JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jordan Elsbury is a name you might not know, but he’s well known around Jacksonville City Hall – serving as Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff for the past year, not to mention other roles going back to the mayor’s first campaign in 2015.
In November, the city announced Elsbury was set to exit, leaving his $190,000 job. Soon after, he surfaced at high- powered lobbying firm Ballard Partners to lead their Jacksonville office.
In an Action News Jax investigation, Action News Jax’s Ben Becker uncovered that Ballard Partners has received more than $1.5 million in consulting contracts with the city since 2016.
“What’s your level of concern here?” Becker asked George Candler who served on Jacksonville’s Ethics Commission for seven years and is currently the director of the master’s program in public administration at the University of North Florida. “It’s always a big concern,” says Candler.
If the name Ballard Partners sounds familiar, it should. Brian Ballard is the firm’s president and he co-chaired the Jacksonville 2020 host committee with Mayor Curry, who attempted and ultimately failed to stage last year’s Republican National Convention in Jacksonville.
Becker discovered Elsbury was specifically named in one city consulting contract — in December 2020, the mayor’s office negotiated a $120,000 agreement with Ballard Partners, which included Brian Ballard’s signature. One month later, Elsbury was named the contract manager “…whose responsibility shall be to oversee the party’s performance of its duties and obligations.”
“There’s a saying in the ethics world,” says Chandler. “The law is the moral minimum.”
This isn’t the first time a former member of the mayor’s inner circle has been under scrutiny for taking a job with a city client.
In November, Becker first reported former General Counsel Jason Gabriel was named a partner at law firm Burr & Forman, less than two years after approving Burr & Forman as outside counsel for two city contracts totaling more than $800,000.
In August 2019, Becker first reported former Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa had been given an unprecedented waiver by the mayor’s office to help the Jaguars redevelop Lot J — in addition to also being paid $120,000 by the city as a consultant.
It led to the so-called “Mousa rule” passed by city council in late 2019 regarding prohibited future employment for two years if the person “…had a substantial and decision-making role in securing or negotiating the contract” and the “contract with the City or the independent agency had a value that exceeded $250,000.”
Becker emailed Elsbury to ask him about his dealings with Ballard Partners even though the contract he managed was under $250,000, but never heard back.
Becker went to press Mayor Curry for answers at a public event.
“I know typically you just look for reaction,” said Nikki Kimbleton, the mayor’s spokesperson, as Becker approached the mayor. “I am not looking for reaction,” Becker responded. “I have questions.”
“What do you say to the critics?” Becker asked Mayor Curry. “People can have their opinions,” said Curry. “But all those people (Elsbury, Gabriel, Mousa) served the city well, they worked hard for taxpayers and they made a decision it was time to go back to private sector.”
Candler takes issue with what he is seeing.
“The bigger problem for me — and I hammer it when I teach civic responsibility,” says Candler, “if voters vote against groups of people who are involved in this sort of behavior it would stop.”
Action News Jax wants to emphasize that Elsbury has not violated any post-employment laws and Jason Gabriel has not broken any rules of the Florida Bar, although the contracts he approved appear to fall within the scope of the city’s noncompete provisions. Elsbury, Gabriel and Mousa are all currently registered with the city as lobbyists and did so shortly after leaving city employment.
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