If you had a hard time keeping up with lobbying firm Gray Robinson’s presentation to the village council at the beginning of the June Council meeting, don’t feel bad – it was by design.
Vice Mayor Henry Rosenthal has been trying to get answers about the work the firm is undertaking on Islamorada’s behalf for the past year.
He has legitimate concerns and questions. How much? What are they working on? His attempts have been met with resistance.
So, likely to protect their sweetheart contract, the lobbyists appeared at a Council meeting and were put at the front of the line. Under the guise of having to rush to the airport, Joseph Salzburg, “shareholder” with Gray Robinson covered a laundry list of issues his firm theoretically lobbied for on behalf of Islamorada.
“I do have to get this guy (partner Ryan Matthews) home, up to Tallahassee, so we’ll try to run through this as quick as possible,” said Salzburg.
Vacation Rentals. Sovereign Immunity. Local Tax Referendum. Smoking in Public Places. House Bill 1. Senate Bill 620. Net Metering. Legal Notices.
Well, okay, except none of the issues are specific to Islamorada. This was the same list the lobbyists covered for Monroe County at $96,000 a year. Are they not aware that Islamorada taxpayers are also Monroe County taxpayers?
Then, Mr. Salzburg adds Senate Bill 2508 to his list – the atomic bomb dropped on the Everglades and Florida Bay by the sugar industry. We elaborate on this detrimental bill and the role Gray Robinson played in Part 2 of this story, so stay tuned.
“Thank you for allowing me to have that rapid fire update,” Henry concluded.
To the trained eye, the presentation from the two lobbyists was cringeworthy, akin to watching an 8th grader give a book report on a book he hadn’t read. But to four council members, everything sounded fine and dandy.
This is not rocket science, but it was like watching the Cha-Cha.
Henry Rosenthal asked the firm to name five things it had lobbied for on behalf of Islamorada and only Islamorada. Salzburg repeated the list, again, with no specific benefit to show for Islamorada’s lucrative contract.
In addition to Islamorada and private sector clients, Gray Robison is paid to lobby for 22 other cities and counties, including Monroe HERE’S THE FULL LIST. We’ll bet our last freckle every one of them got the same laundry list of “advocacy” work from the firm.
Henry simply wanted to understand how Gray Robinson’s efforts to lobby for Islamorada are unique from its efforts to lobby for Monroe County and their other municipal clients. As he asked again about Islamorada, he held up a 15-page report from the County, which was the exact same list Mr. Salzburg had just regurgitated.
They couldn’t and didn’t answer. It boiled down to, well, you haven’t asked.
“My question is, having not received anything from us (to work on),” Henry replied. “I think it’s incumbent on you to possibly propose the question, ‘Is there anything you want us to do on your behalf?’”
Again, Henry asked the pertinent question. Lobbying is a two-way street. The village has its list, but a valuable lobbyist adds to that from their knowledge and experience in the process before, during, and after the legislative session. If legislation appears during the process that could affect their client, Gray Robinson has an ethical obligation to report that to the village.
One, two, cha-cha-cha.
Gray Robinson’s “shareholders” would have us believe that well said is better than actually done.
What was more impressive than “that rapid fire update” was the four council members’ willingness to look past the obvious truth – there was not a single issue specific to the village that Gray Robinson worked on.
So, it begs the question: Why would Islamorada spend $125,000 a year, when those exact lobbyists are being paid $96,000 by Monroe County to advocate for the exact same issues? In fact, Islamorada taxpayers are paying for the same service twice. Fair minded folks would call that double-dipping, and quite handsomely so.
From the information we have gathered, a similarly sized town to Islamorada spends about $60,000 a year on lobbying services, if they use lobbyists at all. Some may conclude this firm has found some gullible suckers in the Village of Islands. And they’ve been milking it for more than a decade.
A goofy cavalry arrives to save Gray Robinson.
Councilman Buddy Pinder jumped into the discussion to defend Gray Robinson, not in defense of taxpayer dollars. “Henry, do you know the resiliency money that they got at the Florida Keys aqueduct? Do you know how much that is? $17 million dollars they got.”
“Sir, if I could just, I want to give credit where it’s due,” Salzburg interrupted. “We have an incredibly good working relationship with Kate DeLoach (at the Southern Group) who is the aqueduct authority’s key lobbyist. I appreciate the accolade sir, but she was a large part of that.”
A large part? Southern Group is a completely different lobbying firm. Their client is the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, not Islamorada. We suspect the shareholders at Southern would have a different take on Gray Robinson’s role.
That didn’t stop Buddy, who swatted away Salzburg’s ‘modesty’, continuing to offer praise, before releasing them from further questions: “Thank you guys – you need to catch a plane.”
And with that blessing and no time to hear from the public, the two men we pay roughly $10,000 a month were out.