Many years ago (about 52), the voters of Duval County mandated a “Bold New City of the South.” Today there is a behind-the-scenes, behind-closed-doors planning group that would hoodwink us into changing that to the “Sold New City of the South.” Voters overwhelmingly shouted a message against selling their JEA. Yet the JEA CEO and board continue to engineer a stampeding train forward, designed to keep the Jacksonville City Council on a “need to know’ basis—and keep citizen stakeholders and business leaders in the dark altogether. Any suggestion of transparency is a joke and an intentional lie. There has been no open, fact-based, honest dialogue. This rogue JEA was not contemplated by the framers of the voter-approved City Charter.
It gets worse. Privatizing JEA would guarantee moving decisions about Jacksonville’s future to South Florida, North Carolina or even a foreign country. And the focus will be on Wall Street, not our Main Street. What kind of future would that mean for our children and grandchildren? Local control would be gone.
Should we give up ownership and control of our most vital, important asset? Not just no, but Hell no!
In my past service as a City Councilmember-at-large, I had to learn to read CoJ and JEA financial reports. I’ve studied the current reports, and this is JEA today:
1. It is very profitable, paying a record-high $125 million contribution to the City of Jacksonville. That’s 50 percent more than a decade ago, and a full 100 percent more than two decades ago.
2. It has massive cash liquidity and reserve funds available for productive investments.
3. It boasts some of the lowest electric rates in Florida. Current JEA rates are a bit lower than 10 years ago, and they remain stable while private utilities like FPL raise rates annually.
We should keep this wonderful local asset as we enter what looks to be an emerging golden age of energy. Lower costs, more revenue and profits, and stable, low rates will work to our local benefit. Should we find new ways to bring in and use greater private-sector efficiency? Of course! The sooner, the better. But give up local control and ownership? Hell no.
Instead of selling JEA, I suggest using proven ways to coordinate city stakeholders. The mayor, City Council and JEA should work together on big, bold projects. After all, without tax or rate increases, an estimated $2 billion is available for investment in things like infrastructure, bringing sewer and drainage lines to the many areas still on polluting septic tanks, undergrounding overhead electric lines, and adding more stormwater drainage facilities where they are still needed.
Speaking of undergrounding overhead electric lines—a recommendation made as far back as 1929—it could be accomplished within five years. We owe it to our citizens to put power lines underground to protect them when the next hurricane strikes. Look at California, where aboveground power lines have exacerbated the raging wildfires.
And we owe it to our citizens to deliver what was promised to the voters with Consolidation. Why not start in the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods? I have confidence that Council President Scott Wilson and our City Council can and will do this. To quote President John F. Kennedy quoting George Bernard Shaw, “Some see things as they are and ask why? I dream things that never were, and say why not?”
Smith is a retired Jacksonville City Councilmember and former council president.