JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The scandal surrounding the botched attempt to sell JEA took a new twist on Friday.
Nate Monroe, a prominent Jacksonville columnist with the Florida Times-Union, was apparently put under surveillance by a consulting firm working for Florida Power and Light. It was over two years ago when FPL was the front-runner during the scandalous attempts to sell JEA.
Monroe was keen on breaking many stories regarding the troubled sales plan, and some of his stories were critical at times of FPL’s involvement.
There have been lots of questions about this whole ordeal, and I want to be clear: JEA says it has nothing to do with this. FPL says it’s not involved, as well.
There were many stories we reported about the botched JEA sale attempt. The Florida Times-Union took the lead on many of those stories, and Monroe was at the forefront. He recently received a batch of documents from an anonymous source showing that he was under surveillance by an Alabama political consulting firm — Matrix — hired by FPL, which was bidding on JEA.
I spoke with Monroe on Friday and asked him what his reaction was after he learned he’d been under surveillance.
“It was obviously surreal. You know, I think that a viewer can probably imagine what it felt like to, like, open a batch of records that I had some sense was about the JEA controversy and to actually just discover that there was stuff about me in there,” Monroe said.
He says the information was very personal, such as his full Social Security number, driver’s license and a list of friends dating back to childhood — information not readily available as a public record. There were also photos of him, including one taken while he was at the beach.
“And really the only thing that is apparent is that they were keeping tabs on me, they did pry into my personal life, and they, for some period of time, this political consulting firm — or employees at this political consulting firm — were collecting surveillance on me,” Monroe said.
There is a lot of finger-pointing from those possibly involved.
Matrix replied to questions about the surveillance with a written statement, saying the surveillance was done by a rogue operation of employees no longer with the company, but it also suggests that FPL was involved, as well.
FPL sent this statement:
“FPL did not surveil media or commission reports or investigations on members of the press. We don’t condone this type of surveillance of journalists, and we believe the information was selectively leaked to make it appear that FPL had acted improperly.”
“And what the documents show is that I was surveilled,” Monroe said. “There is a game of hot potato being played between the various parties here. Nobody wants to be caught holding this thing.”
While it appears no laws were broken, News4JAX political analyst Rick Mullaney said there are a lot of ethical questions.
“You have to ask a very basic question: What in the world are you doing conducting surveillance in a personal investigation of a journalist because of a major transaction going on with the city?” Mullaney said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it here in Jacksonville.”
That question — and who in the end is actually responsible — remain to be answered.
I asked Monroe if this will keep him from reporting. “Definitely not,” he told me — and he plans to have more reports on the documents he received in the future.