JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a lengthy email sent to local media members on Friday night, Jacksonville Councilman Matt Carlucci wrote that the time has come for the JEA board to call for the resignation of CEO Aaron Zahn.
Within hours, the chairman of the city-owned utility’s board of directors responded with a statement saying she was surprised by Carlucci’s criticism, adding that the board had placed “our full faith” in Zahn.
The four-term councilman wrote that he has met with Zahn but has “come to the firm conclusion he needs to find a place for his skill sets, but CEO of the JEA IS NOT THE PLACE.” Carlucci added that the JEA board needs to find a CEO who is “well steeped with integrity” and has experience in the municipal utilities business.
“This entire ‘conversation’ on selling the JEA has long lost credibility and fatigued our citizens and stalled our city’s progress on so many other important issues that affect all of Jacksonville’s citizens,” Carlucci wrote.
it is politically smart to hold your cards close. However, when it comes to privatization of the JEA I know this is a big mistake. I love Jacksonville too much to not speak out . I OPPOSE THE SALE. I SUPPORT A PUBLICLY OWND ELECTRIC AND WATER UTILITY. No to privatization!— Matt Carlucci (@matt_carlucci) November 24, 2019
By phone, Carlucci told News4Jax he released his statement on Friday because he, “Can’t wait any longer.”
“This is not about politics. This is all about the city of Jacksonville. We’re stuck and we can’t move forward,” the at-large councilman.
Zahn was selected by the JEA board to become the interim CEO in April 2018 and was named permanent CEO in November 2018. Zahn came under fire for lack of experience, but his commitment to the community was cited by several board members as his strongest attribute. Zahn also had the unwavering support of Mayor Lenny Curry.
“This drama needs to come to an end. The JEA board must hire a “can do” municipal utility CEO," Carlucci concludes the email. “PULL THE PLUG! Find new leadership and move ahead! We have bigger issues ahead.”
A JEA spokesperson said they found out about the email Friday night. April Green, chairman on the JEA board of directors issued a response to the statement released by Councilman Matt Carlucci late Friday night saying:
Carlucci’s email caps an explosive week in JEA’s exploration of privatizing.
On Tuesday, members of the Northside Coalition called on city leaders to end discussion of a potential sale of the utility, chanting inside City Hall as the City Council was meeting. One day earlier, former Mayor Jake Godbold called for the board of directors and CEO Aaron Zahn to resign over the process of a potential sale, crying out in an open letter published in the Florida Times-Union, “Enough is enough!”
Earlier this month the JEA replaced all four members of the negotiations team evaluating proposals to buy all or part of the city-owned utility with non-JEA employees to avoid a state ethics probe of conflict of interest. Despite being controversial, the JEA’s plan to give employees performance bonuses to retain them a pending sale were approved through collective bargaining and by City Council. A Performance Unit Plan that would have allowed employees to buy invest $10 in order to earn a share of future profits of the utility is in the process of being withdrawn.
Zahn has become a target for the public in recent months as JEA continues to explore the privatization of the city-owned utility. A recent UNF poll found that only 33% percent of respondents approved of the job he is doing while 47% disapproved.
“Of all the public figures polled in this survey, Aaron Zahn is the only one with a net negative job approval,” said Dr. Michael Binder, director of University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab. “Clearly, the Invitation to Negotiate and potential sale spearheaded by Zahn has impacted the public’s view of his job performance.”
Ultimately, the sale of JEA must be put before the voters of Jacksonville prior to the sale being finalized.