Stowe to go, and maybe JEA gets on the road to recovery

Not unexpectedly, Jay Stowe will soon step down as JEA’s chief executive officer, local media are saying.

The city-owned utility’s host of problems dictate such a gesture, whether Stowe is to blame or any or not.

Stowe has been in the post since November 2020 and had served in the not-for-profit utility sector for more than 30 years.

Stowe had a degree in civil engineering from North Carolina State University and worked at Black & Veatch. Before joining JEA, Stowe was a senior vice president for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and CEO of Huntsville (Alabama) Utilities.

The JEA trouble started when Lenny Curry, former mayor, got a notion that selling the utility to a private company might produce money he would use to finance some of his plans without raising taxes.

He replaced the entire board of JEA and soon afterward one of the new board members, a pal of Curry’s, became the CEO.

There was nothing necessarily wrong with investigating a sale. Anything is for sale at the right price and if someone was willing to pay more than the utility is worth it might be something to consider.

However, it went south in a hurry when the City Council auditor found the new CEO had cooked up a plan that would enrich him and others after a sale.

The CEO, Aaron Zahn, was fired and recently convicted of attempted fraud.

Other less serious problems such as absentee executives and lavish parties did nothing to help the JEA’s image.

Independent authorities such as the JEA were invented by those who designed the consolidation of city and county governments to be businesslike operations where local citizens with business savvy would operate them one step removed from the political realm.

Many fine local citizens have served and continue to serve on JEA and other independent authority boards.

No one has said Stowe has done anything wrong. But as with actual private companies, someone is expected to take blame when problems persist, and the buck stops at the top.

Lloyd Brown

Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.


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