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Councilman Proposes Change To City Charter, Straw Ballot Over Selling JEA

Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni.
Ryan Benk
Jacksonville Councilman John Crescimbeni

Jacksonville Councilman John Crescimbeni wants to call for a straw ballot vote, asking voters if the city should sell public utility company JEA.

Crescimbeni unveiled his legislation Thursday at a public meeting.

As controversy continues to swirl around privatizing JEA, Crescimbeni wants to require voter approval to sell any more than 10 percent of its assets and that would require changing the city charter.

“Normally I would pursue a citizens’ initiative but there’s some case law out there from previous initiatives that don’t allow for citizens to seek a referendum on giving themselves referendum power,” he said. “So, that’s off the table.”

The city charter currently allows the JEA board to unilaterally sell up to 10 percent of its assets without council approval. And city council currently has sole authority to decide whether to sell the whole utility.

As a first step, Crescimbeni is proposing a non-binding straw poll. Draft ballot language asks residents whether they support selling more than 10 percent of the water, sewer and electric utility.

“The turnout — that pressure — politicians respond to,” he said.

Amending the charter requires a supermajority of council support and is a more rigorous process than passing ordinances. Crescimbeni said it could take more than two months.

The Thursday meeting followed the release of a trail of emails suggesting that Jacksonville city leaders were working on plans to seek a buyer for JEA in December — well before a final report was issued last week showing what the city-owned utility might be worth, and the pros and cons of a possible sale.

On Wednesday night, our partner News4Jax received an email that was sent by the city auditor Kyle Billy, who was asking questions about why the city was seeking bids — also known as Request for Proposals — to find a company that could act as a go-between for prospective buyers for JEA. It was the same company that authored the utility’s evaluation report — Public Financial Management.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who maintains he is still neutral on the issue of privatizing JEA, told our partners News4Jax Thursday that the leaked documents were “a political hit job” and the RFP was for general city assets, including parking garages.

A special council committee further examining a possible JEA sale is expected to take place next week.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @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.