JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After multiple hours of debate over terminating its CEO with or without cause, the JEA Board has voted to put Aaron Zahn on administrative leave and suspension while lawyers negotiate his exit from the publicly-owned utility. The Office of General Counsel will also investigate where there is reason to fire Zahn for cause. That vote passed unanimously following an earlier 5-1 vote to terminate Zahn without cause.
The JEA Board then voted unanimously to name Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes as interim CEO.
Following a recess at its morning meeting, the Office of General Counsel offered an alternative to negotiate Zahn’s exit from JEA. He would be paid a one-month consultation term and agree to forgo a retention agreement that would pay him the equivalent of one year salary over three installments if JEA is sold or privatized.
Zahn’s compensation package if terminated without cause would pay him just over $842,000. Attorneys told the Board that an employees’ gross neglect of duties and obligations or willful misconduct would justify cause.
Board Member Henry Brown said he wants to protect JEA from possible future litigation and asked a series of questions about whether Zahn’s actions have risen to the level of termination with cause. He said he doesn’t want to leave this situation open ended, saying there is far too much work ahead for any more distractions. If the Board votes to terminate without cause, it would be required to give Zahn 30 days’ notice.
“We’re not giving him a pardon for the rest of his life”, said Brown.
Board Chair April Green called for an investigation of Zahn, saying she has heard from multiple sources that there is more to this. “We don’t know what else is out there”, Green said.
Board Member Amy Flanagan recommended Zahn be put on administrative leave or suspension and investigate to determine if cause is justified. Zahn would continue to be paid during the length of the investigation under terms of his contract.
The Office of General Counsel said he spoke with Zahn’s attorney, and he offered to amend his consulting agreement from 12 months to 6 months but keep his other compensation package options in place.
The OGC was asked if he could bring a defamation suit, and said no. But he also said he feels very strongly that Zahn doesn’t have a claim for wrongful termination.
Jacksonville City Council Member Matt Carlucci spoke before the Board voted, calling for a termination with cause, saying it’s time for the public utility to have a fresh start.
The Board meeting began at 9 am with calls by Chair April Green to investigate allegations made by an elected official, not directly naming Council Member Garrett Dennis, who has been a vocal critic of the JEA Board and Mayor Curry.
Council Member Danny Becton, who is liaison to the JEA Board, said the citizens of Jacksonville are angry, saying it appears like JEA has made a pre-determined outcome on its future.
Board member Kelly Flanagan cited concern about the PUP incentive plan that was approved in July. She said it was troubling that the Board didn’t have a full picture of the impact of the PUP, and she wished she had asked better questions.
Earlier, the Board voted unanimously to scrap a long-range incentive plan that it had originally approved in July. This is a developing story, refresh for updates.
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