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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 7, 201706:50 AM EST

The Cawton Report: Curry names political strategist chief of staff

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Brian Hughes helped mayor win election, shape legislative agenda.
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

Mayor Lenny Curry has a new chief of staff, longtime political strategist and ally Brian Hughes.

Curry announced Wednesday that Hughes would take over the position vacated by Kerri Stewart, who resigned in May to become chief customer officer at JEA.

In a statement, Curry said Hughes has “already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future.”

“From the pension solution to restructuring how we serve Jacksonville’s children with the Kids Hope Alliance, Brian applied his strengths to benefit this great city,” Curry said.

City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche said it was her understanding that Wednesday’s announcement was “just formalizing how things have functioned for quite some time.”

Rick Mullaney, director of Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute and a former chief of staff to Mayor John Delaney, said while he doesn’t know Hughes well, the choice indicates that he’s someone the mayor trusts.

“In that role, you want someone to act as the gatekeeper, the trusted confidant and you want someone who can manage a staff well,” Mullaney said.

He said Curry has surrounded himself with a good mix of talent in his inner circle with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein and now Hughes.

Hughes was the architect of Curry’s 2015 mayoral campaign, helping him unseat incumbent Alvin Brown.

Hughes also has been instrumental in managing Curry’s legislative priorities, including pension reform and reshaping the city’s programs for children, including the formation of the Kids Hope Alliance to replace the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey.

“I am honored to have him join my administration in a leadership role to help manage this successful team as we continue to accomplish big things,” Curry’s statement said.

Hughes is the founder and president of the Tallahassee-based public relations and political strategy firm Meteoric Media Strategies LLC and co-founder of the Jacksonville-based public consultancy business Bold City Strategic Partners with fellow political consultant Tim Baker.

Hughes previously served as Gov. Rick Scott’s communications director.

According to the news release, Hughes will “fulfill his business and client commitments by month’s end” and then begin his official tenure at City Hall.  

USA Quartz deal moves forward

City Council members will vote Tuesday on fast-tracked legislation that could provide up to $210,000 in state and local financial incentives to USA Quartz LLC.

The Boca Raton-based business has pledged to hire 70 employees in North Jacksonville and purchase the former General Electric Co. manufacturing building in Imeson Industrial Park for $2 million.

The company, which manufactures quartz slabs for residential and commercial clients, plans to spend at least $5.6 million renovating the 63,000-square-foot space.

In exchange, the city and state would provide a Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund grant of up to $210,000.

The city would be responsible for 20 percent of the award, $42,000, with the state paying the remaining $168,000.

The QTI award would be payable after the jobs are created and verified by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity over a four-year period beginning in 2020.

Fast-track bills require only a one-cycle reading at council committees before a full council vote.

JEA to review assets ahead of privatizaton debate

JEA Board Chair Alan Howard has instructed JEA CEO Paul McElroy to spend the next two to three months reviewing the publicly owned utility’s assets in advance of a larger debate over whether it should become a private company.

Howard handed down the instructions Tuesday in a letter to McElroy. It comes a week after outgoing board member Tom Petway suggested JEA consider privatization at its Nov. 28 board meeting.

In the letter, Howard said he believes “answering this question requires a better understanding of the value of JEA’s assets.”

While privatization has been suggested in the past, it is the first time it has come up at a board meeting during Curry’s term.

The day after Petway’s comments to the JEA board, Curry told reporters that he welcomes the review.

In a statement, JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said: “In the next several weeks, JEA will develop a framework and a work plan to guide us in answering the questions raised by Mr. Petway and communicated and directed by JEA Board Chairman Mr. Howard to Mr. McElroy.”

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