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Ex-official typifies capital's culture

Tallahassee's insider game is seen in former FDLE chief Tim Moore, who's now a lobbyist, paid to try to win a contract he helped create.

By JONI JAMES
Published February 8, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - Last year, Florida's chief law enforcement officer helped persuade the Florida Legislature to spend $13-million to link public safety radios across the state.

Now that he's a lobbyist, James T. "Tim" Moore is angling to steer the money to a big client, Motorola.

There's no law against it and Moore, former commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, says he's done nothing improper trying to win a contract for Motorola to build the network he pushed to create as a state official.

Moore's advocacy offers a glimpse into the culture of the capital, where state government is dominated by insiders and lobbyists, many who got there because of their former jobs as public officials.

The state's lobbying laws are aimed at preventing former state employees from immediately cashing in on the contacts they developed at taxpayer expense. But they offer only partial restraint.

"I know Tim Moore has a lot of integrity, but it does sort of illustrate why we have a revolving-door law and why it's always a sensitive area," said Ben Wilcox, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause Florida. "It points to the fact the law could be tightened in some ways."

Lobbyists like Moore can find themselves trying to influence the agencies they once led. At other times, they are aligned with interests they once opposed.

Last week, Moore and his colleagues at Tallahassee's most influential lobbying firm, Southern Strategy Group, registered to lobby for the Miccosukee Tribe, which hopes to persuade the Legislature to grant it the authority to ban local and state law enforcement from its reservation.

As FDLE commissioner, Moore joined the state's sheriffs and prosecutors in opposing such a plan. "We are in good company in opposition to this bill," Moore wrote to a lawmaker in 2002. "FDLE urges the Legislature to consider the significant level of opposition."

Moore declined to comment on the Miccosukees, citing Southern Strategy's policy against discussing a client's business publicly.

Moore works alongside Paul Bradshaw, husband of Gov. Jeb Bush's former chief of staff; David Rancourt, former deputy chief of staff for Bush; former House Speaker John Thrasher; Tom Herndon, the former head of the state's pension investment agency; and Chris Dudley, former chief of staff for former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan.

"For 30-plus years as a public servant, my ethics and integrity were never questioned," Moore said. "In my new career I maintain that same standard to comply fully with the law in letter and spirit."

Before retiring in July, Moore spent more than 30 years in state government, including 15 years as the state's top law enforcement officer.

During his final months on the job, Moore, as FDLE commissioner and chairman of the state's Domestic Security Oversight Board, pushed lawmakers to set aside $13-million in the 2003-04 budget to improve communication between the state's hundreds of public safety agencies.

Moore was far from alone in backing the effort, which dovetailed with federal funding for improving states' preparation for disasters.

The state oversight board, created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, included more than a dozen other leaders who signed off on the plan. Among them were Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, state Department of Health Secretary John Agwunobi, Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne and Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary.

Lawmakers concurred without much debate in late May. By the time the state sought proposals from companies interested in building the system in September, Moore was the newest lobbyist at Southern Strategy Group.

Now Moore has about a dozen clients, many of them - like Motorola - with interests in law enforcement.

State law requires most former state employees to wait two years before lobbying their former agencies. Moore was hired before the law went into effect and is not bound by the prohibition.

Moore said Friday he has not lobbied anyone at FDLE.

"I've not been back to the Department of Law Enforcement since I resigned," Moore said. "If I felt I needed to I would, but so far I haven't."

But even without approaching his old agency, Moore's expertise and contacts in state government could prove invaluable for Motorola, which is locked in a three-way battle to win the $13-million contract to build the network linking public service agencies.

The other vendors also have hired well-connected lobbyists. Brian Ballard, former chief of staff for Gov. Bob Martinez, represents M/A-COM; Ken Plante, a former state senator and Bush's former legislative lobbyist, represents Unisys Corp.

In November, Moore joined Motorola employees in a closed-door presentation of their bid to a selection group that included some of Moore's former subordinates at FDLE.

Recommendations from the group, which heard proposals from four vendors, helped the State Technology Office whittle the vendor list to three, including Motorola.

The State Technology Office, not FDLE or the selection group, will make the final decision on who builds the system, which will allow police, fire and emergency medical personnel from different jurisdictions to talk via radio in the event of a major crisis.

Frank Messersmith, the lobbyist for the Florida Sheriffs Association, learned last month that Moore's firm would be representing the Miccosukees during a meeting with Moore and Rancourt.

As Rancourt broached the subject of whether there was any compromise the sheriffs' association would consider, Messersmith said Moore largely kept quiet. The sheriffs' lobbyist said he was disappointed but not surprised.

"There's no doubt it conflicts with where he was," Messersmith said. "But I'm so used to seeing things like that up here. ... It's hard to judge in a town where that's the way business is conducted."

[Last modified February 8, 2004, 01:45:41]


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