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Airport Politics - Will Hypocrisy Prevail?

 

By Jacob Engels

 

This Wednesday, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (or Orlando Airport/MCO for us lay people), will award lobbying contracts to several firms.  If history is an indicator, these firms stand to get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to lobby state and local government.

 

A recent subcommittee hearing to whittle the list for state lobbyists down offered a rare but telling glimpse into the hard-hitting world of how these contracts get awarded.

 

Board chairman (and Morgan and Morgan attorney) Frank Kruppenbacher steamrolled the process by insisting, along with local Realtor and fellow board member Dean Asher, that any company with “gambling” ties by denied any award of the contract.

 

In so doing, he denied business to two of the biggest firms in the state of Florida and kept some, well… smaller shops.  He then added the firm of Lena Juarez, daughter of local lobbyist Oscar Juarez - one of the major finance chiefs for Mayor Teresa Jacobs.  Amazingly, Juarez’s other daughter, Tanya, works for the city of Orlando and Mayor Buddy Dyer.

 

Both Mayor Dyer and Mayor Jacobs serve on the board of… you guessed it, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and voted for none other than Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher.

 

If this is not a political payback… a way of saying “thanks for your continued patronage”… what is???  One should wonder if finding jobs for his daughters is full time work for Juarez, or whether he is able to lobby for other clients as well.

 

The way it all went down was even more interesting.  Board member and uber developer Jim Palmer suggested the incumbent firms go to the full board, but suggested including the bigger firms Ballard Partners and Capitol City Consulting Group for consideration.

 

From there, Realtor Asher announced his opposition to gaming and Chairman Kruppenbacher launched into a tirade on gambling.

 

He suggested that he had heard from the Mouse – the all-powerful Disney World, and that they had expressed a sincere hope that the airport would stay away from lobbyists with gambling ties.

 

Let’s for a moment ignore the fact that the chairman of the multi-billion dollar airport – a huge economic driver for the area – just said IN A PUBLIC MEETING THAT HE WAS GOING TO CEDE HIS AUTHORITY TO A SPECIAL INTEREST.  Let’s forget that detail because as shady as it sounds, it probably isn’t illegal, and almost certainly isn’t truthful… in fact, it’s probably a damned lie.

 

Chairman Kruppenbacher never bothered to disclose where he had this conversation, with whom he had the talk and most importantly WHEN he did, as the airport RFP process has an important “black out” period where it is against the rules for interested parties to approach board members or staff to discuss upcoming bids.

 

You would think these critical details might be entered in to the public record.  Chairman Kruppenbacher did not.

 

You would think Board Members Palmer and Asher would ask about it.  They did not.

 

Did Disney register to lobby this issue?  Did they have an official meeting?  Did they put their request in writing?  We don’t know.

 

Instead, two of the largest lobbying firms in the state got the whack.

 

Assuming Disney really did do this, and in their defense there is not a single shred of evidence they said a word to anybody, it would be pretty hypocritical.

 

You see, it seems that Disney’s own lobbyists… you guessed it… WORK FOR GAMBLING INTERESTS.

 

A quick search of the lobbyist registration database shows that one of their main firms is the ever-inflating Southern Strategy Group.  One of their lobbyists, Chris Dudley, is registered to represent Disney, as well as PCI Gaming, the corporate entity that wants to bring casino gaming to the I-10 corridor through the Poarch Creek Indians, as well as the dog tracks up in Jacksonville, Florida.

 

Read about Disney’s lobbyists OTHER CLIENT here: http://www.pcigaming.com/About

 

So if Disney really did object, shouldn’t they start this process of conscientious objection by dealing with their own lobbyists first?

 

The price of this political patronage will impact travelers and taxpayers.  A watered down lobby team full of Kruppenbacher’s Kronies won’t do much for an airport.  Here’s betting we find them all over the campaign finance reports of Mayor Dyer and Mayor Jacobs reelection campaigns, but that’s for another post.

 

Florida Trend rated Ballard Partners the top firm in Florida by revenue in 2012, while Capitol City Consulting came in number fifteen:

 

http://www.floridatrend.com/article/15382/floridas-top-lobbying-firms?page=1

 

All three of the other firms are miniscule by comparison, failing to even earn a ranking by Florida Trend.

 

Juarez, who’s firm was added, boasts nine clients: the Central Florida Regional Transit Authority, the Orange County Clerk of Court and Florida Virtual School.

 

She reported less than $30,000 in revenues for the last quarter for executive branch lobbying and $140,000 in revenues for legislative branch lobbying.  Ballard Partners, by contrast, reported well over $2 million and Capitol City Consulting reported about $1.25 million for the same quarter.

 

Mayors Dyer and Jacobs also serve on the board of the Central Florida Regional Transit Authority.

 

Chairman Kruppenbacher is the General Counsel for the Florida Virtual School.

 

The river people in the movie Deliverance shake their head in disgust at the incest taking place out at the airport.

 

It will be VERY interesting to see how the board as a whole sees this process.  Will they ask questions, or will the chairman and the mayors shame the board into sitting idly by while they dole out patronage in a manner that would make Huey P. Long blush using what is quite possibly the most piss poor, shady excuse ever concocted by man.

 

The East Orlando Post is starting the process of collecting the necessary public information to better inform you of a story the mainstream media could not care less about.

 

Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post. Along with the Post, he owns several other businesses and is currently enrolled at Valencia College. Jacob has lived in Avalon Park since it's founding and enjoys playing with his black Labradoodle Jasper, listening to indie rock, and seeking out new business ventures. He can be reached at info@eastorlandopost.com

 

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