Groves Council Agrees To Hire A Lobbyist To Represent Town

After going back and forth on the issue, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council this month agreed to hire a lobbying firm to represent the town in Tallahassee during the upcoming legislative session.

Representatives of several experienced lobbying firms attended the Tuesday, Dec. 6 council meeting to make presentations: Chandler Williamson, David Ramba, Alison Dudley and Ron Book. Representatives from the lobbying firm GrayRobinson attended remotely via Zoom.

While the council was impressed by the presentations, an initial consensus vote was 3-2 against hiring a lobbyist for this year after a disappointing season in Tallahassee last year.

However, several of the lobbyists warned against sitting out the 2023 session.

“The notion that you are in the middle of the game is a bad message,” said Book, who also lobbies on behalf of the Village of Royal Palm Beach. “You are at the start of the game. The organizational session to swear members in was a week and a half ago.”

Several of the lobbyists said that the town should go to Tallahassee with a “laser-focused” list, far shorter than in previous years.

Ramba, who also lobbies on behalf of the Indian Trail Improvement District, noted that State Rep. Rick Roth could be helpful now that he is town’s representative in Tallahassee.

Book agreed, noting that Roth is the vice chair of the Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee. “You have to use what you’ve got,” he said. “If you don’t do a laser-focused agenda, you will fail.”

While the council noted that it does not have money to provide local matching funds, Book said that while matching funds are looked upon favorably, they are not required. He also said that Loxahatchee Groves could be more creative in how it puts its project requests together.

Joseph Salzverg at GrayRobinson said to keep the focus on “strong local match and shovel-ready projects.” He suggested two projects from different budget cycles — one with environmental and one with transportation.

“We don’t have the money for you guys,” Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said. “We are not shovel ready, and we don’t have the 50 percent for a million-dollar project.”

Councilwoman Marge Herzog asked about the funding situation for 2023 in Tallahassee.

Book said that the economy is roaring, and the state has more than $13 billion in reserves. “There is a lot of money there, and they are going to spend a lot of money,” he said.

Councilwoman Marianne Miles, who at first voted against hiring a lobbyist, did see the value in the proposition.

“We do need a lobbyist, but it’s a craps shoot,” she said. “It’s not up to you to give us the money. I don’t like craps shoots, but we have spent small amounts of money for other things.”

At that point, Herzog said that she would be willing to change her vote, since most of the money would come out of the $20,000 that Loxahatchee Groves would not spend due to the town not needing to hold a municipal election in 2023.

Miles asked the lobbyists what they would go after for funding. There were suggestions for water quality and erosion control projects, as well as keeping the focus on shovel-ready projects.

Vice Mayor Laura Danowski suggested focusing on infrastructure projects, including repairing the control gates at D Road and A Road, as well as culvert repairs south of Okeechobee Blvd.

In the end, both Herzog and Miles were swayed by the arguments and agreed to move forward with a contract, voting 4-1 with Maniglia dissenting.

The council then picked their top two firms through a secret ballot, with Book and Ramba tied with the most votes. An agreement will be negotiated with one of the firms by Town Manager Francine Ramaglia.

“They are both exceptional firms,” Ramaglia said after the meeting. “They both wish to serve the community.”

Ramaglia told the Town-Crier that she is actively speaking with both Book and Ramba and will make a decision based on which proposed contract is most beneficial for the town. She does not expect the final contract to exceed $25,000, which means it does not need to go back to the council for approval.