Curry staffer declines to testify for committee investigating JEA

Mayor’s deputy chief administrative officer was lead negotiator while JEA was in talks with companies to sell utility

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Stephanie Burch, Mayor Lenny Curry’s deputy chief administrative officer, has declined to testify for a special Jacksonville City Council committee investigating the failed attempt to sell JEA.

Burch was the lead negotiator in closed meetings between JEA leaders and companies that wanted to buy the utility.

The mayor has said publicly his office would comply with any requests related to investigating JEA, but Burch appears to be the first member of his team who has declined to tell the council what she knows.

“I want this to be clear because I find this incredibly frustrating and disappointing,” said Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond, a former federal prosecutor who is the chair of the Special Investigatory Committee on JEA.

Diamond said Tuesday that Burch had declined to give a sworn statement to attorneys working for the committee.

“Even though she collects a paycheck from the taxpayers, the people of Jacksonville, she has said no. I personally find that totally unacceptable," Diamond said. "I think her role requires her to comply with this council and with our committee.”

In a statement, a city spokesperson told News4Jax: “The Office of General Counsel advised our employees to obtain outside counsel in this matter. We have urged our employees to follow legal guidance from their personal attorneys as well as from OGC.”

Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel told the committee there is a provision in the city code, requiring city employees to comply with investigations, and it’s up to the agency -- in this case, the mayor’s office -- to enforce it.

The committee voted to have attorneys draft a letter to Curry or Brian Hughes, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, requesting that Burch either appear before the committee or in a sworn interview with outside attorneys as a condition of her employment.

The committee also set a deadline for response by the close of business on Thursday. If she declines, the committee said, it would discuss on Friday a potential subpoena to require her to appear at one of their meetings.

Meanwhile, a second major storyline surrounding JEA unfolded on Tuesday, with the JEA Board of Directors unanimously appointing Paul McElroy, the city-owned utility’s former CEO, as the interim CEO. This comes after the board voted unanimously last month to remove interim CEO Melissa Dykes, who took over after former CEO Aaron Zahn was fired. Zahn’s hiring followed McElroy’s resignation in 2018.

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