JEA hires high-powered consultants to help find potential suitors

Voters will have a say if utility is sold, JEA says

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two days after the JEA Board of Directors voted to explore the idea of privatization or the possibility of a sale of the city-owned utility, JEA hired high-powered consultants to help find potential suitors.

JEA announced Thursday it has hired J.P. Morgan Securities LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC as financial advisers and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and Foley & Lardner LLP as legal advisers to assist the utility with the "solicitation process."

A news release sent to News4Jax said the four companies will work with JEA and its Board of Directors to develop a strategic plan for JEA to "maximize customer, community, environmental and financial value."

“JEA is embarking on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the utility’s future and take care of its employees, customers and the greater Jacksonville community,” JEA Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher said in the release. “When the stakes are so high, it is critical to bring all experts to the table. J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, Morgan Stanley, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Foley & Lardner will serve as JEA’s trusted advisers throughout his process in order to ensure the best outcome for its stakeholders.”

Will voters have a say in the future of JEA?

After the JEA Board of Directors moved forward Tuesday with plans to explore privatization, News4Jax received numerous emails and website comments about the role voters will have if JEA privatizes or sells.  

Some people are questioning the referendum on the ballot last fall when 73% of voters said they wanted to have a say if JEA is sold.

News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney, who runs the Public Policy Institute at Jacksonville University, said that vote still has teeth.

“I think the City Council is going to take the will of the people, certainly, into consideration,“ Mullaney said. “The mayor himself says he intends to abide by it." 

JEA board members emphasized the vote Tuesday was not one to sell the utility. They said it allows them to explore a number of options, which could lead to a sale or some sort of privatization. The board could also look at selling stock in JEA or run it as a co-op. All are ideas the board plans to explore.

JEA Chief Executive Officer Aaron Zahn did not answer questions from News4Jax after Tuesday's meeting. News4Jax has asked every day since for an interview. Though Zahn has still not talked about the future, JEA's second in command, Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes, did speak with News4Jax on Wednesday and said if JEA is sold, it will seek voter input.

"Every single member of our community will have a voice whether or not to approve something if we get to that point in the process,” Dykes said. "Our first step is to bring ideas back to the board."

JEA may also ask the City Council to make some changes in its operating rules spelled out in the City Charter. For example, if JEA wants to go into another line of business, such as home solar installations or high-speed data transmissions over fiber optic lines, it would have to get the city's approval for that.

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