Bulls on Parade

Are you sick yet of the discussion of whether or not to privatize JEA?

Do you think the red shirts and City Council pushback mean that it’s over? Not even close.

While City Council has a number of resolutions on the subject to consider, including one that says flat-out JEA should be sold, there are good indications that the discussion isn’t quite over.

The strongest indication is the all-star team of lobbyists queuing up to help with the sales push.

One utility giant, which advertises heavily in this market, got the man who is probably the most influential single lobbyist in the city to make its case.

Florida Power & Light has engaged Paul Harden, best known locally as the representative for the Jacksonville Jaguars and owner Shad Khan’s interests.

Harden has closed the deal on everything from the slots referendum getting through council (I remember one councilman, historically especially susceptible to Harden’s pitch, saying five minutes into a public notice meeting on slots that he just wanted to vote now) to the HRO (big dispositive factors in LGBT protections becoming law were Harden and Khan whipping votes).

Harden, at this writing, is the sole FPL lobbyist. But he’ll have competition.

Emera, a Nova Scotia-based utility company that acquired TECO and otherwise has assets ranging from New Mexico to the Caribbean, has also lobbied up, with registrants from two of the three external lobby groups the city uses to push its agenda in Tallahassee.

Group 1: Southern Strategies Group’s Matt Brockelman and Deno Hicks are in the mix.

Group 2: Emera has retained Marty Fiorentino and The Fiorentino Group colleagues Joe Mobley, Mark Pinto and Jason Roth.

They’ve also enlisted Rogers Towers lawyers T.R. Hainline (a member of Lenny Curry’s transition team in 2015) and Wyman Duggan, whose campaign for state house is run by Curry’s chief political adviser, Tim Baker.

And speaking of Rogers Towers and Fiorentino, you might not have known until last week that they have a strategic alliance. You do now, and a fulcrum of said strategic alliance will be former mayor and soon-to-be former University of North Florida President John Delaney.

Part of that strategic alliance, principals all but said, will be JEA. Delaney told the Daily Record that JEA was “discussed” before he was hired.

The question, of course, will be which approach proves more effective. Emera bought Tampa’s utility a while back, and would seem to have the numbers advantage in terms of lobbying. Harden, however, is uniquely persuasive.

Will Delaney be dispositive? Keep in mind he hasn’t been in City Hall for 15 years. And when some look at what a JEA windfall could fund, they will ineluctably think of Better Jacksonville Plan obligations of which $1.173 billion are still owed.

We may have hit the high-water mark of the council leadership feud with the mayor’s office over JEA. The cooperation between the mayor’s finance team and council auditors that was an issue a few weeks ago is no longer. The embattled CEO, Paul McElroy, likewise has exited stage left. In a time when council is about to shed its current skin, we may see a period in which JEA and the mayor’s office study privatization, and recommend something down the road, right around election time.

One thinks, of course, of how people in Vero Beach made their moves toward privatization. It was right around election time, and the council voted to sell, per TCPalm.com, in part because if legislators had balked, the FPL political committee (“Clean Sweep for a Brighter Tomorrow”) would have weighed in heavily on the elections.

What is clear: More players could be headed into the current mix, and the more there are, the more persuasive the case to move the asset (as some call it) will be. There are potential lobbyists who are still on the sidelines, so if other energy companies or hedge funds or investor consortiums want to play, they can.

Read: They inevitably will.

We will, by the end of this, have an interesting story about which lobbyists close the deal and which ones just look good on paper. People may balk at this process lacking “transparency,” but those looking closely will get a front row seat at how business is really done.