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Legislators lobby city for lobbyists

In a twist, Pinellas Park officials receive calls from state lawmakers as they search for a lobbyist.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

PINELLAS PARK -- When this city's officials decided to hire a lobbyist to watch out for their interests in Tallahassee, they began getting a lot of phone calls -- from legislators.

In a role switch, the legislators were lobbying on behalf of the lobbyists, telling Pinellas Park officials what consultants would be best to hire.

"There's an irony to it," said Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell, who served on the selection committee. But, Caddell joked, the legislators do not quite have the hang of lobbying because "they didn't wine and dine us."

Kidding aside, Caddell said the phone calls were not intimidating and had no effect on the decision. The two lobbyists who ranked highest -- Ron Book and Bill Peebles -- were not among those recommended by the lawmakers.

Book, whom the committee will recommend to the City Council at its Jan. 9 meeting, has a high rate of success in coaxing money out of the Legislature and bringing it back to his clients.

"If we're going to spend $50,000, we'd better have results the first year," Assistant City Manager Mike Gustafson said.

Pinellas Park City Council member Ed Taylor was not on the selection committee. But he also received calls from legislators eager to make a pitch.

"I've heard from a lot of them," Taylor said. "They gave them their personal endorsement."

Taylor said he had no problem with legislators promoting lobbyists who later would be approaching them for favors.

"Lobbying for lobbyists? I loved it," Taylor said. "I didn't feel intimidated by it whatsoever and was frankly appreciative of it."

Just the idea of having a legislator make the call showed a lot of initiative, Taylor said. It also showed the applicants had connections with the legislators and were able to communicate with them. It was good evidence, he said, of "self-startability."

"I thought it was quite innovative," Taylor said.

State Rep. Leslie Waters, R-Seminole, did not return a phone message asking for comment. State Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Waters and Farkas reportedly called Pinellas Park.

Pinellas Park council members decided earlier this year to budget about $50,000 a year to hire a lobbyist to watch out for the city's interests when the Legislature is in session.

Council members were especially interested in persuading the Legislature to come up with money to help fix the drainage problems on Park Boulevard. The Legislature allocated some money to the multimillion-dollar project last year but Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the funding.

Council members also were interested in watching over any developments on the annexation front. They were stung last year after the Legislature passed the so-called Farkas bill, which required any city that annexed into the Lealman Fire District to continue paying the fire tax there for five years. The bill, which has a five-year life expectancy, was designed to discourage annexations into Lealman and to lessen the impact of annexations on the tax base there.

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