Undercurrents

Pity the poor lobbyists, how they sometimes suffer.
Consider David Ericks, an example of why lobbyists earn every tassel on their loafers.

Broward County taxpayers give Ericks $44,000 for a few months' work representing county government while the state legislature is in session in Tallahassee. In Broward he has other clients including Unisys Corporation, which retained him to lobby county commissioners to give Unisys a $21 million computer contract.

Now up in Tallahassee Ericks isn't registered as a Unisys lobbyist. He isn't supposed to represent the company on state issues. But -- surprise -- there Ericks was at the office of State Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, (D-Tamarac). He wasn't talking about Broward government issues. He was there with Unisys Vice President David H. Pingree. According to Campbell, Ericks and Pingree suggested the senator stop asking embarrassing questions about Unisys mismanagement on the state employee health-insurance contract, which wasted as much as $100 million in state tax money.

While Pingree denied Campbell's account, Ericks didn't return a New Times phone call. Ericks had an even tougher assignment than soothing Skip Campbell, though -- a suicide mission, a lobbyist's nightmare: trying to explain to Commission Chairwoman Lori Parrish why Unisys hadn't paid her medical bills. As the wife of a judge, Parrish was covered by the state health-insurance program Unisys screwed up. Yet Unisys didn't answer her family's complaint letters for more than a year -- until they needed her vote.

And who had to deliver the long-delayed Unisys response? Poor Dave Ericks. For his all-around Unisys performance and valor under Parrish's wrath, Ericks receives the Broward Lobbyist Medal of Honor, a gold cell phone with Gucci tassel clusters.

Depending on your media bias, the following item could be headlined either "Victory for a Free Press in Delray Beach," or "Some Newspaper Publishers Are Dumb."

Last month Undercurrents reported on a sinister threat to free circulation papers like New Times: forcing them to share space in large modular news racks -- and pay rent to the rack owner. Fighting back, publishers forced a test-case showdown in Delray Beach where downtown racks are owned by a company called City Solutions. It charged each publisher twenty dollars a month per rack, even though they're located on public property.

How dare you let the rack lord charge us rent on public land, publishers demanded of the City of Delray Beach.

What the heck are you talking about? replied the city.
It seems some publishers were paying rent because they thought Delray Beach had given City Solutions a contract to operate the downtown racks. There was no agreement. According to the Delray Times, some publishers apparently signed contracts with City Solutions without checking whether the company actually had a city agreement.

Until the legalities are sorted out, Delray Beach has ordered City Solutions to stop charging rent. While undecided about his next move, Solutions' president Tom Trento expressed little sympathy for the publishers. "Everybody here is a big boy," he said. "They all knew what they were doing."

Proving Trento doesn't know much about the newspaper business.

Undercurrents wants to know about any and all political deals, media screwups, and particularly dumb memos from bureaucrats. Let us know. Call 954-233-1572, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail undercurrents@newtimesbroward.com.

 
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