JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville City Council investigators said they are turning over every stone in the investigation of Aaron Zahn and the now-stopped sale of JEA, including who Zahn was meeting and when.
The former CEO of JEA has faced a firestorm of criticism after revelations he and other senior leaders stood to make millions off the sale of the city-owned utility.
The News4Jax I-TEAM learned more about how often Zahn was coming to the City Hall during his tenure, including his visits to the Mayors Office, through a public records request. The documents show hundreds of swipes into City Hall over the last year and a half as Zahn made more than 90 visits.
The volume of visits is drawing criticism from City Council members who say JEA is meant to be independent of politics.
“It seems a bit excessive,” City Councilmember Ron Salem said Monday. “I never met with him and I’ve been here for six months, so I guess we need to determine exactly what he was doing and who he was meeting with.”
According to the Mayor’s Office, Zahn met with Mayor Lenny Curry twice about the “strategic challenges of JEA” on June 12 and March 21. Curry’s Chief Administration Officer Brian Hughes also met with Zahn seven times since he was officially hired as CEO.
News4Jax asked about the visits to City Hall, and Zahn issued a statement:
City Councilmember Matt Carlucci told News4Jax on Friday the volume of time Zahn was spending at City Hall is unprecedented.
“It’s highly unusual for the CEO of any of our independent authorities visiting city hall or the mayor’s office that many times in a year, five years," Carlucci said in a statement. "That’s an inordinate amount of times for someone leading independent authority. In my opinion over the many years I have been in the city government, it’s totally unprecedented.”
News4Jax did find that at least six of the visits made by Zahn were related to Hurricane Dorian.
All of this comes as the JEA Board of Directors prepares to make a decision Tuesday about how much money the ousted CEO will walk away with. So far, he’s made more than $72,000 while on leave — about $2,000 a day — and stands to make close to $800,000 in severance pay if the board decides not to fire him with a cause.
“I’m optimistic that Mr. Zahn will be terminated with cause and there will be a plan put in place to move JEA forward under it’s an existing structure,” Salem said. “And all the privatization efforts will be stopped.”
The board will also vote on whether they should get rid of the controversial six-figure severance packages promised to other senior leaders within JEA.