JEA Replaces Negotiating Team Following Conflict Of Interest Concerns Over Potential Sale

Nov 25, 2019

JEA announced Monday it is swapping out its negotiating team after conflict of interest concerns were raised.

The new team takes over responsibilities for negotiating with bidders for a potential sale of JEA.

The new team members are:

  • City of Jacksonville’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch
  • City Treasurer Randall Barnes
  • City Engineer Robin Smith

Burch, Barnes and Smith were made available by the city at the request of JEA's senior leadership. 

JEA spokeswoman Gina Kyle confirmed to WJCT News the new members have replaced JEA President Melissa Dykes, JEA Chief Administrative Officer Herschel Vinyard, JEA Director of Economic Development and Real Estate Jordan Pope and JEA board member Camille Lee-Johnson.

Concerns were raised because the prior team, with the exception of Lee-Johnson, stood to personally benefit financially if JEA were to be sold. Although Lee-Johnson would not benefit, she is also stepping down from the negotiation team.

"The Mayor's Office stepped in and offered us three replacements of equal caliber who will not be receiving any benefit in the case of a recapitalization of JEA," JEA Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Kerri Stewart said Monday. 

The city's ethics director Carla Miller had recommended the state provide an opinion after she reviewed the contracts of JEA's senior leadership team, according to WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union

JEA’s senior team, including the former members, are all in line to receive six-figure bonuses if JEA is sold,  the Times-Union reported.

If JEA is ultimately sold, all full-time JEA employees would be eligible for retention bonuses that would equal a year's pay. The bonuses would be paid out in thirds over a three year period. To get the full year of pay, employees and executives would have to stay with JEA over the three year period. 

Monday's announcement follows a request for an advisory opinion from the State of Florida Commission on Ethics, that Lynne Rhode, Office of General Counsel and JEA Chief Legal Office requested earlier this month.

“JEA appreciates the work completed to date by the initial negotiations team members even while the conflicts review by the OGC and State Commission on Ethics was pending,” said Rhode in an email to WJCT News. “Our initial analysis showed no conflict of interest however we thought it was necessary to proceed in a manner that takes away any indication that even the possibility of a conflict exists,” Rhodes said.

JEA announced its negotiations team changes just hours after a highly critical full-page ad written by former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold appeared in Monday morning's newspaper.

“As each day passes and there is another report on the arrogant, ignorant and corrupt goings on at the JEA, that anger intensifies,” Godbold wrote.

Godbold claims the push to sell JEA was started when current Mayor Lenny Curry was elected. “He [Curry] replaced all of the JEA board members with his own hand-picked cronies,” Godbold wrote.

Curry has pointed out that any sale of JEA would have to be approved by voters. Curry said if JEA were to be sold he would want to see the proceeds used to pay off city debt.

“First thing I would pursue is a debt free city, pay off all of our debt, pay down $2.2 billion in debt,” Curry told WJCT News in August.

The City Council, which would have to approve any sale before it goes to voters, is holding a series of workshops examining the various aspects of a potential sale versus keeping the utility. Mayor Curry spoke at Monday's workshop meeting, as did Godbold. 

Related: Mayor Curry, Former Mayor Godbold At Odds Over Potential JEA Sale

Video Stream of Monday's City Council JEA Workshop Meeting

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

Tags: