Investigation into LeAnna Cumber and JEA nears final report
Newly released emails seem to show that the husband of City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber was more involved than known in the proposed sale of JEA in 2019, according to remarks at a meeting Thursday.
A special committee investigating the failed sale has received those emails from a consultant who worked with one of the bidders, JEA Public Power Partners, and Cumber's husband, Husein Cumber.
The consultant, Erin Isaac, is now communications director for LeAnna's Cumber's opponent in the Jacksonville mayoral race, Daniel Davis, president of the JAX Chamber.
"We saw about three dozen emails from (Husein Cumber) regarding JEA PPP; emails or texts," Nick Howland, vice chairman of the investigatory committee, said Thursday. "We saw that he arranged six different meetings regarding the bid strategy. We saw that he was assigned to talk with six elected or former elected leaders to try to influence them toward doing a JEA sale, and the JEA PPP bid in particular. So he was heavily involved much more than what was intimated in the past."
The committee is investigating whether LeAnna Cumber misled investigators in 2020 when she submitted a disclosure statement that failed to mention her husband's involvement.
The committee on Thursday asked attorneys to compile a final report based on information it has received since its first first meeting Feb. 8. That information includes 200 pages of information from JEA, the city, JEA Public Power Partners and the texts and emails from Isaac, which were submitted by her attorneys, the Jimerson Birr law firm.
The committee set another meeting for March 9, when it will decide whether to refer the investigation to the State Attorney's Office or for state or local ethics review.
Cumber has characterized the entire special committee investigation as a witch-hunt designed to derail her mayoral campaign.
Cumber's attorney, Daniel Bean, sent a letter to the committee describing the texts and emails from Isaac as a choreographed charade that is "more about politics than the truth," according to a report by the Florida Times-Union.
"There was no explanation provided as why these communications, the vast majority of which are from 2019, were being conveniently disclosed weeks before an election by the Daniel Davis campaign's communications director working against my client," Bean wrote.
Attorney Charles Jimerson, representing Isaac, said the firm submitted the material because it is relevant to the committee's investigation.
"Our city has continued hope that through this investigation we can identify the root causes of corruption and cover-up in Jacksonville and work together to find solutions that will benefit all residents of our city," Jimerson wrote to the investigative committee.
A timetable of events put together by the law firm contends Husein Cumber worked on the "outside" in pushing for the JEA Public Power Partners proposal. It also contends that LeAnna Cumber operated on the "inside" by taking positions as a council member aimed at helping the consortium's strategy, the Times-Union reported.
As an example, Jimerson Birr pointed to a text message from Husein Cumber to Isaac on Dec. 12, 2019. That was on the same day Mayor Lenny Curry instructed the JEA board to accelerate its process and send City Council several "top-tier proposals" in January 2020 rather than recommending a single choice.
"We are where we want to be," Husein Cumber wrote in the text message to Isaac, according to the Times-Union.
The next day, LeAnna Cumber posted a notice inviting other City Council members to a public meeting Dec. 17 to set up a framework for vetting privatization options and "if necessary, complete any and all potential negotiations."
LeAnna Cumber was "actively requesting the right to control" the process at the same time her husband viewed the conditions were right for JEA Public Power Partners, the law firm said.
The meeting did not happen, as LeAnna Cumber canceled it.
Bean, in his letter to the investigatory committee, said Isaac's assertion about the meeting is "false on its face in that this is a meeting that never happened. But please do not let the facts get in the way of a good story."
The JEA board killed the sales process by rejecting all bids Dec. 24.
One remaining issue is why LeAnna Cumber did not disclose information during the original City Council investigation in 2020 about whether she or any immediate family member had interaction with any potential JEA bidder, Howland said. When she did respond a year later, it said she had no conflict of interest, while the messages sent to them by the consultant appear to show that her husband "indeed was heavily involved" in the JEA deal, Howland said.
LeAnna Cumber has said her husband, who served on the JEA board but left before it sought purchase offers, was unpaid and had nothing to gain. He also was providing information to the FBI during its investigation of the JEA sales process. Cumber told the Times-Union that "protecting that investigation was my top priority."
The investigatory committee has decided to ask the FBI whether it ever told LeAnna Cumber not to reveal her husband's involvement. Howland was asked Thursday whether that would make any difference in the City Council investigation.
"I think it would because the FBI would have done that for a specific reason and we do hear from Councilwoman Cumber that the FBI instructed her to leave that information off her disclosure," Howland told reporters. "I think it is highly unlikely that the FBI would ask someone to submit a deceiving or misleading disclosure, but if they did, we would like to know."
After meeting March 9, the committee may meet again March 23 to fulfill another charge from City Council President Terrence Freeman: to propose legislation to ensure that deception, if it occurred in this case, never impedes the work of future investigatory committees.
"That could mean making it mandatory to comply with City Council investigations among council members rather than suggested," Howland said. "Could be other elements of adjusting the charter or ordinance to ensure that we don't have things like this happening in the future."