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JEA's CEO Says He Has Nothing To Hide, Giving City Council 22,000 Pages Of Documents

JEA CEO Paul McElroy Thursday presented the Jacksonville City Council with 22,000 pages of documents in response to their questions about potentially selling the publicly owned utility.

Still, some members said they didn’t contain everything they asked for.

In the meeting’s first hour, council members listened to a presentation and asked McElroy about his strategic plan to increase revenue.

With revenues down as energy efficiency increases nationwide, Council Vice President Aaron Bowman wanted to know what makes JEA different from others companies.

Bowman asked, “If the industry is in decline, why is this an attractive target to potential buyers?”

McElroy said the company’s challenges could be seen as opportunities to a buyer.

The council asked McElroy to bring five year profit and capital projections to the next meeting of the special JEA committee next week.

McElroy reiterated he has nothing to hide in the discussion of selling the public utility.

He was taken off the hot seat after city council this week voted to pull subpoena and oath powers from a special committee investigating a possible sale.

He, along with the Chief Administrative Officer to the mayor Sam Mousa, refused to testify under oath.

Still, McElroy said he’s hired a lawyer to represent him.

“Jason Gabriel, the top lawyer in city government, recommended that if the council went down that path that anyone that comes before them needs to be represented by counsel and then really there’s a perjury trap. So, to the extent that that has been taken off to the table and we can get back to having conversations in terms of this conversation that we’ve done in the past — to do great things for our customers — then yeah, I guess I would have to say I’m relieved.” McElroy.

McElroy is being represented by Daniel Bean with Holland & Knight. Bean also serves as the Chair of the WJCT Board of Trustees. 

For the first time since the departure of former JEA board chair Tom Petway last year, McElroy also admitted he’d had a conversation about privatization with the powerful Lenny Curry donor before Petway’s announcement in November.

Mayor Curry said earlier this month that contrary to the belief of some JEA employees, he hasn’t decided whether to support privatization. 

JEA’s financial outlook is strong, and the public utility is “on the move,” according to McElroy. That’s despite electric and water sales dipping as much as 14 percent over the last decade.

Shortly before Thursday’s special City Council meeting on privatization, McElroy called the dipping sales “opportunities” for current leadership or a potential buyer.

“The industry, and I think it’s certainly been mentioned here, is going through a transition. The challenge for us has been, and will continue to be, is to take some of the risks or the challenges to lower sales — distributed energy generation for example — and turn those to opportunity.”

During the last meeting of JEA’s board, members discussed a number of ways to increase revenue for the municipal utility, including voting to ask city council’s permission to lease more so-called “dark” fiber optic cable to outside companies and agencies.

The board’s own special committee on the sale of JEA is also considering creating another special committee to create 10 year strategic plan.

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

Joslyn Simmons can be reached at, 904-358-6316

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.
Joslyn Simmons was a WJCT News intern for spring 2018.