Jacksonville, FL — By a substantial margin, Duval County voters say they want to have a voice in any possible future sale of JEA. Now, one Jacksonville City Councilman is trying to make sure that happens.
Councilman John Crescimbeni filed a bill back in February, which would have voters be the final say on any potential sale. He has been deferring that for months, in order to get the temperature from voters through a straw ballot that was a part of Tuesday's election. The measure passed with more than 73% of the vote.
“The voters have clearly indicated, in my opinion, that they are sending us a message- to the Council, and the Mayor, and the candidates in next year’s election even- that they consider JEA to be theirs, and they’re absolutely demanding input in to any possible or potential future sale of the utility,” he says.
Crescimbeni’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Councilman Garrett Dennis, would essentially add voters as a third step in any sale process. Under the existing charter, JEA’s Board of Directors first has to approve any potential sale. If that amounts to 10% or more of JEA, then the City Council must also approve the deal by a majority vote. The straw ballot question, and what Crescimbeni’s bill does, would then add a third layer of approval, by the voters.
“I think it’s clear what direction the voters want to go in. They own the utility, not the City Council. So, I think, the next step is to move forward with the charter change, so it matches up with how the voters have opined on Tuesday’s referendum,” Crescimbeni says.
His hope is he can move the bill out of Committee the week of the 19th and get a final vote in front of the City Council on November 27th. Because the Council voted in support of putting the straw ballot in the General Election, he’s hopeful they will now back the corresponding action.
“You’d be hard pressed to ask the voters for their opinion, and then not respond accordingly,” he says.
Changing the charter to add this step requires a two-thirds vote by the City Council.
This initiative is one of several JEA sale-related bills that were filed earlier this year, amid uncertainty about the future of the utility.
About a year ago, the idea of privatization was first floated by the outgoing JEA Board Chair, who said it would be something worth exploring. JEA's CEO Paul McElroy then stepped down in April, saying they needed someone with a different set of leadership skills, in order to deal with the next set of challenges JEA would face. The newest Board Member at that time, Aaron Zahn then resigned from the Board, in order to apply for- and ultimately be awarded- interim CEO. He is among the finalists being considered by JEA for the permanent position.
While he initially said he thought it would be good to gather information and explore options, amid intense public blowback over the possible privatization, Mayor Lenny Curry came out in late April to say he would not put forward any plan for privatization. Instead, he said he was supportive of the new efforts underway within JEA to innovate and build in to the future.
While that position essentially squashed any imminent privatization, the Council continued to study the matter for some time and pursued measures like this, with the expectation the idea could come up again at some point in the future.