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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 24, 201910:50 AM EST

NAACP branch asks for criminal probe of the city and JEA

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The letter sent to the State Attorney's Office also cites other issues, saying “what is going on in Jacksonville is unprecedented.”
by: Monty Zickuhr Managing Editor

The Jacksonville branch of the NAACP is calling for the State Attorney's Office to open a criminal investigation into JEA and the city of Jacksonville.

In a letter dated Dec. 23 to State Attorney Melissa Nelson, the NAACP says all contracts dealing with the proposed sale of JEA should be terminated.

"On behalf of the Jacksonville Branch NAACP and the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches along with the National NAACP, we write with a sense of urgency to request that you open a criminal investigation into JEA and the City of Jacksonville," says the letter, signed by branch President Isaiah Rumlin.

The letter details issues at the Kids Hope Alliance, JEA, Duval County Public Schools and the Downtown Investment Authority.

At JEA, there a "hiring practice issue and a lack of transparency," the letter says.

"Again, the most qualified candidate did not receive the top job, but rather a former board member did. Aaron Zahn, the CEO of JEA, and his business partner Dano Hick, a local lobbyist, entered into a contract to purchase land, while Mr. Hicks was on retainer with JEA,” the letter says.

“There are numerous companies, law firms, and consultants who are currently being paid millions of dollars to assist with the sale of JEA," it says.

"Dano Hick" is Deno Hicks, who co-owned a 24-acre Westside property with Zahn, according to The Florida Times-Union. Zahn is on paid administrative leave as the city Office of General Counsel and Zahn’s lawyer negotiate terms of his termination.

At DIA, the letter says the authority should be investigated "in terms of contracts, hiring, and potential conflicts of interest with incentives for companies that deal in real estate who were awarded incentives or REV Grants over the last four years."

A Recapture Enhanced Value grant is a rebate on ad valorem taxes generated over that time.

The letter also cites the appointment of Curry's former chief of staff, Brian Hughes, as interim DIA CEO.

"Brian Hughes immediately supported the idea of privatizing parking downtown. This parking proposal he urged was for a 30-year contract for Dane Grey (Elite Parking) and a former board member of the DIA and a close friend of Aaron Zahn and the Mayor," the letter said.

At the Kids Hope Alliance, the letter cites a lack of transparency and that "The most qualified candidate did not receive the top job and a great deal of taxpayer dollars were mismanaged."

At the Duval County Public Schools, the letter says a sales tax referendum for public school facilities was denied because the school board would not give charter schools $150 million.

"Sam Mousa (former CAO for the City of Jacksonville) and Tim Baker (Political Consultant for Mayor Curry) attempted to extort money from DCPS to obtain a contract to assist with the passage of the sales tax referendum," the letter says.

Mousa was chief administrative officer for the city, a role now held by Hughes.

"What is going on in Jacksonville is unprecedented and the Jacksonville Community deserves answers following a full criminal investigation," the letter concludes.

This is the second letter sent by the NAACP asking for an investigation. On Dec. 11, the organization called for U.S. Congress to open a criminal investigation into Curry’s administration and senior JEA executives in response to the possible sale of the utility.

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