In its highly detailed report on the aborted sale of the city’s electric and water utility, JEA, the City Council did not discover a smoking gun.
However, it did enumerate factors behind the process that have been noticeable almost from the start of Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration – secrecy and a need for speed.
Almost from the start in November 2017, the proposed sale of JEA “appeared to lack transparency” the report said in an understated way.
The proposal was made by Curry supporter Tom Petway who was then chairman of the JEA board.
It quickly went from first gear to sixth gear and a “cone of silence” was imposed at the outset.
Curry’s handpicked CEO Aaron Zahn spearheaded the process.
Throughout the process numerous questions arose but Curry did not address them. His position throughout was the disingenuous claim that he merely wanted to know how much the utility was worth.
Others speculated he wanted billions of dollars in hand to finance his unfunded liability pension plan project and other more tangible projects that would establish his legacy.
To peddle the idea, the JEA produced documents purporting to show that it was in financial distress. Eye on Jacksonville and others in the media questioned those assertions.
The over-riding question always was, how much would the city need to get to make it worth selling an income-producing asset like JEA? At one point the bidding got up to $11 billion but the details were hazy.
It all began coming unglued when the City Council auditor revealed the details of an executive compensation plan would have resulted in payouts of more than $600 million to JEA top brass.
Within weeks, the plan was dropped. Zahn was fired along with the entire JEA board and senior officials. A federal investigation still is under way.
The council special committee went over the entire process and its report was written by local attorney Steve Busey, who was hired by the committee.
Curry has indicated via the media that he does not like the report but has not issued a rebuttal.
Since becoming mayor in 2015, Curry has been known for keeping a cone of silence over information from City Hall, as well as preferring to have his plans and policies approved without question, and in a hurry.
Eye on Jacksonville cannot remember another mayor so anally retentive about information. Jake Godbold would talk anyone’s ear off about his plans and ideas. Hans Tanzler, Ed Austin and John Delaney were wonks who loved to hash over policy with staff, council members and reporters.
Maybe Curry is just a shy guy.
Curry has been less than forthcoming about his plans for tearing down the Jacksonville Landing, supporting The District proposal for Southside, tearing down the expressway near the football stadium and, lastly, handing over millions to the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars for a development plan that taxpayers would lose money on while the team owner reaped profits.
For example, Eye asked Curry’s information gatekeepers several questions about that plan Dec. 17. We have not gotten an answer and a renewed request made a few days ago has been ignored.
Unlike previous mayors, Curry is not a seasoned politician. His background was in the private sector.
A politician would know that gaining, or regaining, public trust calls for being frank and open about your plans and reasons for them. Debate doubters, present facts to support your position and don’t expect other politicians to simply rubber-stamp whatever you want.
Politics is a contact sport.