JEA CEO: 'I made an error in judgment’ with controversial bonus plan

JEA board member will call for the termination of JEA CEO Aaron Zahn on Tuesday

JEA board member will call for the termination of JEA CEO Aaron Zahn on Tuesday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JEA CEO Aaron Zahn was under fire again on Monday with another call for his resignation.

The latest call came from a JEA board member who will ask the full JEA board to vote on whether or not it should fire Zahn.

Zahn, who had not spoken publicly for several weeks, finally got the chance on Monday when the Jacksonville City Council met for a special meeting to question JEA executives about the controversial plan that would allow employees to buy what amounted to stock options in the government authority that could pay off handsomely if the utility was sold.

It wasn’t clear if Zahn would show up to Tuesday’s meeting, but when he did he was met with what felt like a court hearing instead of a fact-finding meeting.

During the meeting, Zahn spoke to City Council members about the bonus plan that was canceled after details of the plan came to light. Also discussed Monday, the continuing JEA sale talks and another call for a grand jury investigation.

Staff and board approved a controversial bonus plan that would have greatly benefited high-paid employees. That plan has since being withdrawn.

At the start of the meeting, Zahn said he was taking responsibility for the plan.

”As a leader, I have tried to navigate the challenges and difficult policy debate around JEA’s future with transparency and candor. So, it is in that same manner, that I am here today to state I made an error in judgment,” Zahn said.

Prior to the City Council meeting on Monday, JEA board member Henry Brown sent a letter to Zahn letting him know he plans to ask the board to terminate Zahn at Tuesday’s meeting.

Zahn told News4Jax following the meeting that he has not yet decided if he will resign.

“I have not made that decision,” Zahn said. “I do respect the will of the board I certainly feel the ire of the people and I respect that as well...You know the optics are terrible, but I own it. It is on me. I am the CEO.”

City Councilmember Rory Diamond called the now-dead plan “legal theft.”

“To me, it looks like executives want to make millions of dollars off people of Jacksonville. And it’s totally unacceptable to me,” Diamond said. "I do think Mr. Zahn should step down I think that’s the right answer for the JEA board. I think they need to get in there and clean house and people you can trust are running our public utility.

City Council President Scott Wilson said with so much new information about JEA coming out every day, it’s time to take a breath.

“I think everybody needs to take a reset,” said City Council President Scott Wilson. “Let’s pause, let’s get through the Christmas holidays and then in January let’s have a conversation about the path forward. To make sure our lawyers are up to speed and understand where we are prior to this council taking any action.”

Mayor Lenny Curry, who has backed Zahn’s strategic plan to restructure JEA, issued a statement to News4Jax on Monday morning.

“The JEA board consists of dedicated community leaders who volunteer their time and expertise. Each board member was appointed by me and confirmed by the City Council. As a result, I will support any action this board takes when it comes to a decision on the future of CEO Aaron Zahn,” Curry said in the statement.

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