Potential sale of JEA prompts conflict at City Hall

Both sides hope public meeting Wednesday afternoon will clear air

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The possible sale of JEA -- the city of Jacksonville’s biggest asset -- has generated a rift between the City Council and Mayor Lenny Curry's office. 

On Monday, Curry lashed out at reports that he is pushing to sell the city-owned utility.

"It is disgraceful and irresponsible (that) the council president would suggest that me or my administration (would) try to push legislation without public input. It's inconsistent with everything we’ve done in the past two and half years."

That comment came after Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, who said that the mayor and JEA were moving too fast toward a sale without allowing information about the pros and cons to be discussed in public. She said she agrees with calls by other council members that the public should have the change to vote on something this big.

"I have asked for transparency and I’m not sure how rushing things equals transparency, Lopez Brosche said. "Rushing and transparency don’t go together for me."

Selling JEA to a private company could bring the city an estimated $2.5 billion. Critics said selling the utility would cut an important, ongoing cash flow pipeline to city coffers.

The draft report said now would be a good time time to sell, but some council members are on the record saying the citizens should decide before selling off public assets.

The question Lopez Brosche and others, including McElroy, are asking is: Who is promoting the sale.

"I received a request for Mr. McElroy shortly after some discussions with the mayor's office asking me the same question," Lopez Brosche said. "I would like to understand the process. This is a significant proposition (that) could be a very significant transaction (with) significant implications on our community."

LETTERS: McElroy to Lopez Brosche (Feb. 9) | Lopez Brosche to McElroy (Feb. 12) 
 UNCUT: Mayor Curry on JEA rift

Curry denies that he is pushing for the sale and said that calls for a referendum are premature.

"I requested the special meeting so taxpayers, City Council, the media (and) myself can all obtain this information at the same time," Curry said. 

After some back-and-forth Monday, it was agreed that the JEA's CEO, Paul McElroy, and the utility's board will attend a special meeting with City Council at 3 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the report examining the proposed sale.

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