JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry’s office on Friday downplayed a report that a city official spoke with the CEO of Florida Power & Light while the possibility of selling JEA was still on the table — despite legal advice discouraging contact with the city-owned utility’s suitors.
The Florida Times-Union reported Thursday that Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes had a conversation with FPL Chief Executive Officer Eric Silagy when both attended an Oct. 27 Jaguars game and sat in adjoining suites at TIAA Bank Field. The report cited multiple sources, who asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The conversation is notable because city officials were informed by city attorneys that it would be against the law to discuss selling JEA with representatives for suitors interested in buying the utility while the bidding process was active, the Times-Union reported. They also were warned about the perception of interacting with the same representatives, even if those interactions didn’t directly concern JEA.
Though Hughes and Silagy acknowledged they had a conversation at the game, their descriptions of the discussion were at odds, according to the Times-Union’s report. Silagy told the newspaper they discussed topics related to economic development, while Hughes said it was not a “substantive conversation.”
JEA’s board of directors formally withdrew the invitation to negotiate Dec. 24, putting an end to the bidding process, in the wake of public backlash.
A city spokesperson issued the following statement in response to the newspaper’s report and questions from News4Jax:
“At no time did Brian Hughes discuss JEA or the ITN with anyone from FPL, including Mr. Silagy. The FPL suite was next door to the City of Jacksonville suite and Mr. Hughes simply stopped in for a few minutes to say hello to many people, some that he’s known for many years. No violations of any kind occurred and there was not a discrepancy in how any of these interactions were recalled.”
The Times-Union’s report surfaced the same day City Councilman Matt Carlucci released a statement calling for Hughes to step down. Carlucci said his decision was based on Hughes’ attitude.
“I think his approach is not one of collaboration, building relationships," Carlucci said. “He is a little truculent when you approach ... meaning pushes back, aggressive. And I have found him difficult to work with.”
Hughes said he serves at the pleasure of the mayor, who expressed support for his appointee.
“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,” Curry said. “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.”
Hughes was barred from City Council office a month after his appointment as chief of staff, based on an accusation that he accosted the council’s secretary. He was cleared to return the following day.