NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is poised to double its lobbying presence in Tallahassee by hiring Ralph Lair, the legislative aide to outgoing Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.
If commissioners approve, Lair, who also has worked for former state Reps. Ken Littlefield and Carl Littlefield during their legislative careers, will join the Pasco County Utilities Department at an annual salary of $85,000 plus benefits, including a county car.
The county did not request proposals from lobbying firms, as it has done in the past, and did not advertise the position, which County Administrator Michele Baker described as full-time, but temporary. Lair's proposed contract is scheduled to be considered by county commissioners Tuesday. It is a one-year contract that is renewable for two more years at the discretion of both the county and Lair. He remains in the speaker's office until Nov. 4.
The county already retains Shawn Foster of Southern Strategy Group as a legislative lobbyist under a $50,000-per-year consulting contract. In years past, the county has employed multiple lobbyists simultaneously.
Lair's duties will focus on utility and water-related issues including trying to secure additional funding from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for a reclaimed water reservoir in Wesley Chapel.
"We had the opportunity to pick up somebody who is very familiar with our legislative delegation as well as the water management district, DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and Tampa Bay Water,'' Baker said.
Commissioner Ted Schrader agreed. "It just seemed prudent to have somebody within (county government) and somebody who brings a great deal of knowledge and experience, and certainly Ralph has the contacts in Tallahassee,'' he said.
Schrader recently raised concerns about Foster working on behalf of the county in Tallahassee while simultaneously representing private clients before commissioners. Commissioner Henry Wilson has said he had no problem with Foster's dual roles.
Baker said hiring Lair under a one-year, renewable deal will allow the county to evaluate his effectiveness and return on the county's investment.
"If it returns several million dollars in state and federal funding, that's a really good investment,'' she said.