JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With federal investigators joining inquiries by city officials and the Jacksonville City Council into who knew what and who could profit from a possible sale of JEA, Mayor Lenny Curry is focused on other issues.
On Tuesday, News4Jax obtained a letter from the attorney for Aaron Zahn -- the city-owned utility’s CEO that the JEA board replaced in mid-December -- saying Zahn was being used as a scapegoat for everything that went wrong at the utility and the abrupt termination of efforts to privatize it.
Zahn remains on paid administrative leave while the JEA board and lawyers determine if Zahn should be fired for cause and get no severance pay or his contract terminated without cause, which would let him walk away with about $400,000.
The board named Zahn interim CEO in 2018 -- one month after Curry named him to the board. He was hired as permanent CEO months later. Since that time, JEA has been in turmoil and Zahn’s name has been in the center of all of it.
Curry said he the General Counsel’s Office is interviewing people at the JEA about Zahn and, “They’ll take their findings and recommendations to the board."
But Curry wouldn’t react to the word scapegoat used to describe Zahn.
“Those are not my words,” Curry said. “The City Charter allows for the city to explore options and recapitalizations. I said back then that I supported the process, but it was up to them (the JEA’s board) to run the process. So they ran the process and there was a lot of community noise.”
City General Counsel Jason Gabriel hasn’t said when his investigation of Zahn’s contract will be complete. City Council plans to conduct its own investigation of the JEA where witnesses could be subpoenaed to testify. State Attorney Melissa Nelson was looking into the utility, but last week asked the U.S. Justice Department to take over the investigation. Some believe that could lead to questions of the mayor’s office
Curry said he suggested the board end the privatization process just before Christmas and it did at an emergency meeting the next day.
Curry wanted it known he was letting the system play out and he was moving on.
“I have a number of things I want to achieve in the next 3½ years and that’s what I want to focus on,” he said.