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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jan. 13, 202001:00 PM EST

JEA Interim CEO Melissa Dykes won't seek role permanently

"A fresh start for all stakeholders and what is best for JEA,” Dykes said.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

JEA Interim Managing Director and CEO Melissa Dykes said she will not seek the utility’s top job permanently. 

Dykes announced her decision during an employee town hall meeting Jan. 13. In a statement to the media, Dykes said she intends to remain interim CEO until the JEA board of directors selects her replacement.

“This was a difficult decision for me, but a necessary step towards ensuring a fresh start for all stakeholders and what is best for JEA,” Dykes said in the statement. “I remain committed to promoting a culture of employee safety, delivering operational excellence and rebuilding trust, while ensuring a smooth transition. This way, there will be no question that all decisions going forward will be with JEA and the community in mind, instead of through the lens of someone applying for a permanent position.”

Dykes told employees removing herself from the CEO search “should increase interest from other well-qualified candidates for the position.” 

JEA Media Manager Gina Kyle said the interim CEO has additional employee meetings scheduled Jan. 13 where she will discuss her decision. 

The JEA board named Dykes interim CEO on Dec. 17 after it voted 5-1 to fire former Managing Director and CEO Aaron Zahn without cause. The board has not decided when to begin or how to proceed with a CEO search.

Dykes joined the JEA as treasurer in 2012 and was named chief financial officer in 2013, a role she held until being named interim CEO. Dykes’ successor as CFO, Ryan Wannemacher, was terminated in December. Joe Orfano is interim CFO.

Former CEO Zahn's status

Meanwhile, attorneys with the city’s Office of General Counsel are still investigating if there are grounds for the board to amend its decision and fire Zahn for cause.

Stephen Powell, chief tort and labor employment attorney with the general counsel’s office, responded to questions about the status of Zahn’s investigation in a voice message Jan. 8. 

“Our office continues to work on the assignment that the JEA board gave us on Dec. 17 to review Mr. Zahn’s tenure to determine if there are grounds to that would support a termination of his contract for cause,” Powell said.

He did not directly address if negotiations between Zahn’s lawyer, Jacob Peek with the Peek & Miska firm, and city attorneys for his final severance package are still active.

Zahn’s employment contract calls for $842,925 in payments in the event of a termination without cause. That includes 20 weeks of pay, a 12-month consulting contract worth $634,000 and COBRA insurance payments. Zahn’s annual salary was $520,000.

The board instructed city attorneys to reduce Zahn’s payout in the negotiations. JEA Board member Henry Brown also wants to reduce Zahn’s consulting contract from 12 months to one month, cutting that part of the payout to about $52,800.

Talks between the general Counsel attorneys and Zahn’s lawyer did not meet a Dec. 30 target set by the board.

Zahn will remain on paid administrative leave, receiving approximately $10,000 per week in pay, until an agreement is reached or the board takes additional action.

JEA Board Chair April Green advocated for Zahn’s termination with cause during the Dec. 17 meeting. Green said she feels the former CEO misled her and the board on several issues. That includes an employee bonus plan that could have cost JEA up to $600 million if the utility had been sold to a private company.

The board canceled the bonus plan Dec. 17 and on Dec. 24 ended the invitation to negotiate process toward the sale of the utility.

Green said Dec. 17 she was concerned that an investigation into Zahn could uncover more misconduct. The board authorized the Office of General Counsel to move forward with that investigation.

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