JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The icy relationship between the Jacksonville City Council and Mayor Lenny Curry isn't thawing out any time soon, based on a continued war of words between the mayor and City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche.
Curry sent the president a letter Tuesday, responding to a request from Brosche that the mayor have his chief financial officer hand over information requested by the council auditor.
In the letter, Brosche writes that Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein has stated the city is not working on any JEA sale analysis, however, a special council committee is.
Curry countered by saying Council Auditor Kyle Billy had been trying to “inject politics” into the traditionally independent analysis his office should offer.
Curry said that after questions were raised about the possible fast-tracking of a sale of JEA, the council asked his office not to move forward on any work related to the sale while a council committee reviewed the potential sale.
“Later when Mr. Billy made the request of staff for an estimate of the impact JEA's sale would have on city debt calculations, the Finance Department – complying with the agreement to take no actions related to JEA – informed Mr. Billy such action was not appropriate,” Curry wrote. “The Finance Department has made no such analysis; therefore this analysis is not a matter of public record.”
Curry also said Brosche's initial letter to him this week “followed a disturbing trend,” saying it exposed Brosche's attempts at “good faith communication” as mere “pretense.”
“I will treat all missives from you as part of a public relations effort, rather than an attempt to accomplish the important work we are obligated to do for the people of our city,” Curry wrote.
In a conversation Wednesday with News4Jax, Curry did not use the City Council president's name once, and pushed back on suggestions that he wants to sell JEA.
He admitted that council members would be remiss not to ask tough questions, but said they've turned the review of a possible JEA sale into an effort to “find an opportunity to embarrass (his) administration and grab headlines.”
“The line of questioning is clear,” Curry said. “It is my job to talk to the heads of the independent authorities (like JEA). It is my job to talk to board members. It is my job to be in the community and understand what's going on. They are trying to expose that as some sort of improper action? This is a strong mayoral form of government. I was elected to get things done for the people of Jacksonville.”
Curry said it's the duty of his office to look down the road and prepare for the future.
“We have to have an adult, mature conversation about the strategic future of this utility in this market,” Curry said. “You cannot sustain a model where revenues are declining while your customer base is growing.”
Curry said policy has been replaced by public relations and politics among City Council leaders, and it's blocking the effort to really take a good look at what selling JEA would mean for the city.
"This is political gamesmanship being played by certain folks," the mayor said. "I simply want to understand and you, the workers of the JEA ought to understand, what's the value of your organization?"
Curry discussed his meeting this week with JEA workers and what he told them, saying it's the duty of his office to look down the road and prepare for the future. He also explained what he thought would happen when the JEA board chairman asked for a valuation late last year.
"If revenues are declining and the customer base is increasing, your jobs are at risk at some point. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week. But we talked about generational, we talked about families that are in this business. They take great pride in the hard work that they do. They go out in storms," Curry said. "If we're going to protect those jobs, we need to know the way forward. And right now the way forward is not sustainable."
In terms of the council president, Curry said he's still open to mending the relationship, but only if there's an openness and willingness to work together sincerely.
The City Council has a special committee looking into what has happened so far with JEA. There is also a measure under consideration that would ask for the council to vote against a sale of JEA right now, even though no official proposal to sell has been made.