JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Emails obtained by Action News Jax reveal Republican mayoral candidate and Jacksonville City Councilmember LeAnna Cumber’s husband was involved in a bid during the attempted sale of JEA.
That involvement has now raised questions about Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber’s decision not to include her husband’s role in a conflict of interest document she signed.
In response to a subpoena issued by a city council special committee examining the attempted sale of the public utility, JEA Public Power Partners, which was pitching a 30-year concession agreement to operate the utility, said it had considered retaining former JEA board member Husein Cumber.
JEA PPP said it chose not to retain Husein due to there being a, “perceived or actual conflict”.
In response to a conflict-of-interest disclosure issued by the special committee Councilmember LeAnna Cumber stated she had, “No conflicts regarding JEA and the intent to negotiate”.
We asked the Councilmember ten days ago whether Husein had any involvement.
“My husband was on no bid and that would be public record that he was on no bid,” said Councilmember Cumber on January 17th.
But the emails obtained by Action News Jax reveal Husein often appeared in email chains between the JEA PPP bid team.
In one email, Husein offered edits to draft language.
Related Story: Mayoral candidates trade blows over alleged JEA ties
In another, Husein is named as participating in a conversation with the energy company Emera and in an email from Husein himself, he talks about soliciting support for the bid from a former city councilmember.
“To find out that one of our colleagues was, you know, hiding the truth. It’s disappointing,” said Councilmember Rory Dimond, who chaired the special committee.
In an interview Friday, Councilmember Cumber defended leaving her husband off the disclosure form and argued she complied with all laws and ethics.
Action News Jax confirmed with Jason Gabriel, the City’s General Counsel at the time, his opinion then and now is that the conflict-of-interest request carried “no ethical or legal authority”.
“And to be clear. My husband never got paid by anyone related to JEA,” said Councilmember Cumber.
On compensation, Councilmember Cumber’s claim is backed up by Mike Weinstein, who worked on the JEA PPP bid.
“He was never part of the formal team,” said Weinstein.
Weinstein argued Husein offered advice to help the only bidder that wasn’t pitching full-privatization of the utility.
“He had knowledge [of] JEA, was on the board years ago, and his goal was to keep it city-owned. That was my sense of what we were doing,” said Weinstein.
However, compensation wasn’t a specific requirement on the conflict-of-interest disclosure request.
The request specifically sought information on conflicts arising from immediate family, including spouses, and their interactions with bidders, including established or potential business relationships.
Dimond argued Councilmember Cumber should have disclosed her husband’s connection, whether he was paid or not.
“You should at least just be honest about it. Hey, I’m doing this, but I’m not getting paid and let everybody know. That’s what transparency means,” said Dimond.
Councilmember Cumber defended her decision, making the case disclosing Husein on the form could have compromised the integrity of the federal investigation into ousted JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, as Husein was actively acting as an FBI informant at the time.
“To make sure that the people who were trying to steal a billion dollars from this city were brought to justice. My singular focus was to make sure I did nothing to impede that,” said Councilmember Cumber.
And Councilmember Cumber, who is in the midst of a heated mayoral race, pointed the finger back at her main Republican challenger Daniel Davis.
“His communications director Erin Isaac is on the emails. His consultant Tim Baker was consulting for FP&L, JEA and was the mayor’s consultant. His largest donners pushed for the privatization of JEA,” said Councilmember Cumber.
But Councilmember Dimond argued at the end of the day, Cumber should have been fully transparent.
“We need to have a full investigation into what happened here. I mean, if you’ve got a sitting city councilperson with a direct conflict with one of the biggest scandals in Jacksonville history, we gotta know what happened,” said Dimond.
Action News Jax has reached out to the Akerman Law Firm, which represented JEA PPP in its response to the special committee’s subpoena, to ask for clarification on Husein’s involvement.
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We’re awaiting a response.