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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jan. 14, 202011:10 AM EST

Legislation seeks to ensure independent authorities comply with City Council Auditor requests

Council member Rory Diamond says bills are in response to JEA’s failure to respond to questions about incentive program.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

District 13 City Council member Rory Diamond filed two bills Jan. 14 that seek to ensure JEA and the city’s other independent authorities comply with requests from the Council Auditor’s Office.

Rory Diamond

The legislation would require independent authorities to respond to the Council Auditor within 48 hours of receiving a request. For large data and records requests, the bills will require a time frame for submitting the information.

Diamond said the legislation is in response to JEA’s failure to respond to emails from City Council Auditor Kyle Billy and his staff as they investigated the utility’s now-dead Long-Term Performance Unit Plan, an incentive program for JEA employees.

Diamond said the legislation will give the Council Auditor “more teeth to force compliance to the office’s requests.”

“If you go back to the JEA’s performance unit plan, the obscene bonus plan that they created for themselves, they refused to reply to City Council auditors. To do that with impunity at no costs to themselves that’s unacceptable. These bills would fix this,” Diamond said.

The Council Auditor’s Office issued a memo Nov. 18 that included a financial assessment showing the incentive could cost JEA up to $636.6 million if the utility was sold to a private company. 

The plan was designed to offer 100,000 performance units to all JEA employees for purchase at $10 each. The unit value would increase as the utility hit financial targets within a three-year cycle. A JEA Compensation Committee presentation in June estimated the cost of the PUP program at $3.4 million.

Former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, who was fired by the JEA board without cause Dec. 17, sent a letter to Council President Scott Wilson on Nov. 19 stating his team would recommend the board terminate the incentive plan after the auditor’s report became public record. The JEA board voted to kill the PUP program Dec. 17. 

In a Dec. 16 Council hearing with JEA executives, Diamond expressed his distrust in JEA Chief Financial Officer Ryan Wannemacher, who could not explain why he failed to reply to the Council Auditor’s emails in August requesting more information about how the cost of the PUP plan was forecast.

Wannemacher was fired by JEA Interim Managing Director and CEO Melissa Dykes on Dec. 27. Dykes announced this week she will not seek the permanent CEO job.

The City Charter does not define a specific procedure for responding to Council Auditor requests. 

Ordinance 2020-40 deals specifically with the JEA Charter section, while 2020-39 would amend the Charter section governing the city’s other board and commissions. 

Diamond said the goal of these two bills is to create a record and hold JEA and the authorities accountable. 

“If you ignore the Council Auditor, you ignore the most fundamental piece of (City) Council oversight,” Diamond said. 

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