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Council secretary files complaint against Jacksonville mayor's chief of staff

I-TEAM: City Council secretary cites 'fierce anger,' 'hostile work environment'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry's chief of staff, Brian Hughes, is being formally accused by a city employee of accosting her using “fierce anger” and “creating a hostile work environment.”

“I feel extremely uncomfortable based on his aggressive tone, facial expressions, and his physical movements.” Jeneen Sanders, secretary to the Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, wrote to the director of the office of City Council, who forwarded the complaint to the city of Florida's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

READ: Full complaint to EEOC | Acknowledgement of complaint
WATCH: Surveillance video from mayor's office shows end of encounter

The complaint was also sent to Jacksonville's Human Rights Commission and the director of Employee Services for the city.

Hughes tweeted a statement late Tuesday afternoon:

The accusation is false. Nevertheless the mayor is right to fully implement a process of reviewing the complaint and I will cooperate with the process to the fullest. I believe video evidence and witness testimony will demonstrate the complaint is baseless. Until the review process is complete I will have no further comment. In the meantime there is much work to accomplish for the people of Jacksonville. Any additional inquiries should be directed to Marsha Oliver, Communications Director.”

Sam Mousa, chief administrative officer for the mayor, released a statement Tuesday:

We were made aware of a complaint filed by an employee of the City Council against a member of the mayor’s staff. There is a process in place to handle all such matters and we will fully comply with that process. I have reviewed the compliant, have spoken with the staff member and reviewed the attached video. I find the conduct alleged to be extremely out of character and not reflective of my colleague who I have worked closely with and not reflected in the video. This video will be a part of the review of this matter and we will adhere to all aspects of the review process.” 

The formal complaint states Hughes encountered Brosche’s secretary around 1:25 p.m. Monday near City Council chambers in a hallway near the restroom. Sanders is a city employee, not an elected official.

The encounter comes as the possible sale of JEA was exposing political tensions between the mayor’s office and City Council.

Sanders detailed that: "Mr. Hughes called out, “Hey!” I turned around. Mr. Hughes proceeded to speak in an attacking manner while pointing his finger. 'The next time your boss decides to send a letter, she needs to cc this office.' I responded by stating that I will get with Council President Brosche regarding his concern, I continued to walk away.  As he followed me into the mayor’s office, he continued speaking to me aggressively by saying that any time Council President Brosche decides to mention his office in her correspondence, they need to be cc’d and that Council President Brosche’s actions were nothing short of unprofessional. I responded again by stating that I would deliver the message to Council President Brosche; Mr. Hughes walked off."

News4Jax obtained surveillance video from the mayor's office that shows the end of the encounter, but not the whole episode. A spokesman said they do not have any other video.

The complaint was filed with the director of the Office of the City Council, Cheryl Brown. Brown sent a note to Sanders today (February 13, 2018) stating the complaint was officially received and will now be sent to the director for Employee Services for the City of Jacksonville, as well as the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, City of Jacksonville and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) for the State of Florida.

"Every employee of the city of Jacksonville should be valued, treated respectfully, and have an expectation of working in a safe environment," Lopez Brosche said. "I have no further comment regarding the complaint and will allow the formal process to take its due course."

Sanders said she had no comment. 

Alice Newman, the front office manager for the mayor's office, said she saw Hughes talking with Sanders on Monday. She said she did not personally witness an argument.

"They were having a conversation. I don’t know what the conversation was before they came into the office. I only can speak for what I saw. And ... she said what she had to say, and then she started talking to me and the other young lady that was sitting there with me," Newman said. "But like I said, that was in front of me. I don’t know what happened behind the doors. I didn't see or hear any hostile tone. And, like I said, I deal a lot with people with tone and body language."

According to Hughes’ LinkedIn profile, he has served as the chief of staff for Mayor Lenny Curry since January 2018. Before that, he was the founder/president of Meteoric Media Strategies, LLC and also the deputy executive director for the Republican Party of Florida from 2011 to 2012 and the deputy communications director in Gov. Rick Scott's executive Office from January to July 2011.

News4Jax has formally requested interviews with Sanders, Hughes, Brosche and Curry.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.

Lynnsey Gardner is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning investigative reporter and fill-in anchor for The Local Station.