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Eye on Jacksonville has been watching political cronyism in our city government for the last year and while we didn’t like what we saw, we knew it was the game of politics.  We shed light on issues and wrote opinion pieces about our dislike of this behavior.  That’s all we could do and hoped it would be enough.  But, alas, it didn’t seem to matter what we thought.  Cronyism continued and became more rampant. 

As a reminder, cronyism is the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications. 

A few examples of Mayor Curry’s path to cronyism:

  • The JEA Board:  The Mayor asked the JEA board members to resign when he became Mayor.  He then put friends/buddies/supporters on this prestigious board. One of those buddies eventually became the CEO of JEA and was recently given more than a $520,000 a year package at a “failing utility” – so say them.  The new CEO, Aaron Zahn, was not the most qualified candidate but somehow managed to get this lucrative job.  One word:  Cronyism.  (NOTE:  You can find many articles on our site regarding JEA if you want to know more about the city’s biggest asset and how it might be used for political purposes)
  • The District Deal:  This is a $82 million development on the Downtown Southbank.  The city has given large incentives for this deal and it is BIG. Mr. Peter Rummell, a friend and big financial supporter of the Mayor, is the recipient of this deal. 
  • Chief of Staff:  When the Mayor appointed his Campaign Consultant, Brian Hughes, as his Chief of Staff, the head scratching started.  Brian Hughes was a social media/campaign consultant and had no expertise in helping to run a city government.  But who were we to ask about his qualifications?
  • Chief Administrative Officer:  Sam Mousa’s position became available when he “retired.”  This is one of the highest paying jobs in the City – more than $300,000/year.  When Sam retired, Brian Hughes (see above) took his job.  Brian, the social media/campaign consultant, is now the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Jacksonville.  Qualified? 
  • Mayor’s Consulting Gig:  Six weeks after Sam Mousa “retired” from the City, he was handed a single source contract to work with Mayor Curry to help him run his job as Mayor.  Single source means it did NOT go out for bid.  It was handed to Sam Mousa and the consulting gig is a cool $120,000/year.   

So without a doubt, cronyism is alive and well in Jacksonville.  It isn’t right and it isn’t fair but it is what it is.

But, today, things changed.  Cronyism is not even our concern anymore.  Corruption is.

The breaking news today is this:

  • Joe Peppers, CEO of the Jacksonville Kids Hope Alliance, has accused the Mayor’s office (Brian Hughes and Sam Mousa) of asking him to give “preferential treatment” to certain grant applicants.   For those reading this, that “ask” is nothing less than breaking the law.  Grants are to be handled with the utmost of care and concern for fairness.  If these asks did happen, this is a serious accusation.
  • Mr. Peppers’ story is very similar to the School Board story that was breaking news last week.  The School Board story was about Sam Mousa and Tim Baker (Brian Hughes’ former business partner in their campaign consulting firm) potentially “shaking down” the School Board Chair for a rich consulting contract with the School Board.  This was to “help” them get the City Council to support their tax increase.  ***Add to that “get the City Council support” — Tim Baker was/is the campaign consultant for many members of the City Council.*** 

These stories are disturbing.  Indeed if we have moved from cronyism to corruption, it needs to be stopped before it does too much damage to our city and to our faith in our local government.

And now for this…

Today we were contacted by a reliable source indicating Sam Mousa has a consulting contract with Florida Power & Light…one of the contenders for the JEA acquisition.  This is not confirmed by FP&L and we do know Tim Baker had contracts with FP&L for years. 

With all this breaking news and a year of watching cronyism at the highest levels, we believe it is time for an investigation to commence. 

Melissa Nelson is capable of handling an investigation like this. She will have to overcome her established relationship with
Tim Baker as her campaign consultant.

We will be sending our request to her for an investigation and we expect this request to be taken seriously.

Jacksonville residents deserve a city government that is transparent. The Mayor should not be concerned about people questioning these deals. He absolutely SHOULD be concerned about them. They just don’t smell right to us and he probably smells the stink himself.

I’ll close with this.  I remember when Jacksonville stunk?  People driving through town would keep driving because the air was so bad.  There were times during the evening especially when we had to hold our noses to go outside.

We cleaned up the smelly air years ago and we became proud of our city.  We weren’t known for the stink anymore.

We need to keep it that way.

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Billie Tucker Volpe Founder of Eye on Jacksonville and Leadership Consultant to CEOs/Executives

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