JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On Wednesday, Jacksonville City Council opened its doors for the first public meeting to discuss the future of JEA, but the public didn't show up.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole attended the meeting inside the Lynwood Roberts Room at City Hall. Cole says the discussion aimed to increase transparency, but she didn't see many customers.
Instead, Cole saw a room full of city leaders and decision-makers.
The meeting started at 11 a.m. which may be one of the reasons many regular citizens weren't there.
Cole asked Councilman Michael Boylan about the time not being good for working people; Boylan called the meeting.
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Boylan told Cole, "The logistics of having it at this time is unfortunate. It's just the way it worked out. It's the best we could do in terms of getting this into the hands and engaging as many council members and subject matter experts as we could. The secret for the folks out there is to watch it online."
Confused about the possible sale of JEA?
"Is it confusing? How much of it do you understand?" Cole asked local business owner Herman Correa.
"I don't understand anything about JEA, the way they're going," Correa replied.
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Correa said as a local business owner, he likes to keep up with things.
Cole asked Correa: "Did you know there was a public meeting happening today?"
Herman Correa replied: "Negative. No."
Council member Michael Boylan says Wedneday's Lunch-and-Learn JEA workshop was supposed to be the first step toward clearing up all the fog.
"I encourage constituents, rate payers, to be patient and diligent in following this process as closely as possibly can. And beyond that, let us know what their feedback is," Councilman Boylan said.
Boylan told Cole he encourages anyone with questions or suggestions to come out to the City Council meeting Tuesday.
Boylan told Cole that he's already seen a lot of e-mails and letters already.
During Wednesday's discussion, council members questioned the Office of General Counsel, the city's top lawyer.
Here's what they learned:
- All of JEA's powers are outlined in the city's charter. (Think of the city's charter as our local constitution.)
- City Council can change anything involving JEA's power and reach, through a two-thirds vote.
- City Council has the ultimate legislative approval of the JEA process.
- JEA can not sell more than 10% of JEA without City Council approval.
The potential sale of the public utility is one of the ways JEA could grow the utility in the future.
The Jacksonville Civic Council believes it's about something else.
"Now one point that you brought up seemed to get many of the City Council members' attention...when you said it appears the City is primarily in this for the money," Cole asked Jeanne Miller, CEO of Jacksonville Civic Council.
Miller replied: "JEA has been saying that is in a death spiral. So based on what we can tell and from experts and its own financial reports to New York, it does not appear that way."
Miller questions the city's motivation, "Our belief is the city likely needs funding for specific projects, but that is the conversation that this council and others need to be focusing on — the leadership of the city should focus on. What are the needs of the city? Have a very public conversation about that and then find ways to address those needs."
And customers including Correa want to clarity on the impact those motivations could have on them.
"Hopefully, we'll get a good deal out of this with JEA and not get somebody in there to hike the prices up," Correa said.
Boylan said this meeting was one of 14 total, scheduled through June 2020.
For those who weren't able to make it out to Wednesday's meeting, Boylan told Cole each of the meetings will be posted online after they conclude.
Here's a link to Wednesday's meeting.
Boylan encourages everyone to watch and give their feedback.
Here's a list of tentative meetings:
Cox Media Group