'Boys club' running City Hall?

Jacksonville mayor's chief of staff cleared by city's General Counsel

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter
Photo by Fran Ruchalski/Daily Record

Tim Baker, Mayor Lenny Curry and Brian Hughes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mayor Lenny Curry's top assistant, Brian Hughes, who was banished from City Council offices on Wednesday after being accused of verbally attacking council secretary Jeneen Sanders, had his access restored the next day.

News4Jax later obtained a letter dated Thursday that the city's Office of General Council sent to Curry's chief administrative officer Sam Mousa, saying Sanders' complaint of Hughes' behavior was found to be in accordance with the city's anti-harassment policy and did not violate any federal, state or city law or policy.

“I'm grateful to the Office of General Counsel - the legal team for the entire COJ government - for conducting this review. With the distraction behind me, I'm proudly working with the mayor and city leaders to accomplish positive results for the people of this great city," Brian Hughes said in a statement sent to the I-TEAM.

Hughes is a longtime political consultant who was hired last month as Curry's chief to staff. 

Curry and Hughes history together includes both working for the Florida Republican Party and Hughes worked on Curry's campaign for mayor. The men one time affectionately call their political machine "the boys," but some sources are wondering if City Hall is becoming too much of a boys' club. 

Tuesday, a council secretary's formal complaint about Hughes' behavior was sent to the city Human Rights Commission and the state's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The next day, Council President Anna Lopez Broche ordered Hughes' security badge access to City Council offices be deactivated.

Thursday morning, that access was restored by Curry's inner circle, leaving some to tell the I-TEAM that they are uncomfortable working around Hughes.

In a 2016 Jacksonville Daily Record profile of the mayor's inner circle celebrating the passage of the pension reform referendum, Curry, Hughes and Tim Baker called themselves "the boys." At the time, Hughes told the paper the group works together to make decisions.

Hughes also called himself and Baker "brash ego guys" -- a reputation Times-Union City Hall reporter Nate Monroe said Hughes has worked to earn.

"He's been a part of Lenny's orbit for a long time, and along the way, established himself as a successful political consultant," Monroe said. "And part of that success sort of stems from this image he's cultivated of himself as kind of an aggressive counter puncher, someone who's not afraid if he thinks that a client is not getting a fair shake in the media, to pick up a phone and light up a reporter."

Hughes' LinkedIn profile shows he worked in Gov. Rick Scott’s communications office for six months in 2009.

Brian Burgess, a former supervisor of Hughes' at the governor's office, said Hughes moved from the governor's office to the Republican Party of Florida, where he could be a key player in supporting the governor's agenda. 

The I-TEAM has requested his personnel file. 

The I-TEAM also spoke with Susie Wiles, a longtime political consultant to Republican candidates.  Wiles said, "I've known Brian over eight years and worked with him in many capacities and find him to be one of the best professionals at what he does."

One prominent Republican in Jacksonville who works outside of City Hall said that he's "very headstrong" and "a classic bully" who can "get in a person's face and invade their personal space."

News4Jax asked Curry on Thursday why Hughes' badge was reactivated

"Sam Mousa's my chief administrative officer and I've delegated the authority to him to manage access to public buildings, and that's the decision he made," Curry said. "There is a process playing out and, again, Sam Mousa's my chief administrative officer, I have delegated the authority to him."

News4Jax also asked the mayor directly if there is any concern about his office being a boys' club.

"If you look at the mayor's floor, all the executives that serve and and are around me, it's diverse -- men, women, African-Americans, Caucasians," Curry said. "(It's a) very diverse management team. Numbers speak for themselves."

The I-TEAM checked financial disclosures and found the political committee and political action committee supporting Curry have paid Hughes' consulting firm a total of $224,000. The same committees have paid Baker's firm, Data Targeting Research, a little more than a million dollars, combined. A check with the ethics office showed that since Hughes is now in public office, he cannot perform any political consulting at City Hall, where his taxpayer salary is $199,500.

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