Duval County

JEA CEO terminated with cause, Board members to leave at end of February

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tuesday was a day of major shake-ups inside JEA.

Former CEO Aaron Zahn was officially fired during the morning board meeting.

RELATED STORY: JEA board votes to terminate former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn

Before the meeting ended, JEA Board chair April Green resigned.

Then hours later, Mayor Lenny Curry announced the entire board will leave their positions by the end of February.

“I just really don’t see how they could do anything other than that. The community is furious,” explains former JEA Board Chair Lisa Strange Weatherby.

"Hopefully today was an action to show that we’ve got some cleaning up to do. We’re looking forward to moving forward,” Green said.

That first big step forward was finalizing Zahn’s termination.

Also Tuesday, the Office of General Counsel laid out 24 reasons, in a letter addressed to Green, to support terminating Zahn with cause.

Some of those reasons included: damaging JEA’s reputation, creating a conflict of interesting while pursuing the sale, false testimony, failing to provide accurate information, misrepresenting the performance unit plan and failing to inform of his personal gain in the Performance Unit Plan, known as the PUP.

STORY: Councilman: For months, JEA ignored auditors questioning PUP’s legality

"Deceived. It’s just that simple. You feel deceived,” Green said.

"As evidence has been presented, yes I think he has betrayed his position at JEA,” said Jacksonville Councilman Danny Becton. He represents District 11, and he is also the JEA liaison.

“They were complicit in hiring Zahn who was completely unqualified for the job. His only experience was bad experience and yet they still put him ahead of much more qualified people knowing,' Weatherby said.

JEA’s spokeswoman told Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole that Zahn, while on administrative leave, got paid $2,001.51 each day. That’s based on a five-day work week, 80-hour pay period.

And when you do the math, here’s how that adds up: $42,031.92 in administrative leave pay and $6,004.56 in holiday pay for a total of $48,036.48.

The board voted unanimously to terminate Zahn with cause. That ends his employment, benefits and pay today.

Zahn’s lawyer, John Mullen of Phelps Dunbar LLP, sent me two statements in response to today’s decision. He said Zahn plans to appeal.

In the first response, he said in part: “Mr. Zahn is disappointed in the outcome of today’s JEA Board meeting. In the last month, Mr. Zahn has made every effort to cooperate and find an amicable separation in the best interest of JEA, the community and his family.”

In the second statement, Mullen said in part, he believes “the Office of General Counsel set out not to conduct an independent investigation of facts, but to manufacture reasons and second-guess Mr. Zahn’s conduct so that it could try to argue that cause existed for Mr. Zahn’s termination.”

Mullen said the OGC report focuses on “Mr. Zahn, but ignores the roles that JEA’s Board, the OGC’s staff attorneys, dozens of JEA employees, multiple expert consultants, and myriad specialty legal advisers played in every decision at JEA.“

The board members will continue to serve until the end of February, and a source tells Action News Jax that Melissa Dykes will stay until the new permanent CEO is put in place.

"Not competing for the permanent CEO position gives us a chance to have a fresh start at JEA,” Dykes said.

As the JEA looks to the future, Green says there are some things the board must have if the body stands a chance at succeeding.

“This board needs to be equipped with experience -- municipal experience, financial experience, governance experience, and utility experience. I asked for that before I accepted the role as a chair person. I’ll leave you to your conclusions if I got it,” Green said.

Today, JEA board members decided the search for a new CEO needs to start with Compensation Committee reviewing the qualifications and job description.

Replacing the board is not going to be a quick process.

Action News Jax reporter Dani Bozzini asked Weatherby if she believes their needed to be a clean sweep.

Weatherby replied, “Yes, the senior leadership team, the board the whole ball of wax.”

But Weatherby believes it’s going to take a lot more than a new board to fix the issues at JEA.

“I think it’s going to take a while. I think that the trust has been so abused that people are just completely cynical and with good reason because this has been unprecedented and just a total embarrassment for the city.”

There’s still no word yet on when a new board will be appointed. ​

JEA’s chief human resources officer said the timeline is unpredictable, but could take between 5 and 6 months.