City of St. Pete to hire lobbyist who also represents Orlando and Tampa; Was it an 'inside deal?'

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St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster has decided the city will contract with William Peebles for lobbying services in an effort to shore up the city’s meager presence in Tallahassee, a problem which has persisted since Laura Boehmer left the position to work for powerhouse lobbying firm Southern Strategies.

I first wrote in August that I expected Peebles to win the contract and it was obvious from the start it was a ‘done deal.’  Although there was no figure outlined in the RFP, I reported that Foster (and Lori Matway, who is now show-running the city’s governmental affairs efforts) did not want to pay more than $30,000.

Well, guess how much Peebles’ firm’s bid for services was? $30,000, according to a copy of his proposal obtained by SaintPetersBlog.com.

None of the other five firms proposal reviewed (from Bryant Miller Olive – $64K, CFT Law – $45K, Capital City Consulting – $50K, Ericks Consulting – $40K, Tidewater – $54K) came anywhere near that number.

I wonder why not?

Because Peebles was who Bill Foster’s adminstration wanted from the get-go.  And they built an RFP to make sure they got their man.

It’s not that Bill Peebles is not qualified; looking at his proposal, it’s clear that he is.  The issue is, this was another opportunity by a local governmental entity to hire a local lobbyist – Boehmer, Louis Betz, Ron Pierce, Alan Suskey, Travis Moore, etc – and the deciders selected a firm from ‘outside the family.’

Last month, PSTA chose Orlando’s Gray Robinson over Boehmenr and Suskey, both of whom were the, um, preferred choices of the local legislators, like Rep. Jeff Brandes and Sen. Jack Latvala – both key members of transportation-related committees.  What’s worse, the deciding votes on that PSTA deal were cast by members of the selection committee who won’t be on the board much longer to see their decision implemented.

Here’s my other issue with the selection of Peebles: his firm also represents the cities of Orlando, Kissimmee, Tallahassee, Tampa and Winter Haven.  In an era of dwindling budgets and reduced governmental funding, explain how one man can represent three cities – Orlando, St. Pete and Tampa – which so often compete with each other for the same budget dollars.

The bottom line is Mayor Foster has never understood how to handle the governmental affairs position.  He’s gone from having an in-house lobbyist (Boehmer) to a contract with the in-house lobbyist (Boehmer) to selecting someone who had never lobbied before (Todd Yost) to now contracting with Peebles.

For the sake of the city, maybe Foster will get it right one of these days.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.