A City Council committee meets again Friday to discuss whether Stephanie Burch, Jacksonville’s No. 2 administrator, should be subpoenaed.
Jacksonville’s No. 2 administrator has refused to be interviewed by a City Council committee investigating the aborted sale of JEA, committee members were told Tuesday.
Members of the Special Investigative Committee on JEA Matters could talk Friday about using a subpoena to make Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch answer their questions.
But they agreed Tuesday to first ask the Mayor’s Office in writing to tell Burch to cooperate.
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"I find this incredibly frustrating and disappointing," Councilman Rory Diamond, the committee chair, said as the panel met online. "Hopefully, we can do it this way, where we can get our answers. If not, we have tough decisions to make Friday."
There was no discussion about why Burch, who rose to the deputy role last summer after running the city Neighborhoods Department, hadn’t agreed to answer the committee’s questions.
She was one of three city officials who were tapped in November to replace senior JEA figures in talks with businesses interested in buying all or part of JEA, the city’s electric and water utility. Those talks ended in December, when Mayor Lenny Curry and JEA board canceled an idea the mayor said the public had "lost faith" in.
Asked about the Mayor’s Office position on answering the committee’s questions, city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said the city Office of General Counsel had advised city employees involved in the JEA investigation to get outside counsel.
"We have urged our employees to follow legal guidance from their personal attorneys as well as from OGC," Kimbleton said by email.
Burch is trying to be helpful to the committee, but just hasn’t had enough time to work out boundaries for her questioning, her lawyer said by email Tuesday evening.
"She was surprised and disappointed with the aggressive tone of the comments by some on the committee today," wrote Warren Lindsey, a Central Florida criminal defense attorney whose practice focuses on professional liability.
He said Burch had already given a sworn statement to an inspector general but had been buried recently in work surrounding the city’s stimulus payments for thousands of people financially battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
"[S]he has been putting in 14-16 hour days," Lindsey wrote. "She hopes these issues can be worked out and resolved."
The council’s review is happening while a federal grand jury is also collecting mountains of information about JEA and the sales talks.
Committee members had questioned whether the city’s review could interfere with the federal probe. But Steve Busey, an attorney hired by the committee, told members he had talked with an official at the U.S. Attorney’s Office who had advised simply, "we’ll do our thing, and you do your thing."
The committee is scheduled to meet again at 9 a.m. Friday.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263