JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At Wednesday's special Jacksonville City Council meeting, which Mayor Lenny Curry called when Council President Anna Lopez Brosche wouldn't, there were more fireworks in a growing rift between the branches of city government over the potential sale of JEA.
During introductions, Lopez Brosche refused to acknowledge Curry. She was among several council members who believe that the mayor's office is behind effort to sell the city-owned utility -- a charge Curry vehemently denies.
The full council, JEA's board and Curry attended the meeting to review a report the JEA board commissioned outlining the benefits and shortcomings of a potential sale and answer questions.
PRESENTATION: The Future of JEA: Opportunities and Considerations
The report suggests that economic conditions now are good for a sale and that there would be a substantial profit for the city. Council members were told the sale could bring the city between $3 billion and $6 billion, but JEA's existing debt would need to be paid off out of the proceeds.
The report did not address what effect it would have on JEA's customers.
When Lopez Brosche did not recognize the mayor, he turned, gave a thumbs-up to the people in the room and sat back down.
"Here’s what I would have said," Curry told News4Jax outside the meeting. "This needs to be done in a transparent way. This is information only. There would be no action taken here today, and that the lens that I would view all of this through would be: Is this good for ratepayers and taxpayers, and is this good for JEA employees?"
The majority of council members told News4Jax before the meeting they do not have enough information to say whether or not they would support privatizing the city-owned utility. Most left City Hall saying they still needed to know more before making up their mind.
Some City Council members are also asking questions to city lawyers about the terms of a potential sale. They want to know if portions can be sold over time. They also want to know the implications of holding a straw vote during the next election to learn where the public stands on the issue.
Mayor's chief of staff denied
In a somewhat related note, City Council on Wednesday canceled access to chambers by Curry's chief of staff, Brian Hughes. This comes after a council secretary filed a formal complaint that he accosted her in an angry fashion and caused a "hostile work environment."
News4Jax learned Hughes' badge was deactivated for access at the order of Lopez Brosche. He still has full access to the mayor's office, just not the council chamber and offices and must be escorted if he visits.
Opposition launches robo calls, website
The issue has become a lightning rod at City Hall. Council members are receiving calls and email from people saying someone is calling them, blasting JEA and then transferring that call to City Council.
One person who emailed City Council wrote: "I am alarmed because instead of giving citizens the chance to get all the facts to make an informed decision, someone believes it is acceptable strategy to make broad unsubstantiated derogatory statements like 'JEA is mismanaged.'"
Councilman John Crescimbeni has been outspoken about the JEA proposal, saying the public outcry is premature.
"I personally, as a council member, resent that. If we’re going to have this conversation and we are not in any hurry, why would somebody be going to the trouble and pushing those types of calls to council members at the very outset of this process?" Crescimbeni said.
So far, News4Jax has not learned which group is behind the calls opposing the sale. We were told the callers do not identify themselves.
A website, JEAisOURS.com, sponsored by the Florida Committee for Infrastructure Investment, was launched that is laying out concerns about higher electric rates, lost jobs and other issues. That site was set up by a political committee with Democratic ties.
News4Jax crews are at the 3 p.m. meeting in City Council chambers. This article will be updated as the meeting progresses.
How the 19 City Council members feel about selling the JEA.
|1||Joyce Morgan||Needs more info|
|2||Al Ferraro||Not available|
|3||Aaron Bowman||Not available|
|4||Scott Wilson||Needs more info|
|5||Lori Boyer||Needs more info|
|6||Matt Schellenberg||Needs more info|
|7||Reggie Gaffney||Not available|
|8||Katrina Brown||Would vote no|
|9||Garrett Dennis||Would vote no|
|10||Reginald Brown||Would vote no|
|11||Danny Becton||Needs more info|
|12||Doyle Carter||Not available|
|13||Bill Gulliford||Needs more info|
|14||Jim Love||Needs more info|
|At Large 1||Anna Lopez Brosche||Needs more info|
|At Large 2||John Crescimbeni||Needs more info|
|At Large 3||Tommy Hazouri||Needs more info|
|At Large 4||Greg Anderson||Not available|
|At Large 5||Samuel Newby||Needs more info|