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Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 16, 201907:20 PM EST

NAACP calls for federal criminal probe into possible JEA sale

“What is going on in Jacksonville is unprecedented,” says Branch President Isaiah Rumlin.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The NAACP is calling on the U.S. Congress to open a criminal investigation into Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration and senior JEA executives in response to the possible sale of the utility.

NAACP Branch President Isaiah Rumlin

In a letter dated Dec. 11, Jacksonville NAACP Branch President Isaiah Rumlin said the organization does not support selling JEA and detailed the history of the push to privatize the utility since Curry was elected in 2015.

He sent the letter to five members of Congress, including U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York, and House Energy Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-California, dated Dec. 11.

In the letter and a companion news release issued Monday, Rumlin said the Jacksonville branch has received the backing of both the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches and the National NAACP.

“We recommend that Mayor Lenny Curry and his administration be investigated along with JEA Executives and the JEA Board of Directors,” Rumlin wrote.

“Furthermore, JEA CEO Aaron Zahn should be terminated immediately along with Herschel Vinyard, JEA’s Chief Administrative Officer (formerly with Foley & Lardner), and the JEA Board of Directors.”

The call comes as pressure on Zahn grew Monday. JEA board member Henry Brown sent a letter to Zahn dated Dec. 15 stating his intent to call for the CEO’s termination at the board’s Dec. 17 meeting.

City Council members questioned Zahn, JEA CFO Ryan Wannemacher and other JEA officials for nearly four hours Dec. 16 on legal and ethical transparency questions about a Long-term Performance Unit Plan that would allow JEA employees to invest in the public utility.

 “What is going on in Jacksonville is unprecedented and the Jacksonville Community deserves answers following a full criminal investigation,” Rumlin wrote.

The NAACP is calling for the termination of all contracts awarded by the city and JEA specifically dealing with the proposed JEA sale. The utility has contracted with seven outside legal and financial firms to advise staff and its board on the utility’s invitation to negotiate.

On the low end, contracts with JP Morgan Securities LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC each could be worth up to $31 million in the event of a JEA sale.

The NAACP wants all Council members who have publicly supported the sale to recuse themselves from decisions involving the JEA until a full investigation is complete.

“For the last four years, Mayor Curry and his administration have developed a pattern of lies, deception and lack of transparency when comes to taxpayer dollars,” Rumlin wrote.

The letter lists several areas of concern by NAACP officials with the Curry administration’s actions.

Those include his support for delaying a referendum to bond for $1.9 billion in improvement to Duval County Schools; appointing his then Chief of Staff Brian Hughes as interim director of the Downtown Investment Authority — a role where he would advise policymakers on allocating taxpayer-backed incentives to private businesses; and hiring practices and a “lack of transparency” at the Kids Hope Alliance.

Rumlin said during a phone call Monday he has not received a response from the Congressional committee chairs in response to his request.

The City’s Public Affairs Office did not immediately respond Monday evening to a request for comment on the NAACP’s request.


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