JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City Councilman Matt Carlucci released a statement just after midnight Thursday calling for Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief administrative officer, Brian Hughes, to step down over his involvement with JEA, the independent authority that runs the city’s electric, water and sewer utility.
“It is my opinion that it is time for the mayor’s Chief of Staff, Brian Hughes, who has become a troublesome liability to the mayor’s office to resign. His presence in city hall, in my opinion, based on my experience, has been an impediment to our city moving forward and this has lead to the worst governmental environment and chemistry that I have ever witnessed or experienced in my public service career,” Carlucci wrote. “There is a cloud of bad government over Jacksonville at this historic moment and time. This is my opinion as a citizen and Council member of my beloved hometown, and believe and know it not only reflects my views, but the views of so many who want the best for Jacksonville. Our citizens deserve better. We deserve Excellence.”
Carlucci ended his email with: “My opinion, for what it may be worth.”
Hughes’ only comment to News4Jax: “I serve at the appointment of Mayor Curry.”
The mayor’s office released this statement Thursday morning attributed to Curry:
“Hughes serves the City of Jacksonville faithfully and dutifully. I selected him as Chief of Staff in January of 2018 because of his valued and wide-ranging experience, as well as his commitment to the people of Jacksonville. When I promoted him to Chief Administrative Officer in June 2019, it was because of progress and advancement in our city, attributed to his effective leadership and collaborative relationships.”
Thursday afternoon, Carlucci said his call for Hughes’ departure was about more than his involvement with the now-suspended effort to privatize the JEA.
“I think it’s an attitude thing. I think his approach is not one of collaboration, building relationships. He is a little truculent when you approach ... meaning pushes back, aggressive," Carlucci said. “And I have found him difficult to work with."
Mike Hightower is a former JEA vice president who just helped form OurJax.com to fight for more transparency and accountability in local government and agencies. Hightower told News4Jax that Hughes and Curry’s political consultant Tim Baker had an influence on Aaron Zahn, the CEO of the JEA who was fired late last year.
“On some occasions, (Zahn) would say, ‘Brian and Tim don’t think we should do that.’ Or, ‘We can’t do that because someone in the mayor’s office does not think that’s a good thing, and that’s his prerogative,’" Hightower recalled.
Hughes worked with the Florida Republican Party when Curry was is executive director and managed Curry’s first campaign for mayor. Hughes also was involved in many other campaigns, including several Republican members of Congress, Rick Scott’s campaign for governor and Melissa Nelson’s campaign for State Attorney.
A month after he was appointed to Curry’s staff, Hughes was banished from City Council offices after being accused of verbally attacking the council’s secretary. His access was restored the next day after he was cleared by the General Counsel’s Office.