A trail of emails obtained our News4Jax partner that seemed to show that Jacksonville city leaders were working on plans to sell JEA three months ago are not what they seem, Mayor Lenny Curry said Thursday.
Wednesday night, News4Jax received an email sent by the City Council auditor, who was asking why the city was seeking bids, or a Request for Proposals, to find a company that could field offers for city assets to see what they are worth. JEA is owned by the city, and a report was just released last week showing what the utility might be worth if sold, as well as the pros and cons of a possible sale.
The auditor got wind that the city's seeking these proposals and began raising red flags, suggesting this was all about JEA. The mayor said that wasn't what it was about at all.
"(It was) not a JEA RFP," Curry said. "The executive branch has in its purview and should be looking at any and all opportunities (for) the value of the assets. That had nothing to do with that JEA. The suggestion that it did is both erroneous and a political hit job made by somebody."
The mayor and his staff said the council auditor jumped to the wrong conclusion. But City Council Auditor Kyle Billy, who wrote the emails to the mayor's staff at the request of City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, isn't backing down.
"I think if you or anyone reads the RFP and reads the responses to the RFP, they can form their own conclusion and that question will be answered," Billy said.
News4Jax obtained that email, which reads in part, "For the last 2 years, the Administration has been approached by private equity providers and affiliated operating companies interested in either monetizing our City public infrastructure or entering into public/private partnerships for new City infrastructures. Infrastructure such as parking garages, airport, seaport, bridges, roadways and various other City public infrastructure have been presented for consideration."
Related: Kyle Billy’s email via News4Jax
The Florida Times-Union is also reporting on this story, saying that Jacksonville Chief financial Officer Mike Weinstein responded to Billy’s email with an email that reads:
“Your premise and opinions are totally incorrect and I am extremely disappointed in you”
News4Jax has made a public-record request to see what items or plans have been discussed about a possible sale by the city.
The mayor's finance director -- along with the mayor's chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa -- responded to the auditor and City Council members, saying in an email that the auditor's conclusion is not correct.
This is the latest development in a rift over the potential sale of JEA, which has created tension between the mayor's office and the City Council. There could be more fireworks Thursday afternoon when City Council members meet in a special committee appointed to discuss the transparency of the process.