Records show JEA bonus plan would have benefited top execs the most

I-TEAM also learns Curry staffer will be giving sworn interview for committee investigating JEA

Records show JEA bonus plan would have benefited top execs the most

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New developments unfolded Wednesday in a Jacksonville City Council investigation into the scuttled attempt to sell JEA.

The News4Jax I-TEAM learned one of Mayor Lenny Curry’s top staffers will be sitting down with attorneys to give a sworn interview about the JEA negotiations as the Special Investigatory Committee on JEA released new documents that appear to show a bonus plan was designed to benefit high-paid top officials at JEA more than rank-and-file employees.

The bonus plan, among other matters surrounding the attempted sale of the city-owned utility, is now being investigated by federal prosecutors and the FBI.

Lawyers representing the City Council obtained a spreadsheet breaking down the payout each JEA employee would receive under JEA’s Performance Unit Plan, or PUP.

Metadata from the spreadsheet indicates it was last modified on July 10, 2019. The document shows each unit is worth $109.

The spreadsheet appears to show top executives could receive more than 1,079 units each and each nonexecutive employee could receive between 8 and 80 units depending on his or her job classification -- meaning the more units, the bigger the payout.

A new report from the attorney working with the committee said, based on the numbers in the spreadsheet, the PUP could have led to a payout of more than $13,688,160.98 without the utility being sold.

JEA officials told their board the plan would only cost $3.4 million during a meeting on June 18, 2019. The date of that meeting was eight days after metadata shows the spreadsheet was last edited.

The special City Council committee has also been wanting to hear from Stephanie Burch, Mayor Lenny Curry’s deputy chief administrative officer, as it tries to shed light on the attempt to privatize the city-owned utility. Burch was the lead negotiator late last year in closed-door meetings between JEA leaders and companies that wanted to buy the utility.

On Wednesday, Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond, a former federal prosecutor who is the chair of the special committee investigating the failed attempt to sell JEA, sent a letter to Cury, asking him to direct Burch to give a sworn statement about her role in the talks. According to the letter, Burch previously declined to give a statement under oath.

On Tuesday, Diamond publicly called Burch out for not agreeing to testify.

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

On Wednesday, following the first letter, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, Brian Hughes, sent a letter to Burch, confirming that “pursuant to our directive to you to do so," Burch will sit down for a sworn interview with the attorneys working with the committee.

READ | Special Investigatory Committee on JEA chair’s letter to Mayor Lenny Curry | Brian Hughes’ letter to Stephanie Burch

The letter also stated that Garrity Rights would be applicable in Burch’s testimony, which protects employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during investigatory interviews conducted by their employers.

In a statement, city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said the letter from Burch’s attorneys to the attorneys representing the committee was misrepresented to the media and public.

“At the advice of her attorney, Ms. Burch declined testifying in the immediate future due to the fact she was spearheading the distribution of the Mortgage, Rent and Utility Relief Program, as well as other COVID-19 responses. In addition, Ms. Burch and her attorney merely requested more information from the committee and clearly expressed her willingness to be helpful in this investigation, that includes currently working toward mutually agreed upon terms for an interview,” said Kimbleton.

According to the letter sent by Diamond, Burch “declined to be interviewed, absent “parameters” unacceptable to the committee, specifically she requested the interview not be under oath.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.