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Hillsborough Commissioners add themselves to new lobbying ordinance

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County Commissioners added themselves to a previously drafted amendment to an ordinance that would prohibit registered lobbyists from communicating electronically during commission meetings.

The proposal before the board would have only penalized lobbyists on Wednesday, prompting Commission Chair Les Miller to say that it was insufficient, and that “we as the County Commission should also adhere to the lobbying ordinance.”

Miller offered two new amendments that the board ultimately approved. One added “commissioners” to the provision that in the case that an electronic communication sent by a lobbyist during a meeting “could not be avoided,” that lobbyist must immediately notify the lobbyist registration manager. Now a commissioner has to notify that system as well. It passed 5-2, with Victor Crist and Ken Hagan opposing.

The second amendment would fine commissioners for violating the ordinance. The original draft only included lobbyists. The first fine would be $250, the second offense $500, and a third offense would require the lobbyist registration manager to inform the Florida Ethics Commission. The measure passed 5-2, with Hagan and Stacy White opposing.

“Candidly, I think it’s a joke,” cracked Hagan about the proposals. “It’s symbolic, repetitive, impotent and has no teeth.”

In December, Commissioners approved a motion offered by Commissioner Sandy Murman directing county attorneys to draft a proposal that would ban them from receiving text messages from a lobbyist during a board meeting, a variation of new lobbying rules promulgated in Tallahassee by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

In January 2016, the BOCC passed an ordinance requiring all lobbyists to register by name, who they met with, what they talked about and who they represented when meeting with board members. The ordinance was prompted by the controversy surrounding how transportation engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff became the contractor for the Go Hillsborough transportation effort — and then hiring Beth Leytham as a subcontractor.

Leytham never registered as a lobbyist with the county when she communicated with commissioners via text message and/or email during that process.

WTSP — 10 News reporter Noah Pransky said last week that Murman, Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn were recently interviewed by the Florida Commission on Ethics regarding the Go Hillsborough controversy.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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