This week, the City of Miami Beach approved moving forward with a new contract to lobby the Governor and Legislature. The contract will be awarded to Corcoran and Johnston and Southern Strategies. This came in spite of significant concerns having been raised about conflicts – namely, gambling. The Corcoran firm represents Fontainebleau Hotel, widely known to support a destination resort in Miami Beach, which the city firmly opposes.
So, how to solve this problem? Just bring the contract back with a new provision: if they get caught supporting gambling at the Fontainebleau, their contract terminates. But apparently, as long as they don’t get caught, it’s fine. It is shocking to think that Miami Beach would even consider employing lobbyists who are on the front lines of attempts to bring destination resorts to this city. Even more shocking is that they think Corcoran will magically cease its lobbying efforts on behalf of the Fontainebleau.
The argument went something like this: since Corcoran can’t help the city protect itself on the high-priority and high-profile issue of gambling, Southern Strategies can step in. After all, they represent Disney, who is very opposed to new gambling in Florida. Problem solved, right?
Sounds great, until you consider what else Disney opposes – namely, local control. Disney lobbied for a bill in 2013 that would have preempted all local government regulations of employment benefits. This would have obliterated the city’s living wage and domestic partnership ordinances. Only through the due diligence of the city’s previous lobbyists were those ordinances protected.
This is shameful. It is especially so given that the incumbent team has represented the city well for the past 20 years, with no examples of these kind of conflicts. They have an excellent track record of success. In fact, four of the commissioners and the manager reaffirmed this in their comments on the dias. So why the change?
Maybe someone believes that bigger is better. But bigger also means more conflicts. The list of conflicts for these firms goes on and on. In addition to the gambling conflict, Corcoran represents the City of Miami, which is currently moving forward with development plans for Watson Island, also something the Beach opposes.
Both firms represent American Traffic Systems, a red light camera company that is a potential vendor for the city. In fact, Fatima Perez with Southern Strategies is currently registered to lobby the city for this vendor. And those who lobby for the city are banned under city law from representing clients before the city.
The manager stated during the meeting that all three proposers were well-qualified to represent the city. The other firm in the running aside from the incumbents is Ballard Partners. Their list of conflicts is even longer.
Ballard represents David Beckham in his plans to site a soccer stadium in downtown Miami, regardless of the cost or consequences. And yes, gambling. There’s that word again. Ballard represents Genting, another high-profile supporter of destination resorts. Oh, and American Traffic Systems. Yes, they represent the same vendor on right light cameras. Ballard also represents the Miami Downtown Development Authority whose main legislative push is for the construction of a convention center to compete with Miami Beach. Conflicts, anyone?
It is obvious to even the casual observer that something fishy is going on here. Could it be that someone in the city has some kind of special relationship with someone at one of these firms?
The selection committee included the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Alex Miranda, the mayor’s friend and advisor on sea level rise, Scott Robbins, and two city staffers. It was supposed to include former Senator Dan Gelber and two others. Notably, none of these three were actually included.
Miranda gave the Corcoran team a perfect 100 score on their proposal. 100%. Absolutely perfect. And Robbins gave the Corcoran team a 90. Interesting. Was there any impropriety there? Maybe, maybe not.
But one thing is certain – the mayor and the manager are bending over backwards to try and invent a scenario in which it would be A-OK for gambling lobbyists to represent Miami Beach. This is absolutely unacceptable and it cannot go unnoticed and unchecked.
If they can get away with this kind of hack job on the lobbying contract, what else are they keeping from city residents?