JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry addressed three major issues facing the River City: the most recent controversy with JEA, the major change with the Jaguars' home games and uncertainty with Lot J's development. All three topics have a major impact on the citizens of Jacksonville, both financially and economically.
The latest developments over JEA, with the release of audiotapes and thousands of pages of newly released documents from interviews with the Office of General Counsel, have only raised more questions over the public utility's future, especially in the absence of a permanent CEO and a Board of Directors that has submitted their resignations.
In light of it all, Curry says he is will support a referendum proposed by City Councilman Garrett Dennis, if that referendum is passed by City Council next Tuesday.
"If City Council wants to put that to a voter referendum I’ll sign the bill," said Curry.
The proposal would change how JEA board members are elected in the future. It would give the mayor only three board appointments, instead of having him elect all seven. If council members approve the ordinance and the mayor does sign off on it, it would be added to the November ballot for voters to decide.
In the meantime, council members are asking the mayor to give them three of the JEA board appointments and leave him with four.
"I am in active conversations with the council president to make sure they have input," Curry said. "I spoke to him as recently as this morning and I will work with the council president, any council person, to make sure their voice is heard as we pick, as we appoint and confirm the next board."
The mayor's office has already confirmed to First Coast News that the current JEA board members may have to stay on longer than expected, as it's proving difficult to find the right people who will accept such a position.
"It’s a timing thing, the legislative cycle," he said. "So we are making sure we get the right people on the board. We’re not going to rush this. It’s important that we get the right people with the right backgrounds and the right skills as we reset."
Curry said, while they are reaching out to several people, he didn't want to confirm any specifics yet.
"I wouldn’t want to put a citizen’s name out there until we’ve got an agreement and we’re ready to go with a bill to city council, but I will tell you that I talked to a number of people that have CEO, strong corporate backgrounds and so we’ll going to continue to move that direction," he said. "There’s a number of people in the community, business types that have served on big corporate boards that care about the utility and are also offering suggestions."
As for the latest developments coming out of transcripts from the Office of Genera Counsel's investigation into Zahn, Curry said, despite what one interview may have said, he denied have "constant" contact with Zahn's assistant. He also said he has not spoken to Zahn recently.
Curry is also claiming that he did nothing wrong on a personal trip to Atlanta, Georgia to see a Braves game. He attended the game with Zahn, and several of his close staffers. A Political Action Committee originally paid for the trip, but Curry later said he footed the bill himself, though his portion only came to a total of $400, a small amount compared to the other men's expenses.
Florida Times-Union reporter Chris Hong tweeted a picture of the group of men caught on the stadium's fan camera.
"I went to a baseball game and I paid for it in accordance to the law with my own funds," said Curry.
First Coast News took a poll asking the public if they still had confidence in the mayor. Around 450 people voted in a matter of four hours; 90% of the votes were of no confidence.
However, the mayor insists otherwise.
"Look, I’m out in the community every day talking to people, so my feedback is real-time, and from time to time people want to talk to me about potholes, garbage issues, roads sidewalks," he said. "My interactions with the people of Jacksonville on any given day are solid, strong and good, I listen to them and I take action when they ask me to, so I’m going to keep leading the city."
Curry also fielded questions over the Jaguars' latest developments.
Just over the past 48 hours, Jaguars fans have taken over social media speaking out against Jaguars owner Shad Khan's decision to give another home game to London. Bold City Brigade went as far as to create a "coalition" in which they garnered signatures in opposition to Khan's decision.
"Look, as a fan, you want as many home games as you can have, I’m a fan first, I think most people know that," said Curry. "But look, they’re an organization that is working off of a balance sheet, making decisions based on the stability of the franchise and they’ve said all along that they’re going to do things that stabilize the franchise financially so that it remains in Jacksonville and the things that they’ve done have demonstrated that to me."
Curry said he would like there to be eight home games in Jacksonville, but that is not a reality right now. He said he still plans to attend the six home games they will have at TIAA Bank. He says understand fans need to and "should" express how they feel about the announcement.
"You know none of the elected officials, myself included, are involved in any of those decisions," Curry said. "We learn about them once they’ve been made. This is an organizational decision that’s been made for the stability of the franchise in Jacksonville."
In an answer to a question, he said he has not seen any evidence that the change was an attempt to leverage that an attempt to leverage stadium improvements in Jacksonville.
As for Lot J, the mayor says they have yet to reach a final decision. The development is expected to cost millions of dollars.
"We don’t have a final deal yet," he said. "When we get a final deal, come to terms with a development agreement, that will have to go to the DIA and the city council and at that point the public and those two bodies will weigh in and if they don’t think it’s a good deal we won’t go through with it."