Grand jury will not look into JEA, for now, but State Attorney’s investigation continues

State Attorney Melissa Nelson will lead the investigation into what happened at JEA

Councilman explains possible direction of JEA investigation.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville City Council member said Friday that a state grand jury won’t be looking into the mess at JEA, but the State Attorney’s Office is expected to issue a report on the problems at the city-owned utility.

Councilman Matt Carlucci on Friday sat down with State Attorney Melissa Nelson for an hour and half to talk about where the investigation could go.

Carlucci, who was one of those calling for a grand jury, said he isn’t disappointed because he has faith that Nelson will conduct an independent investigation and issue a report to the public so that everyone can learn what really went down at JEA. Although it is possible a grand jury could investigate JEA down the road and the State Attorney has the ability to file criminal charges if any wrongdoing is found.

As of now, there is widespread confusion and limited information on the entire failed sale process, including a proposed bonus that would have benefited JEA leadership. That’s why Carlucci said he wanted a grand jury or some other investigation into the matter. He said he is now satisfied with Nelson’s plan going forward.

“I always had confidence in the thoroughness and the integrity of her investigations,” Carlucci said. “But what I wanted, and I didn’t know we would get in that, is a report. There will be a report and it will be made public and that was the most important thing to me.”

News4Jax asked to talk to Nelson on Friday but her staff said it is sticking with an earlier statement saying they are looking into matters involving JEA and will not be commenting further.

News4Jax is still trying to track down more information about what was involved in the details of the proposed sale of the utility which is now off the table.

In question are documents about the overall $10 million cost of the bid process, known as the Invitation to Negotiate, or ITN. Those documents should reveal how much the lawyers and others were paid to present plans and what it cost to negotiate a potential deal.

On Tuesday, the JEA board will hold another emergency meeting where they are expected to discuss ousted CEO Aaron Zahn’s benefits after he was terminated last month. A severance deal in place now could leave Zahn with hundreds of thousands of dollars. On Friday, during a taping of This Week in Jacksonville, City Council member Rory Diamond told News4Jax’s Kent Justice not firing Zahn with cause would be a mistake.

“They need to fire Zahn with cause,” Zahn told Justice. “Cause means you have a good reason. There’s a reason he was fired. It’s an absolute mess at JEA right now. This whole process cost us $10 million. If you listen to our four-hour hearing, he had to explain how he was going to get hundreds of millions of dollars of our tax dollars into his own pocket if JEA was sold. This is not complicated. Fire him with cause. It’s the right thing to do.”

(Watch the full interview with Diamond on This Week in Jacksonville on Sunday at 9 a.m. on WJXT)

Earlier this week, Carla Miller, Jacksonville’s Ethics Director, released part of her notes on the secret negotiations meeting with JEA in Atlanta last month. Part of her notes was not made public, not by her choice, but by city attorneys.

New information trickling out of JEA shows that one of the concerns expressed by potential buyers was JEA’s obligation for the Plant Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant under construction in Georgia. JEA is on the hook for about $3 billion, something buyers were not keen to undertake.

In a document dump Thursday night, News4Jax learned one plan was for the City to take on the debt and bill taxpayers a special assessment fee.

About the Author:

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