JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jay Stowe officially began the job Monday as managing director and CEO of JEA.
The publicly-owned utility serving Jacksonville and the surrounding area has challenges and opportunities that excite him. First and foremost, Stowe praised the workers who he said have kept reliability high, the environment clean and good water coming out and have served customers.
“I’ve known of JEA for years, and JEA is strong operationally, financially, structurally in almost every category, and I am excited to be a part of that team of people,” he told News4Jax on Monday.
JEA has had a troubled year stemming from the attempted sale of the utility last year and then the firing of former CEO Aaron Zahn and the entire executive staff. There’s also a federal and local investigation.
Stowe said he focuses on three things: public health, public safety and economic development. He calls JEA foundational to the community and believes restoring trust is a necessity both on the internal and external levels.
“That’s the starting point is to start with employees, treat them with courtesy and respect, and then we will start to rebuild, quite frankly, trust internally. And I think the idea of me on my very first day of telling you how hard it’s going to be or not be for building trust is something that we really need to talk about,” Stowe said. “We can have another meeting in a few months and we will start seeing progress and then over time we’ll judge whether or not the team that we work with has improved the trust of the community. But I hope so because there are lots of good people here doing lots of good work every single day.”
Stowe will have a lot of issues to deal with. He will work to appoint a new management team and work with a gradually changing JEA board. There is also the issue of Plant Vogtle, and the idea it could lead to rate increases.
“The idea of when or whether we need a rate increase starts with managing the systems really well. I need to understand how the systems are managed and what are the revenue sources that we have across-the-board,” Stowe said. “But I take it very seriously if we’re going to have to have any sort of rate changes, then it’s going to be public and transparent, and we will have lots of discussion about that.”
Stowe, who grew up in the business because his father and grandfather each ran water and wastewater systems in North Carolina, said he’s convinced municipal ownership of JEA is absolutely the best model for Jacksonville.
A City Council committee investigating what took place with the attempted sale and the changes the city will need to make also met Monday and said it should have a full report at the end of the month.
The committee said it has more interviews and said one person subpoenaed, political consultant Tim Baker, is not cooperating. Baker has told News4Jax it would be unlawful for him to do so because of work he did with his client, Florida Power & Light.