At least one Jacksonville city councilman remains concerned about no-bid contracts awarded by the mayor’s office despite Mayor Donna Deegan’s assurance that a contract awarded to a lobbying firm was transparent.
Councilman Nick Howland is pushing legislation his office has dubbed the “Transparency for Taxpayers Act,” which he says will provide “major reform to the city’s controversial process when awarding no-bid contracts to lobbyists and grant writers.”
Howland said the legislation would require that any no-bid contracts for lobbying or grant writing services first be approved by a majority of Jacksonville’s City Council.
Howland’s legislation followed a Florida Times-Union report in October that Deegan’s administration awarded a lobbying contract worth $300,000 to Langton Consulting, a Jacksonville firm whose owner hosted a campaign event for Deegan in January. The contract engaged the firm to handle federal grant-writing, lobbying and policy development after the city determined that no other firm in the nation could provide all those services.
The contract with Langton Consulting is considered a “single-source contract,” meaning one awarded without bids.
Last month, after heated debate over the subject in the Finance Committee, which Howland chairs, it was suggested that Deegan phase out the contract before its end. The Deegan administration at the time had refused but said the contract will go through a process of requesting proposals for the following year.
In an email late Thursday, the mayor’s office said it is “fully committed to transparency and has already started preparing the contract’s RFP process for next year.”
In a news release earlier that day, Howland said the Finance Committee investigated the contract award and remained unconvinced by the administration’s explanation — that Langton Consulting was the only firm in the city, state or country that could provide grant writing, public policy and lobbying services.
Howland said he expects majority support from the rest of the City Council on the ordinance, which is set for a public hearing Tuesday at City Hall, 117 W. Duval St. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.
“It has become clear to us on the Finance Committee that this process reeks of a sweetheart deal for a political supporter,” Howland said. “The ‘Transparency for Taxpayers’ Act will help put a stop to these contracts and provide much needed oversight of the Mayor’s Office. … It is time to put an end to the backroom deals.”