Councilman says money saved by forgoing JEA sale offsets investigation cost

The failed sales attempt cost the public millions of dollars.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some current and former Jacksonville City Council members say the lengthy report released Monday on the failed JEA sale reads like a novel. In reality, it’s more like a history book uncovering the events behind JEA and why its top management was fired nearly a year ago.

Michael Ward, the head of citizen oversight committee OurJax, summed up the report in these words:

“Government without transparency is a breeding ground for mischief.”

On Tuesday, News4Jax tried speaking with Mayor Lenny Curry about the report again. Instead of an interview, his staff released this statement:

“This report captures what Mr. Busey (the attorney) has already released and what has already been reported by local media over the course of several months. Conjecture, opinion, and unfounded speculation at the price tag to taxpayers of $1.8 million.”

City Councilman Garrett Dennis, who has been a vocal critic of the mayor, disagrees with the mayor and says the $1.8 million was worth it.

“If you look at the grand scheme of things, it was peanuts to what those individuals at JEA spent to try to steal the utility,” Dennis said

He believes the main reason the report is on target is because it questions the mayor’s role in all of this.

“Aaron Zahn (former CEO of JEA) could not have pulled off the biggest heist in U.S. history by himself. He had to have help. And I read last night in the report that he had help and that he had full support [of the administration],” Dennis said. “I think the report speaks for itself. I mean, we cannot operate behind closed doors. We have to be transparent with the taxpayers’ money. And so I don’t think the process was transparent, and the report shows that.”

Even though Curry is debunking this report, it’s the talk all around City Hall. News4Jax checked reports in 2017 regarding JEA and the possibility of a sale and talking with those involved at the time. Two people close to the investigation who raised questions then told News4Jax this report is right on the money. They did not wish to be named.

News4Jax reviewed a previous statement by the mayor on JEA. In an interview conducted in December 2019, when talking with the mayor about JEA and the sale process right when it was scrubbed, Curry was asked about his support of the sale at the time.

“I said I supported the process. Never said I supported a privatization or recapitalization. I said it’s part of the options that are to be discussed,” Curry said.

But the investigative report infers that statement and others like that are untrue. The report suggests Curry was pushing for the sale from the start. Again, Curry and his staff deny that.

The next steps in this process will be with federal investigators and a grand jury who are looking into the JEA deal and whether there might be criminal charges.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.