida political candidates.

Hicks registered River North Strategies LLC with the Florida Division of Corporations on Jan. 22 and lists his wife, Lee-Catherine Hicks, as an authorized representative.

Hicks’ profile with the city Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight lobbyist tracking systems shows his River North Strategies’ contact information and client list. 

According to the city, Hicks is representing Chase Properties Inc. and Live Oak Contracting. 

Chase Properties President and CEO Mike Balanky said he’s known Hicks for nearly 30 years. Balanky said he supported Hicks, then 28, in a failed 2003 run for the District 5 City Council seat.

Hicks worked with Balanky on Chase Properties’ proposed Kings Avenue Station development. It would bring up to 40 stories of office or mixed-use space at 1201 Kings Ave.

Balanky said he retained River North Strategies to work on a real estate development deal.

“He’s a great guy. He’s a great father, a great husband and a good businessman,” Balanky said.

Live Oak is working with Chance Partners LLC to develop the 486-unit San Marco Crossing on 8.89 acres on two blocks bounded by Olevia Street, Mitchell Avenue, Philips Highway and Perry Place.

The city tracking system does not indicate what issues, if any, Hicks is working on for either company.

Hicks did not respond to two voice messages and an email for comment.

River North Strategies’ office is listed as Hicks’ home on Windsor Harbor Drive. 

In December, Hicks found himself part of the debate encircling Zahn. 

The Florida Times-Union reported Dec. 13 that Hicks was a partner with Zahn in Legacy Industries of Jax LLC. Through Legacy, Hicks and Zahn co-owned a 24-acre undeveloped site on the Westside that the newspaper reported was offered for sale for nearly $2 million. 

The city Charter states JEA’s managing director is not allowed to have outside employment or businesses.

The Southern Group entered into a one-year $120,000 contract with JEA to lobby City Council and other local government entities for the public utility while it was negotiating with nine private companies for a possible sale, according to Council Auditor’s Office documents.

The Southern Group ended the contract when news that Hicks and Zahn were partners was reported.

Hicks resigned Jan. 17 in an email to Paul Bradshaw, The Southern Group’s chairman and founder. Hicks did not provide a reason for his resignation in his email, but he did mention a “next venture.”

The Tallahassee-based Southern Group placed Hicks and another managing partner in Jacksonville when the firm expanded to the city in 2009. 

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