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Sandy Murman announces effort to clean up special interests’ influence in county government

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman announced today a set of reforms for those who do business with County Commission officials and staff in the wake of the controversy involving the $1.35 million contract the county made with transportation consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff on the Go Hillsborough transportation initiative.

Nine days ago WTSP10 questioned the influence of Tampa public relations consultant Beth Leytham in Parsons Brinckerhoff acquiring the contract. Leytham is the politically wired-in consultant who is making $187,500 to do communications work with Parsons on the Go Hillsborough effort.

The 10 News story set off a firestorm at the County Center, leading to County Administrator Mike Merrill on Monday to call on Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee to investigate the Parsons Brinckerhoff contract with the county.

Murman will propose an ordinance, to be drafted by the county attorney, at the October 7 Board of County Commission meeting that she is calling  the “General Accountability Plan.” The plan will call for the creation of an Office of Professional Lobbyists Registration to be established inside the county attorney’s office.  All professionally paid lobbyists will be required to register by paying a fee (amount not stated), and list any and all clients before the county. Nonprofit lobbyists would be required to register annually but pay no fee.

“Recent events call for higher standards, greater accountability and new rules to protect the public,” said Murman in a press release.

Murman says the current practice of registering meeting in the lobbyist registry at the County Center would continue, but first time-violators will be given a warning, then a fine, then and then a “potential ban” from lobbying the county or any county agency. Any contact with an elected official or employee would have to be reported within 72 hours, which would be accessible for citizens to review via an online lobbyist registration database.

“If you are being paid by someone else, and advocate a position or process that benefits them, that should be reported,” said Commissioner Murman. “It is my hope that these efforts will make our county process more transparent and allow the public to see how special interests, profit or non-profit, affect their local government.”

Upon her first reading of the Murman proposals, Parsons Brinckerhoff critic Sharon Calvert said she was supportive, saying “something obviously need to be done.” But she says the county could go much further with an investigation, including looking at the abuse of the Consultant Competitive Negotiation Act (CCNA).

“They were able to procure with no bid, no RFP, no requirement, and then they were able to hire subcontractors,” she says of how Parsons was chosen as the contractor on the transportation effort. “I’m just concerned on how that CCNA process has been used by the county.”

Calvert also notes that these new proposals may not have prevented the current situation with Go Hillsborough. Beth Leytham has said she is not a lobbyist, and thus wouldn’t be subject to the dictates of the proposed ordinance.

Leytham, along with County Administrator Merrill say that everything was done above board in the case, something that will Sheriff David Gee will apparently have the final say so on.

Other ideas floated around the county to tighten the reigns on influence peddlers include banning any person or person associated with an entity paid by any fund, including local campaign funds, engaged in influencing local elections, from lobbying any county level elected official or staffer for a period of 4 years.

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