Miami Beach lobbyists come under fire from mayor
By Sherri C. Ranta
Lobbyists are taking aim at Miami Beach city officials to champion clients who hope to land millions in contracts and some city officials are aiming back at lobbyists.
Mayor Neisen O. Kasdin said firms seeking city development projects worth an estimated $300 million in the next few years are using lobbyists to sway decision-makers.
"The lobbyists," Mr. Kasdin said, "view the city as an open door. They are all over the city. The message should be that the firm and the project are judged on their merits, not which lobbyist you used."
Mr. Kasdin, who is not seeking re-election in November, said the city has regulations that in his view are "clearly ineffective in curbing the action of lobbyists.
"Some elected officials are receptive to lobbyists," he said. "Otherwise they wouldn't be all over the city."
Miami Beach is in the process or has selected firms for many city projects. Late last month, URS O'Brien Kreitzberg, a large national company, was selected for a management services contract worth an estimated $65 million to do a city parks development.
URS O'Brien Kreitzberg, ranked the No. 1 firm by the city selection committee, beat out Ař Group Inc., a smaller local business. Ař Group Inc. was the city manager's recommendation to the commission.
And on April 18 commissioners will select a top firm for an estimated $50 million development project on city-owned property at 72nd Street. Related Group Inc. has been rated tops for that job by a city selection committee and the city manager. Commissioners will hear presentations by all three firms seeking the contract.
Many times lobbyists will stand with project bidders as they petition commissioners and city officials. Sometimes they are expected to be designated subcontractors if the firms are awarded the project. They are all required to register with the city.
The city's cone of silence law is intended to insulate the city administration from vendors and the commission itself as the administration processes requests for proposals. Such communications can only be done in writing or in a public meeting, making the communication part of the public record, city officials said.
City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez, on the job seven months, said he can't say if there are more lobbyists now than a year ago.
"There are a lot more here than I had to deal with at the last place I worked," he said.
Are lobbyists unduly influencing the city? That must be weighed with the commission, he said.
"They are not unduly influencing the administration's decisions," Mr. Gonzalez said.
Commissioner David Dermer, who is seeking the mayor's seat in November, said while there are some lobbyists communicating with city officials, they are not as numerous as the mayor implies.
"I do agree that projects should clearly be judged on merit. On that I am in complete agreement," Mr. Dermer said.
On issues when a lot of money is involved, he said lobbyists will be retained. Lobbyists in general are only as powerful as the commissioner or elected officials in general want to make them, Mr. Dermer said.
Commissioner Nancy Liebman, who is also a mayoral candidate, said there are probably too many lobbyists in city business.
"The contractors," she said, "can speak for themselves better than all the lobbyists."