Thursday saw Michael Ward of the Jacksonville Civic Council tell the Jacksonville City Council’s Special Committee on JEA how his group’s study should be received.
In March, the Civic Council former a committee to ‘assess’ a potential JEA sale. Ward, a co-chair of the Civic Council‘s committee, discussed the influential civic CEO group’s analytic model with the committee.
Ward noted that anyone with a potential conflict of interest was weeded out of the committee.
“We wanted to be as clean as we can, transparent as we can … and avoid potential conflicts out there,” Ward said.
That choice was a pragmatic one given the political climate not too long ago.
When the Civic Council began this inquiry, the conversation about the future of JEA was pitched on the City Council, with sharp allegations that the Mayor’s Office was pushing the sale.
Now, however, the heat has been dialed back on the burner, with Mayor Lenny Curry saying in April that he wouldn’t push for privatization, a seeming reversal of his lauding the initial pitch in November 2017 as an example of thinking big.
Ward noted that “to sell or to keep JEA” is “not the right question,” and that the Civic Council expected the process (“not an appraisal of JEA”) to go as long as another five to nine months.
One potential way forward: splitting up the water/sewer and electrical components down the road.
A report will be formulated down the road, assuming the subcommittee and executive committee greenlight it.
Ward offered critiques of the optimistic valuation of JEA commissioned by the utility months ago, saying that there were flaws, as it was done by a “bond rating group not an appraisal group … a little oversimplistic. A full appraisal,” said Ward, could cost up to a million dollars.
“My guess is that when this is all said and done, JEA will look different from today,” Ward said.
Any acrimony was muted, with politicians deferential to the political stroke of the group.
Council President Anna Brosche and Councilman Bill Gulliford, at loggerheads on a potential sale and everything else, both lauded the Civic Council for being able to provide objective analysis during their questions and remarks. As did Council VP Aaron Bowman.
Councilman Garrett Dennis keyed in on the assertion that “JEA will look different than it does today.”
“I did not intend to say they’d be totally different … but good ideas will come up to make them a smaller entity,” Ward said. “This whole dialogue … will come up with ideas to make them better.”
Dennis posited that one improvement might come in governance, with Council selecting board members in addition to the mayor’s picks.
Ward punted, wanting to avoid “controversial issues” as “down-the-middle fact finders.”
The era of good feeling in the committee may not last past this week, however, with Council President Brosche saying that she had sent questions to the head of the JEA Board regarding how interim CEO Aaron Zahn was selected.
Brosche wants Board Chair Alan Howard to answer questions in the committee, an outcome which is far from a certainty.