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Ethics Commission rejects action against LeAnna Cumber

Attorney Daniel Bean, representing City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, speaks to the Jacksonville Ethics Commission on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Dan Scanlan
Attorney Daniel Bean, representing City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, speaks to the Jacksonville Ethics Commission on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.

The Jacksonville Ethics Commission has put an end to the investigation of City Council member LeAnna Cumber in connection with the failed sale of JEA in 2019.

The commission voted unanimously Monday to take no action on a request to investigate whether Cumber deceived or misled investigators looking into the sale at that time.

Commission members said the request from a special City Council investigatory committee was "deeply disturbing" and politically motivated, designed to hurt Cumber in her campaign for mayor. The commission said it would outline its concerns in a response to the City Council committee.

"I think the heart of what they objected to was the perception that there was an attempt to politicize the Ethics Commission," said commission Chairwoman Ellen Schmitt.

The City Council committee — known as the Special Investigatory Committee on JEA Matters — investigated the original move to sell JEA. Current Council President Terrance Freeman revived the committee in February, responding to suggestions that Cumber had misled investigators in 2021.

City Council member Rory Diamond was appointed as chairman, with Nick Howland as vice chair and Sam Newby and Michael Boylan as members.

Freeman said new information raised questions about whether Cumber's husband, Husein, was involved in the potential JEA sale and whether she was honest about his role. Cumber did not mention her husband in a disclosure she filed in March 2021.

The City Council committee met several times and then referred its findings to the Ethics Commission to decide whether further investigation was warranted. After a 90-minute meeting Monday, the commission unanimously agreed it was not.

"The Ethics Commission should not be politicized and used as a political tool," said Judge Linda McCallum, who made the motion to take no action.

Cumber has characterized the investigation as a "blatant weaponization of City Hall" intended to benefit her opponent in the election, Daniel Davis. Cumber finished fifth in the seventh-way race for mayor on March 21. Davis finished second and advanced to the general election.

Cumber's attorney, Daniel Bean, said the JEA committee's actions were a "political hit job" that never should have happened.

"This whole thing has been choreographed from the very beginning, and it is frankly disgusting," Bean told the commission. "The judge is right ... you should reject it with that strongly worded letter to make sure this never happens again."

The JEA committee was to have released its findings before the election. But committee members held off announcing it as planned on March 9 because it was less than two weeks before the election. Instead, Howland sent a letter to the commission March 22 — the day after the election — requesting that it consider an investigation.

The Ethics Commission learned Monday that the investigation request was filed just past a two-year statute of limitations for review, since Cumber had filed her disclosure letter in March 2021.

The commission also suggested that Cumber's due process rights were violated.

"This complaint should have been done in the shade, in private, and due process rights were violated," McCallum said. "And we are concerned that ... even though the complaint came after the election, really the notice of intent to file the complaint came within 30 days of an election."

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.