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Lobbyist contract is extended

A divided County Commission extended a controversial contract for a Washington lobbyist on Wednesday. Alcade, Rousselot & Fay can make up to $75,000 lobbying for Hillsborough.

All that money will come without competitive bidding, prompting one commissioner to say the commission was acting like "bulls in a china shop."

The move Wednesday led to allegations that the commission was overestimating Alcade's influence. Commissioner Jan Platt, who made the "bulls" comment, said the commission was rushing ahead without checking on how the county's members of Congress could carry out the same purpose.

But County Administrator Fred Karl and some commissioners said Hillsborough might miss opportunities to get federal money if the commission waited to seek other bids. He recommended the commission hire Alcade through Aug. 1.

"It's like stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime," Commissioner Ed Turanchik said of a proposal to wait on hiring Alcade's firm.

Hillsborough hired Alcade last year for $25,000 to lobby to get money to improve Interstate 4, one of Florida's deadliest roads. Congress eventually authorized $35-million for the project.

Even then, Karl was advocating the need for a lobbyist in Washington. Competition for federal money is fierce, he said, and lobbying is part of the legislative process.

On Wednesday, he also said he would develop a proposal in which firms would bid to become the county's permanent lobbyist in Washington. That should be ready in a few months.

The firm, headed by Hector Alcade, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, has taken on more work for the county, and has been paid $48,000 for lobbying. Wednesday's action extends its contract up to $75,000.

Alcade has identified several projects for Hillsborough. Those include money for the Tampa Bay Commuter Rail Authority, more I-4 improvements and migrant farm workers.

Three commissioners objected to the contract: Platt, Jim Selvey and Joe Chillura.

But other commissioners said the investment was worth it, considering the possible return of millions of dollars. For example, Turanchik said that when a top federal railroad official visited Tampa last week, he urged officials to move quickly to tap into a pot of money for high-speed trains. A route between Tampa and Orlando is considered a top candidate for up to $30-million in federal aid.