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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 21, 201706:50 AM EST

The Cawton Report: JEA will be ‘held accountable’ for Irma issues

Mayor wants plan to fix the utility’s communication issues with customers during big weather events.
by: Monty Zickuhr Managing Editor

G. Allen Howard, chairman of the JEA board of directors, said senior management will face repercussions for the way the utility handled communication with customers during Hurricane Irma.

 The board held its monthly meeting Tuesday. 

Howard later clarified that management would be “held accountable” for the response, although he did not specify what that could entail. 

“We’re looking to make sure management evaluates all of its systems,” Howard said. “That’s what we’re going to be looking for, a lesson to be learned from this storm in particular.” 

Other board members deferred to Howard for comment. 

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and senior management officials updated the board for the first time since Hurricane Irma passed through North Florida.  

Curry asked senior management to “come up with a plan” to handle customer interactions during a crisis before the next storm season. 

“People are making life decisions, financial decisions based on communication and that information,” Curry said after the meeting. 

Curry said information posted to JEA’s online outage map and communication needs to be more accurate during the next major weather event. 

“There needs to be a big improvement there,” he said.

Curry praised JEA crews working in the field. 

“The effort on the ground driven by the organization was successful to restore power,” he said.  “That’s good work, in frankly uncertain circumstances.”

JEA Chief Financial Officer Melissa Dykes told the board the damage caused by Irma would likely cost $30 million. 

By comparison, Dykes said Hurricane Matthew caused $20 million in damages in 2016. 

She said most of the money would be refunded through FEMA, resulting in a net cost of $2 million for JEA for Irma. 

Howard said the costs would not impact the utility’s financial position or its ability to build a new Downtown headquarters. 

Rival news stations come together

After decades of competing for coverage and ratings, two of Jacksonville’s most established television news stations are coming together. 

The independent WJXT TV-4 and the First Coast News duopoly of NBC affiliate WTLV TV-12 and ABC affiliate WJXX TV-25 launched a combined campaign last week called “First Coast Strong” in the wake of Hurricane Irma. 

In a promotional ad, First Coast News anchor Jeannie Blaylock and WJXT  anchor Mary Baer encouraged viewers to use #FirstcoastSTRONG on social media to share their thoughts and ways they’re helping the community after Irma. 

WJXT Vice President and General Manager Bob Ellis said it started with a phone call to First Coast News General Manager Rob Mennie about his station using the hashtag that First Coast News began circulating in the days after the storm. 

“I thought rather than create our own, I wanted to see if we could work together on this,” he said.

Ellis said WJXT and First Coast News have a strong reputation in the community, and that despite their competitive history, “we thought it was appropriate to come together.”   

“There’s a time to be competitive, and there’s a time to work together,” Ellis said. 

“It lets people know that we’re here to help,” he said. 

Emails to Rob Mennie were not returned as of Wednesday.

Throughout the years, both stations have ranked No. 1 in Neilson ratings at various timeslots, although in recent years First Coast News has lost ground to the CBS and FOX affiliates duopoly of Action News Jax (WFOX TV-30 and WJAX TV-47). 

Ellis said he was unaware if Mennie had reached out to Action News Jax to join the promotion. 

“That was their decision,” he said. 

Ellis said his station also isn’t concerned with Action News Jax making gains in ratings, saying that “we do our thing here.” 

 “We’ve been the same TV station we’ve always been and we’re very comfortable with where we’re at,” Ellis said.  

He said the WJXT brand is “viewer first” and pointed to the news department’s coverage of Hurricane Irma last week proving that point. 

“They were spectacular,” Ellis said. “They were completely selfless, and when the storm passed, they continued that commitment.”

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