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More JEA shake-ups: City-owned utility’s top legal adviser resigns

News4Jax confirms Lynne Rhode is out days after Aaron Zahn removed as CEO

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The fallout continues at JEA with the departure of its top legal adviser.

Lynne Rhode, JEA’s top lawyer, resigned Thursday following a confrontational meeting with the General Counsel’s staff, according to a resignation email obtained by News4Jax.

Rhode worked for the city of Jacksonville in the General Counsel’s Office and was assigned to handle JEA’s legal matters.

She, like others in leadership at JEA, has come under fire in recent weeks, particularly for her involvement in a controversial bonus program that could have netted top executives hundreds of millions of dollars.

JEA board members believed Rhode and other attorneys had vetted the program before it went to the board for approval. Apparently, that did not happen.

In her resignation email addressed to General Counsel Jason Gabriel, Rhode said she was “stunned and appalled at being ambushed” by Gabriel’s deputies. She said that “this improper conduct” prompted her to resign immediately, adding that Gabriel will be hearing from her attorney soon.

When asked for comment, Gabriel would only confirm that Rhode had resigned.

But he responded Friday to Rhode’s resignation email with his own scathing comments, saying he rejected what he called her “insinuations” about his deputies’ conduct.

“Yesterday’s meeting was only the last in a series of insubordinate and unprofessional actions by you towards me and the office,” Gabriel wrote to Rhode.

(NOTE: Read both emails in their entirety below.)

City Councilman Rory Diamond posted a statement on social media Friday, saying the General Counsel’s Office “took swift action” in response to the bonus program scandal.

“There are still JEA execs collecting taxpayer-funded paychecks who knew or should have known about the disgusting plan. What are you waiting for? I assure you I’m not going to let this just go away,” Diamond wrote.

City Council Ron Salem, who is the co-chair of the committee looking into the future of JEA, said Rhode should not be the last person involved in the bonus program scandal to head out the door.

“I think anyone that was a participant in that long-term incentive plan and putting it together, approving it, should be terminated. Period,” Salem said. “I am not sure anybody there right now should be the permanent administrator for the JEA.”

Rhode’s departure follows the removal of CEO Aaron Zahn on Tuesday.

The State Attorney’s Office is also looking into the situation at JEA.

The mayor told New4Jax he will cooperate in any investigation. So far he’s not been approached by the State Attorney.

Our attempts to reach Rhode for comment have not been successful.

COMPLETE EMAILS BELOW

Jason,

I was stunned and appalled at being ambushed at a meeting this afternoon by your deputies. At your direction, they took a tone and approach at the meeting that was extremely inappropriate and dishonest. Of course, you chose not to attend. As a result of this improper conduct, I hereby resign effective immediately.

This has been a very difficult several weeks with the intense political controversy surrounding our client, JEA. Lives are being upended and careers destroyed. I understand people involved in this maelstrom are both fearful and upset. You and Lawsikia have been fully informed and engaged in all manners of our representation of JEA. Any attempt to claim otherwise will simply not withstand scrutiny.

In my nearly fifteen years of legal practice in both the private and public sectors, I have striven to serve my clients well and to always do the right thing. When I have been a leader, as you are, I have tried to take responsibility for my own actions and stand up for my people when they have acted appropriately. I never want to be the type of leader who runs for cover. Please know I will defend the reputation I have built, and I will not set it aside for anyone. While you may be under intense political pressure and scrutiny, there is no excuse for the behavior that you directed your employees to engage in today.

You will be hearing from my attorney in the very near future.

Lynne C. Rhode

Gabriel’s response to Rhode’s email:

Lynne –

I completely disagree with, and wholly reject your insinuations and assertions below.

I asked my deputies to simply conduct a fact-finding with you to get to the bottom of the blatant discrepancies between what you’ve been representing to others as the position of our office, and what those positions really are. We hadn’t gotten to even half of the list of issues we needed to address with you, at which point you declared that you were resigning, effective immediately, and promptly left the office. Yesterday’s meeting was only the last in a series of insubordinate and unprofessional actions by you towards me and the office.

I would like to respond in more detail to your email, but since you indicate below that you will be retaining an attorney, we will need to communicate through that person in the future.

-Jason G.


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