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Council Committee Approves JEA Appointee; Councilman Files Diversity Bill

A prominent Jacksonville clergyman is a step closer to joining the board of the community-owned utility, JEA.

St. Timothy Baptist Church Pastor Fred Newbill got unanimous approval Wednesday from City Council’s Rules Committee after Mayor Lenny Curry nominated him.  

As leader of a black church, Newbill has been a vocal champion of black civil rights, while at the same time refusing to include gay rights in civil rights.

But JEA policy prohibits discrimination against LGBT people.

Shortly after he wasapproved, Newbill, flanked by JEA Board Chair Tom Petway and Government Relations Manager Jordan Pope, rushed out the back of City Hall refusing to answer any questions.

“Mr. Newbill is not available right now,” Petway said. “We’re not going to have an interview until after he’s been totally confirmed.”

Newbill is known for his prominent opposition to expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community and for filing a complaint of racismagainst Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey in the last couple years.

Since then, the state Judicial Qualifying Commission hasfound evidence of Hulsey’s racism and JEA has made it company policy toprotect LGBT people from discrimination.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who praised Newbill during the hearing, also alluded to a possible change of heart by Newbill regarding the HRO, but Rules Chair Garrett Dennis said it was inappropriate to ask Newbill about the issue, or theongoing federal investigation into JEA’s possible racism in hiring, or an internal investigation intoracially-insensitive emails.

“I don’t think trying to hijack his appointment is going to make a difference at JEA, using him as a scapegoat or beating up on him in a public forum,” he said.

Dennis, whotold WJCT in December, he was meeting with both JEA complainants and company representatives to resolve the issue, said he doesn’t expect the questions to come up before the full council either.

Dennis on Wednesdayfiled a bill requiring JEA and other public entities to report their progress in diversifying their workforce. They would also have to review their CEO’s commitment to equal opportunity employment every year. The bill also recommends funding for a new city director of Equal Opportunity. The position, which oversees diversity goals and policies at city entities, has been vacant for years.

Newbill’s nomination will need to be confirmed at the next full council meeting Tuesday before he can begin work.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.