JEA Board Votes Unanimously To Make Zahn Next CEO

Nov 27, 2018

The JEA Board voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to offer the CEO position to interim CEO Aaron Zahn.

The board rated Zahn the highest of three finalists under consideration:

  • Aaron Zahn: 420.5 points
  • Pamela Hill: 381 points
  • Cris Eugster: 381 points 

“As Interim Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Aaron successfully guided JEA through many complex issues, while garnering the trust of senior management and employees,” said JEA Board Chairman, Alan Howard in an email to WJCT News.

Some Jacksonville City Council members had expressed concerns this decision was predetermined and that Mayor Lenny Curry had a heavy hand in the process. That’s after our Florida Times-Union news partner reported a search firm had ranked Zahn below all other finalists on several skill and leadership attributes.

During his interview Tuesday, Zahn talked about how he would overcome that suspicion and distrust.

“We’ve laid forth a plan that was open from the beginning and we’ve started executing on it. We haven’t deviated from it. We’ve tried to be transparent with the media, with this board, with our employees… in fact we took listening tours with almost every stakeholder group in the community. The only way I know how to overcome trust issues is to talk.”

Zahn also addressed concerns that he isn’t qualified for the position, admitting he’s not a traditional utility executive and said if that’s what the board wanted he wasn’t their guy.

Zahn was appointed as interim CEO in April after serving briefly on the JEA board. He was nominated to the board by Mayor Curry in January and confirmed in February by City Council. During Zahn's tenure as interim CEO, credit card giant Moody's downgraded JEA's credit outlook from stable to negative.

The CEO position became open when Paul McElroy announced in April he was stepping down amind - what was at the time - a growing debate over whether the city should sell JEA.

Later, the idea to sell was abandoned, although it triggered a successful straw ballot calling for the public to have a say in any future discussions to potentially privatize the utility.

Board members praised Zahn for intangible qualities, citing his passion for the job. 

“The Board of Directors followed a thorough and transparent search process. JEA is a leader in the utility industry, and I am confident that under Aaron’s leadership JEA will add value in each of our core areas: customers, finance, community impact, and the environment. We are looking forward to this new era at JEA with Aaron as the leader to get us there,” said Howard.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

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