At right, Islamorada Vice Mayor Henry Rosenthal. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

An agreement between Islamorada and a lobbying firm advocating on behalf of the village for more than a decade was pulled off the June 23 meeting agenda. 

The agenda item, which detailed a 14-month, $126,000-agreement for the firm GrayRobinson, was yanked at the start of the meeting. In the past, the village contracted with GrayRobinson as well as Peebles, Smith & Matthews. Lobbying services totaled $123,000, with $48,000 to GrayRobinson and $75,000 to Peebles, Smith and Matthews, during the 2021-22 fiscal year. 

In January, PSM and principal owner Ryan Matthews merged with GrayRobinson. As a result, a resolution terminating an agreement with PSM was approved by the dais on June 23. But an agreement with GrayRobinson is on hold. 

Matthews and Joseph Salzverg, lobbyist with GrayRobinson, started the conversation by providing an update on the legislative session in Tallahassee. A vacation rental preemption attempt that was ultimately shot down and a Senate bill vetoed by the governor, which otherwise would have altered clean water flows south, were among the highlights Salzverg outlined to the dais. Salzverg said Senate Bill 2508 was the most emotional bill for the village. 

“We made darn sure that the governor understood the village’s position and reason behind it,” he said. “We’re not going to take credit for it obviously. The governor had issues with that bill all along.” 

On the funding side, Matthews noted full funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, $20 million for water quality and $5 million for land acquisition, within the $109-billion state budget. Since 2018, the Keys have received $66 million. The village received 17.5% of that pot of funding, or $11.5 million since that time. 

Following the presentation, Islamorada Vice Mayor Henry Rosenthal asked Selzverg to name five things that his firm did solely for Islamorada. Salzverg responded by rattling off policy items such as vacation rentals and sovereign immunity. On the funding side, he noted the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, Resilient Florida grant trust funding and Senate Bill 2508.

Later on, Rosenthal held a packet of legislative priorities Monroe County provided to GrayRobinson, which lobbies on its behalf. Priorities within the packet included the Florida Stewardship Act funding and wind and flood insurance, among others. Rosenthal said the village didn’t have an opportunity to create a priorities list. 

“It’s incumbent upon you to propose a question: Is there anything you want us to do on your behalf?” Rosenthal said to the lobbyists. 

GrayRobinson and PSM represent the county in Tallahassee. That agreement, totaling $96,000, began Oct. 1, 2021 and ends Sept. 30, 2022. In March, the county approved an amendment to its agreement to reflect PSM’s merger with GrayRobinson. Compensation didn’t change within the terms. GrayRobinson lobbyist Dean Cannon advocates for the county. 

Councilman David Webb asked Matthews if the lobbyists created the legislative list for Monroe County. Matthews responded by saying it was the county officials. 

“The criticism, Henry, should be at you and the rest of us sitting here,” Webb said. “They (the lobbyists) don’t create legislative priorities. The legislative body does.”

Rosenthal went on to criticize the lobbyists for bringing Senate Bill 2508 to the village at the last hour. Rosenthal said it was up to the lobbyists to inform the village regarding the legislation. He said there was communication only at the eleventh hour. 

Matthews said they usually speak with the village’s representative on legal affairs, which was then-attorney Roget Bryan. He resigned May 12 citing external political dynamics within the village.

“We gave direction to Roget to what our priorities were, and he communicated to the lobbyist,” Webb said. “If we want to do that in a different form, I would support that. I would like that to be more transparent and public.”

Rosenthal also brought up the dissolution of Peebles, Smith & Matthews. On Jan. 7 GrayRobinson announced the additions of Matthews, who’s the former interim secretary of Florida Department of Environment Protection under the Rick Scott administration, and Angela Drzwiecki. Even though Matthews is an employee of GrayRobinson, he said he still owns 100% of PSM’s assets. 

“Have we been paying you for the last several months?” Rosenthal asked Matthews. In response, Matthews said the village is paying for his services. 

“We didn’t stop doing business,” Matthew said, adding he was in discussion with the village regarding the consolidation with GrayRobinson.

“We’re paying the same three men the same amounts we always have,” Councilman Mark Gregg said. “Just the names on the top of the letterhead and check has changed. They have been working with us all along.” 

The pulled agenda item detailed a new agreement taking effect Aug. 1, 2022 and ending Sept. 30, 2023. The proposed resolution to approve services with GrayRobinson could come back at the July 14 council meeting.

Mayor Pete Bacheler told the Keys Weekly that incoming Village Manager Ted Yates wants to tackle the issue. Bacheler said he tried to point out the fact that lobbyists do “what we tell them to do.” 

“They don’t go around making things up,” he said.

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.

Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).