Interim CEO says JEA should remain city-owned

Melissa Dykes will recommend the “new path” to the utility’s board at its Jan. 28 meeting.

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JEA Interim Managing Director and CEO Melissa Dykes said the utility should remain owned by the city of Jacksonville.

Dykes told City Council members in an email Jan. 17 that she will recommend the JEA board drop any consideration of transitioning the utility into a cooperative or a publicly traded company through an initial public offering.

“Based on all we have learned through the past year, it is my strong belief and will be my recommendation to the JEA Board at our January meeting that JEA best serves the community by remaining owned by the City of Jacksonville,” Dykes wrote.

Dykes said she will make her recommendation at the board's Jan. 28 meeting. She said the information on the two options still should be made public, but not as an option for JEA's structure.

“I do not believe either of these scenarios best serves the interest of our community,” Dykes wrote. 

“To ensure we are operating transparently, I believe the information should be reviewed openly, not as a path forward but to determine if there are lessons in the work that will help make our government-owned utility even better.”

After pressure from ratepayers and Council members, the JEA board voted Dec. 24 to cancel the invitation to negotiate issued in August. 

The utility and City Hall negotiators were analyzing bids from nine private companies to buy some or all of JEA's assets. 

According to documents released by JEA from the ITN process, Dykes was part of the JEA executive team that met with bidders during confidential negotiations in December in Atlanta.

Dykes was named interim CEO on Dec. 17 after the board voted to fire former CEO Aaron Zahn without cause. 

Zahn was placed on paid administrative leave until the city's Office of General Counsel completed negotiations with Zahn's private attorney to agree on a severance package.

City attorneys were investigating to determine if there was evidence for the JEA board to amend its decision and fire Zahn with cause. The general counsel's office had until 5 p.m. Jan. 17 to complete its work.

In a letter sent Jan. 13 to the general counsel's office, Zahn’s attorney John Mullen with Phelps Dunbar in Tampa contends that on Dec. 30 Zahn accepted the severance terms presented Dec. 17 by JEA’s board of directors.

The office has not announced if city lawyers have reached a conclusion.

“I believe the best way forward for JEA is a new path - one that leverages the talent of the more than 2,000 employees, the partnership of City Council, and a close-knit community that supports JEA in simply becoming the very best government-owned utility it can be,” Dykes wrote.

Dykes said Jan. 13 she will not seek the utility’s top job permanently.