Mayor’s Credibility Doubted

Former Mayor Jake Godbold sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry stating “despite your frequent statements that you’ve not made up your mind on JEA’s future, I am one of a whole lot of people in Jacksonville who are having a hard time believing you.” Godbold’s comment, reported by Florida Times-Union reporter Nate Monroe, raised another significant issue for all concerned citizens. Curry’s actions as mayor “does not appear to flow from what is in the best interest of Jacksonville.” Two other immediate questions beg to be asked. Who is protecting the public interest in city government? Is our mayor suitable to serve us?

Godbold sent a political lightning bolt into the Mayor’s Suite with his letter. He had the boldness to challenge Curry’s intentions and devotion to support the interest of the public who elected him as our mayor. According to Monroe’s article, Godbold had a personal and motivational comment to Curry, “I had no interest in being anything but mayor of Jacksonville,” Godbold wrote of his own tenure. “I [am] not sure the same can be said for you, which is perfectly fine,” he told Curry.

The JEA CEO predicament is the latest indicator of political double-dealing and our mayor’s lack of candor. Actually, this JEA situation is the second time we’ve seen in plain view how one of the mayor’s appointed Board Members from within the same organization threw their hat into the ring to assume a vacant CEO position. Paul McElroy stepped down as the utility’s CEO amid a controversial study about privatization of JEA. Chief Financial Officer Melissa Dykes was elevated to assume the post with McElroy’s surprising resignation news, effective Sept. 30, 2018. Just before the dust settled on McElroy’s pending departure and his replacement identified, Aaron Zahn, a Curry appointee to the JEA Board, resigned from the Board with the intention to run for the interim CEO position left by McElroy’s vacancy. Zahn and Curry attend the same church. Florida Politics reported, “This was not a move many forecasted before recent weeks, and was presaged with a game of musical chairs, in which Zahn resigns his position to pursue the interim CEO position, one filled by Dykes … .” Over a series of weekend meetings and four days after his resignation, the JEA Board selected Zahn as its interim CEO and Dykes was appointed beyond her CFO post to work with Zahn.

The first time our mayor manipulated the political strings to fill a CEO position occurred with Kids Hope Alliance, an organization Curry created by legislation to replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, and redirected the Jacksonville Journey Program’s millions of dollars into it. A political battle occurred just to get the legislation to the floor for a vote, where it passed 18 to 1. CFO Mike Weinstein became the interim CEO, pending a permanent selection by the board of directors. The mayor appointed all of the members of the board of directors to his newly formed organization. His board had the responsibility to select the CEO. “Out of more than 100 eligible applications, the Kids Hope Alliance board search committee was given 13 to review and has since selected eight to interview via Skype … ,” as stated by the T-U’s Tessa Duvall.

Once again, one of the mayor’s appointed board members, Joe Peppers decided to toss his hat into the ring to become the CEO, while still a board member. This move brought a loud cry of protest. Some City Councilmembers made their displeasure known over the perceived conflict of interest … . Their reasoning was validated by “experts in ethics and board management,” according to an article by Duvall. There was a difference of opinion—”But, for the city’s administration, general counsel and at least two search committee members—Kevin Gay and Rebekah Davis—it’s not a problem.” Peppers resigned from the board and was placed into consideration for the CEO post. The selection process moved forward. Major questions were raised about Peppers’ qualifications and the search committee faced serious skepticism and inquiries. “One of the five finalists for the CEO position at the new Kids Hope Alliance has removed herself for consideration, citing unfairness in the selection process.” Curry’s handpicked Board Of Directors had the ultimate responsibility to make the CEO selection. “Joe Peppers, an operations manager at Amazon in Jacksonville, was selected as the board’s first choice in a 4-2 vote. Board members Tyra Tutor and Barbara Darby both expressed strong opposition to Peppers, repeatedly citing his lack of experience in researching best practices, the nonprofit realm and developing partnerships on behalf of children. Board member Marvin Wells voted for Peppers only after trying unsuccessfully to abstain.”

A comprehensive review of these two CEO selection processes reflects back to an early point cited by Godbold. These actions clearly “do not appear to flow from what is in the best interest of Jacksonville.” Who is protecting the public interest in city government? The mayor has that primary responsibility, but Godbold raised a question and also a dilemma about Curry’s creditability with these words: “despite your frequent statements that you’ve not made up your mind on JEA’s future, I am one of a whole lot of people in Jacksonville who are having a hard time believing you.”

We’re left with a nagging question. Is our mayor suitable to serve us? Curry operates a mean-spirited City Hall. Politics was designed to be the art of compromise. Ron Littlepage said this concerning compromise in City Hall, prior to his retirement from the Florida Times-Union, “A trait that has become evident during Curry’s two years in office is he doesn’t take kindly to being challenged. He also listens closely to his top political adviser, Brian Hughes of Tallahassee, who has a well-known nasty streak a mile wide.” Littlepage also shared, “Curry has a habit of attacking those who disagree with him. What he posted on Twitter last week is worth noting: ‘Gotta have purpose. Gotta have vision. But gotta win to realize the purpose & vision. Winning matters’.” This quote from Curry speaks volumes about his governing philosophy. Mr. Mayor, what’s wrong with a “Win-Win” approach to governing, with a vision including compromise? That would convince past mayor Jake Godbold and us to believe you-that your actions as our mayor benefit the citizens of Jacksonville, not your personal political ambitions? 


Gray is a concerned citizen.