In final speech, fired interim JEA CEO speaks publicly about FBI investigation for first time

Interim JEA CEO Melissa Dykes (News4Jax)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Interim CEO and former JEA President Melissa Dykes was fired Tuesday in the first meeting of the agency’s new Board of Directors.

Chairman John Baker said it was inappropriate, in his view, for Dykes to lead in light of her role in the administration currently being federally investigated.

“In my view, and it’s just my view, she was the president and COO during an administration so filled with improprieties that there is a certain degree of taint that is on her whether warranted or unwarranted,” Baker said. "I think it’s made worse by the fact that the FBI has decided to dig into an investigation of JEA and that past administration. The CEO is the face of JEA and I don’t think it is appropriate under these circumstances for her to lead that and I think if we turn a blind eye to this issue, we would lose all credibility certainly with the employees who would say just more of the same and I think a lot with the citizens of Jacksonville.”

In her final report as interim CEO, Melissa Dykes for the first time publicly addressed the federal investigations into the city-owned utility.

“In late 2019, I reached out to the State Attorney’s Office and told them I was willing to assist in the investigation I did the same with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. attorney and the FBI,” Dykes said. “I am proud that I have filled that commitment without wavering. This will not change and I thank those men and women for their professional, unbiased and non-political investigation of the facts.”

The address marks the first time any member of JEA’s senior leadership team publicly talked about their participation in the federal investigation of the utility’s administration.

Just a week before, the utility was served a grand jury subpoena for records from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The comprehensive subpoena demands JEA provide records related to its attempted sale of JEA, the agency’s controversial employee bonus plan, the hiring of ousted CEO Aaron Zahn and the 2018 innovation summit.

The subpoena also requests records from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and his administration, specifically for records and documents “pertaining to the use of the app Confide by Aaron Zahn, any lobbyist, and/or member of Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration in connection with the ITN and LTI PUP.”

Investigators also requested documents and records “reflecting any and all contact between any member of the Mayor’s Office and any JEA Executive Team and/or Senior Leadership Team (SLT) Member, and/or any JEA Board Member, regarding the CEO selection.”

In a press conference, Mayor Curry said he never heard of the Confide app, which allows users to discreetly send encrypted messages and self-destructs messages and documents.

Dykes, an employee of JEA for eight years, was fired without cause meaning she will receive 20 weeks severance pay totaling $162,132.

Her firing brings up long talked about issues with contracts the previous board approved for senior leaders of JEA.

The contracts, which were awarded to every member of JEA’s senior leadership team in a July 23 JEA board meeting, have come under fire for allowing expensive consultant benefits and clauses for additional termination pay in the event a senior leader was fired without cause after JEA was sold.

The city attorney representing JEA, Jody Brooks, mentioned the consultant provision of the contracts has a five-year term, but the actual contracts have no end date.

Under the contract, Dykes could have made more than $2 million if she was fired after JEA was sold, according to figures released by City Council Auditor Kyle Billy.

Chairman Baker and several other board members wanted to fire Dykes without cause Tuesday but expressed concern with paying Dykes the six-month consultant fee totaling $211,006 in her contract.

Former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn was paid approximately $2,000 a day on administrative leave, according to JEA spokeswoman Gina Kyle, as city attorneys investigated whether they had evidence to fire him with cause. The investigation lasted more than six weeks before city attorneys made the recommendation to JEA’s board to fire Zahn with cause citing his failure to disclose conflicts of interest as one of many reasons.

“The optic of maintaining the consultant capacity in light of being terminated without cause just sends a mixed message,” said board member Joseph DiSalvo.

According to attorneys with the city’s Office of General Counsel, the city is currently researching whether consultant pay provisions of contracts are enforceable.

“Honestly the [consultant fees] were an effort to get around the law and I think they are probably not enforceable,” said Baker.

Baker said he will appoint the current Vice President of Energy, Caren Anders, to take over as interim JEA CEO while the board begins its search for a new permanent CEO.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.