Duval County

Mayor ready to give City Council authority of JEA, won’t explain change of heart

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is now ready to give the City Council the power to decide the future of JEA.

That’s what he said Thursday in a letter to the JEA board and again Thursday night on Twitter.

This comes only two weeks after the mayor said he was going to allow JEA to finish its planning.

The one thing Curry hasn't commented on is why he’s now had a change of heart.

Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole went down to City Hall Friday to find out why.

Despite Curry’s tweets Thursday night, city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said the mayor isn’t talking “to the media about this at this time.”

Gina Kyle, JEA’s spokeswoman, told Cole, “JEA’s senior leadership team is in the process of reviewing Mayor Curry’s letter and will have no comment at this time.”

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Cole spoke to one local organization that's determined to help the City Council keep this process honest.

"The lack of transparency is very obvious and has been all along in this process," said Michael Ward, of the Jacksonville Civic Council.

Ward runs the subcommittee investigating the JEA transaction, along with Bobby Stein.

These tweets from Curry aren't exactly helping with the public’s perception of lack of transparency, either.

"He shouldn't have tweeted or said anything,” said Vanessa Dawson Jones, a JEA customer.

On Thursday night, the mayor tweeted that he’s asking the JEA board to “move all decision making authority” for the future of JEA to the Jacksonville City Council.

One customer told Cole she doesn’t agree with that, an opinion she Cole hasn’t heard from a customer since she first started covering the potential sale.

“Because they know about it. They’ve been working with it. They work there, they know the ins and outs and City Council does not... point-blank. They need to finish dealing with it. City Council— they can sit in on it, but JEA needs to handle all of it,” said Dawson Jones.

Ward believes the first question needs to be about the city’s finances.

“What needs do we have? What might it cost? And then let’s look for the sources to meet those needs rather than the headlong rush to sell JEA,” Ward told Action News Jax.

Next, he said the entire sale process needs to be restarted, as he states in a letter the Jacksonville Civic Council sent to the City Council on Thursday.

“Secondly, we think the ITN (invitation to negotiate) process should be stopped. And there should be a normal request for proposals. Any city asset that’s sold normally goes through the request for proposals," Ward told Cole.

Ward acknowledged JEA is probably facing challenges but believes they can be met. “Other municipal utilities aren't saying they have to sell themselves in the face of these challenges, and I'm not sure we need to either,” said Ward.

Ward said the City Council also needs to thorough investigate the Performance Unit Plan and figure out why the ITN process was chosen in the first place.

“JEA has said we're in a death spiral. I guess my question would be, why did 16 people bid on a death spiral? That doesn't compute in my mind,” said Ward.

Ward told Cole he has not heard back from the City Council yet, but said, “They’re thoughtful people, and obviously they’re going to take some time to think about it.”

Moving forward, Ward also requested the City Council outline the roles of the JEA board and City Council to prevent any further confusion or delays moving forward.

We will soon learn how Curry’s decision will affect the process moving forward; the next JEA meeting is next week, Dec. 17.

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