JEA’s chief administrative officer placed on paid leave

Herschel Vinyard was a final link in leadership to the attempted sale of utility

More changes at JEA, as the new Board of Directors and interim CEO keep cleaning house.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JEA Chief Administrative Officer Herschel Vinyard has been placed on paid administrative leave, the utility confirmed Tuesday.

Interim JEA Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon to other senior leadership team members that Vinyard had been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately. The email did not provide further information as to why.

“First of all, it’s no surprise that Herschel Vinyard is on leave, and quite honestly, I don’t expect him to be back,” said News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney of Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute.

Mullaney said he believes a decision is being weighed on firing Vinyard with cause or without cause.

Vinyard, who has served as the utility’s chief administrative officer since April 2019, was a final link in leadership to last year’s scuttled attempt to sell the city-owned utility and a terminated bonus plan.

A federal subpoena seeking records related to the attempted sale included 50 requests, some of which focused on specific JEA executives such as former CEO Aaron Zahn, former interim CEO Melissa Dykes, former Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher and Vinyard.

“Those were the top four. That was the top leadership, and they were very much in the mix when it came to the sale and to the bonuses. Those two items, of course, are under investigation by a federal grand jury,” Mullaney said.

The federal investigation is separate from a Jacksonville City Council probe spearheaded by Councilman Rory Diamond, a former federal prosecutor.

“They’re also under investigation by the City Council special committee,” Mullaney said. “And there is a desire on the board, and you saw that recently, for a new direction, for JEA to move forward.”

McElroy, who served as the CEO of JEA before Zahn, was appointed last week by the JEA Board of Directors to lead the utility until a permanent replacement is found and to restore confidence in the utility.

“Those 2,000 employees at JEA had completely lost confidence and trust in the prior management,” Mullaney said. “Paul McElroy is on the path now to regaining the trust of the rank and file, the trust of the community and, of course, the trust of Wall Street.”

Before sending the email regarding Vinyard being placed on leave, McElroy sent another email Tuesday afternoon to the senior leadership team and executive assistants, announcing three temporary additions to the senior staff:

  • Vickie Cavey, Special Assistant to the CEO, External Strategic Affairs: Cavey had a 30-year career at JEA in a variety of management positions. She led JEA strategic planning development and execution from 2013 until she retired in 2017.
  • Gerri Boyce, Special Assistant to the CEO, External Communications: Boyce spent 17 years at JEA and served as the utility’s primary spokesperson for many years before her retirement in 2018.
  • Angie Hiers, Special Assistant to the CEO, Human Resources: Hiers joined JEA in 2013 and lead the Human Resources Group.

In the email, McElroy said all three will begin working this month.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.

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