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Interim JEA CEO Scores Lower Than Competitors On Skills, Experience

Bill Bortzfield
JEA's downtown Jacksonville headquarters

A confidential assessment of the four finalists vying to become JEA’s next chief executive officer shows the utility’s interim leader, Aaron Zahn, scored the lowest among the candidates on several skill and leadership attributes, according to reports prepared by a private executive search firm.

Our Florida Times-Union news partner reports Zahn was the only one of the four candidates to earn a “medium” score on four different categories: organizational leadership, experience in the utility industry, operational excellence and building relationships with stakeholders. The other three candidates either scored “high” or “medium-high” on every category.

That Zahn scored lower than his competitors is in some respects not a great revelation: JEA board members have acknowledged his limited experience but also seem interested in weighing more intangible qualities that could ultimately benefit him. Board member April Green, for example, has praised Zahn’s “passion” when arguing to advance him to the slate of finalists.

The other three finalists boast deep backgrounds in the utilities industry and left the JEA board’s search committee highly impressed during the finalists vote two weeks ago. The board’s decision to advance Zahn along with them, however, has generated criticism that it’s his job to lose. Zahn is a political supporter of Mayor Lenny Curry — who appointed the board’s seven members after confirmation by the City Council. Curry has publicly supported Zahn since his controversial hiring as the interim CEO in the spring.

The board is expected to hire its next CEO at its Nov. 27 meeting.

The Times-Union obtained the assessment of the candidates, prepared by executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, in a records request. The reports appear intended to help board members evaluate the finalists.

The other three CEO finalists are: Cris Eugster, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated chief operating officer of CPS Energy in San Antonio, Texas, the largest municipal utility in the country; Frankie McDermott, the chief energy delivery officer of the Sacramento (Calif.) Municipal Utility District, which is larger than JEA; and Pamela Hill, a vice president of PowerSecure and former CEO of Bahamas Power and Light.

A longer version of this story that also looks at the scores of the other candidates is on