Sources: OIG investigating hiring of JEA CEO for possible state and local violations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax’s Ben Becker has learned from multiple sources that Jacksonville’s Office of Inspector General is investigating if the hiring of JEA interim CEO Vickie Cavey created any state or local violations.

Cavey was offered the position by the JEA board on April 15, the same day former CEO Jay Stowe stepped down under pressure from the board in what was announced as a “mutual decision.”


The Inspector General will delve into whether Florida Sunshine laws were violated by the JEA board. The law requires public disclosure of government agency meetings and records to maintain transparency.

Cavey was introduced via a motion at the JEA board meeting without a prior notice meeting regarding who was being considered for the position. Becker obtained a three-year contract that JEA said was prepared once Stowe had informed Human Resources he had planned to resign sometime between March 26, when Cavey was initially hired back to the utility as a consultant, and the April 15 board meeting. Following various contract revisions, the board is expected to vote on a one-year contract on Tuesday.

“There are some issues with the rapid transition relative to transparency,” said Brenda Priestly Jackson, a former Jacksonville City Council member who served on the special JEA committee that helped investigate the failed sale of the utility in 2019.

“That was a rapid transition from Stowe who appeared to receive stellar evaluations,” Priestly Jackson said.

RELATED: JEA board to vote on contract for interim CEO Vickey Cavey

There’s also the question if Cavey is eligible for the job per city ordinance.

In 2020, the city council passed an ordinance that changed the JEA charter, requiring a managing director/CEO to have five years of executive experience with a utility. That was due to the fallout following the departure of former CEO Aaron Zahn, who was convicted in March on wire fraud and conspiracy charges. Zahn did not appear to have that specific five-year level of experience when he was hired in 2018.

Becker obtained Cavey’s resume which indicates she has no executive titles during her 32-year tenure at JEA. Becker is told by sources that executives are only considered Vice Presidents and Chiefs.

RELATED: JEA CEO Jay Stowe resigns, Vickie Cavey selected as interim CEO

An organizational chart from 2016 shows Cavey had no direct reports when she served as the Director of Strategy Development and Execution.

When Becker asked the utility if Directors receive special executive retirement plans, the answer was no.

“She doesn’t meet the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law?” Becker asked.

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“That’s an excellent way of putting it,” Priestly Jackson said. “We don’t want to get caught up in some technocratic definition of experience, she has had a wide span and scope of authority there.”

Cavey’s resume from 2001-2012 does say she was “responsible for negotiation and management of all power purchase agreements” for JEA which appears to include the Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia. However, because the contract did not have a cap and various market forces, it turned out to be seven years behind schedule and will cost JEA customers approximately $5 billion.

The utility said its commitment to buy fuel from Plant Vogtle is partly to blame for higher rates now and over the next 20 years.

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JEA Statement from Chief Legal Officer Regina Ross who is assigned by the Office of General Council:

“Under section 21.08 of the Charter (Ordinance 2020-419 effectuated the 2020 Charter revisions), the Board is charged with employing the CEO. The section provides that the CEO be a graduate of an accredited college or university and have at least five years “executive experience” within the utilities industry. Although similar terminology is used elsewhere in the Charter to describe required work experience for other professional positions throughout the City, based on my initial review, I do not believe that the Charter specifically defines the term ‘executive experience.’ The Board therefore is granted some discretion in assessing a candidate’s experience to determine whether it meets the level of executive experience necessary to fill the position.”

JEA Statement on Cavey contract:

“An initial draft contract for a potential Jay Stowe replacement was prepared following notification to JEA Human Resources of his intent to resign as managing director and CEO. Vickie Cavey, a frequent counselor to JEA executive leadership and 32-year operations veteran and most recently advisor to the board of directors, was identified as a possible option for full Board consideration at its special meeting on April 15, 2024. Given that the Board opted for an interim appointment, Ms. Cavey has not seen this draft. Pending additional negotiations, a final signed contract would replace her existing professional services agreement.”

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