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CM Becton Votes No on JEA’s Retention Bonuses Bills

Jacksonville, FL (November 26, 2019) – Councilman Danny Becton was the only Council Member to vote against the five JEA bills regarding labor contracts and retention bonuses at November 26th City Council meeting. Bills 2019-726, 2019-727, 2019-728, 2019-729, and 2019-730 all passed 18 to 1 (Becton), and though it may be “the season for giving”, Councilman Becton explained to his colleagues a summary of reasons why he simply could not “give” his approving vote during the Tuesday Council meeting before Thanksgiving.

The bills would approve the collective bargaining agreements between the labor unions of JEA which include: 1) JEA Supervisors Association, 2) the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 3) Florida Council 79, Local 429 (AFSCME) ,4) the Northeast Florida Public Employees’ 16 Local 630 Laborers’ International Union of North America, and 5) AFL-CIO 17 (“LIUNA”), and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) for a term of 3 years from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2022. These agreements would incorporate terms that increase wages across the board at 3.5% and for any recapitalization event-triggered a provision” that pays out a sum equal to their salary as of July 23, 2019. This recapitalization benefit is the part for which Councilman Becton opposed and voted against.

Before Council President Wilson opened the ballot for the first of the five bills to vote on, Councilman Becton stood aside his seat on the dais and stated the following:

“Everything that we do regarding JEA in our current environment should always have the outcome to IMPROVE the perception of Transparency and Integrity at all costs. Our constituents are paying attention to not what we say, but what we do. In that regard, it is the actions for which we are going to take on these next five legislative bills tonight that the voters of Jacksonville will be watching.

To that end, it is my contention that the approval of these five Labor Contracts diminishes these values by placing this Council in a position of approving bills with a “retention bonus” that was never discussed, never debated nor agreed to prior to these filings. In legislative terms, this nothing more than ‘Pork’, which places something that we might find distasteful or disagree with, in a bill of things that we fully support. Again, these “retention bonuses” continue the concerns for lack of transparency and integrity of the process for which everyone continues to be upset.

Now let’s discuss the merit of this idea of ‘retention bonuses. I previously asked in committee for someone to provide me examples whereby companies have provided all employees “a full year of pay” as a result of a possible change in governance?

I am still waiting on those examples, but I contend that it is “rare” or “unheard of” event. While we did not approve JEA Leadership’s golden parachutes, we certainly are being asked to approve these. I also asked, “Should retention bonuses be paid if JEA is only changed to a “Co-Op” or implements an “IPO”? 

Again, if it’s to be a “Co-Op” which might just be described as an IRS reclassification, again, “why should anyone receive a full year of pay” for such a change?This type of option just changes the ownership from City Hall to its customers. Why would we consider the outcome for a Co-Op transaction? By the language in these bills, any change in governance triggers everyone including management receiving these golden parachutes.

Finally, when do we get to discuss the total costs impact for these benefits against a type of transaction? When do we get to discuss the impact to the city and to the overall expense ledger that will ultimately be affected by these changes of governance? We have been told that this provision has to be “collectively bargained” but admittingly… not necessarily within these bills.

To that end, ‘the sky will not fall’ and an ‘impasse’ will only mean to instruct JEA to bring us CLEAN BILLS for our approval without these golden parachutes.For these facts, I will not be supporting these bills until this has been done.”

Since the November meeting, Councilman Becton’s office continues to receive an influx of calls and emails regarding JEA regarding the constituent’s opposition towards the sale of JEA. In an email response to a constituent, he reminds them of his responsibility as the Liaison of the Council to JEA but more importantly, his role as their city council member and his stance of the collective bargaining bills, writing the following:

As the Liaison to JEA for the Council, it is my goal/job to make the process as transparent and with as much integrity as I can affect. As to that end, that can only happen if I am objective and unbiased throughout this process leaving any biasness on the sideline in order to achieve that end. If I do not, I will not have the ability to get behind the scenes and to have the relationships to get the information that is needed to accomplish those objectives. However, when a decision by the JEA Board is made, you can take comfort that I will analyze that decision thoroughly and make a decision based on the facts and what is in the best interest of Jacksonville.

Also, you should take comfort that I have pushed back on the last two bills before the council that I feel diminished transparency and the integrity of the process by rejecting those bills in voting “NO”. The first bill 2019-744 with the appointment of Mr. Dane Grey to the JEA Board. That vote was 12 (For) and 6 (Against). I felt that his appointment was the wrong person at the wrong time for this job.

More recently, bills 2019-726, 2019-727, 2019-728, 2019-729 and 2019-730 were before the council. These bills gave the employees of JEA “retention bonus” or what I referred to as golden parachutes to the employees of JEA in the event of a recapitalization. I WAS THE ONLY VOTE of NO for those Bills! At a vote of 18-1 (Becton), it was my contention again that by giving these bonuses to JEA employees it diminished the transparency and the integrity of the process adding to the conspiracy that folks are being bought along with the fact that JEA Leadership never asked the Council for such benefits within the Labor Negotiations for which we were apart.

Votes speak louder than words and I have been consistent with my principles and as a representative of District 11, I am listening and acting in a manner that I feel accomplishes my role and values.

I hear your concerns and also please note that it is becoming more and more difficult to adhere to the above objectives with daily reports that seem to continue in diminishing the narrative.”

Bill 2019-726

Bill 2019-727

Bill 2019-728

Bill 2019-729

Bill 2019-730

By Tiziana Onstead, District 11 Executive Council Assistant