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CEO Aaron Zahn evading media after a JEA Board meeting.

Jax

JEA sues former CEO

Aaron Zahn’s golden parachute is in doubt.

Jacksonville’s public utility is suing its former CEO, alleging a variety of bad-faith claims stemming from his tenure, which included an ill-fated attempt to privatize.

At issue: the controversial performance unit plan, a bonus plan contingent on selling the utility, which JEA said was an attempt to “loot the utility.”

“An initial schedule showed … Zahn would have been paid $26 million if JEA were sold for around $10.5 billion” with another $200 million going to the Senior Leadership Team.

Zahn, fired late last year, was described in the filing as having “no prior utility or public sector experience” before being appointed to the board of directors in 2018.”

Nevertheless, he resigned from the board and was picked as CEO, where his actions allegedly spawned “criminal and legislative investigations, credit downgrades” and bills from lawyers and lobbyist, the filing said.

The suit takes issue with alleged material misrepresentations from Zahn, including his claim that the utility is in a “death spiral” with declining electric sales.

The suit is intended to invalidate Zahn’s claim that he is owed $1 million, which he wanted to settle in arbitration.

Zahn, the most public exponent for the thus far politically toxic scheme to privatize America’s eighth largest utility, was fired in December.

Board chair April Green said Zahn had exercised “inappropriate personal and professional misconduct.”

JEA’s narrative continued to devolve throughout the fall, but Zahn and other executives’ prevaricating during a City Council inquiry about the Performance Pay Plan led to calls for the Zahn and CFO Ryan Wannamacher to resign over so-called “legal theft.”

The PUP, the filing contends, was represented erroneously as something for which every employee had access.

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Zahn and JEA’s CFO Ryan Wannamacher misrepresented to the board that the PUP had a capped value of around $3.4 million and that the proceeds of the sale of JEA would not be factored into the payout amount,” the filing reads.

The utility demands a public trial, and that would be a spectacle for the ages, with discovery and testimony to drive news cycles for years to come.

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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