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City Council member withdraws bill on JEA bonus, incentive programs

JEA: City Councilman was targeted by scam call

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A bill that would have given Jacksonville City Council the power to approve or deny bonus or incentive programs for JEA employees has been withdrawn from consideration.

The bill, which had been part of the consent agenda for Tuesday night’s council meeting, basically said any incentive plans going forward would have to be approved by both the JEA Board and the City Council.

But Councilman Ron Salem told News4Jax he worked out an agreement with JEA officials instead and decided to withdraw the bill.

His decision comes as the city ramps up its investigation into the failed bid to sell the city-owned utility and on the heels of a revelation from the investigative committee that crucial information in that investigation might have been intentionally destroyed by a former JEA executive.

The ITN, or Invitation to Negotiate, a plan to court potential suitors interested in buying or running all or part of the city-owned utility, was canceled last year in response to public backlash. The Board fired then-CEO Aaron Zahn, who is now being sued by the city of Jacksonville.

One of the most controversial elements of the sale effort was a Performance Unit Plan, or PUP -- separate from the employee bonus plan -- that would basically have been a stock purchase plan that could have financially benefited executives and others in the event that JEA was sold. The plan and the effort to sell the utility sparked controversy last fall and JEA is now facing not only the city investigation but also a federal probe.

The fallout from the controversy surrounding the ITN and PUP has been wide-ranging.

Besides Zahn, it led to the resignation of former Chief Legal Officer Lynne Rhode and the dismissal of former CFO Ryan Wannemacher. In February, JEA’s Board of Directors resigned. In April, the Board’s replacements voted unanimously to remove interim CEO Melissa Dykes, a longtime executive who served as chief operating officer during Zahn’s stint running JEA.

Despite the ongoing inquiries, the JEA Board of Directors approved a new employee incentive plan in June as part of its budget request to City Council.

The previous incentive plan was put on pause for 2020 amid the controversy over the PUP.

Under the new plan, the payout for bonuses, which are capped at 5% of an employee’s salary, would be between $5 million and $8 million and would not be paid to employees until November and December of 2021. The plan would exclude the CEO and senior leadership team from receiving the bonuses.

The budget must now be approved by the Council in September.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.