Wed, Jul 24, 2024
JEA approves one-year contract with interim CEO Vickie Cavey

JEA approves one-year contract with interim CEO Vickie Cavey

  • PublishedMay 23, 2024

The contract was approved Tuesday for Cavey to serve as interim CEO for a one-year term, going through April 15, 2025.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The JEA board approved a one-year contract with interim CEO Vickie Cavey that leaves open the possibility she could serve longer while JEA faces big decisions about building a natural gas plant, the size of its workforce and the amount of its annual cash contribution to the city of Jacksonville.

The board’s unanimous approval of the employment contract came as the city’s Office of Inspector General has started an examination into whether any board members violated Florida Sunshine Law by communicating with each other about hiring Cavey as interim CEO before they voted on April 15 to elevate her to that role, according to reports.

“We’re aware of the issues and we’re looking at them to see if there are any potential violations,” city Inspector Genera Matthew Lascell said Tuesday.

JEA board Chairman Joe DiSalvo, who made the motion on April 15 to hire Cavey as interim CEO, said JEA will cooperate with any investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

“Their job is to take a look to see if there’s anything problematic,” DiSalvo said. “That’s fine. That’s their job. Our job is to be transparent. They ask the questions. We’re here to answer.”

He said he did not have any discussions with other board members before the April 15 special meeting about hiring Cavey. She had worked 32 years for JEA and came out of retirement in March to be a board advisor and liaison between the board and JEA administrators.

Stowe announced his resignation at the April board meeting. He said after talking individually with board members and getting feedback from them, he saw the “time has come for a change at the helm.”

Cavey said board member Bobby Stein asked her about being CEO

Cavey said Tuesday that during the time that Stowe was considering resignation and she had started work as JEA board adviser, board member Bobby Stein approached her about whether she would be willing to be CEO.

“At first it was, ‘I’m not sure’ and then it was, ‘Yes,'” Cavey told reporters after the board meeting.

In the run-up to the April 15 board meeting, the utility’s human resources department prepared a draft employment agreement that showed a three-year term for Cavey to be CEO at a salary of $575,000 per year. Cavey has said she never saw that agreement and it didn’t come up at the April 15 meeting.

The contract approved Tuesday for her to serve as interim CEO is for a one-year term that would go through April 15, 2025. The contract does not have any renewal options. It says if she is nearing the end of that one-year term, she and the board can discuss amending the agreement to extend her employment.

Stowe earned $669,500 a year salary and also got a monthly $2,083 business allowance and monthly $850 vehicle allowance. Cavey will earn a $560,000 salary plus a $2,000 monthly business allowance and $850 a month vehicle allowance.

DiSalvo said her salary is the same amount JEA paid Stowe when he started at JEA in late 2020.

“The work she’s doing — and it’s a 24/7 job — she’s more than deserving of that,” DiSalvo said. “Any going rate for an interim CEO would be getting more than what she’s getting right now.”

Her contract is comparable to the $280,183 salary that Paul McElroy earned over six months in 2020 when he returned to JEA an interim CEO.

McElroy still was able to keep drawing his pension while he worked as interim CEO because the pension plan allows retirees to come back as full-time employees for up to six months in temporary assignments that usually are emergency situations, according to JEA.

Cavey has a one-year contract and is expected to be working as interim CEO for longer than six months so in her case, her pension payments were suspended on April 15 when the board made her interim CEO.

Cavey won’t be a caretaker interim CEO. She will lead as it prepares its 2024-25 budget, heads into hurricane season and engages an outside consultant to examine how the agency carries out it work.

The city and the utility also will be entering negotiations on the city’s annual contribution to the city coffer, which currently is almost $124 million a year. The utility faces the prospect of continued electric base rate increases in order to absorb the high cost of purchasing electricity from the Plant Vogtle nuclear plant because of a contract JEA entered into back in 2008.

JEA also will be deciding how to handle long-range needs for generating electricity and providing water service to in its territory covering most of Duval County and parts of St. Johns, Nassau and Clay counties

On the electric side, JEA has set a goal of 35% clean energy by 2030 by drawing from nuclear power and from renewable energy such as solar power. JEA’s long-range plan calls for building a new natural gas plant but new U.S. Environmental Protection rules would make that a more expensive proposition.

JEA board has not charted plan for selecting the next CEO

The interim title means Cavey will serve until the JEA board selects a permanent CEO. The board has not yet determined the timetable for doing a search, however.

The board faces the prospect of the Office of Inspector General meanwhile doing its own review into its’hiring of Cavey. Aside from whether there were any violations of the state’s Sunshine Law for open government, the process used by the board to replace Stowe with Cavey has been unsettling to some JEA rank-and-file workers.

Jason Baber said Cavey’s “swift ascent” to the CEO seat “raises eyebrows” and going forward, the board needs to operate transparently so workers don’t feel blindsided by their decisions.

“This isn’t about her competence or experience,” Baber said. “It’s about the lack of public discourse on alternative interim CEO candidates that troubles most JEA employees.”

He said JEA employees are on the frontline of responding to questions from utility customers every day. “Our perceptions of what happens in this room matters because they shape our interactions with customers,” he said.

This story was reported by First Coast News news partner The Florida Times-Union.

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