Another day brings yet another complication for Jacksonville’s attempt to sell or “recapitalize” its public utility.
The latest is a resolution before the Jacksonville City Council asking JEA to “pull the plug” on the now two-year-old process, a project which, as the Florida Times-Union first reported, has the improbable internal codename “Project Scampi.”
2019-894, introduced this week by Democrat Brenda Priestly-Jackson, “encourages” the utility’s board to “take formal action to rescind the Invitation to Negotiate.”
The Invitation to Negotiate, or ITN, received 16 active bids for water, sewer, and electric components, eliciting global interest in the country’s eighth largest municipal utility.
Presented as “a unique opportunity of scale” with “untapped opportunities,” privatization was represented as facilitating “certain new businesses and building out the full potential for customer service.”
Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Emera and others are making bids for the electricity service, while French water company Veolia is among those seeking the water side of the utility.
The bid process is outside of the Council’s purview, which led them to move toward getting outside counsel in an abundance of caution and a distrust of JEA in the process.
The hits keep coming for the utility.
As reported by the Florida Times-Union Wednesday: City attorneys did not approve a controversial bonus plan that would have allowed employees to profit from a sale of the utility. That ran counter to JEA’s insistence that approval had been conferred.
A memo from Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel did not show that city lawyers greenlighted the plan when approved this summer and that the plan was “shuttered last month on his advice.”
On Friday evening, Councilman Matt Carlucci issued a statement calling for the resignation of JEA CEO Aaron Zahn.
Zahn emerged from the JEA Board, where he served as a junior member for a couple of meetings before entering the CEO derby, which he won in part because of what one board member described as his “passion.”
The privatization push has been supported by Mayor Lenny Curry, who Zahn has supported politically, including with five-figure committee donations.
The idea at the time: to get people on the board who supported Curry’s agenda.
Despite the board being stacked with Curry loyalists, Mayor Curry distanced himself last week from how business has been conducted since the renewed privatization push shortly after his reelection.
“They need to get their process right … they’re people, they’re human beings, they’re good public servants, private people who care about the future of Jacksonville,” Curry said.