JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A special City Council committee looking into the possibility of selling city-owned JEA to a private entity grilled the utility's newly elected interim CEO on Thursday.
Aaron Zahn resigned his position as a board member to vie for the role of interim CEO after the departure of Paul McElroy, who stepped down amid the controversy over the potential sale.
Zahn said JEA was unprepared for the fallout when it first announced the possibility of selling the public utility.
“It's true that on Nov. 28, our organization started a conversation for which, I must admit, we were wholly unprepared,” Zahn said. “As CEO, I now own that matter.”
Since that announcement, speculation has run rampant on who would really come out ahead if the city were to be paid billions of dollars for JEA.
Zahn made it clear Thursday that he wants to pause any talk of selling the utility.
The council committee appeared to be changing its focus Thursday from selling to the general future of JEA and what needs to change, along with who its leader will be long term.
Zahn went back and forth with council members about his intentions as the interim CEO with many wanting to know whether he plans to seek the job permanently.
“If the skills and scorecard lined up, I would be open to applying, and I would discuss that with the board of directors before I did so,” Zahn said.
But council members learned that Zahn would actually be one of those making up the scorecard of criteria for a new CEO, and some said they feel that sends the wrong message.
“It continues to create a cloud of mistrust,” Councilman Tommy Hazouri said.
Some on the committee wondered openly Thursday whether it’s time to pause their hearings until a later date.
Councilman John Crescimbeni said the committee has done a lot of work so far and he would hate to see those efforts go to waste.
“If this discussion about selling is going to be paused, I'm OK with that, but I can assure you that it will come back and it will come back probably after next year’s elections,” Crescimbeni said.
The committee will meet again next week.