City Council will issue subpoena to Tim Baker for JEA records
Florida Times-Union, by Christopher Hong, 10.20.20
A Jacksonville City Council committee voted Tuesday to issue a subpoena to political consultant Tim Baker as part of the council’s investigation into the failed sale of JEA.
Baker, a prominent political consultant who has advised the campaigns of Mayor Lenny Curry and several sitting council members, had a consulting contract with Florida Power and Light, which submitted a bid last year to purchase JEA, while also providing advice to JEA about the sale.
The council Rules committee voted 4 to 3 to subpoena Baker, as well as several of his consulting firms. The subpoena was recommended by the special council investigative committee after Baker refused to provide information and documents related to his work for Florida Power and Light during an interview with the committee’s attorney last month.
Baker has said the subpoena is a “constitutional overreach” and vowed Tuesday to “vigorously defend my constitutional rights all the way to the US Supreme Court if necessary.”
Baker likely won’t have to fight put up much of a fight.
The full council would have to take action to enforce the subpoena if Baker refused to cooperate, and a number of council members, including a few of his clients, said Tuesday they would vote against doing so.
Councilman Sam Newby said he wouldn’t support giving a subpoena to a private citizen. Councilwoman Leanna Cumber said the investigative committee needed to avoid conducting a witch hunt. Councilmen Ron Salem, Randy White, Aaron Bowman, Terrance Freeman and Rory Diamond also said they wouldn’t support the subpoena, either.
Councilman Reginald Gaffney said he wouldn’t punish a man simply for trying to “support his family.”
“What I learned is that Tim Baker is a good business person. Why are we trying to get mad at a person who set up whatever deals he wanted to,” Gaffney said.
Baker verbally disclosed that he signed a consulting agreement with FPL on Dec. 21, 2017 and that was in effect through July 31, 2019. While that agreement was in place, Baker attended a meeting involving JEA executives, mortgage bankers and law firms on July 10 at Club Continental in Orange Park.
Baker’s relationships with the city-owned utility and the company considered the frontrunner to buy it, which were not made public until after the sale was cancelled, raises a number of ethical concerns as well as procurement issues, said Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, the chair of both the rules committee and the special investigative committee.
Tuesday’s decision was the first time the council had ever exercised its authority to issue a subpoena, said the city’s general counsel Jason Gabriel. The council has the power to do so when the information they are seeking is tied with their legislative authority, Gabriel said.
The special committee was created as a fact-finding vehicle and was charged with issuing a report that would detail what went wrong surrounding the botched sale, as well as the creation of a lucrative bonus plan for employees, and legislative solutions that could prevent a similar episode in the future.
Priestly Jackson said she believes what Baker did should not be allowed in the future.
“What I am committed to is making certain that no one gains an unfair advantage.. by having those diverse roles and ethical conflicts,” she said.
Among the information sought by the subpoena is Baker’s consulting contract with FPL. Steve Busey, the attorney for the special committee, said the committee wants to lear more about Baker’s relationship with FPL that he has refused to provide, including what FPL paid him to do.
“Those are questions we think are material to the committee’s investigation,” Busey said. “We suspect we know what happened, that he was on both sides of the fence.”
Salem said pursuing the subpoena could cost the city considerable time and money. He said it was time for the special committee should conclude the fact-finding portion of its work and focus on releasing a report.
“I believe we have a lot to be proud of, but I believe we’ve reached as far as we can as a council,” he said.