LARGO — Several years of efforts to make headway in Tallahassee have yielded limited results for the city of Largo.
State appropriations have been scarce and the needle hasn’t moved much on the city’s legislative priorities. In fact, Largo commissioners say state representatives are trying harder than ever to undermine local governance.
In an attempt to change that, the city is bringing in some political muscle.
On Nov. 16, commissioners voted to approve a $180,000 contract with Ballard Partners, a bipartisan lobbying firm for state and federal advocacy services.
The firm will also help the city develop legislative agendas and provide regular updates to officials.
“I think this is a great opportunity for our city and this is a time to move Largo forward,” Vice Mayor Michael Smith said. “And I appreciate what this does. Some people think you can do it yourself but sometimes you need some assistance who are professionals on this.”
In recent years, the city has attempted to gain traction using the lobbying efforts of staff and commissioners. However, that tactic has failed to gain any state appropriations of late.
For this year’s legislative session, which starts Jan. 11, the city is seeking state funding for a project to upgrade boardwalks at McGough Nature Park and to add restrooms at Largo Central Park.
Commissioner Jamie Robinson, who said he visits Tallahassee up to 10 times during each session, said appropriations are great, but there are more important matters at stake.
“That (appropriations) is not the goal of this,” he said. “This is the goal of trying to push forward our policies and our priorities in Tallahassee. We have to have a partner that is able to do that.”
Ana Cruz, managing partner of Ballard Partners, said her firm is that right partner.
“Appropriations are a large part of what we do, but we also are fierce advocates for many local and municipal cities and counties across the state of Florida,” said Cruz, who is the daughter of state Rep. Janet Cruz and partner of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.
She’ll have her work cut out for her, according to officials around the county who say the Legislature has been chipping away at home rule for years.
For instance, the recently introduced Senate Bill 280 would require counties and municipalities to prepare a business impact statement before the adoption of any local ordinance.
Commissioner Eric Gerard said others are also concerning.
“My major concern is what’s happening to our ability to serve our citizens,” he said. “With every one of these new bills that they pass, our ability to protect our citizens and to keep our city going in the right direction is diminished. And this year is a very, very important year with some of the legislation up there.”
Cruz responded, “We are ready to dig in and help advocate on your behalf.”