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Does State Attorney’s connection to political consultant who sat in on JEA talks create conflict?

Zahn meeting postponed, calls for Nelson to step aside and a plan for City Council to get more control

A closer look at the companies, funds that wanted to buy JEA

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More uproar over the JEA saga Monday.

There were three big developments to start the week as an upcoming meeting looking into ousted CEO Aaron Zahn’s severance, which could land him hundreds of thousands of dollars, was postponed. That happened as one group made a new call for State Attorney Melissa Nelson to step aside in the JEA investigation, even though she will not ask a state grand jury to look into the matter. And a plan is in the works for City Council to get more control of JEA in the future.

It’s not lights out for Zahn at JEA. He is still on paid administrative leave and a meeting to determine how much he could receive in severance scheduled for Tuesday has been pushed back. No new date has been set.

The city attorneys looking into Zahn, his contract, and his involvement in sales talks and a controversial bonus plan say they need more time. The JEA Board of Directors had called an emergency meeting for Tuesday to determine Zahn’s fate. If he is fired with cause, he would get nothing, but if he’s fired without cause he could get close to half a million dollars.

In emails obtained Monday by the I-TEAM, some of the sticking points between city and Zahn’s attorney can be seen.

Zahn wants to make sure that he gets paid if he is called in to answer questions after his one-month consulting period ends. The two sides are still trying to work out those details.

Zahn’s contract is not the only thing drawing attention Monday. On Friday, News4Jax reported Nelson will not ask a state grand jury to look into what has been happening at JEA. Her office is not commenting but in a statement said it is still investigating JEA.

But local Democrats said Nelson needs to step aside completely, citing her ties to Tim Baker, a local political consultant who ran Nelson’s campaign as well as Mayor Lenny Curry’s campaign. They believe that connection could taint Nelson’s decision making.

“I think with a case this important, really in the interest of the public, that it seems like there are no conflicts of interest,” said Daniel Henry, Chair of the Duval County Democratic Party. “JEA has been in the mindset of everyone right now with all of the shenanigans that of been going on.”

Baker attended several meetings that discussed the political implications surrounding the future of JEA.

In a statement to News4Jax on Monday, Baker said it’s disappointing and dangerous to watch Democrats play politics with matters involving the State Attorney.

While I always appreciate the Duval Democrats ability to get headlines as opposed to winning elections, it’s disappointing and dangerous to watch them play politics with matters involving the state attorney by trying to question her objectivity and intimidate her into taking their desired actions. Melissa Nelson has the utmost integrity and has always demonstrated that she follows the law wherever it leads and nobody should expect anything different in any matter. I have not worked with Melissa on political matters for over 3 years and have no engagement with her should she run for re-election.

I can’t see how the Democrats are being anything less than disingenuous and playing politics by trying to intimidate a prosecutor with this latest stunt.

Tim Baker, political consultant

Also Monday, City Council member Garrett Dennis said he wants to make changes to how the JEA Board of Directors is appointed.

Currently, the board is appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council. Dennis wants half the board to be appointed by the council, the other by the mayor. He is withholding legislation to do that until April.

“It’s important to have a balance of power here. City Council has just as much of a vested interest in JEA as the executive branch does,” Dennis said.

Dennis also said he was surprised that Nelson is not calling a grand jury about JEA. He said Nelson looked into less serious matters in the past, referring to a case involving him and Sunshine Law violations last year.

About the Author:

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