JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Duval County Democratic Party calls on State Attorney Melissa Nelson to recuse herself and requests Governor DeSantis appoint a state attorney of another judicial circuit to investigate matters regarding the sale of JEA. Recent news reports have revealed that Political Strategist Tim Baker attended and provided material support in multiple meetings involving the sale. The integrity of the ongoing investigation could be compromised if handled by Nelson’s office because Baker played an integral role in her successful 2016 campaign and could consult for Nelson in her upcoming re-election bid. Earlier this year, Nelson requested that DeSantis recuse her in the Matt Shirk grand jury investigation, to avoid [in her words] the “appearance of impropriety”. The public investigation of alleged corruption in the proposed sale of JEA requires no less than an equivalent ethical standard.
The pursuit of the privatization of JEA has been fraught from the beginning. City and JEA officials have not been straightforward with the citizens of Jacksonville regarding the intention to sell the utility nor the reasons for the sale. JEA officials warned the board of massive rate hikes and layoffs if the sale was not pursued, but these claims were later called into question by the Civic Council and remain unverified. There are already state ethics investigations into conflicts of interest with JEA negotiators and retention bonuses they could receive if JEA is sold. The Curry administration ignored the city’s Ethics Director who advised that sunshine laws were being violated and recommended that sales talks be canceled.
These concerns, however, pale in comparison to the proposed Long-Term Performance Unit Plan, which led to the termination of JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, an ally of the mayor. Curry’s political consultant Tim Baker attended multiple closed-door meetings at JEA at Zahn’s request, ostensibly to offer political advice on the sales process. Multiple high-level officials at JEA have resigned or been terminated in the wake of the failed sales attempt and performance pay scheme plan. Any investigation into the sale and associated pay scheme must determine the full extent of Baker’s involvement and whether further ethical or legal violations occurred.
The entire JEA privatization process, from start to its inglorious finish, requires an objective and fair investigation. From allegations of violations of state sunshine laws to concerns of corruption in the performance pay scheme, the people of Jacksonville deserve an uncompromised accounting of what city leaders are doing with their tax dollars. The Duval County Democratic Party calls on State Attorney Melissa Nelson to recuse herself to avoid any conflict of interest in this critical investigation into the attempted sale of JEA, the associated allegations of sunshine law violations and self-dealing.