Former Mayor Jake Godbold told the world and anyone who would listen why this JEA scandal belongs to Mayor Lenny Curry: because Curry purged the JEA board and replaced its members “with his own hand-picked cronies.” The frightening reality, however, is that every board, commission and agency in Jacksonville today is occupied by Curry cronies. Joe Peppers, Dr. Barbara Darby and a few others are an exception.
As for the JEA privatization scheme, Folio Weekly Editor Georgio Valentino wrote in a recent article, “…I reckon this merits federal attention. This isn’t a simple sweetheart demolition contract or a good-old-boy appointment; with a price tag of around $7 billion, if JEA were to sell under this cloud, it would be a staggering swindle, far above and beyond Jacksonville’s high standing tolerance for corruption.”
Although everything remains to be seen, State Attorney Melissa Nelson was right to call in the feds. Nelson has multiple conflicts of interest involving the mayor and two top members of his administration: Brian Hughes and Tim Baker. Nelson must recuse herself from all JEA matters. Both Hughes and Baker served as political consultants in Curry’s re-election campaign and Nelson’s run for state attorney. Baker has earned a number of consulting contracts with several of our city’s independent agencies since Curry was elected mayor. Let’s not forget that he and Sam Mousa, another City Hall insider, pitched an unsolicited and scandalous lobbying service contract to Duval County Public Schools. Many citizens questioned if they were not peddling influence.
The members of the current JEA Board of Directors have close ties to Curry and his political influence peddlers. A review of the situation suggests it was Curry who started the train to sell our valuable public utility. It was Curry who recommended Aaron Zahn, a member of his church, without a day of utility experience, to lead JEA. It was Curry who purged the board. And it was Curry who pulled the plug on the operation when it got too hot to handle. The JEA board immediately complied with his December 23 statement and terminated the invitation to negotiate. This JEA scandal has a direct connection to Curry. The fiasco was conducted behind closed doors, avoiding the sunshine. It was perpetrated like a crime ring run from City Hall.
After months of a steady drum beat and a loud chorus to form a grand jury investigation against the sale of JEA, Nelson finally made an official comment a few weeks ago: “This office is—and has been—looking into matters involving JEA.” Now she is handing the investigation to as-yet-unnamed federal authorities, who must investigate thoroughly and independently of Nelson’s office. Jacksonville has a high tolerance for corruption; it’s endemic. The pattern of corruption has endured thanks to prosecutorial discretion. The citizens deserve a root-and-branch investigation of Curry’s scheme to sell our public utility.
Gray is a very concerned citizen.