JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold took out a full-page advertisement Monday in the Florida Times-Union, blasting JEA and Mayor Lenny Curry over the potential sale of JEA, then spoke to a City Council committee discussing the future of the city-owned utility.
“We could stop it here today,” Godbold said. “The Council could stop it and we can get on with running the JEA properly.”
In Godbold’s open letter to the Jacksonville City Council, which was printed in the newspaper ad, he asked council members for a no-confidence vote in the JEA Board and its CEO.
“For those of you who are either supporting the sale or sitting on the proverbial fence, you need to really pay attention to what JEA’s customers -- your constituents -- are saying,” Godbold wrote. “If this charade continues much longer, I predict there will be a citizens revolt and you will most certainly meet their anger and wrath head-on.”
He suggested the outright removal of the board members and CEO might be called for, and blamed Curry for replacing the previous JEA board members “with his own hand-picked cronies.” Godbold claimed Curry chose the board members with the express purpose of selling the utility.
“End this now! Don’t be on the wrong side of history. And, for God’s sake, don’t fail Jacksonville,” Godbold wrote.
Godbold ended the ad by encouraging voters to tell the council how they feel and included the phone number and email for each City Council member.
The ad showed up on breakfast tables throughout Jacksonville on Monday as the City Council prepared to hold the second in a series of fact-finding workshops on JEA. The meeting was scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday.
The goal is to find out how much the city could get for the utility, which has been independently valued at around $7 billion.
Godbold said the Curry administration is behind the effort to sell off the utility.
“There is no secret to that and there’s no secret as to why they want that to get the money,” Goldbold said. “Jim, you’ve been around a long time. They say follow the money. That’s what it’s all about.”
Curry was not scheduled to speak at Monday’s special meeting but came to City Council chambers to defend the process.
“We must talk about it. We must make sure the people are informed and if we arrive at a decision, it must go to the voters,” Curry said.
After the JEA abandoned talks of trying to sell the utility two years ago, Jacksonville voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum on the 2018 ballot that required voter approval of the sale of any part of JEA.
Curry said he’s spoken to many people who want to see the JEA discussion continue.
“People aren’t saying they don’t want to have the conversation. If you go have somebody up there for or against the sale, many probably do say no. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the conversation,” Godbold said. “And if the elected leadership in the city determines that is the best way forward -- I don’t know if they will -- in the end, the voters get to say. So if the answer is no they’ll say no.”
In response to Godbod’s fiery letter and remarks, all a spokeswoman for the utility would say is she wished the former mayor would reach out to JEA’s management.
Former Mayor Jake Godbold blasting the proposed Jea sale in an open letter to city council members. He blames Mayor Curry and says the idea needs to come to halt. This on the day that City Council committee is meeting again to discuss the future of JEA @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/94v4ELyxBt— Jim Piggott (@wjxtjimpiggott) November 25, 2019
JEA replaces negotiating team
Also Monday, JEA announced that it was changing all four members of a negotiation team tasked with handling the bid process, also known as the ITN or Invitation to Negotiate.
The State Ethics Commission was called in to review potential conflict of interest questions raised about previous members of the ITN negotiation team. The concern raised was over how JEA’s management is negotiating their future and how would they would stand to benefit financially from a possible sale of the utility.
Among those removed from the team was JEA’s Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes. She and three others were replaced with other city employees not affiliated with the JEA, including the deputy chief administrative officer for the mayor, Stephanie Burch.
“Our initial analysis showed no conflict of interest however we thought it was necessary to proceed in a manner that takes away any indication that even the possibility of a conflict exists,” said Lynne Rhode, Office of General Counsel and JEA Chief Legal Officer.
Moving forward, JEA said, three new team members will continue the negotiations phase of the ITN. They are city of Jacksonville Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch, City Treasurer Randall Barnes and City Engineer Robin Smith. Burch, Barnes and Smith were made available by the city at the request of JEA senior leadership.
The team will now be tasked with recommending the bid that represents “the best overall value to JEA based on the selection criteria.” That recommendation will be made to the JEA board of directors for their consideration.
The city attorney told News4Jax late Monday that with the changes to the negotiation team, there is no longer a conflict of interest or reason to pursue a state ethics investigation.