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LeAnna Cumber investigation forwarded to Ethics Commission

Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Cumber speaks during a new conference Jan. 19, 2023.
Will Brown
Jacksonville Today
Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Cumber speaks during a new conference Jan. 19.

A special City Council committee has referred findings to the Jacksonville Ethics Commission for further investigation into whether council member LeAnna Cumber "deceived or misled" a earlier investigation into the failed 2019 sale of JEA.

In a two-page letter, City Councilman and committee co-chair Nick Howland also asked the commission to look into whether Cumber, who lost a bid this week for mayor, tried to use her official position to influence the process for personal gain.

Cumber has called the investigation a "blatant weaponization of City Hall," intended to help JAX Chamber Daniel Davis in his campaign for mayor.

The special City Council committee assembled in early February to begin looking at whether Cumber and a public consortium misled investigators. Rory Diamond was chairman, with Howland as vice chair and Sam Newby and Michael Boylan as members.

Council President Terrance Freeman revived the committee from its original 2020 iteration in response to multiple council members’ requests. The committee originally investigated the pursuit to privatize JEA.

Freeman's revival of the committee came after he said new information had emerged since 2020 that raised questions about whether Cumber's husband, Husein, was involved in the potential sale. It also raised concerns about whether she was honest about his role, Freeman said. Cumber did not mention her husband in a disclosure she filed at the time.

As the committee wrapped up its investigation in late February, it stated that newly released emails seemed to show that Cumber's husband was more involved than known in the proposed sale. The committee investigating the failed sale stated it had received those emails from a consultant who worked with one of the bidders, JEA Public Power Partners, and Cumber's husband.

The consultant, Erin Isaac, is now communications director for Davis, who was one of Cumber's opponents in the Jacksonville mayoral race and came in second in Tuesday's first election. Davis now faces a runoff in May against Democratic contender Donna Deegan.

"We saw about three dozen emails from (Husein Cumber) regarding JEA PPP; emails or texts," Howland said after a committee meeting in late February. "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 City Council's Special Investigatory Committee on JEA Matters was to have released findings in the investigation before Tuesday's election. But committee members held off announcing it as planned on March 9 because it was too close to the election, where Cumber was one of seven candidates running for mayor.

The committee's letter to the ethics commission indicates that the council members voted to hold off on its third mission — to propose legislation to ensure that such deceptions, if any, do not impede the work of any future investigatory committee. The letter said the committee will revisit that option later.

The ethics referral was an option presented to the committee by the city's Office of General Counsel. Documents obtained by the committee during its investigation are posted on its website.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years as a radio, television and print reporter in the Jacksonville area, as well as years of broadcast work in the Northeast. You can reach Dan at, (904) 607-2770 or on Twitter at @scanlan_dan.