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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

#RealityCheck re #Ethics #Lobbying and #Transparency in the Sunshine State: My observations re Michael Van Sickler's spot-on article re lack of meaningful transparency in lobbying govt. in Florida - Former FL Attorney General Bill McCullom's contact with current FL Attorney General Pam Bondi's office raises questions about "special rules for special people"

My comments and observations are below this excellent article by Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Michael Van Sickler as it appeared over the weekend. 
- Michael Van Sickler at mvansickler@tampabay.com. Follow @mikevansickler.
http://www.tampabay.com/writers/michael-van-sickler/

It's one of the most-thorough stories on a topic of great importance to society, and me personally -how government and public policy are directly affected by third-party actors- that I've seen in quite some time in Florida.

I've added some links below that did not appear in the email about this subject that I sent out this afternoon to lots of concerned Florida residents, activists, pols and journos around the state, especially in Tallahassee and Broward County 







-----
Tampa Bay Times
Former attorney general's contact with Pam Bondi's office raises questions
By Michael Van Sickler 
November 29, 2014 


When the cruise line Royal Caribbean sought to amend a 1997 consumer protection agreement with the Florida Attorney General's office, it hired a lawyer familiar with the agency's inner workings.

Former Attorney General Bill McCollum called on the staff of his successor, Pam Bondi. Six months after the June 2013 meeting, Bondi's office granted McCollum's request. 

Royal Caribbean's advertised rates would no longer have to include fees for services, like baggage handling and loading cargo. The fees, which can inflate a trip's cost by more than $100, could be listed separately from the company's advertised rates. 

On at least two other occasions, McCollum met with Bondi's staff to discuss two more clients - NJOY, an e-cigarette company, and HealthFair, which sells health screenings from mobile clinics. 


Read the rest of the article at
http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/former-attorney-generals-contact-with-pam-bondis-office-raises-questions/2208238

I guess Bill McCollum thinks he's former FL Senate Minority Leader and attorney/lobbyist Steve Geller, who for years was well-known for his penchant of down-lobbying City officials in Southeast Broward County, as well as Broward County employees/elected officials, people whom you'd think he was at least nominally supposed to be representing in Tallahassee, but whom it was often said he was largely indifferent or even hostile to if their interests were opposed to those of his many well-known and well-heeled clients.

But whenever Steve Geller was forced to answer question about the issue of whom he truly represents when he was wearing so many different hats, often at the same time -especially before and while he ran unsuccessfully for the Broward County Commission in 2010, losing in part because of lingering questions about his fidelity to common sense ethical norms, or even the fact that he did NOT actually reside in the Commission District he was running for- Steve Geller nonchalantly trotted-out the same lame and self-serving excuse that Bill McCollum has with respect to his numerous contacts with FL Attorney General Pam Bondi and her staff.

This issue of the public appearance of "special rules for special peopleis one that strongly resonates with residents, activists and Small Business owners throughout the Sunshine State regardless of ideology, political party, age, gender and geography. 
It resonates precisely because the evidence is clear that the problem is only getting worse, even as it goes largely unreported and unremarked upon in South Florida's news media when it does occur, with the result that far too often the public finds out the facts AFTER a decision was made.

It's a problem that I have seen firsthand on many occasions over the past eleven years where I live, Hallandale Beach, and is one that our state legislators in Tallahassee clearly need to tighten-up dramatically, with similar efforts initiated to create more meaningful AND enforceable rules about transparency and lobbying registration at County Govt. Centers and City Halls across the state.

Which is to say, often the sorts of less-scrutinized locales where lobbyists like former state Rep. Joe Gibbons are currently more than content to work in the shadows and be shown deference, and often DON'T register as a lobbyist with the appropriate govt. entity when a public policy issue is being decided by that govt. body, even when they have a client directly involved in the outcome -and they are the one directly trying to fashion a specific result for their client.

Yes, even when it's clear from both the spirit and letter of the present ethics and lobbying laws that individuals like Gibbons ought to be registered as a lobbyist, as happened this past year in Hallandale Beach, with a proposed condo bldg. project on the beach for the super-rich asking for approval from the Hallandale Beach City Commission.
A proposed building that was by any reasonable standard, completely incompatible for the area.

Many of you reading this email today know only from from past emails of mine that in their failure to properly cover it, the South Florida news media for months ignored the fact that the ultimate decision and recommendations reached by the HB City Commission on this matter created the very real possibility that lobbyist Joe Gibbons would net $200,000 if his client had gotten their way, as I wrote in blog posts earlier this past Spring, and will be revisiting soon.

But like many past and present legislator-lobbyists in Florida, or former state officials, Joe Gibbons likes to act like has special privileges that put him above the reach of the state, county and municipal laws that were originally created to ensure that the public at large knew precisely whom all the players in the public policy drama were -and knew that information BEFORE any decisions were reached.

Instead, though, by NOT following the reasonable rules that others must observe, Gibbons and his lobbyist friends put the onus of enforcement on local and county officials to force him to do something that he clearly doesn't want to do, practically daring them to follow and enforce the law.
So guess how that usually turns out for the public, who has a legitimate right to know who all the players at the table are?

And how do you think that turns out in Hallandale Beach with a City Attorney like V. Lynn Whitfield, who has stated at city meetings that it's NOT her job to enforce ethics laws and rules the city already has on the books?

*In case you forgot about Whitfield's way of resolving matters -by ignoring them- see the short video I made titled "Csaba Kulin re Hallandale Beach City Attorney Whitfield's comments re her role on ethics

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtpFnVOFA-I

Yes, you just have to think that Joe Gibbons and his lobbyist friends love City Attorneys like Whitfield with their counter-intuitive attitude that puts the public at a genuine disadvantage and effectively neuters the law.

As if the public isn't working at enough of a disadvantage, esp. regarding development issues, given this city's track record of trying to keep public info secret from residents and neighborhoods as long as possible, even on huge projects, witness the Diplomat RAC project with 5-8 25-story-plus condo towers proposed in a single-family neighborhood in NE HB that ultimately was voted down by the Broward County Commission months after it got passed by the HB City Commission days before Christmas in 2009.
The final plans were not made public by the city until 28 hours before the vote, which finally occurred near 2:43 a.m., as I wrote here at the time:

December 17, 2009 At 2:43 a.m., Hallandale Beach approves First Reading of controversial Diplomat Country Club LAC, 3-2
http://hallandalebeachblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/at-243-am-hallandale-beach-approves.html

Since Joe Gibbons is NOT an attorney, even though when he wasn't acting in his capacity as a state legislator, he worked as a lobbyist for a prominent law firm based in Tallahassee -despite his wife and kids living in Jacksonville for years while he claimed to be a permanent resident of Hallandale Beach, hundreds of miles away- Gibbons can't even use the sort eof xcuse offered by Geller.

By the way, since they get mentioned by name in the article above, in the late 1990's I did some consulting work for Dickstein Shapiro's office in Washington, D.C. on an important matter for them on behalf of Jacksonville-based CSX. 
Which we won.

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