Jay Stowe resigns as JEA CEO; Vickie Cavey named interim chief executive

Board chair Joe DiSalvo said philosophical differences were behind Stowe’s departure.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 6:01 p.m. April 15, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
JEA interim CEO Vickie Cavey.
JEA interim CEO Vickie Cavey.
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The top executive at JEA is out, replaced on an interim basis by a former high-ranking JEA employee who had been hired less than three weeks earlier to serve as a liaison for the board.

Jay Stowe, the utility’s CEO and managing director since 2020, stepped down during a special board meeting April 15. During the same meeting, the board voted to name Vickie Cavey as interim CEO.

The moves came after board members brought Cavey aboard as a liaison between them and Stowe’s administration March 26 to review JEA’s organizational structure and to help choose an independent consultant that the board would pay to examine JEA’s capital improvement plan. 

Those moves prompted questions about whether the board had lost confidence in Stowe by bringing on an independent consultant as opposed to relying on his guidance.

‘Different philosophies’ 

JEA board Chair Joe DiSalvo said Stowe’s departure had nothing to do with malfeasance or misconduct but rather stemmed from a philosophical disagreement with board members over how to move the utility forward.
The board is seeking another consultant to evaluate a plan by the administration to spend $4 billion over the next several years on capital improvements, including a $2.3 billion to upgrade and expand the water and sewer system and a new high-tech natural gas electric-generation plant that will cost about $1 billion.

JEA CEO Jay Stowe

“It’s a sports analogy: Belichick and Kraft decided to part company,” DiSalvo said, referring to the break between New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick after the 2023-24 NFL season. “Same thing. Nothing derogatory against Jay. He did a great job. We just had different philosophies, so we needed to go a different way.” 

Several participants in the meeting said there was no plan to sell JEA. 

Stowe’s resignation will be effective Aug. 15. 

In a separation agreement, he will be paid a lump sum of $257,504 and a monthly business allowance of $2,083. The allowance will be prorated during August.

Joe DiSalvo

The agreement further stipulates that Stowe will serve through his separation date as an executive consultant and will continue to receive his regular pay and benefits during that time. He will continue to accrue annual leave and will be paid for his unused time off.

DiSalvo said it had not been determined how much Cavey would be paid in the interim role.

He said the succession plan would involve a consultant analysis of JEA’s structure, which could take until the end of the year to complete. 

“From that, I hope to get an idea of what exactly is the right organizational structure, and then from there we’ll get a good idea of what are the characteristics that we are looking forward to seeing (from CEO prospects),” he said.

Cavey’s JEA history

Cavey joined JEA in 1984 as a mechanical engineer and went on to hold such titles as special assistant to the CEO for external affairs, director of strategy development and execution, and director of strategic partnerships and acquisitions.

In remarks during the board meeting, she emphasized her longtime connection to the utility. She said was wearing the same business suit she wore to her first day on the job at JEA 40 years ago – a gift her mother purchased for her at the former 5-7-9 clothing store in Jacksonville.

“I have vivid childhood memories of my widowed mother of five crying in our poorly insulated rental home because of our high electric bills in the 1970s. She was a waitress,” Cavey said.

“That was a time when JEA had among the highest electric rates in the country due to our reliance on oil and the oil embargo of 1973. Thanks to strong leadership and cultural diversity, JEA eventually had the lowest rates in the state," she said.

Cavey addressed the issue of JEA employees being allowed to work remotely out of the county and out of state, which prompted speculation the policy had become a pain point between Stowe, the board and City Council members. 

“When you work remotely, it’s hard to mentor people,” she said. “It’s hard to identify people with talent. It’s hard to have synergy with your coworkers. So I think going to a different model or an integration of a hybrid model or something to that effect could help us.”

The board accepted Stowe’s resignation without a vote. Its decision to hire Cavey as the interim came with one no vote, from member Kawanza Humphrey, who said her stance on the hiring was not related to Cavey or her qualifications for the role.

“In the absence of a formalized succession plan, I’m a little more accustomed to seeing a COO take on the role,” she said.

Raynetta Curry Marshall is JEA’s chief operations officer.

Followed failed sale

Stowe’s resignation came less than four years after he was brought in during November 2020 amid a period of turbulence surrounding former CEO Aaron Zahn. 

Along with Ryan Wannemacher, the former chief financial officer for JEA, Zahn would be accused of scheming to steal tens of millions of dollars in bonuses from the utility by deceiving the board into exploring a sale and approving an incentive plan that would have triggered the bonuses.

JEA Managing Director and CEO Jay Stowe and Chief Operating Officer Raynetta Marshall announce that Plant Vogtle is delivering power to the Jacksonville utility in this image from a Youtube video.

Stowe referenced the controversy while reading from prepared remarks during the April 15 board meeting.

“By far, the most important achievement in my time here was rebuilding the trust between the leadership and the workforce and the trust of JEA within the community,” he said.

“While I’m proud of the strategic direction that was grounded in our core values of safety, respect, and integrity – so many JEA employees were already living those values – and together we found a way to breathe them back to life in a place that had been hurt and broken for far too long," Stowe said.

During the meeting, which was streamed live, messages from viewers occasionally appeared on the monitors in the meeting room. Many were supportive of Stowe. 

When DiSalvo asked whether any board members were opposed to accepting Stowe’s decision, a message flashed up reading, “Any opposed? Yes, like 2/3 of the work force.” 

During public comments before the vote, JEA employees commended Stowe in person. 

Randy Hilton, a longtime JEA employee and union leader, said staff members would miss Stowe and were confused about the reasons behind his departure. 

“What’s the why? Who triggered this? And what’s the background of all this?” he asked. 

When Stowe left the board room, several attendees stood and applauded him. 

Former JEA board member and lobbyist Mike Hightower endorsed Cavey for the role. 

He cited her longtime experience with the utility and community, saying Cavey was former CEO Paul McElroy’s first hire when McElroy was brought back to serve as interim after Zahn’s firing.



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