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Subpoena time for JEA.

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JEA rehires former CEO to salvage scandal-plagued utility

An ill-fated sales push rocked the once-stable JEA.

JEA, Jacksonville’s public utility, is bringing a familiar face back to a leadership role.

On Tuesday, the JEA Board voted to bring back former CEO Paul McElroy for a six-month interim CEO role, starting May 11.

McElroy will take over for former two-time interim CEO Melissa Dykes who was dismissed earlier this month.

The former CEO should be in place for much of the rest of the year.  There is a scenario where he could stay longer than six months, assuming the search for a permanent CEO isn’t completed by then.

In a letter to the board, McElroy contrasted his tenure leading the utility with the time since he left.

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While recent issues with JEA have been “well-documented and a matter of public record,” McElroy noted his tenure created a “high level of consumer and employee engagement and satisfaction.”

In comments to the board, McElroy deemed the situation of late “disappointing.”

His hope is that he can “lay the tracks for successful transition” to whatever comes next.

For McElroy, whose tenure was not without controversy despite strong metrics, and for JEA, Tuesday’s events bring the storyline full circle.

The leadership change continues recent attempts by JEA to reset its relationship with the community, after an ill-fated play to sell the utility that started during the McElroy era.

Last month, a completely new board was installed, a collection of community leaders not as yoked to the Mayor’s Office as board appointees historically were.

The tranche of appointments was necessary as the previous board, which backed the play to sell JEA in 2019, resigned en masse this year after firing CEO Aaron Zahn, a primary architect of the push to “recapitalize the asset.”

The new board moved quickly to remove interim CEO Melissa Dykes, whose role in the sales push is still being explored by investigators.

With the utility under federal investigation for a scheme to sell that cast a wide net over the city’s power players, both inside and out of office, the new board felt that firing her was necessary to clear the slate, especially given that subpoenas were served last month.

The subpoena targets texts, emails, and other archival information, including communications between the office of Mayor Lenny Curry and the “senior leadership team” of JEA, according to the Florida Times-Union and multiple sources.

Curry, an on-and-off-again proponent of “recapitalizing” the utility over the years, faced political headwinds in the months ahead of the coronavirus crisis, as the sale push proved politically unviable.

The subpoenas target past and present members of the utility’s brain trust including Zahn and Dykes, along with Chief Administrative Officer Herschel Vinyard and former CFO Ryan Wannamacher, who was dismissed via a terse email.

The investigation was moved to a federal venue at the discretion of State Attorney Melissa Nelson who shared political consultants with Curry through her successful 2016 campaign for office.

Investigators were interested 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.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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