JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - City leaders want answers about the process to sell Jacksonville's publicly owned utility, JEA.
Action News Jax Courtney Cole sat in on discussions today between council members, attorneys and JEA as they considered holding hearings.
These hearings won't just be for Jacksonville City Council members.
Timeline of events: Exploring the sale of Jacksonville public utility JEA
Public hearings are also planned, as the people you elected to lead the city battle a perception of secrecy surrounding the potential sale of JEA.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole: "What do you think about the idea of JEA potentially being sold?"
"Uh, well I mean to me, I would hope that it would be a good thing," said John Katz, a JEA customer.
But no one really knows for sure.
Even City Council members have more questions than answers following Monday's announcement of 16, unnamed, qualifying bidders for the public utility.
"What I'm proposing today is a set of hearings that allows us to become what we need to be: prepared to answer the questions as it relates to the future of JEA," said Councilman Michael Boylan of District 6.
Boylan is also the councilman who called the meeting.
Talk of selling JEA began early last year, but ended in controversy and a statement from the mayor that he wasn't behind the move.
Now, JEA appears to be fast tracking the process and members of City Council say they were concerned about being kept out of the process.
Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, of District 10, said she feels encouraged that following today's discussion that they're going to be a committee of a whole and do the will of the people of Jacksonville.
"JEA is advancing certain commercials or emails and things like that. Some might say it bends a little bit toward propaganda, right? It seemed that we were muzzled. So I think we clarified that, [so naturally], anything that they're open to discussing, we're open to discussing, we don't have to hold the positions or opinions that they hold and they don't have to hold ours—and the public can be brought into that process," Jackson said.
Councilman Reggie Gaffney of District 7 agrees with Jackson and said the community needs to be included.
He also said despite public perception, "this is not a done deal" and they're going to work to come up with the best solution.
"If you've got 16, 17 companies saying they're interested in buying JEA, that lets you know that it's not broken, it just needs to be tweaked. If they think they can make money, I believe the city can make money, too," Gaffney said.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole requested interviews with JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to learn more about the push for a potential sale, and the motivation behind it. Zahn wasn't available, the mayor's office hadn't yet responded.
Meanwhile, JEA customers like Katz question the secrecy behind the process.
"I wish it was a little bit more transparent. But it's their business. So you know, I think it's all going to come out in the end," Katz said.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole: "Some might say, if there was outcry before, well then why did we think it's a good idea to try this again?"
Boylan: "Because the kind of conversations we're talking about having, the hearings, are not just for the City Council members. It's hopefully for the citizens out there who really want to understand what it means to be a privatized utility or a non-public utility at this point and time ... whatever that may look like."
Action News Jax also learned the city's inspector general is now reviewing JEA's bidding process. As for what that review involves, Inspector General Lisa Green said her office takes a "proactive approach to contract development."
CLICK HERE: READ THE LETTER FROM GREEN TO JEA CEO ZAHN
CLICK HERE: READ THE RESPONSE LETTER FROM ZAHN TO GREEN
Councilman Boyan,(leading the meeting at the head of the table), says they're seeking more understanding about the ramifications of possibly privatizing—so they know what they're really getting into.— Courtney Cole (@CourtneyANJax) October 8, 2019
"We don't even know what questions to ask in many respects."@ActionNewsJax pic.twitter.com/mu3v9ps2zK
"I don't expect the JEA board to have a 1-decision binary choice." Councilman Becton is telling the room what he told me yesterday ➡️ IPO and CO-OP are also options that still need to be explored by JEA & the City. @ActionNewsJax pic.twitter.com/4GZIFW5Yzq— Courtney Cole (@CourtneyANJax) October 8, 2019
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