JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Leaving a meeting Friday morning with seven Jacksonville City Council members and city lawyers, a top JEA executive wouldn’t answer questions about whether the city-owned utility’s board would comply if the Council votes next week asking it to suspend negotiations with nine companies interested in buying all or part of the utility.
“You have to talk to (JEA spokeswoman) Gina Kyle,” JEA Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes said. When told we already had, she kept moving, trying to avoid the camera.
“I really appreciate your engagement but thank you,” Dykes said before walking away.
On Thursday, Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said she was filing an emergency resolution asking that JEA to stop plans to privatize. Her concern is when the talk of a sale started, City Council was not notified in a timely manner, which she believes that should void the entire deal.
“It’s not coming from the will of the people. It’s a faulty and flawed process from (the) inception,” she said.
During Friday’s meeting, other Council members said the process is not legal.
“I do believe it’s corrupt,” Councilman Randy DeFoor said. "I believe this is not been transparent. It lacks integrity. "
City lawyers insisted the process is legal and the JEA provided a memo from Deputy General Counsel Lawsikia Hodges to Councilman Michael Boylan, head of the Council committee examining the JEA’s process, saying the JEA was not required to give advance notice before sending out Invitations to Negotiate for JEA’s assets.
The full council could vote Tuesday night on the resolution calling for the end to the process.
We asked if Mayor Lenny Curry would sign the resolution if it passes.
“The mayor was clear in a meeting to this very Council that he wants to process to continue,” Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said. “He obviously disagrees with some of the characterizations in there. The office of General Counsel just told that meeting that ... there’s no legal precedent to stop the process.”
If the resolution was approved and signed, the JEA would be required to obey the will of the Council, neither the utility’s executives nor the spokeswoman would say if the board would comply.
JEA did ask us not to air that exchange with Dykes after the meeting, saying it would make her available later. As of late Friday, we have not heard from her.