INVESTIGATES: ‘Big optics issue:’ JEA threw $72K ‘Night of Magic’ holiday party as base rates rise

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates has learned JEA spent more than $72,000 on a holiday party last December as it continues to increase your base rates -- raising fiscal responsibility questions about the utility that serves half a million homes in Northeast Florida.

In an Action News Jax investigation, Action News Jax’s Ben Becker learned the JEA “Holiday Party of Magic” at the Florida Theatre was attended by more than 700 employees and guests out of the 2,000+ JEA employees who were invited.


Becker obtained eleven invoices that show rate payer money pulled a disappearing act, including $4,400 for three magicians, $9,390 for the venue and open bar, plus $46,291 for food, with a grand total of $72,563.

The food stations had various names including:

  • Sleight of Hand cheese and fruit display
  • Abracadabra slider station
  • Great Escape station
  • Alakazam dessert station

Becker raised the issue of the appropriateness of the party with Mark Stultz, JEA’s VP of Communications whose team planned the event with the approval of JEA leadership.

Becker: “Do you think it was a mistake?”

Stultz: “I really don’t.”

Becker: “Base rates have gone up three times since 2021.”

Stultz: “Most of that due to Plant Vogtle and the nuclear purchases we’re required to make under contract.”

RELATED: JEA to increase electric base rates; utility says drop in fuel rates may decrease electric bills

Becker: “All the more reason maybe there shouldn’t be a party?”

Stultz: “Well we also want to recognize our employees.”

Becker reported the utility handed out double-digit pay raises in November to numerous executives, while rank and file employees received an average of an 8.3% salary increase.

Michael Boylan, who is the City Council liaison to JEA, said news of the party is disappointing and blames JEA management.

PHOTOS: JEA 2023 holiday party

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“It’s a big optics issue,” Boylan said. “Quite frankly we raised the bar with respect to accountability of the board and its oversight of the work decision making at the management level over there.”

All this comes as JEA is still working to regain the trust of the community after former CEO Aaron Zahn was convicted last month on federal fraud and conspiracy charges related to the failed sale of the utility in 2019.

“We know it has been a difficult three years for our employees and they have accomplished so much it felt like the right thing to do to recognize those accomplishments for that team,” said Stultz, who added it was the first holiday party in recent years and it’s unknown if there will be another one this year.

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JEA Statement:

“JEA held an all-employee holiday party in December 2023 to recognize all of our teams’ contributions to our customers throughout the year, which has resulted in the lowest combined metropolitan utility bills in all of Florida, and a standard electric bill that will be decreasing in April due to our continuing efforts to control fuel costs in the face of other basic rate adjustments. As a contributing sponsor supporting the non-profit Florida Theatre’s recent renovation, this community-owned historic institution was an ideal location to help mitigate event costs and celebrate our 2,226 employees. The costs for the event totaled about $72.50 per attending employee and their guests ($32.60 per invited employees overall). We appreciate the dedication of all our employees and work to recognize their dedication at various times throughout the year.”

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