Retiring Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa says his successor, Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes, has a lot to learn but is up to the task.
“Brian will tell you he's got big shoes to fill,” Mousa said, smiling. “But let me tell you, Brian is a brilliant individual. He's extremely smart. And in the last roughly 18 months that we’ve worked together, he picks up on stuff very quickly.”
But Mousa doesn’t think his successor, who is also serving as the interim CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, will have it easy.
“Is he going to know everything that I know? No,” Mousa said, matter-of-factly. “No one who's going to walk into this office is going to know everything that I know. I’ve done it for 20 years.”
He said Hughes’ biggest challenge will be learning how the city’s government works.
“But he's got good staff around him,” Mousa said. “They're all good at what they do. They understand their job and they will help Brian.”
“He's watched me. I've counseled. He's asked questions,” Mousa went on to say. “He did not come in here thinking he knew everything. He did not make that mistake. He knows he needs to learn.”
In the end, he’s confident Hughes will do a “marvelous job.”
“Brian is going to do a significantly good job for Mayor Curry,” said Mousa. “I have no concerns about that whatsoever, and no one else should either. He's a good, smart, quick learner.”
But Hughes is seen as a controversial figure by some.
Last year a city employee filed a formal complaint against Hughes, accusing him of “creating a hostile work environment.” Following an investigation, city lawyers said he didn’t violate any laws.
Earlier this week WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union reported City Councilman Matt Schellenberg said he was threatened by Hughes for criticizing a proposal to redevelop downtown’s vacant Berkman II property.
Hughes has since deleted his Twitter account (@GoMeteoric), which he was known to use to criticize local media and to butt heads with political adversaries.
And in a recently published newsletter, Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe pondered whether Hughes is qualified to be Mayor Lenny Curry’s next CAO.
Is Mayor @lennycurry's soon-to-be chief administrative officer qualified? It turns out this is a matter of law, and the answer is definitely not an easy "yes." Today's newsletter. https://t.co/q67NcHXHYF
— Nate Monroe (@NateMonroeTU) April 15, 2019
City Councilwoman and former mayoral candidate Anna Brosche outlined a similar argument in a letter she sent to Jacksonville’s general counsel Tuesday, questioning Hughes’ qualifications.
“Last week, we learned Mr. Sam Mousa, Chief Administrative Officer, is retiring after decades of public service and that Mayor Curry is appointing Mr. Brian Hughes as his replacement,” she wrote. “While Mr. Mousa’s satisfaction of the Charter qualifications is crystal clear, the same cannot be said for Mr. Hughes.”
She was referring to a section of the Jacksonville City Charter (Article 6, Section 6.07b) which lays out the qualifications of the CAO appointed by the Mayor.
“Brian Hughes is not only qualified and legally eligible to serve as CAO, he is the best choice to help me lead our city forward in the years ahead,” Mayor Curry said in response. “It is unfortunate that Anna Brosche continues to play politics and lob personal attacks against city employees. Even those employees that have served our nation in uniform and seek to better our city each and every day.”
Hughes served in the U.S. Air Force during the Gulf War.
“I’m thankful the voters rejected Anna Brosche and her constant grandstanding and divisive politics,” Curry went on to say. “It gives me comfort to know she and her failed policies will be leaving office in the coming weeks.”
Speaking of his own retirement, Mousa said he was extremely appreciative of all the compliments he’s been getting since he made the announcement.
“I've done so much in the city. I'm proud of all of it,” he said. “From the smallest issue - helping a resident get their garbage picked up - to helping Mayor [John] Delaney with his Better Jacksonville Plan to helping Mayor Curry with pension reform, which was a big deal. Without pension reform, this government would have been in dire straits.”
Despite everything he’s done, and the pride that work has brought him, Mousa said he doesn’t care about his own legacy.
“The only legacy I care about is the mayor that I work for,” he said. “I'd like him to have a legacy, or her, whoever the mayor may be in the future. But legacy means nothing to me. I'm just pleased and proud to have worked for the city and to contribute and the way that I have contributed.”