JEA CEO Aaron Zahn Calls Employee Incentive Plan ‘A Mistake’

Dec 16, 2019

As calls grow louder for JEA Managing Director and CEO Aaron Zahn to be fired or resign, the man at the center of the controversy said at a Jacksonville City Council hearing on Monday, “I made an error in judgement.”

Zahn said, in part, “I regret that JEA’s consideration of the long-term performance plan, under my leadership, has created controversy and distracted from the important strategic work of JEA and the City Council.

Zahn was referring to a controversial employee profit sharing plan that he and other members of JEA’s senior leadership had proposed and later shelved as details became public.

Related: JEA Shelves Employee Profit Sharing Idea Amid Uncertainty About Public Utility's Future

Zahn maintains the motives of the plan were pure.

“But the moment JEA’s Board contemplated recapitalization, I should have recommended that a Long-Term Performance Plan would be better timed after a final decision was made on JEA’s future. Instead, JEA’s leadership continued the mechanics of legal, ethical and confirmatory diligence around the Long-Term Plan. The delay in cancelling the Plan, and contemplation of potential impacts of recapitalization should it ever occur, was a mistake,” Zahn said.

The plan is expected to be formally cancelled at Tuesday’s JEA board meeting.

Zahn's appearance at the hearing comes on the heels of JEA board member Henry Brown's saying he intends to call on the board to fire Zahn at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record reported Brown notified Zahn of his plan in a letter dated Dec. 15.

Related: JEA Board Member Brown To Call For Vote On Firing CEO Zahn

While Zahn's prepared comments did not address Brown’s call to fire him, his prepared statement for the meeting said, “I am sorry for anything done to cause a lack of trust in my team or me.”

The CEO also defended the process used to come up with the plan.

"JEA’s board and leadership has always unequivocally sought to understand and adhere to all local, state and federal laws and ethics codes," he said.

Among those calling for Zahn to leave his position is at-large City Councilman Matt Carlucci. Carlucci is also calling for a grand jury investigation into JEA before it’s allowed to privatize or otherwise change its structure.

Appearing Monday on WJCT's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, Carlucci said, “It's clear to me that looking at this process,  it’s broken. Millions of dollars are being moved around. Perhaps to other people involved in the process. I don't know. I don't know, but there's lots of money involved here.”

Related: Listen to the full interview with Carlucci

Carlucci said he would prefer a state grand jury look into JEA because that would cast a bigger net.

WJCT News will have more on Monday afternoon's City Council hearing on the JEA performance plan Monday during All Things Considered on 89.9 FM.

- WJCT's Michelle Corum contributed to this report

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

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