Curry asks JEA board to end negotiations in sale of utility; meeting set for Christmas Eve

Curry says public's view of the process “has eroded over the past few months.”

  • By Max Marbut
  • | 11:00 a.m. December 23, 2019
  • | 5 Free Articles Remaining!
Curry contacted board JEA Chair April Green on Dec. 22 with the request to halt the negotiations.
Curry contacted board JEA Chair April Green on Dec. 22 with the request to halt the negotiations.
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The JEA board of directors will hold an emergency meeting Christmas Eve after Mayor Lenny Curry asked the board to end its negotiations with potential purchasers of the public electric and water utility.

The meeting is scheduled at 9 a.m. Dec. 24 at JEA Tower at 21 W. Church St.

The mayor said at a news conference Dec. 23 at the Florida State College at Jacksonville Fire Academy of the South that he asked board Chair April Green on Dec. 22 to call a meeting to put an end to the negotiation process.

Curry said the public’s view of the invitation to negotiate process “has eroded over the past few months.”

In addition to asking Green to end the negotiations, Curry asked her to make all information about them public as soon as possible.

Curry also said he has consulted with City Council President Scott Wilson and Vice President Tommy Hazouri.

The city confirmed on Twitter that Curry asked Green to call a meeting.

“The public has lost faith in the process and removing this option is the right thing,” the tweet said.

Wilson and Council member Matt Carlucci previously called for an end to the negotiations.

The Florida Times-Union reported Dec. 19 that Wilson said he will tell the JEA board it should end negotiations, which made him at that point the highest-ranking official at City Hall to say it’s time to stop talk about selling the utility.

Carlucci said Dec. 22 he will tell the JEA board to stop negotiations with bidders for the public utility.

Carlucci said the city is at risk if the board doesn’t end the talks and instead follows Curry’s Dec. 12 directive to the board to send the sales options to Council by the end of January.

“It is hugely important that the JEA board end the ITN process at their next meeting,” Carlucci wrote in the Dec. 21 email headlined “The biggest JEA issue that must not be overlooked.”

Carlucci wrote that if the JEA board “ends this process to privatization and or recapitalization they are immune to lawsuits from the bidders per the ITN contractural agreement!”

Council is not, he wrote.

“If we the Council stop the process we are opening our city to serious lawsuits as the ITN cont(r)act does not exempt the council,” he wrote.

On Dec. 22, Carlucci followed up with an email that showed the ITN stated: “JEA reserves the right to cancel, postpone, modify, reissue, and/or amend this ITN at its discretion.”

Carlucci wrote the JEA board is at a serious crossroads.

“They can take the road of making one of the biggest and most embarrassing mistakes in our consolidated Government if they pass this to the council.”

Carlucci wrote that if the board takes “the road to pulling the plug, stopping the process, this will be an important step in protecting our city and citizens and a breath of fresh air towards good government will sweep across our hometown.”

Carlucci said on his Twitter account Dec. 22: “So just to be clear, the JEA has the sole discretion to stop this. The Council does not.”

In July, the board voted to allow Aaron Zahn, which it hired as CEO and managing director in November 2018, to initiate an invitation to negotiate a sale of JEA with private companies.

On Oct. 14, JEA announced nine companies would proceed to negotiations.

Along with other people and groups seeking a similar outcome, Carlucci called on the JEA board in November to fire Zahn, which it voted to do Dec. 17 without cause.

Zahn is on paid administrative leave as the city Office of General Counsel and Zahn’s lawyer negotiate terms of his termination.

The board seeks to cut back on the terms, which now comprise a $842,925 severance payout that could rise in the event JEA is sold.

In a Dec. 15 letter, Carlucci called for a grand jury investigation into the sale process, joining other groups recommending the same.

On Dec. 18, State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s office said it is “looking into matters involving JEA” after multiple calls from Jacksonville officials and organizations since Nov. 30 for an investigation into the public utility’s push to privatize.

“We have heard the concerns of the community over the past several months. This office is — and has been — looking into matters involving JEA. We will not be commenting further,” Nelson said in a written statement.

The board currently has six members after Andy Allen resigned Dec. 2 after serving less than six months of a four-year term.



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