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Jax Daily Record Friday, Dec. 5, 201412:00 PM EST

Mike Hightower accepts job with Holland & Knight as senior policy adviser

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by: Marilyn Young

Mike Hightower's retirement didn't last long.

The former Florida Blue executive who retired in August has accepted a job as senior policy adviser with Holland & Knight in the firm's Jacksonville office.

The announcement of his new venture came about 90 minutes after his resignation from the JEA board became effective. He submitted his letter of resignation from the utility's board of directors this morning to Mayor Alvin Brown, nearly three months before his term was scheduled to end. (See story below.)

“Mike is a longtime friend with a considerable amount of industry knowledge and professional working relationships in both Florida and Washington, D.C.,” Bob Martinez, co-chair of the firm’s Florida Government Advocacy Team, said in a news release. “He will be an excellent asset to Holland & Knight going into the next legislative session and beyond.”

In the news release, Hightower praised the international firm's "history and commitment to powerful advocacy."

He said he was honored to be "helping its (the firm's) clients to not only successfully achieve their unique legislative and public policy goals, but also to develop profitable business strategies."

In addition to Martinez (a former Florida governor), others on the advocacy team include former U.S. Reps. Jim Davis and Ron Klein; former state Rep. Miguel De Grandy; Kerry Feehery, former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. George LeMieux; Karl Koch, former chief of staff to Davis; and Kimberly Case, former legislative affairs director for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

EARLIER STORY

JEA board chairman Mike Hightower unexpectedly resigned from the utility’s board of directors today, nearly three months before the end of his term.

“It has been my honor and pleasure to serve JEA nearly sixteen years, twice as Chair, appointed by Mayors (John) Delaney and (John) Peyton,” Hightower said in his resignation letter to Mayor Alvin Brown dated today.

The resignation is effective at 3 p.m. today. Brown will appoint Hightower’s successor.

Hightower and others have been in New York this week meeting with credit rating agencies, which he referenced in his letter.

“I can assure you that JEA still is perceived as an outstanding and well-managed organization under the incredible leadership of our CEO Paul McElroy and his exemplary Senior Leadership Team,” the letter said.

Hightower was traveling this morning and could not be reached for comment.

Hightower’s resignation comes at a time he has been skeptical of a push for the utility to borrow money to help the city pay down the $1.65 million unfunded liability in the public safety pension.

The proposal has both the utility and the city borrowing $120 million that, along with $60 million in state chapter funds, would be paid toward that debt. Among the benefits touted for the utility is a $2.5 million reduction in its annual contribution to the city for several years. The utility’s direct contribution is scheduled to be $111.7 million next year.

But, Hightower said at the time, “If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it’s too good to be true.”

He also opposed Brown’s request for the utility to pay the city an additional $40 million a year for 10 years in exchange for a series of concessions. The main selling point was creating a pension plan for its employees instead of them being in the city pension plan.

Hightower and others said the move could cause a rate increase and hamper the authority’s ability to sell bonds. The board rejected what Brown had labeled a “partnership” last month.

In his resignation letter, Hightower cited the growth and professionalism of JEA, which is the eighth-largest municipally owned utility in the country. He also praised his fellow board members and the progress they’ve made toward reducing debt while maintaining the “utility’s price competitiveness.”

It’s the second career change for Hightower since August, when he retired as Florida Blue’s vice president of governmental and legislative relations after nearly 34 years.

The former Duval County Republican Party chairman vowed at the time of his retirement that he would remain involved in the community. He continues to lead JaxBiz, the nonpartisan political committee of the JAX Chamber.

Hightower and his wife, Sue, celebrated the first birthday of their grandchild, Gracie, last month. She is the daughter of the couple’s son, Parker, and his wife, Maggie.

[email protected]

@editormarilyn

(904) 356-2466

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