NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners this week unanimously decided to return to the familiar in picking a lobbyist to help them in Tallahassee next year.
They chose Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting after deciding last month to hear presentations from potential lobbyists themselves rather than rely on recommendations from a team of staff members. Staff had reviewed three proposals and recommended Corcoran Partners, the lobbying company of Michael Corcoran, the brother of Richard Corcoran.
It was Richard Corcoran who, as speaker of the Florida House a few years ago, blasted local governments for having lobbyists. “I think it’s a disgrace that taxpayer dollars are used to hire lobbyists when we elected people to represent them. The state doesn’t do it and neither should the locals,” Corcoran told the Times/Herald at the time.
Some jurisdictions, including Pasco, took the words to heart. The county gave up their lobbyist, who at the time was Foster.
Several months ago, commissioners had a change of heart. Given the many future projects on the county’s wish list, there was concern that communities with vocal advocates in Tallahassee during the legislative session might have an edge in getting state funding. So the commission asked staff to put out a request for proposals.
In addition to Corcoran and Foster, who have Pasco-based businesses, Shumaker Advisors Florida, LLC, based in Tampa, applied for the lobbying contract. But since Pasco commissioners pushed aside the staff recommendation and decided that they wanted to hear the presentations for themselves, Corcoran dropped out of the running. And on Tuesday, commissioners heard just two presentations.
Amy Maguire of Shumaker Advisors told commissioners that the company would be responsive, committed and had a proven track record on issues of special importance to Pasco County, including environmental issues, economic development, workforce development, community safety and smart growth.
Foster spoke about the success that he has had securing past legislative allocations for Pasco and other clients, and he highlighted his strong personal relationships with incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson of Pasco County, and the incoming Speaker of the House, Chris Sprowls, who Foster called one of his closest and oldest friends, who also introduced him to his wife.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she has seen Foster fishing with Sprowls.
Before the vote, Starkey quizzed Foster about what he was hearing out of Tallahassee for the new year, especially on the budget, since officials are concerned about the continuing impacts on state funding due to the coronavirus. Foster obliged, explaining that lawmakers would be taking up the issue of mandating sales tax collections from online companies and he warned that revenue was going to take another significant hit.
When the vote came, all five commissioners chose Foster as their number one pick for the job. The lobbying contract will cost the county $60,000 annually.