New poll shows public not happy with proposed JEA sale

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

A new online poll this weekend shows the public is not happy with the idea of selling JEA.

The debate over Jacksonville’s public utility has caused a huge rift in city government and mistrust between the City Council president and mayor.

On Friday, the head of JEA stepped down because of the flak being created over the debate. The sudden resignation of Paul McElroy is only adding to the questions.

The poll about JEA is being conducted by City Councilman Danny Becton in his Southside district. It shows 76 percent of those responding are opposed to the sale, while 14 percent said favor it. Ten percent of those responding said maybe. For them, it would depend on the amount of money the city could gain from a sale.

The number of people opposed to the sale is not a surprise to observers who said the idea of selling JEA is having huge repercussions within city politics.

Rick Mullany, of Jacksonville’s University Public Policy Institute, said there is public distrust about what is happening with the push to sell JEA.

"Paul McElroy may have been the first casualty of this process," Mullaney said. "In many ways he was in an impossible situation. You had 2,000 employees on one side adamantly opposed to a sale, and he’s been asked to leave the due diligence of looking into its sale, so he was in a very difficult situation."

Mullaney said the problem it creates is uncertainty. Plus, it could be difficult replacing McElroy with anyone from outside the company.

"The single greatest challenge facing the potential sale of JEA is the trust issue," Mullaney said. "Trust in local government, the way this was rolled out, has been very problematic from the very beginning. This needs to be transparent."

A special City Council committee will continue to meet this week to look at JEA and the implications of a sale. There are now two competing council bills filed that would have the council decide to continue talks or shelve the idea.

Councilman Matt Shellenberg, who has been supportive of a possible sale, said people need to know the real value of the utility.

"Then determine if it’s worth selling, and if it’s not worth selling, what are they wanting to do in the future, and what are they going to do to maintain the supply and to be competitive in the future for the citizens of Jacksonville, for Nassau and St. Johns County?" Shellenberg said.

A straw vote to be conducted during the November election could be approved Tuesday night.

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