Council members investigating the abandoned effort to sell the city-owned utility fail to agree on subpoenas for officials.
Former Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa declined to speak to the City Council committee investigating the failed effort to privatize JEA because he provided information to a federal grand jury about the matter.
At a meeting June 22 of the City Council committee investigating the abandoned deal, city General Counsel Jason Gabriel read an email from Mousa’s attorney, Chuck Arnold, stating that his client declined to speak to the Council’s outside attorney, Steve Busey of Smith Hulsey & Busey LLC.
“Mr. Mousa has provided information to that grand jury and to elaborate further on the grand jury investigation could interfere with their important work,” Gabriel read. “Further, to provide testimony to you that will be made public could also interfere with the work of the grand jury. Until the grand jury investigation is concluded, Mr. Mousa respectfully declines your request to provide a sworn statement.”
Mousa served Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry before retiring and starting the Mousa Consulting Group LLC, a lobbying firm. His firm was listed as a lobbyist for Florida Power & Light Co. parent NextEra Energy Inc., one of the private utilities seeking to acquire JEA.
Council members Rory Diamond, Randy DeFoor, Brenda Priestly Jackson and Council President Scott Wilson make up the committee investigating the JEA deal.
Mousa is one of several officials the Council committee has sought to testify about the sale. They include former JEA Board Chair Alan Howard and Curry political consultant Tim Baker.
Howard’s attorney said his client will not testify so he can avoid interference with the grand jury investigation. Baker has not responded to the committee’s request, Busey said.
DeFoor made a motion to subpoena the three officials, but the committee did not agree to do so.
Priestly Jackson said she didn’t think their testimony fell within the committee’s charge drafted by Gabriel and Wilson in February to “determine matters that, through the powers invested in this legislative body, could be prevented in the future through legislative action.”
Priestly Jackson cited her experience as a criminal defense attorney in her judgment that, if a potential witness has been advised by their attorney to testify before Council, it could compromise the testimony given to federal investigators.
“I don’t think that we should have subpoenas issued by the Rules Committee if, under the advice of counsel, individuals that we’ve called as witnesses are not comfortable giving sworn testimony in front of this committee,” Priestly Jackson said. “For me the charge relates to our investigating JEA matters that can be prevented in the future through legislative action.”
DeFoor argued that if the committee doesn’t issue subpoenas, it should begin to wrap up its investigation.
“No one’s going to want to come before our committee under those circumstances. Nobody,” DeFoor said. “At that point, we have no power whatsoever.”
Priestly Jackson, who incoming Council President Tommy Hazouri selected to replace Diamond as the committee’s chair, also said she’s not comfortable issuing subpoenas without the support of the city Office of General Counsel.
To survive a possible legal challenge, Gabriel said the Rules Committee would need to state a legislative purpose for the subpoenas.
“When it comes, in particular, to sworn testimony, it is my professional judgment that this committee should be very careful in that territory and in that terrain because it runs the possibility of interfering with any grand jury or federal investigation,” Gabriel told the committee.
Wilson said he was not prepared to support DeFoor’s motion and wanted to consult with Busey and Gabriel before voting to ask the Council Rules Committee to issue the subpoenas.
The disagreement between the committee members could keep what Howard, Baker and Mousa know about the failed attempt to sell public water and energy utility to one of nine private companies from becoming public record.
DeFoor could bring her motion again at the committee’s next meeting scheduled July 27.
Other officials have been asked to testify about the JEA deal.
City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes, who with Baker co-founded Bold City Strategic Partners LLC, has agreed to talk to the Council investigation.
Bold City Strategic Partners is a public consultancy business based in Jacksonville. Hughes and Baker were political strategists in Curry’s 2015 mayoral campaign.
NextEra Energy Inc. listed Bold City Strategic Partners as one of its lobbying firms. State filings show Hughes left Bold City in December 2017.
Former Curry administration Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein agreed to testify, Busey said.
Jacksonville Jaguars CFO Kelly Flanagan, a former JEA board member, told Busey through her attorney she would speak only under threat of subpoena.
In addition to testimony, documents also are being examined by investigators.
City attorneys and Busey’s team will begin reviewing 30,000 documents provided after a subpoena by financial firm Morgan Stanley & Co. about its role in the privatization.
City Deputy General Counsel Christopher Garrett said June 22 he expects J.P. Morgan Securities LLC to fulfill an identical subpoena request for documents in the coming days.
Hazouri extended the Council investigation to Sept. 30. It had been set to expire June 30.