City leader's 2018 memo alleged mayor's office wanted grants to go to certain groups

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax obtained a September 2018 memo written by Kids Hope Alliance CEO Joe Peppers, and sent to two KHA staffers, indicating he was being pressured by the mayor's office to ensure certain organizations received anti-violence grant funding.

" … I am stating for public record that I do not agree with the approach dictated to me by the Mayor's Office regarding the facilitation of the [requests for proposal] for the $50k grants and the $300k grants," he said in the opening line of the memo.

Peppers believed then Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, and then Chief of Staff Brian Hughes, tried to influence him to give preferential treatment to certain organizations applying for the grants.

"To reiterate, both Brian and Sam stated that there would be designated applicants that would get preferential treatment during the application process," he said.

The ‘Stop the Violence' mini-grants, and how the RFPs should be managed, were the topics at hand in memo.

The grants totaled at least $300,000 and were doled out to dozens of local organizations in the amount of $10,000 each after a competitive application process.

The grants came after a string of violence in Jacksonville, including the deadly shooting at a Raines High School football game.

Peppers claimed in the 2018 memo that Mousa and Hughes expressed dissatisfaction about his desire to hire a contract manager to oversee the grants.

"Sam stated that we didn't need that," said Peppers. "This is family talking; this political!" I said I wanted to make sure that we measured outcomes but that what I hear them saying is that these grants need to be simplified. Sam stated that he wanted me personally involved in grading the grants."

New statement from Peppers: 

Today, the City of Jacksonville released the following statement from Peppers, indicating that the matter had been resolved.

"Mr. Mousa objected to the hiring of a new contract manager to execute contracts for the Stop the Violence micro grants, because he wanted to eliminate a layer of bureaucracy from the process.

Further, we already employed contract managers at KHA and he felt they were more than capable in handing the micro grants and adding another contract manager would be duplicitous."

"I was out of town when the Request for Proposals  were graded but they were graded by the Chief Strategy Officer, Dr. Jennifer Blaylock and COJ Grant Administrator, Damien Cook. Both of these individuals were duly qualified to handle the grading of the RFPs. "

"We had further conversations after  our initial meeting in which things were clarified. We also brought in board chair Kevin Gay into the conversation regarding the Stop the Violence micro grants in which we articulated a process for the appropriate scoring of applicants. These conversations led to a resolution to the things I called into questions in my email dated September 8, 2018."

Chief administrator of the City of Jacksonville, Brian Hughes' statement: 

"At no time was Joe Peppers pressured to do anything unethical and any implication or inference of "undue influence" or "preferential treatment" in the procurement process is not factual. These grants in question were meant to be awarded faster than the typical process, but still follow legal procedures to the letter. Joe Peppers was a fairly new employee at the time of the email and not familiar with the procurement process. All of the grants in question were scored and awarded appropriately. Again, there was never preferential treatment."

Former CAO, Sam Mousa's statement:

"I have never seen any memo or had any communication with Joe Peppers or KHA Chair Kevin Gay where either offered any concerns about procurement. Most importantly, I have never pressured or influenced any RFP process beyond full compliance with all law and regulation guiding procurement. If I'm reading the TU story correctly, it appears statements are attributed to me that I never made nor would anyone who knows me imagine me speaking that way. Peppers' memory and emotional state seem to be completely separate from reality, and any implication of inappropriate action by me is 100 percent wrong."