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Lobbying contract extension sought

County administrators want to continue to use a Washington-area lobbyist whose previous Hillsborough contracts drew both dissension and praise.

Administrator Fred Karl is seeking a permanent contract with a Washington lobbyist, but is asking to use Alcade, Rousselot & Fay of Rosslyn, Va., in the interim.

Hector Alcade, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, and his firm lobbied last summer to help get about $35-million to finance improvements to Interstate 4 in East Hillsborough. The firm was paid $50,000, but never had to bid to get the work because commissioners said time was too tight.

Because of the I-4 success, county officials have identified other projects they said Alcade's firm can work on. They include lobbying for money for the Tampa Bay Commuter Rail Authority; more I-4 improvements; treatment of HIV-positive patients; and migrant farm-worker housing.

Once again, administrators are recommending the county enter into this interim contract without accepting bids. That continues to bother Commissioner Jan Platt, who has opposed working with Alcade's firm since last summer.

"I think it's a waste of taxpayers' dollars," Platt said. "We have congressmen in Washington to work for us."

She also is upset that the firm was hired without competitive bids, and that Karl proposes a similar arrangement now.

Other commissioners supported the initial $25,000 contract with Alcade last summer, but objected when the amount grew to $50,000 by December. That vote to increase the contract split 4-3, with Platt, Jim Selvey and Joe Chillura objecting.

Administrators say that $50,000 is a small amount when compared with the millions they said the lobbyists brought in for I-4, which is considered one of the most dangerous roads in Florida.

And they have said Alcade and members of the firm are widely known throughout Washington and have almost 20 years' experience. The firm represents several Tampa Bay businesses and has contracted with the University of South Florida.

If commissioners accept Karl's proposal Wednesday, Alcade's firm will be paid $5,000 a month from March through July. Later this year, Karl wants to seek proposals from various firms to contract with a permanent lobbyist in Washington.

The county already employs a lobbyist who works mostly with state issues.