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Former JEA Board Chair, Others Form Group To Look Into JEA

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Heather Schatz
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WJCT News
Mike Hightower and First Coast Connect host Melissa Ross are pictured outside of Studio 5 Thursday.

Public pressure continues to mount for accountability and a thorough investigation into JEA's senior leadership and the now-halted negotiations to sell the public utility along with a controversial employee bonus plan that would have paid millions to top brass in the event of a sale.

Former JEA Board Chair Mike Hightower is part of a new coalition called OurJax.com that is made up of civic and business leaders.

“We want to use the resources and the public advocacy to get all the information. Once all the information is out, the appropriate investigative organizations will make their decisions,” Hightower said Thursday during an interview on WJCT's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Hightower is a retired JEA lobbyist who also served on JEA’s board for more than a decade. He’s also a former chair of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Related: Jax Councilman Matt Carlucci Calls On Chief Administrative Brian Hughes To Resign

“Jacksonville has a long history of coming together and doing things together, and what our coalition is formed to do is to return to those things that Jacksonville has always been known for: transparency, integrity, accountability and local control,” said Hightower.

Hightower said members in the new organization inlcude former CSX CEO Michael Ward, who also is the co-chair of the Jacksonville Civic Council’s JEA Special Committee. The Civic Council has also called for an investigation into JEA.

Former City Councilwoman Suzanne Jenkins also said Thursday she would volunteer to join OurJax.com.

“I’m pretty good at grassroots and have been known for transparency and tenaciousness,” Jenkins said during a call into First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Hightower declined to get into specifics regarding his relationship with now-ousted JEA General Manager and CEO Aaron Zahn or allegations that Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office was improperly inserting itself into the utility's operations.   

“He [Zahn] made a choice of who he wanted to listen to. You know, I’ve been doing politics for 50 years. I represented a great company [JEA], one of the best in the whole world. I’ve helped three presidents, three governors, and four mayors and about 500 candidates. It’s his [Zahn’s] prerogative. He wanted [the] mayor’s staff to help him more than me,” said Hightower.

The full interview with Hightower is available  on Thursday's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross podcast, and the show encores on 89.9 WJCT-FM at 8 p.m.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Heather Schatz can be reached at hschatz@wjct.org, 904-358-6334 or on Twitter at @heatherschatz.

Melissa Ross can be reached at mross@wjct.org, 904-358-6382 or on Twitter at @MelissainJax.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.
Heather is the senior producer of WJCT 89.9 FM talk shows including First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, the Florida Roundup and What's Health Got to Do with It?