Uncertainty looms over future of JEA privatization talks

Jacksonville, FL — A day after JEA named an interim CEO- and that man called for halting talks about whether to privatize the utility- Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is standing in Aaron Zahn's corner.

Curry has previously said he supports exploring the idea, while declining to take a position on whether he supports the privatization specifically. Now, he says he wants Zahn to have time to reset.

“Allow him to get in there with the leadership, with the Board, get back to the business of the JEA, develop a strategic plan that will speak to the future of the utility and what it means for its customers and its employees,” Curry says.

Shortly before Zahn was chosen by the JEA Board Tuesday as the new interim CEO, he said that he intended to immediately engage City stakeholders about halting talks about the potential sale, if he were named to the position. On Wednesday, he declined to directly answer the question of how long that "halt" could last- or if talks would ever resume- saying he first needs to develop a strategic plan to address the future of JEA and its role in the community.

Despite support from the Mayor, the City Council’s probe of the potential sale of JEA seems unlikely to slow down any time soon. City Councilman John Crescimbeni, who leads the Special Committee looking at this issue, told WOKV on Tuesday that he intends to continue their work, and City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche says she supports that. Both say they believe this issue will continue to come up, so they want to be prepared with all of the information and answers they’re seeking. The City Council’s Special Committee meets again Thursday.

For now, Curry wants to see the utility refocus under Zahn.

“Get back to the business of the employees, of power and water, and a strategic plan that takes JEA in to the future,” he says.

The CEO position opened after the prior one, Paul McElroy, stepped down earlier this month. He told the JEA Board that the utility was moving in a different direction than what his leadership skills were best suited for. JEA's CFO Melissa Dykes served as interim CEO for close to two weeks, but was then passed over for the more enduring post, in favor of Zahn. The JEA Board did commit to elevating Dykes role in the transition, though, with something similar in form to a Chief Operating Officer.

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