Jacksonville’s troubled utility, JEA, may be the subject of a federal inquiry.
Melissa Nelson, 4th Circuit State Attorney, mulled investigating the utility’s botched attempt to sell itself, but ultimately passed.
The investigation, she says, should be handled at the federal level.
“Last year, the State Attorney’s Office initiated an investigation into issues related to the privatization of JEA. As with all investigations conducted by this office, we have taken this issue very seriously,” Nelson said.
“After thorough review, the State Attorney’s Office has determined that the appropriate venue to continue this investigation is the federal justice system. We have referred our investigation to our federal partners, who will take the lead moving forward and have the full support of this office,” Nelson added.
Jacksonville is in the Middle District of Florida, where many a political corruption trial has happened over the years, though the defendants almost exclusively have been African-American Democrats in recent years.
Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Jacksonville City Council members Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown, and state Rep. Reggie Fullwood all dealt with federal prosecutors for malfeasance of one type or another, with guilty verdicts in each case.
If an investigation moves forward with U.S. Attorneys in “the lead moving forward,” the inquiry will focus on the city’s largely white Republican establishment, a very different story for Jacksonville-area powerbrokers.
Nelson’s inquiry followed civic outcry, including from forces previously aligned with Mayor Lenny Curry, who had sought (but never received) what he called a “mature conversation” about potentially selling the utility.
Nelson’s situation was complicated. She had engaged the services of Curry’s political team in her 2016 campaign.
If the investigation had stayed on the state level, a recusal may have been in order.
The push to sell and the primary role of the State Attorney in investigating is over, but the conversation is not.
The continuing disquiet over JEA comes after a series of revelations regarding ongoing attempts to sell the company, coupled with a “performance pay” plan that would have allowed executives to buy stock that could exponentially increase in value.
Last month saw the JEA Board remove CEO Aaron Zahn, but thus far the city and the former golden boy CEO have yet to agree on terms.
Zahn’s ultimate demise came after a Jacksonville City Council inquiry into the performance pay plan.