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Lengthy Council Debate Results in a 19 Member JEA Committee; Waiving Oaths or Subpeanas

On March 27, 2018, The City Council suite in City Hall was a buzz with whispers concerning the future of the JEA Special Committee. Rumors flew about the halls the day of the full council meeting that someone was going to make a motion to disband the committee.

The motion happened. However, not only did the five-person committee live to meet again, its membership grew to include all 19 council members. Gone is the council rule that would have given the committee subpoena power and the ability to administer oaths to those speaking to the committee.

The JEA Special Committee was established by Council President Brosche after a Feb. 14 meeting where the council learned that the JEA Board was in the preliminary stages of considering putting the city-owned utility up for sale. City Council approval is needed for JEA to be sold by a super majority of 13.

The mystery started to unravel when during the City Council Agenda meeting earlier in the afternoon, Council Member Garrett Dennis asked the General Council Office about the procedures required to dismantle a Special Committee. By a simple majority vote, the City Council could establish a completion date for the Special Committee as early as that night, effectively ending the JEA Special Committee.

After the first half of the council meeting and just before the public comment portion, more than 2-and-a-half hours of debate began. Council Member Matt Schellenberg, voiced his displeasure with the makeup of the special committee that consists of Chair John Crescimbeni, Council President Anna Brosche and Council Members Danny Becton, Joyce Morgan and Garrett Dennis. He inferred that the committee was stacked with council members who did not favor selling JEA. CM Schellenberg also thought the committee had a political agenda when it asked that all those speaking before the committee take an oath to tell the truth and that it be granted subpoena power. Other Council Members also expressed their displeasure as to the oaths and subpoena activities of the committee discouraging their support.

During the course of the debate, CM Becton, who represents District 11, said “his goal is to use the Special Committee as a fact-finding tool and to “evaluate” the pros and cons of selling the utility”. In previous meetings CM Becton had said “he did not believe top mayoral aides like Sam Mousa, CAO, needed to be place under oath”. CM Becton added “I definitely see where this discussion is going as to the concern my fellow Council Members have with the requirements of the oaths and subpoenas”. “I would definitely support the removal of those requirements but I do feel the work of the committee is vital to understanding the opportunities within JEA“.

During debate, which centered on how members were chosen by President Brosche and the conflicts of opinion on subpoenas and oaths, Council Member Lori Boyer offered a substitute amendment. Her substitute waived the council rules about subpoenas and administering oaths. Because it necessitated waiving council rules, it needed 13 votes and initially passed 13-6. In a surprise reversal, Council Member Doyle Carter requested to have the motion reconsidered and as the reconsideration of the motion passed, the revote of the Boyer motion then failed 12-7.

With this result having taken place, Council Members began to have concerns that the purpose of ending the special committee was not as previously debated. As the original Schellenberg proposal to disband the JEA Special Committee all together was taken up, it was only then that the Council voted 10-9 to keep the committee.

In a final action, CM Aaron Bowman proposed that the JEA Special Committee be expanded to include all 19 council members and that it wave the council rules pertaining to subpoenas and administering oaths. It passed 14-5.