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Attorney: Mayor Curry 'loaded' JEA board in effort to sell utility

Advocacy group OurJax says attorney hired to investigate the failed JEA sale has "a good handle" on what happened as he prepares to release final report.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The attorney hired to investigate the disastrous attempted sale of JEA said Mayor Lenny Curry “loaded the board” of the city-owned utility because “he wanted the money.”

In an interview released by the citizen activist group OurJax, Steve Busey, who serves as special counsel to the City Council Special Investigative Committee, said Curry thought he was doing the best thing for the city but “was trying to do [it] with less than transparency.”

The Mayor's Office called the report "false narratives riddled with conjecture and zero supporting documentation."

Busey told the committee he is prepared to release a draft report of his investigation by the end of October, unless the committee votes Monday to issue subpoenas.  

He said the committee had gotten little cooperation from political operative Tim Baker, a top Curry associate who was hired by Florida Power & Light, one of the companies bidding to buy JEA. Busey said Baker refused to produce documents “on several grounds, including unspecified privileges and constitutional rights.”  

“If the committee chooses to challenge Mr. Baker’s claims of privilege, the committee will need to subpoena the documents and his testimony,” Busey wrote.

OurJax quoted Busey saying he does not intend to interview Curry or re-interview Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes. “We have a good handle on it after talking to Tim [Baker], Sam [Mousa], and Brian.”

“They [Mayor Curry and his top advisors] were trying to push the sale through because they thought they controlled the council and could pass the referendum by offering every ratepayer $1,000,” Busey told OurJax. Curry wanted “less transparency as possible to avoid public outcry. That’s what’s wrong with it.”

Busey added that Curry “wanted the money. He knew it wasn’t going to pass unless they made a special effort. So, they loaded the board. He had the train running, and he got [ousted JEA CEO Aaron] Zahn to run it.”

He continued, “What he [Curry] wanted to do was put $7, $8, or $9 billion on the table at the City Council so they couldn’t say, ‘No.’ He controlled most of the votes because Tim and Brian had run their campaigns.”

Curry thought he was doing the right thing for Jacksonville, said Busey. “He was trying to do it with less than transparency. That’s the wrong way to go about things in this community. Thank God Aaron Zahn screwed it up for him.”

Asked to comment on Busey's comments, Mayor's Office spokesperson NIkki Kimbleton wrote:

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see that after over a million dollars in taxpayer money has been spent, special interest groups are being briefed on false narratives riddled with conjecture and zero supporting documentation prior to briefing the client he actually represents, The City Council. Taxpayers deserve better than a political report meant to appease special interests.” 

OurJax formed in the wake of the JEA scandal to demand accountability and transparency. The group’s entire release is below:

Counsel Busey shares how the failed attempt to sell JEA happened, Baker refuses to produce documents, Committee may subpoena

JACKSONVILLE, FL – Unless the City Council Special Investigative Committee (SIC) votes at its Monday, September 28 meeting to subpoena political operative Tim Baker for documents he has refused to produce, special counsel Steve Busey says he will submit a draft committee report by the end of October.

Busey interviewed Baker under oath on Tuesday, September 8. According to a memorandum from Busey to the SIC, Baker “objected to our document requests on several grounds, including unspecified privileges and constitutional rights.” Busey wrote Baker did not provide “significant document production.” He declined to provide his consulting contract with Florida Power & Light (FP&L) or answer “material questions about his relationship with FP&L.”

Other information Baker failed to provide includes polling information regarding JEA privatization and whether FP&L promised him a success fee.

“If the committee chooses to challenge Mr. Baker’s claims of privilege, the committee will need to subpoena the documents and his testimony,” Busey wrote.

In an exclusive interview with OurJax, Busey said, “The committee has to determine if it wants to fight that battle.”

Busey told OurJax he does not intend to interview Mayor Lenny Curry, or re-interview Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes. “We have a good handle on it after talking to Tim (Baker), Sam (Mousa), and Brian.”

After several months of investigation that included reviewing thousands of documents and records, as well as interviewing former JEA board chair Alan Howard, Foley & Lardner attorney Kevin Hyde, public relations consultant Michael Munz, Baker, Mousa and Hughes, Busey says he knows the story of what happened.

“They (Curry, Baker, Mousa, Hughes and Munz) were trying to push the sale through because they thought they controlled the council and could pass the referendum by offering every ratepayer $1,000,” Busey said. Curry wanted “less transparency as possible to avoid public outcry. That’s what’s wrong with it.”

When Curry was elected mayor, “he wanted the money. He knew it wasn’t going to pass unless they made a special effort. So, they loaded the board. He had the train running, and he got (Aaron) Zahn to run it,” Busey said, referring to the fired JEA CEO.

“What he (Curry) wanted to do was put $7, $8, or $9 billion on the table at the city council so they couldn’t say, ‘No.’ He controlled most of the votes because Tim and Brian had run their campaigns.”

Curry thought he was doing the right thing for Jacksonville, said Busey. “He was trying to do it with less than transparency. That’s the wrong way to go about things in this community. Thank God Aaron Zahn screwed it up for him.”

The plan might have succeeded, Busey said, “if it hadn’t run aground on Aaron Zahn’s greed trying to get the bonus plan through.”

Busey was referring to Zahn’s scheme to award himself and other JEA executives’ bonuses from the proceeds of JEA’s sale that have been estimated to be worth over $1 billion. It was called the Performance Unit Plan (PUP).

Zahn first revealed his plan in early July 2019 during a secret three-day meeting with investment bankers, lawyers, consultants, and utility officials at Club Continental in Orange Park. It has been reported that some of those in attendance objected to the plan as being illegal and dumb politics.

Busey said his deposition with consultant Michael Munz on September 15 was, “very enlightening.” Munz, he said, “gave us a good insight of the Club Continental meeting.”

Munz said under oath that when he arrived at Club Continental, “he didn’t know what was going on or why all of those people were there.” The lavish bonus plan was discussed. According to Busey, during his deposition, Munz said he told Zahn, “that was a stupid fxxxxxg idea.” Munz said Zahn took him outside and said, “If I said that again he would cancel my contract.” Zahn and JEA were paying Munz’s firm $25,000 a month.

Busey said he doesn’t think Curry, Baker, Mousa or Hughes, “knew about the order of magnitude of the payouts of the PUP until council auditor Kyle Billy blew the whistle. They also said, “Oh my God. That’s stupid. It’s going to torpedo the whole thing.”

Busey said that when the investigation is complete, he will submit a report to the SIC with a two-page executive summary, 40-page report, and 200 to 300-page chronology.

About OurJax.com

The mission of OurJax.com, part of the 501(c)(4) social welfare organization OurJax, Inc., is to promote transparency, integrity, accountability and local control in governmental and quasi-governmental entities in greater Northeast Florida, including the City of Jacksonville and its related governmental entities for the benefit of the general public. OurJax.com will work to promote public confidence and trust in government. For more information, go to OurJax.com.