JEA board cancels effort to possibly sell utility; process cost more than $10 million

The members also voted that all related documents will be made public.

  • By Max Marbut
  • | 11:40 a.m. December 24, 2019
  • | 5 Free Articles Remaining!
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It took about an hour for JEA's board of directors to vote Dec. 24 to cancel the five-month, more than $10 million process to possibly sell Jacksonville's publicly owned electric and water utility.

Board Chair April Green said the emergency board meeting she convened at 9 a.m. Christmas Eve was “based on the recommendation of Mayor Curry,” referring to Mayor Lenny Curry's statement about 24 hours earlier that he believed the possible sale of the utility should be “taken off the table.”

The board voted unanimously, and effective immediately, to cancel the invitation to negotiate that it issued July 25; authorize interim CEO and Managing Director Melissa Dykes to reject all replies received; and direct JEA's attorneys to execute the cancellation.

Board member Henry Brown offered an amendment, also unanimously approved, to require JEA to immediately release to the public all information related to the invitation to negotiate process, other than information contained in the responses that is protected from disclosure by state law.

JEA board members Henry Brown and Dane Grey.
JEA board members Henry Brown and Dane Grey.

Dykes described the public's response to the invitation to negotiate as a “painful process for the community” and “divisive.”

Dykes said JEA still has diligence to do, but estimated the cost to date for the invitation process at more than $10 million.

“$10 million is a lot of money to have nothing,” said board member Dane Grey.

Dykes disagreed and said the process represents an “enormous body of work” and now JEA has a “clear picture of every element of the business” that can lead to “new and creative ways to approach the business.”

Jacksonville City Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson speaks to the JEA board of directors Tuesday.
Jacksonville City Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson speaks to the JEA board of directors Tuesday.

City Council members Matt Carlucci, Garrett Dennis, Al Ferraro, Brenda Priestly Jackson, Joyce Morgan, Ron Salem and Council President Scott Wilson addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Council members agreed with Curry's recommendation to stop the bid process and that the lack of transparency that marked the JEA's invitation to negotiate significantly reduced the public's trust in the board and in the executive leadership team.

They referred to the firing Dec. 17 of former CEO and Managing Director Aaron Zahn and cancellation of a controversial employee bonus plan Zahn supported as part of a potential sale.

Council members urged the board to work with them to determine the utility's future as the board studies its business model options to remain financially viable as the utilities’ market changes.

Salem said he plans to establish a Council JEA investigation committee that will have subpoena power to call witnesses as it examines the beginning of the invitation process and the employee bonus plan that was struck down by the board the day Zahn was removed as CEO.

The audience at the JEA board of directors meeting Dec. 24.
The audience at the JEA board of directors meeting Dec. 24.

After the board adjourned, Wilson said he believes the board's action is the first step in restoring the public's trust in the utility and its leadership.

“I think the public has felt left out. Now that the board has taken action, I think it's a good thing,” Wilson said.

He said he appreciated Brown offering the amendment to make the documents public, but also said that with the volume of documents involved, it could take months before all the information is public.

“I think they'll push out small bits at a time. I would think it could take a month or so. You're talking about a lot of documents,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he fully supports a Council investigation with witnesses examined under penalty of perjury.

“There's an expectation that that's going to happen. It's important for the Council to get to the bottom of this and the great thing about the Council doing it is that it will be in the sunshine so the public will get a strong understanding about it as well,” Wilson said.



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