’This is nuts’: Investigative committee accuses JEA of dragging its feet on public records requests

Special Jacksonville City Council committee also interviewed JEA executives, one former and one current

Special Jacksonville City Council committee also interviewed JEA executives, one former and one current

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville City Council members leading an investigation into JEA’s failed bid to sell the city-owned utility kicked off the special investigating committee meeting on Monday by calling out delays in public records requests sent to JEA.

Councilmembers Rory Diamond, Randy DeFoor and Brenda Priestly Jackson all expressed their frustration to JEA lawyers that their public records requests from more than a month ago have produced zero documents so far.

The committee and several other city council members looked puzzled at the explanations for the delay.

“Honest to God, this is embarrassing to you and JEA,” DeFoor said. “It proves leadership doesn’t care about the public and transparency.”

MORE | Key takeaways from investigation testimony by ex-CEO Aaron Zahn, JEA leadership | Lawyers: Ex-JEA CEO doctored PowerPoint slide to pitch controversial bonus plan | City Council auditor raises more concerns over JEA performance plan

Following its first meeting last month, the special committee sent more than 80 public records requests to JEA, including a request that asks for communications between former CEO Aaron Zahn, Mayor Lenny Curry and former and current members of the mayor’s staff. The special committee is requesting documents created or distributed between December 2017 until the present.

Diamond, chairman of the committee, called the delay “nuts."

“If I wanted to drag this out, this is exactly what I would do,” he said Monday. “If they don’t roll out this week we will issue subpoenas ourselves. If not, we will get the documents ourselves.”

Many of the records requests have to do with the “PUP”, the Long-term Incentive Plan known as the Performance Unit Plan presented to, and approved by, the JEA Board on July 23, 2019. The controversial and now-canceled plan could have netted Zahn and others payouts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars if a sale had gone through.

The committee plan to look through documents to see if JEA leadership started looking into the potential privatization of the city-owned utility before it was approved by the JEA Board of Directors.

The committee also heard from former JEA executive Mike Brost and current Vice President Steven McInall.

During that testimony, the committee focused on the PUP and JEA’s financial health.

“So we learn from the guy who knows the best that JEA was not a bad shape,” Diamond said. “Its sales were going up, it’s financially healthy and they were projecting in planning for JEA to be in very good shape over the next 10 years so that’s what we learned today.”

Diamond wants three things before the next meeting, including subpoenas of the investment firms and their records. He also wants to subpoena the bidders and find out who their lobbyists were.

“And we want the deposition of Melissa Dykes. She is the interim CEO and she’s the only one of the senior leadership team we haven’t heard from yet,” he said. “She needs to be deposed. We need to get this thing moving.”

McInall was questioned on who had the ability to delete documents in a data room, or document room. He said very few people have that ability, including him.

The committee wants to know more.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.