Special committee sets next steps in JEA investigation
A special committee laid out a course Wednesday as it reconsiders aspects of its initial investigation into the failed sale of JEA in 2019.
The committee will:
- Ask City Council member LeAnna Cumber, now a mayoral candidate, to voluntarily update a 2021 disclosure form regarding her husband's role in the proposed JEA sale.
- Seek any new information from the public and from one of the bidding groups: JEA Public Power Partners.
- Send its findings to the Florida Ethics Commission if it discovers matters that need further investigation.
City Council President Terrence Freeman reconstituted the committee last week after information emerged about Cumber's husband, Husein, who was involved with the bidding group Public Power Partners.
Public Power Partners offered to pay a multibillion-dollar concession fee for the right to manage JEA, a form of privatization that would have kept JEA under the city's ownership. Husein Cumber met and communicated with people working to move that bid forward, according to reporting by the Florida Times-Union.
LeAnna Cumber failed to mention her husband's involvement when she filed a disclosure report in 2021. She said this week that he was not paid and had nothing to gain from the sale of JEA. Cumber's supporters have argued that the committee's latest work is a political ploy to benefit Cumber's opponent in the mayor's race, Daniel Davis.
City Councilman Rory Diamond — the committee chairman and a member of the original board — was asked about the political claim after Wednesday's meeting.
"No. This is about finding the truth," Diamond said. "I wish there wasn't a mayor's race involved in this because this would be so easy for the public to understand that we are just trying to validate the investigation that we did into the JEA originally. We need to make sure that members of our council are honest with investigations in the future."
During the 80-minute organizational session, member Michael Boylan said he was concerned about the revived committee and how it looks to city residents, with the committee essentially serving as both judge and jury while investigating Cumber. Boylan also is concerned whether the committee has the authority to continue the investigation.
"Is this a can of worms that we are want to open?," Boylan said. "There are other options in pursuing the truth. I too am just as interested in truth as all of you are in this process. I am just very concerned that we may not be the appropriate vehicle to secure that truth. ... And I am concerned about the optics."
Five Jacksonville City Council members made similar comments about the revived committee on Tuesday. Two of them — Council Members Randy DeFoor and Brenda Priestly Jackson — were members of the original committee. They said that committee did its work properly.
Joined at a news conference by council members Matt Carlucci, Joyce Morgan and Boylan, DeFoor called the latest investigation a "huge slippery slope" that could result in a misuse of power and taxpayer money.
DeFoor said the City Council does not possess the power to make inquiry into the private affairs of an individual, and "anything other than that, simply put, is an abuse of power" that does not properly reflect the good work of the original committee.
When Boylan brought up that issue Wednesday, Diamond asked Deputy General Counsel Jon Phillips whether the revived committee has the authority to conduct its new investigation under the city charter.
"I don't think there is a reasonable contention that the [Special Investigatory Committee] investigation was illegitimate," Phillips said. "Therefore, since this is an extension of the SIC committee, logically this too can be authorized legally."
Phillips added that he was not commenting on whether this investigation "should occur," as his office does not take sides.
Council member Nick Howland is vice chair of the revived committee. He is joined by member Sam Newby and Boylan. Those three were not on the original committee.
The committee will ask the city and JEA to voluntarily send it any new or additional documents about the utility's failed sale or any involvement with Husein Cumber. Public Power Partners also will be asked to submit any information that may not have been made available in 2020. Diamond said he would rather ask for voluntary submissions, rather than use subpoenas.
The general public also was asked to send in any information related to the failed sale that might not have been disclosed during the original City Council investigation. It can be sent to email@example.com.
Since these documents would be sent to a city email, they would be public and available for review by anyone, current committee members pointed out. The General Counsel's Office will review each submission before release.
The deadline for public submission is Feb. 20, with the special committee reconvening at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 23. Since Diamond will be away on a military deployment, the committee will be reduced to three members from that point on. No date to complete the investigation was given.