I-TEAM: Did Curry’s allies help effort to sell JEA?

NextEra says firms run by those with ties to mayor consulted on plan to buy utility

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two people with ties to Mayor Lenny Curry consulted for Florida Power & Light or its parent company, one of the leading contenders to buy JEA, before a plan to sell the city-owned utility was scuttled.

That’s according to a letter the city received Friday from attorneys representing NextEra Energy in response to a city subpoena that sought information related to the controversial plan to put JEA up for sale.

Specifically, the subpoena asked for a list of consultants, attorneys and lobbyists employed by NextEra as part of the company’s effort to acquire JEA during the Invitation to Negotiate, or ITN.

SPECIAL SECTION: Tracking the JEA saga

In its response, the company identified 13 companies including Mousa Consulting Group, a firm led by Sam Mousa, the city’s former chief administrative officer. Mousa retired in June 2019 before he was hired as a consultant by the city.

Another firm that stood out is Bold City Strategic Partners, a shop run by Tim Baker. Baker, who has consulted for Curry, ran the firm with Brian Hughes, Mousa’s replacement as chief administrative officer, up until 2017.

A city spokesperson said neither Hughes nor Curry was available for comment Friday. Instead, she provided the following statement to News4Jax:

“Mr. Mousa was never registered to lobby any issues before the City of Jacksonville, including the Mayor’s Office, on behalf of Next Era. Mr. Mousa and Mr. Baker are private citizens and entitled to do business with private companies. In addition, Mr. Mousa was not a COJ employee when the ITN process began.”

Reached by email Friday afternoon, Baker acknowledged that he consulted for FP&L but said that was before the ITN was issued. He provided a copy of the 30-days’ notice he gave to the company, which is dated July 1.

“I did not lobby for FPL or else I would have had to register, as I do for other clients," Baker said. "I terminated my agreement with FPL prior to the ITN so I couldn’t tell you about what they did or didn’t do, but I certainly didn’t do anything for them when the ITN was initiated because I had terminated my contract with them.”

Baker said he has been the sole owner of BCSP since December 2017 when Hughes left the firm, adding that he has not had any business relationship with Hughes since then. He also said the firm did not have any contracts with FP&L while Hughes was still on board.

The timing is noteworthy because JEA’s board of directors voted in favor of a plan to pursue taking the utility private at a July 23, 2019, meeting. The board canceled the ITN in December in response to public backlash.

Fallout from the doomed sale included the dismissals of then-CEO Aaron Zahn, CFO Ryan Wannemacher and several other high-level JEA executives. It also has led to a federal investigation and a separate probe led by a Jacksonville City Council special committee.

“We look forward to bringing these consultants and lobbyists in front of the committee to hear from them directly concerning their involvement," said Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, who sits on the committee.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, a frequent critic of Curry’s, said he too looks forward to answers.

“I have long believed and publicly stated there was a strategic and concerted effort by Lenny Curry to sell JEA,” Dennis said. “That Curry’s closest allies were paid consultants on the team of the apparent buyer is no surprise and, as investigations progress, the dots will more easily connect for everyone to see. I look forward to the Council’s special investigative committee’s and Federal grand jury’s efforts to ferret out the corruption in our local government designed to benefit a privileged few at the expense of the taxpayers and ratepayers.”

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