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Jacksonville preachers warm to utility sale … as long as they get seat at table

Identical letters pushed for a ‘community advisory board,’ pastors included

Though the potential sale of Jacksonville utility JEA is politically toxic, the concept has some support from local pastors.

Florida Politics obtained letters to Mayor Lenny Curry from four preachers, all of whom support the exploration of a sale.

Communities in the Northwest Quadrant have been waiting for 50+ years for the promises to be kept, and the sale of JEA offers to perfect opportunity for the city to make good on those promises,” writes Pastor T.L. Brisbane.

Forming a Community Advisory Board to consist of Clergy, Community Leaders and Citizens would prove to be a great way to show transparency throughout this process,” Brisbane added.

Currently, local protestant churches are well-represented on the seven-person JEA Board. One member is a pastor. The other an executive at a leading Jacksonville church. Both were the staunchest supporters of the hire of CEO Aaron Zahn, who has become a lightning rod for criticism from lay people in recent months as JEA invited bids for sale.

Essentially identical letters came forth from other preachers, proof that good ideas have a transitive property. Though the letters were written on different days in recent weeks, all were marked received by the Mayor’s Office on Dec. 5.

Pastor Robert LeCount, Jr. of the Disciples of Christ Christian Fellowship Baptist Church and Pastor Steve Wilson of the Divine Power Missionary Baptist Church weighed in, as did Pastor James Merritt of the Ephesians Missionary Missionary Baptist Church.

At least in theory, the Curry administration, in concert with City Council allies, could put the so-called Community Advisory Board in place.

Given the realities of Jacksonville government, no one who wants a political future will balk at a healthy assortment of impaneled preachers.

The pastoral pitch is well-timed, emerging just when the City Council appears ready to mobilize against the sale.

Thursday saw a resolution introduced to 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, is code-named 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.

Two adjuncts of the Mayor Lenny Curry political machine, Republicans Rory Diamond and Ron Salem, this week teamed up to push for a “special hearing” to examine a controversial “bonus plan” that would have benefitted upper management disproportionately, as the Florida Times-Union reported.

Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci, a Republican with no particular allegiance to the Mayor, sought the resignation of JEA’s CEO last week also.

Read the letters here.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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