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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 17, 201912:50 PM EST

JEA Managing Director and CEO Aaron Zahn fired by utility's board

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The termination is without cause; Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes named interim CEO.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

The JEA board voted 5-1 Dec. 17 to fire the utility’s Managing Director and CEO Aaron Zahn without cause. 

The motion by board member Henry Brown instructs the city’s Office of General Counsel to negotiate with Zahn’s private attorney to reduce his severance pay. 

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.

The Office of General Counsel reminded the board those payments could increase to about $1.36 million if JEA is sold to a private utility. That’s because Zahn could be eligible for a retention bonus equal to one year’s salary if he is terminated without cause.

Brown wants to reduce Zahn’s consulting contract from 12 months to one month, reducing that part of the payout to about $52,800. 

Zahn did not attend the board meeting

Board Chair April Green was the only no vote. She advocated for Zahn’s termination with cause, stating she feels the CEO misled her and the board on several issues. This includes a Long-Term Performance Unit Plan that could have cost JEA up to $600 million if the utility were to be sold. 

She is concerned that an investigation into Zahn could uncover more misconduct. The board authorized the Office of General Counsel to move forward with that investigation.

Zahn will be placed on paid administrative leave for seven business days. The board directive gives attorneys until Dec. 30 to amend his employment contract language. Zahn’s termination will be effective on the date the contract is amended.

 After returning from a 20-minute recess, the board vote 6-0 on the terms of the negotiation.

Zahn’s lawyer, Jacob Peek with the Peek & Miska firm, told board members his client was willing to continue to negotiate, but not Dec. 17. 

Zahn also wants to examine the language in the possible retention bonus. 

Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes was named interim CEO.

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