City of Jacksonville releases text exchanges between CAO Hughes, KHA CEO Peppers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On Friday, Action News Jax obtained text messages from Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes’ personal cellphone dating back to 2018 in which the "KHA," the Kids Hope Alliance, or "Joe Peppers," the CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance, were mentioned.

The texts also include exchanges with KHA Board Chair Kevin Gay.

RELATED: City names acting director of KHA in midst of inspector general investigation

We reported Thursday when CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance, Joe Peppers, was put on paid administrative leave amid a city Inspector General investigation.

The news came one day after a 2018 memo from Peppers surfaced alleging pressure from the Mayor’s Office, including then Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and then Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, to give certain grant applicants “preferential treatment.”

The memo was written in reference to hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding made available to address violence in Jacksonville and assisting at-risk youth.

The funds were made available to local organizations through a competitive application process for micro-grants.



Included in the release of the text messages, Hughes also provided context for the messages in a statement.

He explained the release of messages between Peppers and himself regardless of the date.

“… Even though some are considered transitory and therefore not required as public records,” wrote Hughes.

In an exchange between Hughes and Peppers, Hughes wrote "Bethel gonna need micro."

Peppers replied, "Copy. Did they apply?"

Hughes replies, "They should."

" … This exchange demonstrates limitations caused by the brevity of text as a format," Hughes wrote.

“It was a communication reflecting that the deadline for the second set of applicants for micro-grants was the next day, and that I was encouraging KHA to make Bethel aware that they could apply for a micro-grant because they had an existing program for teenage boys that could be expanded if they were selected by the [request for proposal] process. There were no additional texts on this subject and, without taking the time to review the results, I am unaware if Bethel did apply or was selected …"

The city tells Action News Jax Bethel did not receive a micro grant because it did not apply for one.

There are also profanity-laced exchanges between Hughes and Peppers referencing Councilman Garrett Dennis, who was an outspoken opponent of KHA and the Mayor's Office.

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In messages from February 2019, Hughes asked Peppers, "Why did you meet with that piece of [expletive]?"

There's an exchange about why Peppers met with Dennis, and why Peppers took a picture with Dennis.

Peppers later responded, " … that [expletive] insisted on taking a picture."

To which Hughes responded, "That's a pic w the one guy who opposed KHA" and "LC is gonna Flip".

Hughes addressed this portion of the released messages in his statement, as well.

“In a few places,” Hughes, wrote, “I have used less than perfect language during times of frustration. The frustrations were real and created by the inappropriate actions of others. Nevertheless, I am embarrassed to have used profanity and in hindsight wish I had been thoughtful in my choice of words.”

Dennis provided Action News Jax with a statement:

“These text messages speak to the character of Joe Peppers and the Curry Administration, who are supposed to care, lead and invest in the children of this city,” said Dennis. “Those words don’t define me. My God defines me and I’m going to stay focused on the people of Jacksonville and not fall victim to the mafia style tactics espoused by Lenny Curry and his soldiers. As has been reported recently, Mob Boss Curry requires loyalty and there are no checks and balances watching over the people’s money, our neighborhoods, or the people dying in our streets. It’s a sad state of affairs and I pray for the City of Jacksonville.”

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