CLEARWATER — Saying they wanted the strongest team they could get lobbying for Clearwater in Washington, City Council members decided to ditch the lobbying firm the city has used since 1998 and voted to hire a more expensive firm touted by Mayor George Cretekos.
Since 1998, the city has used Alcalde and Fay, based in Arlington, Va., as its federal lobbyist. The firm is charged with maintaining close ties with Florida's congressional delegation, working to acquire federal tax dollars and grants for the city, and pushing for legislation favorable to cities.
Clearwater officials credit Alcalde and Fay with, among other things, working with U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, to obtain millions in federal funds for construction of the Memorial Causeway Bridge.
This fiscal year, the city sent out a request for proposals from lobbying firms for a five-year contract. A staff committee reviewed responses and rated Alcalde and Fay, which lowered its monthly retainer from $5,500 to $4,000, the top responder.
However, at Monday's City Council work session and at the regular meeting Thursday night, Cretekos urged the council to instead consider hiring Van Scoyoc Associates, though its fee would be almost a quarter of a million dollars higher than Alcalde and Fay's over the contract term.
Cretekos said Thursday that he appreciated the work of Alcalde and Fay, "but with today's environment in Washington," he said, the city needs a firm with better connections to Clearwater and Pinellas County and with a broader representation of clients.
That firm, he said, is Van Scoyoc, a Capitol Hill firm founded in 1990. Cretekos, who spent almost 36 years working as Young's staff assistant in Washington and Pinellas, acknowledged that he is close friends with one of Van Scoyoc's principals, Doug Gregory. He and Gregory, a St. Petersburg native, worked together for many years in Washington.
"He is like a brother to me," Cretekos said.
Then the mayor handed the gavel to Vice Mayor Paul Gibson and left the meeting room.
On Monday, council members hadn't seemed inclined to switch firms. But Thursday, council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito said Van Scoyoc's list of clients is stronger than Alcalde and Fay's, and that made it worth the extra cost. Council member Jay Polglaze echoed Hock-DiPolito's opinion, saying that while it was hard to overrule the staff's recommendation for Alcalde and Fay, "we're going to need some serious federal lobbying going on."
Gibson, who routinely pushes for tough decisions on city spending, said that in this case, the city will get what it pays for.
"I think low cost makes sense most of the time, … but we're getting into something that is more subjective than objective," he said. He added that Cretekos' endorsement "means a lot because he spent 36 years in that arena, and we, collectively, have spent none."
Before the mayor returned to the room, the council voted 4-0 to hire Van Scoyoc Associates, despite the higher price.
In other action Thursday:
• The council authorized an eviction action against the operators of Marina Gifts and Souvenirs, a shop in the city-owned marina building on Clearwater Beach. The original tenants, George and Dara Greene, had a lease through 2014, but both have died. The couple's daughter wants to continue operating the shop until the inventory is sold, but the city contends that the daughter has no valid lease. However, City Attorney Pam Akin said Thursday the city has now scheduled a conversation with the daughter's attorney and hopes to work out something amenable to both sides.
• The council voted 5-0 to pay $14,000 to install upgraded landscaping in three medians inside the Island Estates neighborhood off Memorial Causeway. After that one-time expense, the neighborhood association will assume all maintenance of the medians. Council members debated whether to approve the neighborhood's request, saying that many other neighborhoods would like their medians upgraded, too. However, council members justified the expense because the medians are on the route tourists take to the high-profile Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Island Estates.
Diane Steinle can be reached at (727) 445-4152 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.