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City ethics director emails show concern JEA sales negotiations might have broken laws

Jacksonville’s Ethics Director intended to speak to the State Attorney

VIDEO: New information is coming out about what could have been the sale of Jacksonville's largest utility, JEA.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Email exchanges between top city officials reveal concerns about potential laws being broken during the JEA sale process.

The emails between Jacksonville’s Ethics Director Carla Miller and members of the Office of General Counsel show Miller raised concerns over a series of meetings that were possibly breaking Florida Sunshine laws.

In a Dec. 18 email, Miller told the director of the Office of General Counsel Jason Gabriel she intended to “speak to the state attorney about the potential Sunshine violations in JEA meetings."

In another email sent the same day, Miller advised JEA’s attorney to end the invitation to negotiate the potential sale of JEA immediately citing issues with Sunshine Laws, the timeline, the removal of the CEO and a controversial plan that would potentially pay top JEA officials millions if the city-owned utility was sold.

“If there’s a time to ‘pull the plug’ it is now,” Miller wrote.

In another email sent on Dec. 16, Miller raised concerns to JEA’s legal advisor that a series of six meetings with potential JEA buyers should have been made public. Miller asserted that at least the first part of these meetings should have been made public to comply with Sunshine Laws, laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies in Florida.

A memo drafted by the law office Foley & Lardner to JEA’s legal counsel went against Miller’s assertion, saying "the entirety of JEA’s negotiation sessions […] are exempt from the public disclosure.”

Miller’s notes during a series of closed-door JEA meetings during November and December are also raising red flags for some City Councilmembers.

In the notes, obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM, Miller documented that mayoral appointee Stephanie Burch wanted to “charge to the finish line” and wrap up the process of looking for a potential buyer by the end of January.

Miller noted Burch said it was an “aggressive time period, and a lot of work, but they will make it work.”

Burch, in a statement to News4Jax, said: “There was no effort to scare proposers out of the ITN process.”

ITN stands for “invitation to negotiate.”

Burch also said leadership was trying to keep the ITN on track with the other options.

City councilman Matt Carlucci said Tuesday he plans to meet with State Attorney Melissa Nelson on Friday concerning a potential grand jury investigation into JEA.

“A grand jury investigation is like, equals good government. It spells out what wasn’t good government. What was done wrong. Even if there isn’t an indictment it shows the flaws of what happened,” Carlucci said. “The ratepayers deserve to know what all happened with this. It’s too many questions.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.