Former JEA CEO sends letter to city leaders disputing findings of investigation
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Attorneys for former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn have sent a letter to city leaders disputing some of the findings of the investigative report that came out in January. Zahn was fired in late 2019 after it came to light that senior leaders of the utility could have made millions of dollars, through a controversial bonus plan. Zahn and his attorneys have long claimed he is being used as a scapegoat. A separate criminal investigation is underway by federal authorities, but there is no word when that could wrap up. The Florida Times-Union recently reported that a federal grand jury will soon hear from witnesses in the investigation.
Report: Federal grand jury subpoenas witnesses in probe of JEA
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal grand jury will soon hear from witnesses in the investigation of JEA’s efforts to sell the city-owned utility to a private entity, according to a report by the Florida Times-Union. Columnist Nate Monroe cites several sources that numerous grand jury subpoenas have been issued. Attorneys Office has been looking into JEA and the issues surrounding the leadership team and their involvement in the sales plan. Among the findings of a months-long investigation by a special Jacksonville City Council committee was that the effort to sell JEA “ran afoul through Aaron Zahn’s greed.”AdFederal prosecutors do not comment on current investigations. There’s no official word when the grand jury will take up the matter or how long this investigation could take.
Councilman says money saved by forgoing JEA sale offsets investigation cost
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some current and former Jacksonville City Council members say the lengthy report released Monday on the failed JEA sale reads like a novel. “Aaron Zahn (former CEO of JEA) could not have pulled off the biggest heist in U.S. history by himself. News4Jax checked reports in 2017 regarding JEA and the possibility of a sale and talking with those involved at the time. Two people close to the investigation who raised questions then told News4Jax this report is right on the money. The report suggests Curry was pushing for the sale from the start.
City Council investigation finds effort to sell JEA ‘ran afoul through Aaron Zahn’s greed’
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The final report by a special Jacksonville City Council committee formed to investigate a botched attempt to sell the JEA in 2019 calls the plan greedy and found that it cost the city millions of dollars. The 132-page report released Monday morning was the result of 10 months of committee work, including witness testimony, and prepared by an attorney for the City Council. The report says the compensation plan “ran afoul through Aaron Zahn’s greed.” In closing, the report says “The ultimate cost to JEA and the City was millions of dollars. The truth around JEA’s strategic planning process is complex and definitively involved the Mayor, City Council, the entire Board, OGC and countless strategic advisors. He applauds the City Council investigation on JEA and says the report points to three huge problems.
City committee’s JEA report should be complete by month’s end
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It wont be until the end of December that we could find out more about what happened with JEA and the botched sales plan. It was almost a year ago when many of the problems with the proposed JEA sale surfaced and eventually led to the firing of now ex-CEO Aaron Zahn and the JEA leadership team. RELATED: JEA’s new CEO: ‘Time for us to move forward’On Monday members of the Jacksonville City Council committee looking into what happened met for its final time. It was revealed that the committee’s report should be ready by the end of the month and it will be made public on Jan. 11. Federal Investigators are also looking into the JEA matter as well.
New CEO of JEA believes restoring trust is a necessity on internal, external levels
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jay Stowe officially began the job Monday as managing director and CEO of JEA. 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. He will work to appoint a new management team and work with a gradually changing JEA board. “The idea of when or whether we need a rate increase starts with managing the systems really well.
JEA’s new CEO: ‘Time for us to move forward’
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The new head of JEA says the city-owned utility is ready to move forward. Jay Stowe, who was just hired two weeks ago, talked to the JEA board virtually during its meeting Tuesday morning. Stowe did not mention former CEO Aaron Zahn, who was fired by the board in January after the botched exploration of a JEA sale. “We will work to develop a senior team," Stowe told the board. Also, the board voted to spend $2.4 million to buy land downtown in order to build a second headquarters.
New JEA CEO to make $560K a year, will not participate in bonus plan
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4Jax is learning more about how much money JEA is going to pay its new CEO. On Monday, an agreement was released that shows newly selected Jay Stowe will be paid $560,000 a year to run the city-owned utility. Stowe will not be entitled to any other incentive compensation and will not participate in the JEA bonus plan like other employees. Stowe was selected by the board at the end of last month. McElroy was brought in when former CEO Aaron Zahn was fired by the board in January for his role in the failed attempt to sell JEA.
Jacksonville voters approve JEA ballot measure
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville voters have spoken, and they want the City Council to have a say in who sits on the board of directors for JEA. The majority of voters approved an amendment to the city’s charter that empowers the City Council to appoint and remove four members of the city-owned utility’s board of directors. Previously, the charter held that it was up to the mayor to appoint all seven board members and the council confirmed those appointments. Duval County Referendum - JEA board member appointment “Shall the Jacksonville charter be amended ... to (1) grant to City Council the executive power to appoint and remove four members of the JEA Board and (2) amend the qualifications of board members?" The abandoned plan to find suitors for the utility is under investigation by both the City Council and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Board names Jay Stowe as next CEO of JEA
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During a Monday night special meeting, the JEA board picked Jay Stowe as the next CEO of the utility. Stowe is the chief executive officer and founder of Stowe Utility Group LLC, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was chosen over the two other finalists -- John Lewis Hairston, the chief operating officer of Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Oregon, and Morgan K. O’Brien, the former chief executive officer and president of Peoples Gas. Stowe will take over for Paul McElroy who was called in to replace Melissa Dykes, who herself replaced embattled former CEO Aaron Zahn. Zahn was fired by a different JEA board in January following his role in the controversial failed plan to sell the city-owned utility.
Narrowing in: JEA Board down to three finalists for CEO position
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JEA is one step closer to finding its next CEO. On Tuesday, the JEA board of directors interviewed the three finalists for the utility’s open CEO position. Zahn was fired by a different JEA board in January following his role in the controversial failed plan to sell the city-owned utility. “I think we have a tough decision,” said John Baker, JEA Board Chairman. They will then turn in their rankings sometime in the next two days and the board will look to make its final decision on a CEO by Friday.
JEA consultant says controversial baseball trip was just a social outing
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Another player in the JEA saga was questioned about what happened during the city-owned utility’s failed sales attempt. Tim Baker, a political consultant for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, was questioned last month by an attorney for the City Council investigative committee about the role he played in the botched JEA sale. Zahn said that he flew to Atlanta on a plane provided by Conventus, LLC, a company co-managed by Baker. Sam Mousa, who recently retired from that position and is listed in public records as a co-manager of Conventus LLC, was also there. The testimony is being reviewed by a City Council committee looking into JEA and the practices surrounding the potential sale.
Former city administrator: There was no plot to sell JEA
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Testimony released Wednesday reveals what Mayor Lenny Curry and his staff may have known prior to the plan to try and sell JEA. Curry’s former Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa was interviewed for that committee and he said there was no plot by the mayor to sell JEA outright. SPECIAL SECTION | Tracking the JEA sagaMousa was questioned by an attorney hired by the investigative committee looking into JEA. Mousa said Curry never said at any time that he was going to sell JEA. One JEA employee was reprimanded for leaking some confidential documents to City Council members and JEA has made changes in how those documents are stored.
Meet the 6 semi-finalists vying to become JEA’s next CEO
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The firm leading the search for JEA’s next chief executive officer has narrowed the list of candidates down to six semi-finalists. The semi-finalists include:Elaina Ball , the interim chief operating officer for El Paso Electric in El Paso, Texas, who previously served as chief operating officer for Austin Energy in Austin, Texas. John Hairston , the chief operating officer for Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Oregon, whose previous role was the utility’s chief administrative officer. Morgan O’Brien , an industry veteran who previously worked as chief executive officer of Peoples Gas, a natural gas provider in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. These semi-finalists are vying to replace McElroy, the interim chief executive officer who took over after the ouster of former CEO Aaron Zahn.
FP&L parent would have paid $11 billion for JEA
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. The parent of Florida Power & Light would have paid more than $11 billion for JEA had the city-owned utilitys leadership gone through with a scuttled effort to put the utility up for sale. The bonuses executives were going to get were based on false information provided to the board, Diamond said. I dont think the JEA board knew at the time what they were voting on. Instead, the City Council, Civic Council and Unions hijacked the conversation for their own personal benefit. The disparaging and defamatory political rhetoric towards me by JEA, OGC, JEAs counsel and City Council is transparent scapegoating to everyone.
City Council member withdraws bill on JEA bonus, incentive programs
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A bill that would have given Jacksonville City Council the power to approve or deny bonus or incentive programs for JEA employees has been withdrawn from consideration. The bill, which had been part of the consent agenda for Tuesday night’s council meeting, basically said any incentive plans going forward would have to be approved by both the JEA Board and the City Council. But Councilman Ron Salem told News4Jax he worked out an agreement with JEA officials instead and decided to withdraw the bill. Despite the ongoing inquiries, the JEA Board of Directors approved a new employee incentive plan in June as part of its budget request to City Council. The previous incentive plan was put on pause for 2020 amid the controversy over the PUP.
Councilmember accuses former JEA CIO of destryoing senstive documents
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. A City Council investigative committee looking into the failed bid to sell JEA revealed new information on Monday about an interview with a former member of the leadership team at the city-owned utility. According to its investigation, crucial information may have been intentionally destroyed on the personal device of the former JEA Chief Operating Officer. Some council members like Rory Diamond said that is criminal. Former JEA Chief Information Officer admits to intentionally putting the wrong password into then-Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes tablet destroying all documents there on. The JEA investigative committee plans to issue subpoenas Baker, Mousa, former JEA board member Alan Howard and Michael Munz, an executive at the Dalton Agency, to testify in the investigation.
JEA fires 9 former executives. But they will still get paid for 20 weeks
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In his first major move since taking charge of JEA, interim Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy placed the majority of the utility’s leadership team on paid administrative leave last month. On Monday, JEA confirmed that nine executives were terminated without cause, according to JEA. The executives will receive 20 weeks of compensation and health benefits, JEA said. “JEA is focused on moving forward with building back the trust of the community, its customers and employees,” JEA said. “Individually or collectively, real or perceived, you have been complicit or implicitly involved with or simply a direct beneficiary of the (Invitation to Negotiate) or Performance Unit Plan,” McElroy said in part.
Former JEA CEO fighting for private meditator to decide contract dispute
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. The ousted CEO of JEA fired back this week in response to a lawsuit filed against him by the city-owned utility. JEA filed a lawsuit in early June after Zahn filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association to overturn the JEA boards decision to fire him without termination benefits. In the lawsuit, JEA alleged Zahns contract, including a provision that allows for arbitration, was unenforceable. JEA claimed Zahns contract was against Florida law because of an illegal retroactive salary increase in the contract. Mr. Zahn is proud to be the first CEO of JEA to tell the community the unvarnished truth.
JEA Board restores bonus plan for employees
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JEA employees are once again in line for a bonus after the city-owned utility’s board of directors approved a measure Tuesday restoring an incentive plan that was put on pause for 2020. The bonus structure the old JEA board approved last came under scrutiny because of a separate Performance Unit Plan, or PUP, that would basically have been a stock purchase plan that could have financially benefited executives and others in the event that JEA was sold. The plan and the effort to sell the utility sparked controversy last fall and JEA is now under city and federal investigations. Besides Zahn, it led to the resignation of former Chief Legal Officer Lynne Rhode and the dismissal of former CFO Ryan Wannemacher. In April, the Board’s replacements voted unanimously to remove interim CEO Melissa Dykes, a longtime executive who served as chief operating officer during Zahn’s stint running JEA.
JEA interim CEO places 8 executives on leave
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In his first major move since taking charge of JEA, interim Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy has placed the majority of the utility’s leadership team on paid administrative leave. “Individually or collectively, real or perceived, you have been complicit or implicitly involved with or simply a direct beneficiary of the (Invitation to Negotiate) or Performance Unit Plan,” McElroy said in part. The shakeup comes as JEA faces intense scrutiny from the Department of Justice and a City Council special committee. In April, the board’s replacements voted unanimously to remove interim CEO Melissa Dykes, a longtime executive who served as chief operating officer during Zahn’s stint running JEA. As part of the same move, seven individuals will join the utility’s senior leadership team on a temporary basis:Stephen Datz, Interim Chief Information OfficerBruce Dugan, Interim Chief Communication OfficerRicky Erixton, Interim General Manager, Electric SystemsAngie Hiers, Interim Chief Human Resource OfficerAlan McElroy (no relation), Interim Chief Supply Chain OfficerHai Vu, Interim General Manager, Water/Wastewater SystemsWayne Young, Chief Environmental OfficerMcElroy announced last month that Hiers, along with two others, would be temporary additions to his leadership staff.
JEA sues fired CEO Aaron Zahn
The lawsuit alleges Zahn committed fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breached the public trust and made false representations to the JEA board in his hiring process. “Despite being ordered not to do so, Zahn continued to work toward positing JEA for a sale,” according to the lawsuit. DOCUMENT: JEA v. Aaron Zahn | SPECIAL SECTION: I-TEAM stories on JEA scandalZahn’s lawyer, John Mullen, JEA’s legal team is trying to cover their own tails because they were full participants in JEA’s controversial policy decisions last year. He has long been critical of the PUP and spoke with News4Jax about the City Council investigative committee looking into JEA. JEA’s lawsuit demands a jury by trial.
In final speech, fired interim JEA CEO speaks publicly about FBI investigation for first time
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. "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. Dykes, an employee of JEA for eight years, was fired without cause meaning she will receive 20 weeks severance pay totaling $162,132. 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. 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.
Federal subpoena issued for records linked to attempted sale of JEA
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal grand jury has issued a subpoena to JEA, seeking records related to the scuttled attempt to sell the city-owned utility. DOCUMENT: Read a copy of the federal subpoena issued to JEAThe performance unit plan, or PUP, would have acted like a stock purchase plan. Curry said he learned of the subpoena Wednesday evening from the city’s Office of General Counsel. Diamond told News4Jax on Thursday that it’s clear the federal subpoena is zeroing in on JEA’s senior leadership team. City attorneys said they found 24 causes to fire Zahn, including evidence he altered a PowerPoint from a consultant.
22 subpeonas issued in City Council probe of JEA
Committee Chairman Diamond said from the beginning of the probe earlier this year he planned to subpoena the bidders and find out who their lobbyists were. Meeting via a Zoom video conference on Tuesday, The Rules Committee unanimously approved issuing 22 subpoenas. The Rules Committee UNANIMOUSLY approved 22 subpoenas to the JEA bidders and investment banks. “Honest to God, this is embarrassing to you and JEA,” DeFoor said last month. The committee plan to look through documents to see if JEA leadership started looking into the potential privatization of the city-owned utility before it was approved by the JEA Board of Directors.
’This is nuts’: Investigative committee accuses JEA of dragging its feet on public records requests
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville City Council members leading an investigation into JEA’s failed bid to sell the city-owned utility kicked off the special investigating committee meeting on Monday by calling out delays in public records requests sent to JEA. Councilmembers Rory Diamond, Randy DeFoor and Brenda Priestly Jackson all expressed their frustration to JEA lawyers that their public records requests from more than a month ago have produced zero documents so far. The committee plan to look through documents to see if JEA leadership started looking into the potential privatization of the city-owned utility before it was approved by the JEA Board of Directors. The committee also heard from former JEA executive Mike Brost and current Vice President Steven McInall. The committee wants to know more.
Ex-board chair name-dropped lawmaker in pitch for JEA’s business
Howard resigned from JEA’s board of directors after the July 23 meeting. As the Florida Times-Union reported, his law firm was hired a month later to provide legal counsel for JEA and was paid $75,000. I anticipate that I will be the primary resource, but I have included one associate from my team and my law partner who does government relations work. He remembered Howard expressed interest in working with JEA and that he recommended Howard clear it with General Counsel Jason Gabriel. He said Zahn’s recollection of that conversation likely was based on what Howard might have told Zahn.
Key takeaways from investigation testimony by ex-CEO Aaron Zahn, JEA leadership
JEA Vice President Kerri Stewart also testified that she first heard about the idea of the PUP in Jan. of 2019, months before the JEA board voted in July to allow JEA executives to pursue possible privatization. During her testimony, Stewart was asked if she ever witnessed Zahn verbally abuse a member of JEA. Stewart said it was because Zahn saw JEA as a “bureaucratic government entity and we saw ourselves as a very well-run company." (JEA Board Chair April Green) actually explicitly wanted me not to go. Zahn was concerned about leaks to the mediaFormer JEA Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher, who was fired from JEA in December, told investigators Zahn was worried about media leaks before JEA board voted on pursuing privatization in July.
Political expert: JEA potentially one of the worst scandals in Jacksonville history
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4Jax political expert Rick Mullaney, former general counsel for Jacksonville, believes there is still much that hasn’t been revealed in the JEA investigation. Several City Council members were later arrested and convicted on fraud charges. Right now former Council Members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown are awaiting sentencing on a fraud conviction. During the Morning Show on News4Jax on Thursday, Jacksonville City Council President Scott Wilson talked about the upcoming investigation. “I think any investigation that the City Council conducts going forward will provide more information," Wilson said.
Lawyers: Ex-JEA CEO doctored PowerPoint slide to pitch controversial bonus plan
Draft of a slide that was created by Willis Towers Watson and shared with former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn. (News4Jax)Aaron Zahn is accused of altering this slide that was presented to the JEA Board of Directors in order to push through a controversial bonus plan. We then have him asking for the PowerPoint slide. We then have Mr. Zahn sending the PowerPoint slide to his assistant and we have metadata on that email that shows that that PowerPoint came from him,” Granat said. In a letter to News4Jax on Thursday, Zahn’s lawyer pushed back against some of the 24 accusations presented Tuesday, including the altered PowerPoint slide.
Will JEA investigations result in criminal charges against executives?
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Now that city attorneys are saying former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn lied, withheld information and changed documents to benefit himself and other executives, are criminal charges next? Federal investigators are looking into JEA employees, former or present. During Tuesday’s intense JEA board meeting, city attorney’s accused Zahn of withholding important information that could have changed the course of the potential sale of JEA. They alluded to the behind the scenes deals underway that would have benefited Zahn, upper management and even former a former JEA board member. But in the slide actually presented to the JEA board last summer, it’s much different.
Ex-board chair: No ‘conflict’ with JEA consulting gig
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A former JEA board chairman hired to help with privatization does not believe it was a conflict of interest to talk about an employment opportunity with JEA before voting for a plan to explore taking the utility private. He said there are no rules against former board members going to work for the agency. “The question really is whether or not we were engaged prior to the July board meeting where the board voted on the (invitation to negotiate),” Howard said. They said Zahn did not disclose those discussions or a “conflict of interest” to the utility’s board. “I voted my conscience at the July board meeting.”
It’s unanimous: JEA board fires ex-CEO Zahn for cause
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn will not get a big payout after the JEA Board of Directors on Tuesday voted unanimously to terminate Zahn’s contract for cause. In a presentation to the board Tuesday, counsel laid out 24 reasons why Zahn deserved to be terminated with cause. “Good to see the JEA Board terminate Aaron Zahn with cause so that he gets no more money from the people of Jacksonville. Zahn is disappointed in the outcome of today’s JEA Board meeting. This was about doing the right thing,” said JEA Board Chair April Green.
City officials voice concerns over how much time former JEA CEO was spending at City Hall
The documents show hundreds of swipes into City Hall over the last year and a half as Zahn made more than 90 visits. Civic Council calls for further investigation of ousted JEA CEO Aaron ZahnThe volume of visits is drawing criticism from City Council members who say JEA is meant to be independent of politics. News4Jax asked about the visits to City Hall, and Zahn issued a statement:City hall contains the general counsel’s office, 19 city council members and the mayors office. The number of times I visited city hall demonstrates my focus on transparency and communication with all of Jacksonville’s policy makers. Aaron Zahn, former CEO of JEACity Councilmember Matt Carlucci told News4Jax on Friday the volume of time Zahn was spending at City Hall is unprecedented.
Jake Godbold cements legacy by opposing sale of JEA
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Say what you want about Jake Godbold, but no one ever accused him of being timid. As mayor of Jacksonville, Godbold wasn’t shy about his ambitions of putting the city on the map. “He physically had slowed a little bit, but mentally he was sharp as a tack,” former Mayor John Delaney said of Godbold. But where Godbold’s plea over the Landing fell on deaf ears, his opposition to a sale of JEA found an audience that listened. “I like you and believe that you have generally done a good job as mayor,” Godbold wrote.
JEA’s chief compliance officer is retiring after 46 years
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the city-owned utility released a statement announcing that Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer Ted Hobson is retiring after 46 years of service. Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher was fired one week later. And Sherry Hall, JEA’s vice president and chief governmental affairs officer, gave her notice around the same time. As chief compliance officer for the past eight years, Hobson has overseen the utility’s compliance and regulatory programs, audit services, physical security, emergency planning and risk management. “Ted’s impact will remain with JEA for years to come and he will be missed,” the JEA statement said.
JEA: Zahn floated hiring Curry adviser for potential sale of utility
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn floated the idea of hiring one of Mayor Lenny Curry’s top advisers to consult on the since-scuttled plan to sell the city-owned utility, News4Jax learned Friday. “Aaron spoke of hiring Tim Baker as a consultant," Vinyard said. “He wanted to hire Mr. Baker through one of the law firms associated with the ITN process. “I have never worked for JEA,” Baker said Friday. “Tim Baker is a private business owner and does not discuss his private business interests with Mayor Curry,” the spokesperson said.