On the issue of the potential sale of Jacksonville public utility JEA, a narrative turning point occurred Tuesday.
City Council members voted to expand the five-person special committee of sale skeptics to include the full council while divesting the panel of subpoena powers (such as those imposed on JEA CEO Paul McElroy two weeks prior).
In an eight-minute media availability, Mayor Lenny Curry defended his administration’s moves in the ongoing JEA saga, one that has divided the City Council and the city at large.
“City Council is the legislative body,” Curry said. “We are always advocating for issues that matter to us. But at the end of the day, those Council members make decisions and do what they think is right.”
Of course, a recurrent motif of Tuesday’s meeting and in recent weeks has been that Curry’s team is pushing a sale — by any means necessary.
JEA Special Committee chair John Crescimbeni, seen in a heated conversation before the City Council meeting Tuesday with Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, said at one point the Curry administration was “pulling strings” of council ally Matt Schellenberg, who introduced an ultimately unsuccessful floor motion to do away with the committee altogether.
Curry said Crescimbeni delivered an “insult to council members, suggesting that their strings can be pulled. Those are independent-minded people.”
When asked if that was a yes or no, Curry said he didn’t “know what that conversation was, but in business, in politics, and life, often exchanges happen. What’s most important is that we go about the work of the people.”
On a Wednesday radio hit, Councilman Garrett Dennis repeated the now-familiar allegations of intimidation from Curry’s team. Among them: “subliminal tactics” to whip votes on the floor.
Curry denied such, laughing at the phrase “subliminal tactics” and calling Dennis’ reaction “comical.”
“I’ll let his words speak for themselves,” Curry said. “The public can make their own judgment on [them].”
Past Jacksonville city officials — most notably and recently, former Mayor Alvin Brown — have likewise made the case that JEA should not be sold and should “remain with the people.”
Curry, a frequent critic of the Brown administration, held his fire.
“He’s entitled to his own opinion like anyone is,” Curry said. “I suggested that we have a mature, adult conversation about one of the most valuable assets that taxpayers own in this city. That, unfortunately, turned into a political circus that is not about the issue, not about what’s the value of the asset, how do you preserve the asset, what does that mean for ratepayers and taxpayers.”
“By the way,” Curry continued, “how do we protect the men and women who work at JEA?”
“At this point,” he said, “it’s gotten out of control [with] certain members of Council, we see that. I’m not going to name names. Anybody who’s followed this Council recently knows there are a handful that have no ideas, [which] want to obstruct things.”
“And that’s OK. That’s certainly their right and prerogative. But what’s most important to me is that at some point we have a mature conversation about this.”
Curry went on to describe suggestions that closed-door deals were made as “an outrageous allegation,” noting that it’s his “job” to talk to “board members … and executives … of independent authorities” and representatives of labor alike to discuss issues.
Concerning the consultant the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund has offered to commission for the Jacksonville City Council, Curry suggested that media look into the donors to the fund who might be supportive of this concept.
“Somebody’s paying for a consultant … is there a donor that has an interest in this,” Curry asked.
Curry would not address whether or not fund head Sherry Magill, who has been critical of the administration, had an interest in subverting administration policy by offering a consultant on the fund’s behalf.