JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after announcing the formation of a special City Council committee to investigate efforts to sell JEA, Council President Scott Wilson expressed confidence in the individuals named to the committee.
In an interview with News4Jax, Wilson said Council Member Rory Diamond is the right person to lead the newly formed committee because of his experience handling complex cases as a federal prosecutor.
“I believe he understands what questions to ask and how to get to the bottom of it,” said Wilson, who cited Diamond’s legal experience along with that of fellow Council Members Randy DeFoor and Brenda Priestly-Jackson. “All three are lawyers well prepared to do this job.”
Through the City Council, the special committee will have the authority to subpoena records relevant to its investigation, Wilson said. He added that the committee can also issue subpoenas to individuals and place them under oath to “ensure their honesty and integrity.”
The creation of the committee comes one week after State Attorney Melissa Nelson acknowledged that her office investigated the city-owned utility and forwarded its findings to federal investigators.
JEA has been the subject of increasing scrutiny as details have emerged about the hushed efforts to find suitors interested in acquiring the utility, a bonus scheme that could have paid out generous sums in the event of a sale, as well as attempts by JEA leaders to hire consultants with apparent conflicts of interest.
The utility’s board of directors withdrew the Invitation to Negotiate (or ITN) Dec. 24 in response to public outcry.
Based on news reports, Wilson said he believes that former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn should be removed for cause – which would strip him of a severance package worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Besides Zahn, it’s unclear who will be swept up by the council’s investigation.
“All we’re looking for is the truth as far as what happened,” he said. “I’m not naming any names because I don’t know anything about who was involved. I just look for the truth, and that’s all I’m asking for.”
For his part, Mayor Lenny Curry would not say Tuesday if he was prepared to testify under oath if summoned.
“I told Councilman Wilson before Christmas if this was the direction they wanted to head, I would be supportive of it,” he said. “They will begin asking questions and wherever the facts lead, they will lead.”
The committee is expected to begin interviews and formal meetings over the next week or so. From there, it’s anticipated that the investigation will take at least three months to complete.
“I’m asking for them to complete the investigation within 90 to 120 days,” Wilson said. “Obviously, once things start to unravel and unwrap, I don’t know if they may need additional time. I will certainly grant additional time if they need it.”