JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The chair of JEA’s board of directors would welcome an investigation by State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s office if that’s what it takes to get to the bottom of a doomed plan to explore a sale of the city-owned utility.
“If the state attorney decides that she wants to pursue an investigation, we support that,” Board Chair April Green told a News4Jax reporter outside City Hall. “We want to know as much as everyone else what has happened and how we got here today.”
Although Nelson reportedly won’t call a grand jury to investigate potential wrongdoing at JEA, her office has been looking into the utility and is expected to release a report detailing its findings.
Green’s remarks come as OurJax, a newly formed citizens group led by a former JEA executive, ratchets up pressure on city and JEA officials for transparency related to the controversial invitation to negotiate (ITN) process, which aimed to find potential suitors interested in buying or operating all or part of JEA.
The coalition bills itself as a grassroots advocacy group created in response to the since-shelved ITN, which it characterized as “one of the most controversial government dealings in recent Jacksonville history.” Its stated goals are to shine a light on the bid process and promote community engagement.
“Our community deserves to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when it comes (to JEA’s) entire ITN process,” said OurJax director Mike Hightower, a former JEA executive. “We support members of the Jacksonville City Council in their challenge for a thorough investigation in order to restore transparency, integrity, accountability and local control in our governmental entities.”
JEA formally halted the bidding process Dec. 24, one day after Mayor Lenny Curry called for an end to it and one week after the board voted to oust CEO Aaron Zahn. Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes was tapped the lead the utility in his place.
Zahn has been a magnet for criticism as details about the ITN have come to light, including how JEA’s executives could have potentially netted millions from a sale of the utility through an abandoned bonus scheme.
While Zahn remains on administrative leave, his fate is up in the air. JEA’s board was set to meet Tuesday to discuss if he should be fired with or without cause – the difference between letting him walk away with nearly $500,000 or nothing at all – but that meeting was postponed.
The city general counsel’s office, which is doing its own investigation, told Green last week that it needed more time for interviews and research before determining if Zahn can be fired for cause.
Green, who called for Zahn to be fired for cause at the board’s Dec. 17 meeting, expressed displeasure Friday along with a desire for answers to the questions that have been nagging JEA.
“I’m a member of this community who has done nothing but try to contribute to the community that raised my children,” she said. “So, it’s pretty frustrating to be in a position where you feel like your community has been done wrongly, and you’re at the head of it. You’re on the board.”