Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Tribune article on HART:

 

TRANSPORTATION

HART ponders where next major bus route should go

 

By Yvette C. Hammett | Tribune Staff 
Published: 
September 28, 2015   |   Updated: September 29, 2015 at 08:04 AM

 

TAMPA — The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board on Monday postponed passage of its long-range transit plan until it decides whether to first serve customers by focusing on future growth downtown or with a new rapid-bus route to get them to jobs more quickly.

 

Neither route is funded, and neither would be built for years. Still, the board wants to look at potential bus ridership and consider which plan should get the next slot for development.

The two contenders: an east-west route that runs generally from Temple Terrace to Tampa International Airport, or a Kennedy Boulevard route that runs from downtown Tampa to the West Shore Business District and, eventually, Tampa International Airport.

The board was set to vote on an update of its transit development plan on Monday night. That vote now is expected to be in November.

The 10-year plan is mandated by the state to consider future improvements and additions for HART routes and buses.

Marco Sandusky, senior manager of equal employment opportunities and community programs for HART, told board members that planning and design work has been completed for a $20 million, 17.7-mile east-west MetroRapid route.

But Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who sits on the HART board, said Kennedy Boulevard should get priority.

“For what we need to develop for all the tourists and the people that work downtown, I feel like we’re missing the boat here,” Murman said. “I just don’t see the interest in the east-west.”

Murman called the proposed Kennedy MetroRapid route “significant to economic development” and to creating transit-oriented development that is appealing to people who want to live and work downtown.

The roughly $18 million, 8.3-mile route would better serve businesses the county is attempting to lure to Tampa, she said. Some board members agreed but said they wanted to hear a presentation from HART staff on what each route would offer.

HART Director Mickey Jacob said getting working people to and from their place of employment should be HART’s first priority.

HART CEO Katharine Eagan said the board will hear in November more details on both corridors before it votes to transmit the updated plan to Tallahassee.

Board members also said during the meeting that despite an investigation over how the county chose a consulting firm for its Go Hillsborough transportation initiative, HART needs to consider the public input that came out of it in developing its future transit plan.

“Everything should not be just thrown out because there have been questions about the process,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, a member of the HART board.

The HART board also approved an $84.6 million budget for fiscal 2016, slightly less than 1 percent higher than this year’s budget. The tax rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of property value means the owner of a $150,000 house with a $25,000 homestead exemption can expect to pay about $62.50 a year to fund county bus service.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Tribune article on Go Hillsborough meetings:

 

POLITICS

Residents have 28 chances to comment on Hillsborough transportation

By Mike Salinero | Tribune Staff 
Published: 
September 27, 2015

 

TAMPA — Hillsborough County residents have just under three weeks left to make their opinions heard about the county’s transportation future.

Go Hillsborough, the county government’s transportation outreach initiative, is hosting 28 more meetings between Monday and Oct. 15. The meetings are at public libraries, two meetings per site.

The purpose is twofold: To allow the public to see and comment on specific transportation and mass transit projects that will be financed if voters approve a sales tax increase in November 2016, and to ask attendees whether the tax referendum should be for a half-cent or full penny-per-dollar.

A half cent would raise an estimated $3.5 billion over 30 years for new and improved roads, bridges, trails and expanded mass transit. A full cent increase would raise $7 billion over the same period.

The county held 36 public workshops in the late winter and early spring that were part of a seminar on transportation needs, and part information-gathering about what type of transportation system residents wanted.

In August, Go Hillsborough announced another round of 54 meetings, most of which were held at county libraries. Each site had two meetings at different times so as many people as possible could attend.

But the turnout for the second round of meetings has been light — 729 people at 26 meetings. That doesn’t include clubs and organizations that have hosted Go Hillsborough at their meetings, said Eric Johnson, the county’s director of strategic planning and grants management.

“The fact that we are hitting so many locations, both during the day and during the evening, drives some of the difference in level of turnout,” Johnson said.

“What is reassuring is both that we see new faces at the meetings we are holding … and that those who participated earlier in the process continue to stay engaged by showing up at the current set of meetings,” he said.

County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman suggested the meetings should be stopped in the wake of a report by WTSP 10News suggesting that the county’s consultant on Go Hillsborough, engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, was hired because of its ties to well-connected public relations consultant Beth Leytham.

But County Administrator Mike Merrill urged commissioners to continue the outreach effort.

“It doesn’t matter if there are five people at the meetings or 50,” Merrill said at the Sept. 16 commission meeting. “Those five people showed up, they invested their time and they appreciate it.”

This week’s meetings start Monday at the Jan Kaminis Platt Library with sessions at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.; and the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

Other meetings:

♦ Tuesday, Seminole Heights Branch Library, 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.; and Riverview Branch Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

♦ Wednesday, Thonotosassa Branch Library, 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

♦ Thursday, Seffner-Mango Branch Library, 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.; and Bruton Memorial Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

♦ Oct. 5, Charles J. Fendig Public Library, 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.; and Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

♦ Oct. 6, West Tampa Branch Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

♦ Oct. 8, Bloomingdale Regional Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

♦ Oct. 13, Town ‘n Country Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

♦ Oct. 15, North Tampa Branch Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and 78th Street Community Library, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

To learn more, visit GOHillsborough.org.

 

 

Commissioner Murman praised in this Tampa Bay Times editorial on lobbying reform at the county:

 

Editorial: Proposal brings rules for ethics in lobbying into modern era

Friday, September 25, 2015 4:14pm

 

Lobbying is an art, and the most effective arm-twisting with public officials takes place deep below the radar. But the proposal by Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman to tighten the county’s ethics rules is a good first step in bringing public oversight into the modern era and more in line with other urban counties.

Murman announced last week that she would propose a plan in October to close loopholes in the county’s current lobbying policy. As it stands, lobbyists who are interested in meeting with top county officials are supposed to sign a registry at County Center. Lobbyists who arrange off-site meetings are required to notify the county clerk within seven days. But this is a self-policing exercise that has not resulted in any violations for years, even as lobbyists weigh in on everything from contracts to commission appointments.

Murman’s proposal would keep the responsibility on lobbyists to self-report. But the registry would be converted to an online database. Lobbyists would be required to register and list the clients they represent, and the public could track interactions between lobbyists and elected officials and staff.

Importantly, the rules would apply to verbal and electronic communications as well, meaning that emails, calls, texts and other modern forms of daily contact would not fall outside the rules as they do now. That would close a loophole big enough to jam a sweetheart deal through without anyone knowing who pushed it for what client.

The measure is a response to the controversy surrounding a contract the county awarded to engineering consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff. At issue is whether Parsons won the job because it hired Beth Leytham, a public relations executive with close ties to several commissioners. While county auditors earlier this year found the contract was properly awarded, Sheriff David Gee has agreed to the county’s request to take a separate look.

This proposal addresses the Parsons’ controversy only in part. A broader problem in that case was the commission’s decision to give staff broad discretion to hire consultants from a list of pre-approved providers.

Still, this change allows Hillsborough to catch up to the times, by recognizing that lobbyists are more inclined to call, text or email than to show themselves in public at County Center. It mirrors the lobbying regulations in Pinellas County, which require that “all forms of communication” be reported. And it forms the basis for creating an accessible database the public could use to track those looking for government favors.

County commissioners should embrace Murman’s good proposal and look to build on it by expanding the database to Hillsborough’s three cities.

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on lobbying rules at the City:

 

BAY BUZZ

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa City Council’s Lisa Montelione wants review of city ethics and lobbying rules in wake of Go Hillsborough controversy

Friday, September 25, 2015 1:03pm

 

First Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman called for tighter rules on lobbyists in light of the controversy over the Go Hillsborough contract with an engineering firm and its politically connected subcontractor.

 

Now the Tampa City Council is asking for a review of city lobbying regulations, too.

Some of the reasons for the city review overlap with what’s going on at the county, where the Go Hillsborough effort is mired in questions about public relations consultant Beth Leytham’s support for local elected officials and the work she’s done for local governments.

 

“This incident has pushed the timetable forward for me,” said council member Lisa Montelione, who Thursday night made a motion that the city look to update its definitions of and rules on lobbying. Her colleagues agreed, asking for a follow-up report on Nov. 5.

 

But Montelione said Friday she also has other reasons for wanting to take a look at the city’s ethics and lobbying rules.

She and City Council Attorney Martin Shelby have been talking about loopholes in the city’s ethics code for about a year, she said. She had planned to ask the council to take on the issue during a strategic planning session over the summer, but that was cancelled.

 

Then, in the wake of questions raised about Leytham by a series of reports by WTSP 10News, County Administrator Mike Merrillthis week asked Sheriff David Gee to look at the county’s $1.35 million Go Hillsborough contract with the Parsons Brinckerhoff engineering firm, which is paying Leytham $187,000. Within days, county officials were talking about lobbying reform.

 

“It brought it all back up to the surface,” Montelione said.

City Council members asked Shelby to consult with the county attorneys working on Hillsborough’s rules with an eye on making the city and county rules as similar as possible.

For example, Montelione said, it would make sense to have a registration system organized so a lobbyist who registered with the county would also be registered at City Hall. Something like that already happens with companies seeking small-business or women- or minority-owned business designation for local government contracts.

And Montelione is not just thinking about lobbying. She would like to see whistleblower protection provisions added to city codes. City employees covered by a union already are protected from retaliation if they call attention to official wrongdoing, she said, but managers aren’t, and they should be.

Montelione also would like to see lobbyist registration information made easily accessible to the public. And she supports the idea, proposed by Murman, to define as lobbying electronic communications, such as text messages and emails, sent by a person being paid to represent a company or cause.

Still, Montelione said, that kind of effort will require sorting through lots of questions. Should it count, for example, if one city asks another to reach out to a legislator on a particular issue?

“We get a lot of emails,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes to discern between what’s lobbying and what’s called an ask: ‘Would you send a letter in support of XYZ happening?’ “

Thursday’s was the second City Council vote in a week related to the Go Hillsborough controversy.

On Sept. 17, the council voted to try to stop a $74,985 city contribution to the Go Hillsborough transit initiative, which has been building toward a possible referendum asking voters to consider a sales tax for transportation projects.

 

Two weeks earlier, council members approved that payment to Parsons Brinckerhoff. But they reconsidered after the County Commission asked for an audit of its contract with the firm. Since then, Merrill asked for the sheriff’s investigation, which he hoped would clear up any questions about the contract. But some officials have suggested there’s enough of a cloud over the contract to undermine the entire effort.

 

One official who hopes that isn’t happening is Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has participated as a member of the steering committee that developed the Go Hillsborough initiative.

 

Buckhorn defended Leytham, who worked on his 2011 and 2015 mayoral campaigns and who worked as a subcontractor to the consulting firm that wrote the InVision Tampa plan for the city’s urban core. Buckhorn, who had a tense on-camera interview with WTSP about Leytham, said he thought the reports that ignited the controversy were “an unfair portrayal.”

 

“This is a woman who has built a business, is talented and has relationships throughout the community,” Buckhorn said, but is also “being attacked by her competitors.”

“I think they’re trying to create a story that I don’t think exists,” he said.

Buckhorn said he appreciates Leytham’s advice, but said every time she’s been involved in city business, the selection and contracting process has been competitive, open and transparent.

Buckhorn said Merrill’s request to the sheriff came as surprise to him, “but that’s okay.” He hopes sheriff’s investigators will quickly render an opinion that the Go Hillsborough contract was procured legally, as county auditors did.

“Anything we can do to get rid of this distraction and get focused back on solving our transportation needs is going to be good for the community,” Buckhorn said. He said anti-transit activists are seizing on the same kind of “petty accusations” that derailed last year’s unsuccessful Greenlight Pinellas sales tax referendum.

 

“You can put all the sand in the gears that you want,” he said, but an under-performing transportation network “is our everyday reality, and we’ve got to find a way to deal with it.”

 

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this StPetersBlog article on lobbying reforms:

 

Brian Willis says Sandy Murman proposed reforms don’t go far enough

By Mitch Perry –

 

Sep 24, 2015

 

Reacting to a perceived backlash to the behind the scenes effort with the Go Hillsborough transportation initiative, Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman on Wednesdayreleased a proposed ordinance to provide more transparency on who is trying to influence public officials.

Lobbyists who visit county commissioners or employees would have to register for a fee and disclose what their interests were, allowing the public to search and track lobbyists activities online. Nonprofit lobbyists would be required to register annually but pay no fee.

But Brian Willis, a Democrat running for the County Commission District 6 seat next year, says Murman’s efforts fall short.

“The problems at County Center go beyond lobbying,” he says in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “Citizens shouldn’t have to make a public records request to get most information out of the County.” Willis says “Restoring public confidence must go beyond lobbying reform. The County must start using technology to proactively make data and documents available.”

Willis’ proposals include:

  • A lobbyist registration database should be online and accessible to the public, instantaneously.
  • If you are getting paid to influence government employees or elected officials, then you are a lobbyist and must register.
  • The county should put our entire checkbook online in real time so citizens know how money is being spent.
  • Government contracts, proposals & payments to contractors should also be online, instantaneously.
  • Once documents go online, they should remain online in an open and searchable archive.
  • Contractors and lobbyists should pay a small registration fee to cover the expenses of the reporting system.

“I am committed to making sure the County is proactively disclosing data and documents. If we had done all of this before we started this process we wouldn’t be talking about backroom politics. We’d be talking about the best way to improve the County’s transportation system,” said Willis.

Backdoor politics is all anyone seems to be talking about, however, in the wake of theWTSP report highlighting the influence of public relations and political consultant Beth Leytham, a subcontractor working with Parsons Brinckerhoff on the Go Hillsborough public outreach effort.

County Commissioners have reacted with alacrity to the WTSP report. Two days after it originally aired, they voted unanimously to have their internal auditor conduct an investigation about how Parsons Brinckerhoff was able to procure the contract to organize the transportation effort. Critics have been suspicious about the process from the onset, critical of the possibility that a sales tax could be implemented to fund transportation projects.

Murman suggested that the Go Hillsborough meetings that have been taking place at various public libraries throughout the county be halted. That hasn’t happened. On Monday though, County Administrator Mike Merrill opted to request that Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee conduct an investigation.

Leytham has said she is not a lobbyist, however, leading some to question if Murman’s proposals could have shed anymore transparency on the goings on with the Go Hillsborough effort.

County Commissioners are still months away from determining whether or not to put a transportation tax on the 2016 ballot, with some hedging their opinions in recent days.

Willis is competing against Pat Kemp and Thomas Scott in the District 6 Democratic Primary.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Tribune article on county lobbyist reform:

 

POLITICS

Murman proposes rules on lobbying Hillsborough commission

 

By Mike Salinero | Tribune Staff 
Published: 
September 23, 2015

 

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman said Wednesday she will introduce an ordinance that will more fully inform residents about who is trying to influence their public officials.

The ordinance would establish an Office of Professional Lobbyist Registration within the county attorney’s office. Lobbyists who visit county commissioners or county employees would have to register for a fee, and disclose who or what interests they represent. The public would be able to search and track lobbyists and their interactions with county officials online. Also, Murman said the definition of lobbyist would be tightened.

“The ultimate goal is transparency, so people can trust their government and see if we’re being unduly influenced by special interests,” Murman said.

Murman’s announcement comes in the wake of questions that have been raised about whether Tampa public relations consultant Beth Leytham pulled strings to help engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff win a $1.35 million county contract. Parsons Brinckerhoff later hired Leytham to handle communications for the county’s transportation initiative, Go Hillsborough. Leytham and Parsons Brinckerhoff have denied any collusion.

The suggestion that Leytham influenced the process, first made in a WTSP News 10 television report, spurred County Administrator Mike Merrill on Monday to ask the sheriff’s office to investigate the hiring of Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Murman said the uproar over the Leytham revelations is not the reason she wants to tighten up lobbying regulations, though it did affect the timing of her announcement.

“I’ve been working on this for some time,” Murman said. “If it makes people feel like they can trust us more because we’ve improved the process, that will be a good result.”

Murman, a former state representative, said she wants to bring the county’s rules regarding lobbyists closer to the state’s. All lobbyists working in Tallahassee must register and list their clients. That information is available online.

Currently, lobbyists who visit county commissioners are supposed to sign a book in the lobby outside the commissioners’ offices. Murman said many do not.

Under her proposed ordinance, any contact between a lobbyist and an elected official, whether verbal, written or electronic, would have to be reported within 72 hours. Lobbyists who don’t follow the rules would be fined.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

 

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Business Journal article on county lobbyist reform:

 

Murman initiates lobbying rules for Hillsborough officials

Sep 23, 2015, 2:13pm EDT

 

Chris Wilkerson

Deputy Editor- Tampa Bay Business Journal

 

Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman is initiating a plan to tighten regulations on lobbying elected officials in the county in the wake of a cronyism scandal highlighted by a WTSP report.

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

 

Murman is proposing an Office of Professional Lobbyist Registration be established in the county attorney’s office. All paid lobbyists will pay an annual fee and disclose their clients as part of the new proposal. Nonprofit lobbyists would not have to pay a fee, but would still have to register.

 

The move happens only a week after a WTSP Channel 10 report on cronyism cast into suspicion the hiring process of engineering consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. for a $1.3 million engineering contract on the Go Hillsborough transportation plan.

 

The news report from WTSP reporter Noah Pransky was accompanied by a 6,000-word story online detailing relationships between public affairs consultant Beth Leytham and high-ranking politicians in Tampa and Hillsborough County.

 

Parsons Brinckerhoff hired Leytham to do communications work on the Go Hillsborough project after she helped secure their contract without a bidding process, according to WTSP’s report.

 

In an email response to Tampa Bay Business Journal, Leytham wrote: “We handle controversial and potentially controversial issues, and will always do the right thing for our community and our clients even in the face of innuendo and inaccuracy.”

 

After the report originally aired, county commissioners voted to initiate an audit of the Parsons Brinckerhoff contract bidding process. Tampa City Council followed up by formally calling into question whether the city needs the study it agreed to help fund with $75,000.

 

“If you are being paid by someone else, and advocate a position or process that benefits them, that should be reported,” Murman wrote. “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 nonprofit, affect their local government.”

 

Murman plans to ask the county attorney’s office to draft an ordinance based on these new guidelines and bring it back to the board for consideration, according to the statement.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on county lobbyist reform:

 

Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman calls for a crackdown on lobbying

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 2:02pm

 

TAMPA — Amid an investigation into whether influence played a role in the awarding of a Go Hillsborough contract, the head of the Hillsborough County Commission says it’s time to crack down on lobbying “loopholes.”

Commissioner and Chairwoman Sandy Murman announced Wednesday that she will propose a new department, the Office of Professional Lobbyist Registration, to monitor lobbying. Murman also vowed to tighten rules for who is permitted to lobby.

“Recent events call for higher standards, greater accountability and new rules to protect the public,” Murman said in a news release. She expects to put her plan before the commission at its Oct. 7 meeting.

The proposal is in response to the controversy surrounding a contract awarded to engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to conduct public outreach for Go Hillsborough, the county’s transportation initiative. County Administrator Mike Merrill has asked Sheriff David Gee to investigate whether that $1.35 million deal was influenced by Parsons’ hiring of Beth Leytham, a Tampa public relations consultant with close ties to several commissioners, as a subcontractor.

A review of the deal earlier this year by the county’s internal auditor found the contract was awarded legally.

One of the most notable proposed changes to the lobbying rules is that electronic communications by a person paid to represent a company or issue would be considered lobbying. The current Hillsborough County ordinance, last altered in 2007, defines lobbying simply as “meeting privately with affected personnel,” which would likely exempt text messages and emails.

It’s a key designation and it’s especially relevant to the ongoing controversy that has rocked Hillsborough County Center. Leytham has maintained that she is not a lobbyist and did no lobbying, in part because any communications she had with county staff or commissioners before Parsons was awarded the contract were sent electronically.

“If you are being paid by someone else, and advocate a position that benefits them, that should be reported,” Murman said.

For years, lobbying has been a self-policed endeavor. Lobbyists are supposed to sign a registry in the reception areas of the County Commission, administrator, attorney or other departments when they meet with officials and staff. If the meeting takes place off-site, the lobbyist is supposed to notify the clerk of the Board of County Commissioners within seven days.

It’s a loosely maintained system that rarely, if ever, results in punishment if not followed.

“This office has not had any violation in regards to the lobbying ordinance in many, many years,” said Mary Helen Ferris with the county attorney’s office.

Murman would continue to put the onus on lobbyists to self-report but it would be electronic and submitted to a public online database. Any contact with elected officials or staff must be reported, according to Murman’s release.

Commissioner Ken Hagan said Murman’s proposal had merit.

But he also wondered if it would be hard to pin down a definition of lobbying that won’t ensnare residents.

“That’s always been one of the challenges,” he said. “The argument can be made that someone approaching an elected official at Publix to weigh in on an issue is lobbying. Where is that line drawn?”

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this StPetersBlog article on county lobbying reform:

 

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

By Staff Reports –

 

Sep 23, 2015

 

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.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this 10 News article about lobbyist reform in county:

 

10 Investigates prompts major lobbyist reform proposal

Noah Pransky, WTSP

3:16 p.m. EDT September 23, 2015

 

TAMPA, Florida – A week after the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners ordered an audit of a county contract scrutinized by 10 Investigates for possible influence by a well-connected consultant, the commission chair proposed Wednesday sweeping reforms to the county’s lobbying laws to prevent a repeat occurrence.

The 10 Investigates report into local public relations consultant Beth Leytham revealed she may have improperly lobbied county commissioners and staff members prior to the awarding of a lucrative public outreach contract for the transportation initiative now known as “Go Hillsborough.” The deal, which has ballooned in cost to $1.35 million, was awarded to Leytham’s team without ever going out to a bid.

10 Investigates also reported last week that Hillsborough County doesn’t enforce its lobbying regulations.

Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman said Wednesday she plans to ask the county attorney’s office to draft an ordinance aimed at cleaning up “the murky practice of lobbying the Hillsborough County Commission.”

Murman’s “Greater Accountability Plan” calls for the creation of an Office of Professional Lobbyist Registration under the county attorney. She also proposes keeping lobbyist registries online for any citizen to review. Currently, they are only aggregated digitally every three months.

“This is not geared toward any one particular person or people at all,” Murman said.  “This is a guideline that I have wanted to establish for a long time that’s very similar to Tallahassee.”

But, Murman, a former Florida House Ethics Chair, acknowledged “the timing was right” and “timing is everything.”

ALSO READ: Hillsborough Sheriff to investigate Go Hillsborough

“Recent events call for higher standards, greater accountability and new rules to protect the public,” Murman added in a press release. “Lobbyists and special interests will now be required to register, review and sign a set of guidelines from the County Attorney, and report any contact they make with elected officials or staff.”

The county’s current lobbying rules already require lobbyists to register contact with elected officials and staff, but county administrator Mike Merrill said, “we are not the lobby police.” Murman’s plan could help create an enforcement office.

Interestingly enough, Murman was one of the commissioners tied to Leytham’s behind-the-scenes influence during the procurement of the Go Hillsborough contract. But she has tried to put distance between herself and Leytham, whom she referred to as a friend. Murman also said Leytham had never lobbied her.

WATCHHow politicians react to questions about Leytham

The lobbying reforms would require “professionally-paid lobbyists” to list any and all clients they represent before the county. However, Leytham told 10 Investigates she wasn’t paid to lobby, and therefore didn’t have to register. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Commissioner Hagan, whom Leytham advises politically, both supported her claim.

But Murman’s press release said, “The definition of a lobbyist and who is permitted to lobby will be tightened to end ambiguity and close loopholes.”

“If you are being paid by someone else, and advocate a position or process that benefits them, that should be reported,” Murman said in the press release. “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.”

Murman will make the request of the county attorney at the next BOCC meeting on Oct. 7.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: County must clear the air after 10 Investigates report

Initial reaction from ethics watchdogs was positive.

“We applaud the effort to close the loopholes in Hillsborough County’s lobbying registration law,” said Ben Wilcox, Research Director for Tallahassee-based nonprofit Integrity Florida. “The law should be clear about who is required to register and it should be enforced so the public can see who is trying to influence public policy.”

 
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