JEA directors hire ex-board member as interim CEO

CEO Paul McElroy stepped down this month amid discussion of sale

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After the JEA board of directors interviewed two applicants to be interim chief executive officer of the utility, the board unanimously voted to hire Aaron Zahn for the job.

Zahn, who was appointed to the board in February by Mayor Lenny Curry, phoned the mayor Friday night to say he would step down so he could vie for the one-year interim CEO position.

His compensation has not been determined and the board will work with him on a contract.

Zahn is a Yale graduate who was CEO of Pascal Parners, a Jacksonville Beach company that specializes in real estate for infrastructure of power generation, power storage, wireless communication and decentralized water assets.

Zahn had nothing to say to reporters when asked about his plans for the future and walked away from the meeting without taking any questions. But during his interview with the board before the vote, Zahn told the board he wants to stop the talk about selling JEA.

"I will immediately advocate to all policymakers that the conversation of privatization on sell or don’t sell be halted, that customers and employees can return to an environment of stability," Zahn told the board.

After months of uncertainty and scrutiny by the City Council, JEA board chairman Alan Howard supports that idea.

"Zahn has publicly stated today that he would like to take the discussion off the table for the moment  ... and hit the pause button, and I support that," Howard told News4Jax as he left the meeting.

Melissa Dykes, the utility's current chief financial officer and JEA employee since 2012, was named interim CEO last week after Paul McElroy surprised the board by announcing his resignation two weeks ago. She also interviewed for the job Tuesday, and while she lost the position to Zahn, the board wants her to stay on, but wants to increase her responsibilities and have her work hand in hand with Zahn.

The board on Tuesday also delayed plans to hire a search firm to begin looking for a permanent managing director for the utility, although Zahn said he might apply for the permanent job.

News4Jax learned that search firms might be reluctant to work with JEA because talk of selling the the utility could make it difficult to find someone for the job.

Zahn's departure leaves two vacancies on the board.

McElroy submitted his resignation at a meeting during which the board was to vote on a contract extension that would have boosted his base salary to $520,000. McElroy had been chief executive of the utility for 5½ years and his existing employment agreement was set to end in September.

The new contract also included a clause about the potential for JEA to go private. If McElroy was let go in a sale, he would have collected double his salary as a severance fee.

McElroy, who has lived in Jacksonville for 17 years, said he had been considering his future over the last five months.

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