Councilmember: JEA has violated the public’s trust

City Council put JEA CEO Aaron Zahn on the hot seat Monday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Calls continue for a formal investigation into Jacksonville’s utility company which is currently negotiating a potential sale with bidders.

Now those calls include the local NAACP, where a letter asks Congress to look at the conduct of JEA leadership, the Board of Directors, the Mayor’s office and administration.

The president of the Jacksonville branch sent that letter to each committee chairman in the House of Representatives late Monday afternoon. The move came just moments after a City Council meeting ended with JEA’s Chief Executive on the hot-seat.

“It’s definitely not illegal laws we followed all laws and ethics code,” JEA CEO Aaron Zahn told News4Jax following the meeting. “We’re sure we engaged the appropriate legal advisors to make sure everything was done appropriately. I own this I am the CEO. So I take full ownership of this.”

Zahn took questions from councilmembers and offered answers or explanations for about three hours Monday.

The biggest topic was a controversial performance incentive plan for employees that the Board of Directors approved in July. Just recently people became aware that a million dollars in purchases of those “units” would pay 300-times that amount if JEA was sold.

"You can make the logical leap that they wanted to enrich themselves by hundreds of millions of dollars. That is a breach of trust. And if there’s a breach of trust you shouldn’t be running JEA,” said councilmember Rory Diamond.

This fact-finding meeting at City Hall revealed the growing anger by City Council members like Diamond, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in public corruption and financial fraud.

“To me, it was a disgusting plan," he said. “To me, it looks like executives want to make millions of dollars off people of Jacksonville. And it’s totally unacceptable to me.”

While Zahn said the buck stops with him as the CEO, News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney said key questions still haven’t been answered, and a formal investigation still seems warranted.

Mullaney is one of the first people to call for a deeper look at the ethics and actions of the past 18 months with JEA.

“I believe you’re going to hear an increasing call for a grand jury investigation,” Mullaney said.

Mullaney said the perceived violation of public trust is an appropriate topic for a grand jury to investigate.

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