4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson has finally weighed in on the continuing crisis with Jacksonville’s public utility.
Investigations, according to a statement from her office, are continuing.
“We have heard the concerns of the community over the past several months. This office is, and has been, looking into matters involving JEA,” Nelson said.
The office “will not be commenting further.”
The Civic Council wants to “convene a grand jury to investigate the actions of the JEA Board and senior management with regard to the legality and appropriateness of: the decision to conduct the ITN and potential sale of JEA; the conduct of city officials, employees, contractors and lobbyists involved in the potential sale or recapitalization of JEA; the performance unit plan; and any related matters which may lead to actions by the grand jury, including a presentment or report on the behavior of public officials and others engaged in the matters involving JEA.”
The continuing disquiet over JEA comes after a series of revelations regarding ongoing attempts to sell the company, coupled with a “performance pay” plan that would have allowed executives to buy stock that could exponentially increase in value.
Tuesday saw the JEA Board remove CEO Aaron Zahn, a firing “without cause” that as it stands leaves the city on the hook for 20 weeks of salary (at a $515,000 annual rate) and a $52,000 “consulting fee” for a month of “service.”
Board members who opposed even that concession wondered why Zahn, fired from the company, would offer consulting services.
These may or may not be final terms even if the board vote stands; negotiation continues with Zahn’s lawyer.
Zahn’s ultimate demise came after a Jacksonville City Council inquiry into the performance pay plan.
A context of distrust had already existed: a push to sell the utility, and a unilateral decision by the utility to negotiate with bidders in Atlanta, rather than Jacksonville. And calls for the removal of CEO Aaron Zahn, calls for a grand jury investigation, and a delayed-but-not-dead City Council resolution to stop the sale process altogether.
Councilman Rory Diamond, who convened the inquiry, bemoaned “legal theft” by executives.
“I don’t see crimes here … I see legal theft. A group of executives who know this thing is going to be sold,” Diamond says. “It’s legal. But it’s wrong.”