Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Voter Referendum on JEA Sale Possible; by David Bauerlein

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Voter Referendum on JEA Sale Possible; by David Bauerlein

Article excerpt

Byline: david.bauerlein@jacksonville.com

The first City Council discussion to air questions about the potential sale of JEA brought a crowd of utility employees to City Hall where they burst into applause when a JEA customer said she does not see how the utility could be sold without residents first having a chance to vote on it.

Northside resident Glenda O'Connor said JEA has provided good service to its customers.

"We all own it," O'Connor said. "I own part of JEA. I'm a voting member of this county. Everybody here is a voting member who owns JEA. How a certain few can decide to sell our asset, I just don't understand."

The City Charter does not require voter approval in a referendum for privatizing JEA, according to the city General Counsel's office. The decision rests with City Council and the mayor.

But City Councilman John

Crescimbeni said voters should have a say in it, so he plans to have another public meeting to see what it would take to amend the charter and ensure the question would come up at the ballot box.

Crescimbeni and Councilman Garrett Dennis called the public meeting to talk about the prospect of a JEA sale. Seven other City Council members joined them in the council chambers, where Dennis moved the meeting to accommodate the large turnout.

Councilman Reggie Brown said that based on what he heard, a sale of JEA is about as popular a proposition in Jacksonville as selling the Green Bay Packers, which is owned by fans, would be in Wisconsin.

"That's what I'm hearing from the citizens here today, that you have a good product," Brown told the crowd.

He said JEA is not perfect and could benefit from some fine-tuning. "But it's working," Brown said. "Let's continue to move forward with things that are working in Jacksonville."

City Councilman Danny Becton said selling JEA is not inevitable.

"Nothing here is a foregone conclusion," Becton said. "Some people think that it might be, but it's not."

At the request of JEA board members, the utility is doing a study about the viability of selling JEA and what it would be worth to an investor-owned firm. The utility has said that report will be finished this month or in March, but there is no firm timeline.

"Analyzing the financial value of JEA in the marketplace is extraordinarily complex," JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said in a statement. "We do not have a timeline on the completion of the study."

Mayor Lenny Curry has said that he is waiting for JEA's valuation study.

"There is no done deal," he said last week. "They'll have to get a valuation. It will have to be discussed with the public. Nothing gets done without this City Council."

JEA has said that when it finishes its study, it will release the report to the public so there can be "healthy debate" among JEA board members and City Council about whether to invite offers to purchase the utility. …

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