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JEA moves sales talks to Atlanta

Negotiations out of state for public utility sale.

A Jacksonville utility and the multinational consortium of bidders looking to acquire it will heed the advice of rapper Ludacris, who once posited: “Welcome to Atlanta where the players play.”

JEA announced Friday night that “the negotiation team for ITN 127-19, along with the JEA Senior Leadership Team will travel to Atlanta, GA to meet with ITN respondents.”

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.

In what some see as irony, Jacksonville itself didn’t make the cut for its own negotiation process: “Atlanta was picked as the meeting site due to its proximity to Jacksonville, designation as an international airport hub and the number of available business accommodations.”

Meeting with JEA’s senior leadership as well as with the negotiation team is an important next step for the respondents,said Kerri Stewart, JEA Vice-President and Chief Customer Officer and former Mayor Lenny Curry Chief of Staff,

“Each of the teams will hopefully walk away with the information they need as we continue to move through the process,” Stewart added.

The decision to move negotiations out of the Florida sunshine did not sit well with Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci, who had called for JEA CEO Aaron Zahn to resign a week ago.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson also took issue with the out-of-town negotiations.

City of Jacksonville Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch, City Treasurer Randall Barnes, and City Engineer Robin Smith are tasked with handling the negotiations, along with JEA senior leadership.

This Friday night news release from JEA is an interesting response to a push on the Jacksonville City Council to pull the plug altogether.

Thursday saw a resolution introduced to the 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.”

Two Councilmen allied with Mayor Lenny Curry, 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.

Curry, meanwhile, has been an advocate for the privatization process. His senior staffers will be in Atlanta, and it remains to be seen how JEA and the city will disseminate information about the process, including media access to proceedings.

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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