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Bureaucrat or lobbyist -- trouble follows her

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2003


Ever since she appeared in the state Capitol four years ago, Cynthia Henderson has been a lightning rod for trouble. After heading two state agencies amid buckets of controversy, Henderson left the government payroll in January to lobby.

It didn't take long for trouble to follow.

Earlier this week, some lobbyists started complaining that Henderson was illegally lobbying a division of her old state agency on behalf of ACS, a computer company. The issue was a technology contract that could be worth about $150-million. Florida law bans agency heads from lobbying or representing a paying client before their former agency for two years after they leave. She has barely been gone two months.

On Thursday afternoon, the folks who handle the registration of all lobbyists had no listing for Henderson representing ACS. So if she was lobbying, she could be in trouble twice: once for lobbying her former agency and the second time for lobbying without registering.

Shortly after noon on Thursday I called Henderson to check. Her office promised she'd get back to me. A couple of hours later a secretary called to refer questions to officials at ACS, insisting that Henderson was too busy to get back to me. The secretary did say Henderson was not lobbying for ACS, but refused to say exactly what she was doing.

ACS officials called shortly after 5 p.m. to say Henderson was handling their bid protest and had registered to lobby for ACS.

Henderson finally returned my call at 5:36 p.m.

"Why don't people leave me alone?" she asked.

She insisted she had registered for ACS and expressed frustration that her registration had yet to be posted on the lobbying Web site. She was vague about when she had registered, but thought it had been last Monday.

"I don't know when it will come up on the Web site," she complained.

It might not have been on the Web site because she didn't register until 4:56 p.m. -- a few hours after I started asking questions and 40 minutes before she called me back.

Henderson insists she can legally lobby the state Technology Office because it is an individual agency apart from the Department of Management Services she headed.

The Technology Office does have its own director and its own budget, but the law says it was created "within the Department of Management Services."

Henderson said she has not talked to anyone at the Technology Office, but did call a member of the governor's staff to discuss the bid protest she was filing on behalf of ACS.

Henderson said she had talked with a lawyer at the Ethics Commission, and been told it would be okay to lobby because she was not directly employed by the Technology Office.

Bonnie Williams, executive director of the Ethics Commission, says Henderson did call on March 6, but was not told it would be okay. She was instructed to write for an informal opinion.

"She might not want to be running around lobbying until she gets an opinion," Williams added.

Late Thursday, after we raised questions about her actions, Henderson wrote to the Ethics Commission requesting an opinion.

It will be up to the commission to determine whether she can lobby the state Technology Office. This would be the same commission where some commission members are lobbyists.

ACS was one of four losing bidders on a multimillion-dollar contract. The state announced last month that the winner was Bearing Point, a company that hired Southern Strategy Group, a lobbying firm operated by former House Speaker John Thrasher and Paul Bradshaw, husband of the governor's former chief of staff. On Friday, apparently reacting to the protests, the state withdrew the notice to negotiate with Bearing Point and announced it will negotiate with the top five bidders.

See, this is one big happy family. We just rearrange the players from time to time.

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