Councilwoman Priestly Jackson Introduces Bill Aimed At Stopping JEA Sale

Dec 6, 2019

Momentum continues to build on the Jacksonville City Council to try to put the brakes on a potential sale of JEA.

On Thursday, District 10 City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson filed a bill calling on JEA’s board to put a halt to the evaluation of bids and pursuing a sale.

“The Council strongly encourages JEA board to take formal action at the next JEA Board meeting to rescind the invitation to negotiate, adopted by the JEA board at the July 23, 2019 Board meeting,” the bill reads.

Related: Read The Full Bill, JEA Resolution 2019-894  

Jackson’s bill requests emergency passage by the Council, which would mean voting on it at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. 

A City Council workshop on the JEA sale is scheduled on Monday, a day before the full Council could vote on Priestly Jackson's bill.

“JEA’s going to speak to, and attempt to help us understand, their efforts to be as transparent as possible. Certainly, something that’s up to questions in the minds of lots of folks, but they’re going to try and walk us through the path,” said District 6 City Councilman Michael Boylan, who is the committee chair of the JEA City Council workshops.

Coming Monday: A live video stream of Monday's City Council JEA workshop will be carried beginning at 11 a.m. on WJCT's Facebook page.

Boylan told WJCT News that JEA Board Chair April Green has asked to speak at Monday’s workshop to try and ease transparency concerns.

The meeting will be the third in a series of JEA fact finding workshops. It's also expected to focus on the market trends and projections that drove JEA executives to undertake a strategic plan for the utility that includes the option of privatization.

Meanwhile, Priestly Jackson's bill asks that JEA rescind its invitation to bidders to negotiate a possible sale at its next board meeting on December 18.  

Opposition to a potential JEA sale has picked up steam after a planned JEA profit-sharing idea was halted.

JEA’s senior leadership had proposed a profit-sharing plan that would have issued performance units or “shares” to employees who opted to stay with the utility and choose to take part in the program, in the event of a sale.

The highest-paid executives who would have likely participated stood to gain the largest benefit. JEA has since shelved the idea.

At-Large Group 4 City Councilman Matt Carlucci said on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross last week that the profit sharing scheme was the final straw for him, prompting him to call for JEA CEO Aaron Zahn’s resignation.

“Personally, I think he’s a nice gentleman. But I don’t think this is where he needs to be. I think that we need to keep this utility public,” Carlucci said.

JEA's future has also become a battle between mayors. Former Mayor Jake Godbold took out a full page ad in The Florida Times-Union last week criticizing the idea.

Later that day, he and current Mayor Lenny Curry traded jabs at a City Council workshop on JEA.

Godbold told City Council members, “Do your duty and just put a good manager over there — not to tear it apart but to build it and grow it and keep it. I wish all of you and me were loved as much as our JEA.”

At the same meeting, Curry said, “Because of baseless conspiracy theories and unprecedented, negative onslaught from a small segment of the media and because the conversation is simply difficult to have, the future of JEA evokes many emotions and poses challenges. But we must rise to meet our duty to be good stewards of this community and not simply play games with our heads in the sand.”

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Contact reporter Cyd Hoskinson at choskinson@wjct.org, 904-358-6351 and on Twitter at @cydwjctnews.