City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche on Monday repeated claims that Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration pressured her into hosting a joint meeting between council and the JEA board of directors to facilitate the presentation of a financial audit commissioned by the authority in mid-February.
Brosche spoke to a group of about 25 former council presidents, city employees and others who meet regularly at The Mudville Grille in St. Nicholas.
Her comments were in response to a question about how the conversation got this far about possibly selling the city-owned utility.
“At the risk of being called a liar again, I’m going to explain how it went,” Brosche said.
“Because that’s kind of been the standard, if I say something that somebody doesn’t like, then I am slanderous or disgraceful.”
Brosche said talk of council’s involvement began Feb. 5 when Brian Hughes, Curry’s chief of staff, and council liaison Ali Korman Shelton approached her days before a draft leaked to the media of a financial audit prepared by Public Financial Management Inc. for the JEA.
She said they asked if she would host a joint meeting and consider backing emergency legislation allowing the administration to take the next steps, such as a request for proposals.
“Not a sale,” she said, “but to put out an RFP to engage investment bankers so that we could receive bids and really know what the value was, then we could decide to do that.”
According to Brosche, Hughes told her the final report would be ready soon, which she said gave her pause.
“I’m scratching my head already because I wasn’t sure how the mayor’s chief of staff would know that,” she said.
On Feb. 7, JEA released a draft of the Public Financial Management report in response to a public records request. The next day, JEA CEO Paul McElroy wrote Brosche directly, asking her to host the meeting.
“It was a bit interesting for Paul McElroy to know exactly what kind of meeting to ask for,” Brosche said. “All words, all caps,” she said referencing his letter.
By Friday, Feb. 9, McElroy called her with the same request.
“I said, ‘Paul, why do you want to have this meeting,’ and he said so we could both receive the information at the same time.”
Brosche said she explained that while she understood the value of a hosting a meeting, “I am not going to take action on next steps at a meeting when we haven’t even received the final report and haven’t had the chance to read it.”
Brosche declined his request in a Feb. 12 letter explaining her position.
Hours later, Curry called his own special meeting, which drew response from the group.
“I want to share with everyone how disrespectful it was for our mayor to call a meeting of the city council members in the way that it was handled,” said Alberta Hipps, a former council president, during Brosche’s question-and-answer session.
“I would hope that he has rethought how you work with council,” said Hipps, who served two terms from 1995 to 2003.
Brosche clarified that Curry never approached her with specific emergency legislation, but that it was implied she should consider a bill if it were eventually introduced. She also reiterated that this wasn’t a conversation council wanted to have in the first place.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Brosche’s claims.
With her term as president ending June 30, Brosche is using her time to vet the idea of a potential sale through a special council committee. The five-member body is requiring anyone addressing it do so under oath, something McElroy declined to do at the March 15 meeting.
The committee subpoenaed McElroy to return March 29, under oath. Brosche said she hoped McElroy would return to answer her questions.
Former council president Eric Smith was one of several who applauded Brosche during the meeting, saying that he appreciated her “for doing what many councils have not done enough of, including my own,” in pushing back against the executive branch.
“I just want to thank you,” said Smith.
Monday was the second time Brosche spoke to the group during her presidency. The first was July 24. She said Wednesday she thought that she’d earned their trust.
“They know how things work behind the scenes, she said. “I appreciate their support.”