Mayor Lenny Curry and his top administration official quietly hopped on Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s private jet Monday morning and left Jacksonville for a two-day trip to St. Louis and Baltimore to take care of official and political work, according to details confirmed Monday night by the mayor’s office.
Curry and his chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, were joined by at least one other passenger — Jaguars president Mark Lamping — as they meet with people in both cities to discuss downtown development ideas and for Curry to handle unspecified political business.
The trip was not disclosed on Curry’s public schedule, which is made available daily as a hard copy in a side office on the fourth floor of City Hall. As of Tuesday morning, the schedule only showed a series of private appointments for the two days; there was no mention of downtown development meetings or of the mayor leaving town.
The group is expected to return Tuesday afternoon, according to the mayor’s spokeswoman. It’s not clear if there were other passengers.
What compelled Curry to take the trip, or who he is meeting with to discuss downtown development ideas or his political career, is not clear.
Jacksonville taxpayers are closely intertwined with Khan and his business interests, including the Jaguars. The recently completed amphitheater adjacent to EverBank Field — which Khan helped build and whose subsidiary company operates and makes money from — was built with $45 million from taxpayers.
Khan also was selected earlier this year to be the master developer for the city-owned Shipyards and Metropolitan Park, and he is expected to ask the city again for substantial public investment in any plans he puts forward for those sites.
The Times-Union learned about the trip Monday evening. A few hours after asking the city to confirm the trip, at 9:52 p.m. Curry sent an email to Mousa: “Let’s debrief quickly after today’s St Louis trip and tomorrow’s Baltimore on downtown development. We need to discuss design, finance, infrastructure.”
Mousa responded, “Yes sir. Interesting and creative matters we learned today.”
The jet Curry and company departed on is owned by Flex-N-Gate, an auto-parts maker Khan bought in 1980, according to the mayor’s office. It’s not clear when the plane left Jacksonville on Monday.
Information from FlightAware, a flight-tracking firm, shows a Learjet 75 — a plane marketed to Fortune 500 companies — departed Cecil Airport at 9:47 a.m. Monday, connected in Kansas City, Mo., then landed in St. Louis at 3:34 p.m. The jet was scheduled to leave St. Louis for Baltimore at 7:55 a.m. Tuesday. No other flight information was available Monday night or early Tuesday.
Marsha Oliver, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said Mousa was paying his own way on the trip. It’s not clear how Curry — who was there on official and political business — would pay for his trip.
City officials are prohibited from accepting gifts worth more than $100 from any organization that lobbies or does business with the city — a restriction that clearly applies to the Jaguars and to Khan. It’s unclear how much seats on Khan’s plane are valued, though they almost certainly well exceed the city’s gift limit.
For a trip that has a political purpose, Khan could theoretically donate the value of Curry’s seat as an in-kind contribution to the mayor’s political committee, or Curry could have his group compensate Khan for the trips. It’s unclear, however, if the dual nature of Curry’s trip complicates how he has to account for the value of the seat on Khan’s private plane.
The city’s executive gift-disclosure database — where by law such offerings are disclosed — does not reflect any gifts from Khan as of June.
Curry is not under a legal obligation to disclose such a trip on his public schedule.
Curry is not the first mayor to jetset on Khan’s private plane, nor the first Jacksonville politician to be feted by the Jaguars owner.
In 2015, City Council members received invitations to the owner’s suite for a Jaguars game, as well as a gift box containing two Tiffany champagne flutes — offerings the city’s ethics officer later said members should not have accepted.
In late 2012, former Mayor Alvin Brown and his chief administrative officer rode on the Jaguars’ plane to Miami to meet with team representatives and officials with SMG, which manages city facilities including EverBank Field. Brown’s public calender said he was in church at the time.
Brown and his staffer discussed city business but he did not reportedly engage in any political activity.
The city eventually had to reimburse the Jaguars $1,487 in taxpayer money for the trip.
Brown’s penchant for traveling was a point of broad criticism by Curry’s campaign in the 2015 race for mayor.
Curry called his predecessor’s travel habits “political perks,” and his campaign at the time pledged that “any travel he would undertake as mayor would have a single goal - it must be in the best interest of the taxpayers of Jacksonville.”