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Civic Council co-chair: 'JEA is not in a death spiral'

Documents shows Civic Council wants change in process amid potential sale

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Amid a potential sale of JEA, documents and a letter sent to Jacksonville's City Council show the Jacksonville Civic Council wants changes in the process and challenges some of the utility's claims about solvency.

JEA has been taking bids to privatize and is now in a "cone of silence" while considering the offers. The documents from the Civic Council criticize the process by JEA on investigating a sale. A letter says the group's opinion is based on much research.

Michael Ward, the former CSX chief executive officer, is the co-chair of the Civic Council's JEA subcommittee.

"We spent about 18 months on this so far, and I guess our basic conclusion is JEA is not in a death spiral," Ward told News4Jax. "It's a healthy utility that does have some challenges, but innovative solutions can solve those problems, in our belief."

Ward said the Civic Council isn't taking a position on whether to sell JEA, but calling for a better process that should be driven by the City Council, not the utility.

"There's not a thorough transparent process and that's what we're calling for," Ward said.

Through the summer, JEA argued that being a municipal utility constrains solutions to declining usage and revenue. Ward said the Civic Council’s research does not support that, and that other municipal utilities face the same challenges.

"They figured out other solutions that can meet the needs to citizenry, and we think there should be a thorough examination of all the options rather than this headlong rush into a sale process," Ward said.

“The Civic Council letter is a significant development in the proposed sale of the JEA,” said News4Jax Political Analyst Rick Mullaney. “The letter directly calls into question the transparency and integrity of the process that has been used to propose the sale. This could affect not only the process, but the sale itself.”

A request for comment was not immediately returned Tuesday from City Council President Scott Wilson. A spokesperson for JEA sent a statement that reads:

"JEA’s board of directors has set out on a public path that is built on a scenario-based strategic planning process. We welcome and appreciate thoughts, ideas and recommendations as we continue to review and analyze the situation JEA faces now and in the future. This journey still has many roads to travel, including further review by JEA’s board, the Jacksonville City Council and Duval County voters."

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.