Jacksonville, FL — After Jacksonville's Mayor says he will not put forward any plan to privatize JEA, the utility is looking at moving forward with what they're calling "bold" plans.
"We need to be bold, we need to be innovative, and we need to become the utility of the future for Jacksonville," says JEA's Interim CEO Aaron Zahn.
WOKV first told you earlier Thursday that Mayor Lenny Curry took a position "unequivocally" against moving forward with privatization plan. He believes his office would have to initiate such a plan, and said he would not be doing that. While Curry says he has previously supported studying the idea, he believes he has the information needed to inform a decision, and the process has become too political.
This all comes just a short time after Zahn took over as interim CEO, and he immediately said that he would seek to halt the privatization talks. He says there have been a lot of questions that surfaced through the last few months on this topic.
“It’s demonstrated that JEA really needs to evaluate our path forward, and we need to step up,” he says.
Zahn went before the City’s Council Special Committee on the future of JEA Thursday to outline the vision. That committee was previously the Special Committee on the potential sale of JEA, but changed its name and charge following the Mayor’s declaration.
First, Zahn says JEA is refocusing on its core business. He’s then listening to stakeholders, while developing a “partnership framework” for JEA, the Board, leadership, employees, and more. From there, Zahn says they can update JEA’s strategic plan and move forward.
"We're gunna start coming up with bold ideas, and were gunna have bold safety, bold service, bold commitment to growth, and start bringing you these ideas in a way where we can generate economic development, new jobs, continue to drive a fiscally responsible asset, and ultimately have the integrity to demonstrate the corporate governance that we've spoken so much about. And to present- with clarity- the strategy and expectations that I think you, as shareholders, expect from us,” he says.
He says they have the resources, talent, and ideas, so now it’s about putting everything together.
While Zahn looks at the broader vision, JEA has created a new position that focuses on the short-term goals as well. Zahn floated the idea of creating something like a Chief Operating Officer, when he was being considered for the interim CEO position. The other candidate for the interim job- JEA’s Chief Financial Officer Melissa Dykes- has now stepped in as President/COO, and another person is serving as interim CFO.
Dykes says she has two short-term goals- preserving and improving JEA’s safety record, and ensuring the organization is prepared for storm season. She says they have already kicked off their storm preparedness exercise, and they will brief the JEA Board over their next two meetings to ensure everyone is aware of the lessons learned from the prior two storm seasons.
Council members urged JEA to consider septic tank replacement as a high priority in their strategic vision, with some also wanting serious consideration for undergrounding electric lines.
Zahn says JEA is in the process of searching for a permanent CEO. Zahn has previously said he would be interested in that position, if his skills and vision matched what the utility is looking for.
The Council’s Special Committee, meanwhile, shows no sign of stopping their probe, with members previously saying the process has started and they now want to get all of their questions answered.