Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber under investigation regarding JEA sale
A special committee will investigate whether City Council member LeAnna Cumber misled investigators reviewing the failed sale of JEA in 2019, the council president announced Wednesday.
The committee also will investigate whether Cumber, now a Republican candidate for mayor, tried to use her official position to influence the process for personal gain, Council President Terrance Freeman said.
The committee, known as The Special Investigatory Committee on JEA Matters, originally investigated the pursuit to privatize JEA in an effort to ascertain the truth and restore the public’s confidence in city government, Freeman said in a news release.
But new information has emerged since then — information that raises questions about how Cumber's husband, Husein, was involved in the potential sale and whether she was honest about his role, Freeman said.
Emails recently obtained by the Florida Times-Union, a WJCT News partner, showed that Husein Cumber met and communicated with people working to move forward a proposal from a consortium of companies that became known as Public Power Partners.
Public Power Partners offered to pay a multibillion-dollar concession fee for the right to manage JEA, the Times-Union reported. That was a form of privatization that would have kept JEA under the city's ownership.
The investigative committee later asked all City Council members to voluntarily disclose "whether you or your immediate family member had any interaction with any person or entity connected in any way with JEA or the city."
Cumber turned in a statement in March 2021, after the committee had released its final report, the Times-Union said. The statement did not mention her husband.
"Documents have come to light, including emails and text messages, that contradict responses given by JEA Public Power Partners and the disclosure provided by Council Member Cumber," Freeman said Wednesday in his news release.
Cumber's supporters said the new investigation was concocted to benefit another mayoral candidate, JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis.
"This manufactured controversy exposes the lengths to which Mayor [Lenny] Curry and his chosen successor will go to win," Cumber's attorney, Daniel Nunn, told WJCT News. "As a lawyer who investigated the JEA scandal, I found no misconduct by any member of the City Council."
Cumber has said she had been advised that she was not legally obligated to report information about her husband because he was a private citizen. She also said she feared how the disclosure could affect a federal criminal investigation that was underway at the time. Two former JEA executives — CEO Aaron Zahn and finance chief Ryan Wannemacher — were indicated last March on fraud and conspiracy charges related to the failed JEA sale.
The original investigative committee was created Feb. 4, 2020, by then-council President Scott Wilson. The committee's final report, issued just under a year later, found that Curry and JEA officials spent years exploring a sale of the city-owned utility with a "purposeful lack of transparency," the Times-Union reported.
Freeman said the committee is being revived at the request of multiple City Council members, "in order to ensure to the people of Jacksonville that the city's government was not deceived by any bidders or elected officials" during the JEA investigation.
The committee will have subpoena power and will limit its work to three purposes, Freeman said:
- Investigate whether Cumber or Public Power Partners deceived or misled the committee in responding to subpoenas or making disclosures.
- Ascertain whether Cumber tried to use her official position to influence the sale process for personal gain.
- Propose legislation to ensure that such deceptions, if any, do not impede the work of any future investigatory committee.