Despite calls for a grand jury investigation of JEA and its just-removed CEO Aaron Zahn and State Attorney Melissa Nelson saying her office was looking into it, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said no one has asked his office about it.
“We have not been contacted," Mayor Lenny Curry said Thursday. "Certainly, if they wanted us and asked to talk to us, we would comply and be helpful.”
Asked if he was worried an investigation into JEA could shift focus onto him, Curry said no, adding that the JEA is an independent agency. While he appoints the board members, they must be approved by City Council and operate independently.
“That is how this is supposed to work,” Curry said.
The mayor said he never picked up a phone and asked board members to go one way or another. Curry said with Zahn’s suspension, the investigation will dig deeper and will then determine what Zahn’s exit will look like. Curry said wherever they land on, he will be supportive of their decision.
On Tuesday, the board suspended Zahn indefinitely and appointed an interim CEO. After city lawyers investigate, Zahn could be terminated with cause, meaning he would not be due any additional compensation. If the lawyers can’t establish cause, Zahn could be eligible to collect more than $1 million upon the termination of this contract.
“Look, he has a contract that management signed, so wherever the facts lead, based on the contractual agreement, is what I believe they will make their decision on,” Curry said. “I will be supportive of that decision.”
Curry went on to talk about the controversial and somewhat secretive bonus plan that Zahn took responsibility for. That now-canceled plan could have netted hundreds of millions of dollars for top executives of JEA if the utility was sold.
Nine companies have made bids to negotiate to buy all or part of the JEA.
“Yeah, when I saw that, it’s a bad look. It looked pretty outrageous. It got stopped in the process," Curry said. “I would remind people they got stopped by our general counsel.”
Curry said he wants discussions on the utility’s future of JEA that began under Zahn’s leadership to continue.
"If we’re going to walk away from our discussions because people are going to put political pressure on us and put our head in the sand, we are never going to advance as a city,” Curry said.