Lessons Learned from the JEA Scandal: Let us never forget!!

Yesterday the verdicts came down for the two JEA executives who were accused of perpetuating a scheme to get rich quick off the sale of JEA.

Both men, Aaron Zahn, former CEO and Ryan Wannemacher, former CFO, were tried in the same courtroom with two juries…one for Zahn and one for Wannemacher.

Zahn’s jury found him guilty of both counts of conspiracy and wire fraud. Wannemacher’s jury found him not guilty of both counts.

When the verdicts were read, Zahn cried and Wannemacher became emotional. 

Zahn left the courtroom visibly upset and Wannemacher was elated, thankful and happy to finally get his life back.  He later released a heartfelt statement about how he had relied on his faith and family to get him through.  He seems humbled by the experience and professes to be a changed man. 

It’s been a long five years for Jacksonville residents.  The lessons learned in this experience are many and should be recorded to ensure this never happens again in our city.

Lessons Learned:

  1. For the Mayor’s office: A Mayor is elected to serve the people and to be the top executive for the business of our city government.  It is not to be used as a political weapon against anyone who may not agree with the Mayor or the Mayor’s people who administer the day-to-day operations.  Every individual the Mayor chooses to put on boards or in his/her administration should be people of integrity and should have a heart of service…not one that benefits their own agendas.  Choosing the right and most qualified people to serve the Mayor’s administration IS the most important job for the Mayor.  Don’t pick friends just because they are friends or donors because they gave you money.  Your job is to do what is best for Jacksonville residents – all residents – not just those who got you elected.
  2. For those who serve on boards: Before this experience it was prestigious to be on the JEA board and other city boards.  From this moment forward let it be known that your job as a board member is to serve the residents of this city.  You are to question authority and to dig deep into the documents you are handed to review prior to board meetings.  This is serious business to serve on boards and is not just a line item on your bio.
  3. For those caught in a legal battle: Learn from this trial.  Hire the best attorney you can afford AND make sure that attorney isn’t cocky!  You need one who will fight for you with truth and facts and who has a calm demeanor in the most trying time of your life.  A cocky egomaniac is not helpful in a courtroom where the jury of your peers views you through the eyes of your attorney.  Your attorney represents you and if you are not happy with that representation, get another one.  There was a lawyer who won yesterday and another one who lost.  There was a major difference in how they handled the courtroom and the juries took note. 
  4. For those who got away with it: Many of us believe there were others behind the scenes that encouraged and supported Zahn’s grand scheme.  For some reason those people were not charged.  We don’t know why and we wonder if justice will be served on those who snuck around in the dark shadows with the potential JEA sale.  At the end of the day and maybe not in our lifetime, we know justice is always served and God will be their judge. 
  5. For the residents of Jacksonville: You did it!  You stood up when you smelled something rotten at JEA.  Keep doing your civic duty and show up when things seem wrong in our city government.  Remember the Mayor, those who work in the administration, the city council members, and those serving on boards serve you!  Use your influence to speak up and make sure you vote every time the polls are open.  Give them hell and make them uncomfortable if they are not doing what is best for our city.  They wanted the job – now make sure they do it well.

And personally I’d like to add one more that spoke to me when I read Wannemacher’s statement.  He learned a valuable lesson about life.  He learned to rely on God through this experience.  He re-evaluated his life’s priorities and has made changes for the better and will be a better human being moving forward.  He was humbled and being humbled can be a good thing.  When life throws you into a pit of despair ask the One who made you and gave you life to save you and help you get through it.  Then once you are out of the pit, use that experience to help others and make the world better.

Jacksonville needs to learn what we did wrong and promise to never, ever let this happen again.  Texans have a rallying call “Remember the Alamo” and Jacksonville needs to create our own … “Remember JEA.”

God bless Jacksonville, please.

Billie Tucker Volpe

Billie Tucker Volpe Founder of Eye on Jacksonville and Leadership Consultant to CEOs/Executives.


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