The Florida Times-Union by Nate Monroe
October 10, 2019
JEA began walking back secretive process some Thursday after coming under increasing scrutiny
COMMENTARY | Barbara Petersen, one of Florida’s leading open-government experts and long-time president of the First Amendment Foundation, said Thursday she has never seen something as “twisted” as the closed-door process JEA executives are using that could ultimately lead to the privatization of Jacksonville’s century-old public electric, water and sewer utility.
“It just doesn’t smell right,” Petersen said.
JEA opened bids from possible buyers Monday, but utility leaders hadn’t originally planned on releasing the identities of those bidders or any information contained within their offers for as long as six months — a time during which utility officials will negotiate in secret with the anonymous companies. Only after those negotiations are complete did JEA executives plan on releasing basic information about the bidders and the negotiations.
JEA CEO Aaron Zahn recently called this a “cloaked process” and argued it was necessary to ensure bidders don’t gain competitive advantages over one another — even though it differs significantly from the way the utility and the city have handled past procurements.
On Thursday, however, utility officials began backing away from that cloaked process some, telling the Times-Union they would ask bidders for permission to release their identities during a public meeting Monday afternoon. During that meeting, an evaluation committee will announce which bids qualify to move onto the negotiation phase. This change comes amid increasing scrutiny of the secretive sale process from the media and from members of the Jacksonville City Council.