Famous last words from a city councilman. "It’s just a benefit of the position. "

Greetings from central Florida.

As I drank my morning coffee I glanced at the Orlando Sentinel’s front page, above the fold, lead story. Staff writer Rebecca Mahoney’s headline reads “Treats flow at parties for elected officials.”

While we often question what really goes on at League of Cities off-site meetings at posh locations, such as Monterey, CA. Rebecca exposes the Florida League of Cities sponsors who pick up the tab for the private parties which begin tonight, Thursday Aug 16th.

While taxpayers pay to send our elected officials to these training sessions, such as how to circumlocut the Brown Act in CA, this practice is not limited only to our state and county.

Her report opens: A “death by chocolate” extravaganza. Lobster tail and an open bar at Fulton’s Crab House. Filet mignon at Morton’s Steakhouse. Dinner and drinks at Disney’s exclusive California Grill.

These events, paid for by lobbyists and special interest groups, are among the ways Central Florida’s elected officials will spend the weekend during a taxpayer funded conference in Orlando.
Though these private after hours parties are rarely advertised, they are a longstanding part of the Florida League of Cities annual conference, a three day seminar that kicks off today at the Orlando World Center Marriott.”

Orange City Councilman Jeff Allebach said “IT’S JUST A BENEFIT OF THE POSITION.”

Let me cite one example: This year Central Florida officials have been invited to more than a dozen exclusive parties, including one on the top deck of Fulton’s Crab House, a seafood restaurant in downtown Disney where the average entree cost $35. Later they will be shuttled back to the hotel to enjoy the annual death by chocolate dessert reception until midnight–a sumptuous spread of chocolate cakes, pies and elegant sweets, courtesy of Waste Management.

The sanitation company has contracts with more than two dozen Central Florida cities, but the companies event coordiantor Jim Swan, also the mayor of Kissimmee, says the reception is meant to thank officials, not to lure new business.”Wait a minute. How dumb does he think we are? Querry. Does he recuse himself from voting on their sanitation contracts? Aside from luring new business, Waste Management does not want to lose any of their current city contracts and is spending whatever it takes to keep these underpaid local officials happy. A valid tax write off and a small price to pay for retaining million dollar contracts.

There is an interesting point in the story. “Though federal and state lawmakers have recently approved legislation aiming to limit such gifts from lobbyists, local officials are not bound by the the same restraints.”

I must commend “Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer, a member of the leagues’ board of directors, (who) plans to attend several daytime sessions Friday but isn’t staying in a hotel and plans to skip the receptions.” I also tip my hat to Apopka City Councilman Bill Arrowsmith who said “he does not have plans to attend any of the sponsored events because he doesn’t want there to be even the appearance of impropriety.”

If these two elected officials recognize the black cloud of these private after hours parties, not open to the general public, than I think our elected officials should follow suit. Networking among your peers at these meetings can be of value but having open bars with lobbyists and vendors surely lures you into supporting them when their contracts come up for re-negotiation.

PS: I am not jealous. We had a seafood dinner ourselves on International Drive last night. The good news is that there were no lobbyists picking up the tab.

In interviewing candidates for future seats on our city councils do you support asking them to refrain from indulging in these after conference parties?

My vote is not for sale for a chocolate covered strawberry.

About Larry Gilbert