JEA sale negotiations continue as state explores conflict of interest questions

At issue are possible post-employment consulting jobs for senior leadership

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JEA sale negotiations are moving forward even as the state reviews potential conflict of interest questions involving the potential purchase of the city-owned utility.

According to documents obtained through a public records request, the State Ethics Commission is reviewing a provision that would give CEO Aaron Zahn and the other 12 members of the senior leadership team post-employment consulting jobs with the purchasing company if the sale of JEA goes through.

The city’s ethics director Carla Miller reviewed the contract benefits for the senior leadership staff of JEA on Oct. 28, records show. Miller then notified general counsel, according to documents, that in light of the information in the senior leadership team contracts, “it was strongly recommended that the conflict analysis be reviewed by the state ethics commission for an opinion prior to appointing the proposed negotiators.”

Miller then requested information from JEA’s attorney on whether the negotiators had been appointed, in light of the pending conflict questions.

The JEA attorney stated on Nov. 1 that “it was noted for the record that OGC and SEC (State Ethics Commission) conflicts review has not been completed and that the team, barring any emergency circumstances, would not proceed with substantive action unless and until such time that the review was completed.”

On Thursday, JEA confirmed to the city ethics commission that there had not been any negotiation meetings for the sale of JEA as of Thursday and none have been scheduled.

A written statement from JEA to News4Jax on Friday indicated the sale process is still moving forward and the negotiation process is not on hold.

“Out of an abundance of caution, JEA asked for the City of Jacksonville Office of General Counsel and the City’s Ethics Office to clear potential negotiators of any real or perceived conflicts of interest. The local office couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer the question, so JEA asked for it to be answered by the State Ethics Office. The ITN process is proceeding,” JEA spokeswoman Gina Kyle wrote in an emailed statement to News4Jax.

JEA on Friday also announced it had postponed a plan to give employees performance bonuses. JEA said it could interfere with a potential sale.

News4Jax spoke to Miller but she declined to elaborate on her report.

It was not clear how long the State Ethics Commission’s inquiry will take.

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Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.