In a surprise move, the JEA Board of Directors voted unanimously at its first meeting Tuesday to remove interim CEO Melissa Dykes, who took over after former CEO Aaron Zahn was fired.
It was expected Dykes would serve as temporary CEO until a new permanent CEO was selected.
She previously stated publicly that she would not be interested in the permanent position.
While praising Dykes’ professionalism in helping the new board members get up and running, they said they believed it was necessary to move on to show the public they were making changes.
“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,” new board chairman John Baker said. "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.
“It may be more of a symbolic statement than it is anything else. But I think it is very important that we do it.”
The Board opted to terminate Dykes without cause, triggering a 30 days’ notice for her, and placing her on administrative leave during that time. It means she will walk away with more than $160,000 in termination pay.
The Board is awaiting advice from the Office of General Counsel on Dykes’ contract, which also includes a provision that she be kept on as a consultant for six months if she is fired without cause.
Her firing brings up long talked about issues with contracts the previous board approved for senior leaders of JEA.
Contracts that have come under fire for allowing those expensive consultant benefits and for including clauses for additional termination pay in the event a senior leader was fired without cause if JEA was sold.
According to city data, under the contract, Dykes herself could have made more than $2 million if she was fired after the sale of JEA.
“To look into the consulting contracts, because honestly, they were an effort to get around the law, and I think they are probably not enforceable,” Baker said.
Caren Anders, currently the vice president/general manager of energy, is now the interim CEO, and the Board takes up the search for a permanent CEO.
Dykes took over in the wake of recent controversies, which include an abandoned plan to explore a sale of JEA.
“While leading JEA through this transition, I have fully cooperated with all investigations," Dykes said. “I am proud that I have fulfilled that commitment without wavering.”
Dykes pointed to her faith, saying that she trusts God will guide her steps in the future as she moves on from JEA.
“I wish all of my 2,000 teammates at JEA all the best into the future,” Dykes said. “You have so much to be proud of.”
Dykes was previously JEA's chief operating officer before being selected to lead the city-owned utility on a temporary basis when the board removed Zahn.
Zahn was ousted Dec. 17 after details came to light of a controversial bonus plan that had the potential to pay out hundreds of millions to executives enrolled in the plan in the event the city sold JEA.
One week later, the board voted to formally abandon its invitation to negotiate (ITN), an effort to solicit bids from outside companies interested in buying or operating all or part of the city-owned utility.
After the State Attorney’s Office announced the federal government was taking over the investigation of issues connected to the potential privatization of JEA, Dykes said she welcomed the scrutiny.
Dykes also sent a letter to Jacksonville City Council members asserting that JEA should remain owned by the city.
View Dykes’ complete statement below: