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Port St. Joe waives purchasing policy to hire lobbying group

The City of Port St. Joe already employs a grant writer to help them secure funds for local projects, but with a new legislative session approaching, city commissioners are setting slightly more ambitious goals for 2023.

The commissioners voted three to two at their Jan. 3 meeting to waive the city’s purchasing policy, allowing them to hire a lobbying firm, who they hope will represent the city’s interests when the state legislature enters session this March.

“After this most recent election, Northwest Florida is represented quite well,” said Mayor Rex Buzzett. “If we want to get appropriations from Tallahassee, we’re going to have to have a dog in that fight.”

At their December meeting, the commissioners voted four to one to accept a proposal from lobbying group Southern Group of Florida without going out to bid, so long as no state statutes or other laws prevented them from doing so.

City Attorney Clinton McCahill stated on Jan. 3 that the only conflict came from the city’s purchasing policy, which did not offer exemptions for lobbying costs.

Because of the commissioners’ December vote, the city will proceed with hiring Southern Group of Florida after they voted to waive the purchasing policy.

The commissioners all voiced agreement that hiring a group to lobby for city interests might help secure more funding from the state. But not all felt that Southern Group of Florida ought to be hired without the consideration of other groups.

Commissioners Scott Hoffman and Brett Lowry, who voted against waving the city’s purchasing policy, offered that there may be other companies interested in the position and that Southern Group of Florida’s $6,000 per month price tag might be higher than competitors.

“I have reservations entering into that realm of just deciding when we abide by our own policy,” said Hoffman. “Down the line, you may have more groups that feel like we didn’t follow our own policy. I support hiring a group to lobby for the city 100 percent. I just want to make sure we are aware that it could be looked at in a different light than how we’re discussing it now. It could be looked at that we chose one particular group for a certain reason, and that’s my concern.”

Hoffman and Lowry recommended going out to bid so that the city could be sure that the firm they selected was the best option.

But Commissioner David Ashbrook voiced that he felt the city needed to be selective with the firm chosen.

“We did hear from our own representative that this was a good group, and I think it’s a safe bet for us to go with them,” Ashbrook said. “We need our representative to be able to work well with whoever we hire.”

The discourse in the city meeting represented one that is increasingly being held nationwide.

According to reporting in the Washington Post, more municipalities and local governments disclosed lobbying activity in 2021 than at any point in the decade preceding it.

Research shows that the tactic can be extremely effective in securing additional funding for local projects. 

New York University Political Science Professor Julia Payson found that municipalities that hired lobbyists for the first time in 2012 received more funding in the past decade than municipalities that did not hire lobbyists. 

Payson concluded that this was, in part, because politicians at the state and federal level valued lobbyists as a means for coordinating their communication with the localities that they represent and better understanding their top priorities.

However, her research did show that these effects were not as pronounced with municipalities with median incomes less than $36,000. Port St. Joe’s, as of the most recent census, was $35,063.


Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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