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Jax Daily Record Friday, Dec. 20, 201903:10 PM EST

Departed JEA legal officer ‘stunned and appalled’ at her treatment by OGC

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General Counsel Gabriel rejects Rhode’s “insinuations and assertions.”
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

In JEA Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Lynne Rhode’s Dec. 19 resignation letter, she accused attorneys in the city Office of General Counsel of “extremely inappropriate and dishonest” behavior during a fact-finding meeting into her role in approving JEA’s now-rescinded employee bonus plan at the utility. 

City General Counsel Jason Gabriel

A city spokesperson Dec. 20 confirmed Rhode’s departure from JEA and the general counsel’s office. Rhode’s resignation letter, obtained in a public records request, is a rebuke of City General Counsel Jason Gabriel’s handling of an investigation into JEA’s Long-Term Performance Incentive Plan, as well as his leadership of the office. Gabriel was her supervisor. 

Rhode sent the email to Gabriel at 10:13 p.m. Dec. 19:

Jason,

I was stunned and appalled at being ambushed at a meeting this afternoon by your deputies. At your direction, they took a tone and approach at the meeting that was extremely inappropriate and dishonest. Of course, you chose not to attend. As a result of this improper conduct, I hereby resign effective immediately.

This has been a very difficult several weeks with the intense political controversy surrounding our client, JEA. Lives are being upended and careers destroyed. I understand people involved in this maelstrom are both fearful and upset. You and (City Deputy of Government Operations) Lawsikia (Hodges) have been fully informed and engaged in all manners of our representation of JEA. Any attempt to claim otherwise will simply not withstand scrutiny.  

In my nearly fifteen years of legal practice in both the private and public sectors, I have striven to serve my clients well and to always do the right thing. When I have been a leader, as you are, I have tried to take responsibility for my own actions and stand up for my people when they have acted appropriately. I never want to be the type of leader who runs for cover. Please know I will defend the reputation I have built, and I will not set it aside for anyone. While you may be under intense political pressure and scrutiny, there is no excuse for the behavior that you directed your employees to engage in today.

You will be hearing from my attorney in the very near future.

Lynne C. Rhode

Rhode was employed by the Office of General Counsel, but worked in an office at JEA where she advised the public utility’s board members.

Rhodes faced criticism for her role in the Long-Term Performance Unit Plan, which could have cost JEA ratepayers and the city more than $600 million if the utility is sold to a private company. The plan was designed similar to a private sector stock-option program as a way for JEA employees to invest in the utility as an incentive. 

Before the JEA board approved the plan July 23, then-JEA board member Alan Howard asked if it had been reviewed by the general counsel’s office. Rhode told Howard: “Yes sir.”

Gabriel wrote in a Nov. 12 memo that, at the time of the JEA board’s July 23 vote, his office understood the plan “in general conceptual terms as an employee incentive program.”

Gabriel rebutted Rhode’s claims in an email he sent to her at 10:37 a.m. Dec. 20:

Lynne - 

I completely disagree with, and wholly reject your insinuations and assertions below.   

I asked my deputies to simply conduct a fact-finding with you to get to the bottom of the blatant discrepancies between what you’ve been representing to others as the position of our office, and what those positions really are. We hadn’t gotten to even half of the list of issues we needed to address with you, at which point you declared that you were resigning, effective immediately, and promptly left the office. Yesterday’s meeting was only the last in a series of insubordinate and unprofessional actions by you towards me and the office.

I would like to respond in more detail to your email, but since you indicate below that you will be retaining an attorney, we will need to communicate through that person in the future.

-Jason G.

Rhode is the second executive departing a position at JEA this week. The JEA board of directors voted Dec. 17 to fire Managing Director and CEO Aaron Zahn without cause. 

Rhode began as JEA’s chief legal officer in April. She previously was an environmental and corporate attorney at Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow from April 2017 through April 2019. She also was senior assistant attorney general with the Commonwealth of Virginia Attorney General’s Office from April 2014 through November 2016.

A city spokesperson said Hodges will replace Rhode at JEA on an interim basis.

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