JEA's board of directors unanimously approved on Tuesday a resolution allowing the utility company to explore privatizing.
The decision comes after JEA's chief executive officer Aaron Zahn asked his board of directors to consider two landscape-altering solutions to remedy the existential problems he says JEA faces in the future: lay-off 574 employees or allow him to explore privatizing the city-opened water and electric utility.
Upon approving Zahn's request to explore privatization, the board moved on to discuss his contract.
Zahn would become the highest-paid employee in the City of Jacksonville at $524,000 according to board. However, Zahn says the pay still puts him in the bottom 25 percent of comparable industry leaders.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry released a statement regarding the results of the meeting. He said:
Since taking office in 2015, I have challenged board appointees to focus attention on how independent agencies can best serve our city and strategically prepare for generations to come. This includes the board at JEA and the senior leadership they empower.
For more than a year at JEA they have undertaken a comprehensive strategic assessment. I welcome their wisdom and expertise, and that includes their assessment that there are significant challenges to moving forward with the status quo. Moving forward I hope they continue to apply this wisdom and expertise as they explore alternatives to these challenges.
Whatever path JEA board and senior leaders undertake, I will reiterate what I’ve said since 2018; any decisions I make related to JEA are guided by three core principles:
1. The strength and success of JEA for decades is directly linked to the hard work of JEA’s employees. Any policy regarding the utility’s future MUST keep promises made to these employees. A path leading to hundreds of job cuts or failure to meet retirement needs of career employees is not acceptable.
2. In our community, JEA customers have had access to a stable supply of electricity and clean water at reasonable, market-based rates. Any policy regarding the utility’s future MUST continue that access. Our local economy must not face diminished service or massive rate increases.
3. As a publicly-owned asset, the value of JEA is built on the investment of taxpayers. Any policy regarding the utility’s future MUST respect that investment. Jacksonville taxpayers are co-owners of the utility and MUST have a voice in the future of their investment.\
In May, JEA said that if they didn't do anything, utility rates could go up and it would cost consumers hundreds of dollars a year. But the company says it's limited in how it can do business today by only cutting cost and workforce.
Whatever the answer to JEA's future, the public has made it clear that they are firmly against the sale of the utility.
According to documents obtained by First Coast News, JEA wishes they could invest in more research and development opportunities, reduce their city contribution, sell assets and acquire new businesses and customers.