Timeline of events: Exploring the sale of Jacksonville public utility JEA

Timeline of events: Exploring the sale of Jacksonville public utility JEA

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax has been following the possible sale of public utility JEA since 2012 when City Councilman Matt Schellenberg made the proposal to former Mayor Alvin Brown. Here's what's happened since then:

January 2018

Things started to ramp up when employees were sent a letter asking for their "continued employment during a possible acquisition or change of control."

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Jacksonville City Council members said they were "blindsided" by internal letters sent to JEA directors, offering them incentives to stay on if the utility is sold.

Some JEA employees told Action News Jax they're working in a "hostile" environment as people worry that the utility might be sold.

February 2018

A local business expert told Action News Jax all signs point to the sale of JEA.

A draft study released in the same month stated, "Current market conditions can be expected to provide for a greater net value of JEA to the city than at any time in the past."

Mayor Lenny Curry called for a special Jacksonville City Council meeting to talk about the possible sale of JEA. Then-City Council President Anna Brosche said of the sale, "I'm not going to be a part of rushing it."

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis said the mayor was for the sale of JEA.

"It is definitely the mayor's agenda, and I think as the process unveils itself, it'll be apparent that the mayor is behind a sale for JEA," Dennis said.

Curry denied being behind the sale of JEA in an interview with reporter Danielle Avitable.

"I don't have enough information to have an opinion on it," Curry said at that time. "I think it's wise to know the value of assets that taxpayers have and JEA happens to be a large one."

A memo the Office of General Counsel sent to Curry, his cabinet, the City Council and the JEA board states any sale of more than 10 percent of JEA would require the council approval.

Action News Jax learned of scheduled meetings between Curry's cabinet and JEA leaders ahead of a possible sale. The city of Jacksonville would not tell us what was discussed, or even if the meetings ever happened.

At a special City Council committee meeting, then-City Councilman John Crescimbeni put two ordinances on the table for the full council to consider. This could have led to the possible sale of JEA appearing on the November ballot.

Concerns were also raised about how a potential sale of JEA could affect St. Johns County customers' water and sewer operations. According to the contract between St. Johns County and JEA from 1999, the county has the right of first refusal if JEA is sold.

March 2018

Then-JEA CEO Paul McElroy was ordered to testify under oath before the special committee on the potential sale of JEA.

The council auditor released its report, noting the city would take in between $1.7 and $5.2 billion if it sold JEA.

McElroy said as he was questioned by a special City Council committee that the utility's revenue is in decline, and he projected sales are projected to be flat for the next five years.

April 2018

McElroy announced April 6 that he would be stepping down from day-to-day operations, just a week after he took questions from the City Council on the potential sale.

Neighbors took to social media after a Jacksonville city worker removed signs opposing the sale of JEA from their yards. A city spokesperson told Action News Jax the signs were placed in the right-of-way and were not in compliance with city codes.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan said selling JEA would be "a terrible idea."

The bombshell comment came after the team's State of the Franchise presentation.

"I think it's a terrible idea, OK? JEA should stay the way it is," Khan said. "I've seen this all over the country, when you have something, really a public entity getting privatized -- doesn't work well with the residents."

Aaron Zahn was named interim CEO of JEA. He told Action News Jax that privatization talks could have been handled differently.

November 2018

JEA's interim CEO and Managing Director Aaron Zahn transitioned to the permanent post.

JEA's board scored Zahn highest among three finalists, who were interviewed publicly by the board. The vote by the board was unanimous.

June 2019

For months, JEA has been working with experts and consultants on strategic planning for the future. The picture that's been painted is grim, not only for the utility, but the industry more broadly.

JEA says changing energy policy, resulting energy efficiency and declining sales and emerging technologies are just a few of the things that have fundamentally changed how consumers are using water and electric services, and how JEA provides them. The senior leadership team and board have been publicly discussing what to do in the face of those challenges.

The JEA board voted to move forward with putting together a plan for a scenario that would mean hundreds of layoffs, scrapping a new downtown headquarters, reducing capital investments, and more in the next decade. This vote does not mean these changes are guaranteed to take place, but Zahn and his team will finalize a plan for what the short- and long-term implementation would involve, to present to the board next month.

If JEA continues to operate in the status quo, it would mean electric rates would have to climb 52% by 2030, with water rates up 16% in the same time frame.

September 2019

Action News Jax told you a group of City Council members moved to hire an attorney to help challenge the privatization of JEA.

"It is totally not reasonable nor do I think any of my colleagues on the council are comfortable with something going off of this magnitude, and us not having a voice for six to eight months. I don't think anybody got elected to be silenced for that length of time," City Councilmember Brenda Priestly Jackson said.

October 2019

The utility began accepting bids for a possible sale on Monday, Oct. 7.

Sixteen submissions for the potential sale of JEA were opened — one by one at JEA headquarters on Monday afternoon.

But none of their names were revealed.

"Those are 16 potential qualifiers for the process. They're not bids yet. They're qualifying based on the minimum requirements," said City Councilmember Danny Becton.