Former Congresswoman and lobbyist Carrie Meek sees no conflict in riding two horses. Meek represents both the County or Wackenhut, the security firm charged with systematically bilking taxpayers.
In The Miami Herald, Robert Myers, of the M-D Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, says, "It's kind of hard to represent two masters." It is particularly difficult, when the legacy of the former Congresswoman is so closely intertwined with her son, Kendrick Meek, who district voters sent to Congress and is now running for US Senate. Notwithstanding her real contributions to civil rights causes over a distinguished career, Carrie Meek has been closely tied to developers/ campaign contributors from the sprawl industry; far from her district. They commanded big infrastructure and government contracts consistent with development policies that caused so much ruin and arguably ran contrary to the interests of her constituents when she was a powerful force in Congressional appropriations. In Feb 2003, The Watchdog Report noted, "The Miami-Dade County Commission honored retired Democratic Congresswoman Carrie Meek Thursday for her service to the community over the years and the millions of state and federal dollars she assisted bringing to the community, especially when she was on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. Meek said that since she has retired a foundation has been set up under her name to allow her to continue working on community and social issues she supports County commissioners later at a luncheon in her honor held at the Port of Miami presented the venerable state and federal legislator with a $46,000 check made out to The Meek Foundation from their own district funds. The foundation was exclusively created for charitable educational, cultural, health, community and economic development pursuits throughout Miami-Dade County." It would be a shame if this current controversy lingers.
Posted on Sat, May. 16, 2009
Carrie Meek seeks to remain a lobbyist in Miami-Dade security contract debate
BY BETH REINHARD
In the escalating showdown between Miami-Dade County and Wackenhut Corp., former congresswoman Carrie Meek is on both sides.
She lobbies for Miami-Dade, which is accusing Wackenhut of bilking the county out of $3.4 million. And she lobbies for Wackenhut, which is suing the county for $20 million in damages.
''It's kind of hard to represent two masters,'' said Robert Meyers, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.
But Meek is asking county officials to disregard the conflict of interests and allow her to continue representing both Miami-Dade taxpayers and the security company. She has received $150,000 from the county since mid-2007. She declined to disclose her Wackenhut pay.
''I don't see any reason why I can't continue to represent Wackenhut, and I've always been a strong proponent of the county,'' said Meek, a civil-rights pioneer who represented Miami-Dade in Congress from 1992 to 2001.
Allegations that Wackenhut was doctoring timesheets and leaving county transit stations unguarded go back to a whistleblower's civil lawsuit filed in 2005. The county auditor found evidence of overbilling in 2006 and released a report in 2008. In early April, County Manager George Burgess said the Palm Beach Gardens-based company should be barred from doing business with Miami-Dade.
Meek didn't file her conflict-waiver request until April 27 -- a year after the audit became public. She said she didn't know the county requires its lobbyists to give notice immediately in case of an ''actual or perceived'' dispute with a private client.
''I can tell you that Wackenhut feels that they're being unfairly judged,'' said Meek, who added that she did not know the lawsuit was coming. ``I can't tell you who is right or wrong.''
Meek and her family have long-standing ties to the Palm Beach Gardens-based security company.
Her son, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, sold security contracts for the company from 1994 to 2002, and his Senate campaign has received the maximum $10,000 donation from Wackenhut's political action committee. Meek's wife, Leslie, registered with the county to lobby for Wackenhut in 2004, according to public records.
The former congresswoman began lobbying for Wackenhut in April 2007, the same month the county hired her to focus on transit issues. She asked the county if she could continue representing both clients after she was reminded last month about the county's policy regarding lobbying conflicts, said Joe Rasco, director of the county Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
''I think it's time we asked and that they proferred,'' Rasco said. ``I think it's a fair question and we'll be taking a look at it.''
Miami-Dade's lobbying contract describes a conflict of interest as a position contrary to county policy or its financial interests. Representing a client at odds with the county without permission ''shall result'' in the lobbyist's contract being thrown out and/or the lobbyist being barred from working for the county for up to three years.
''It is incumbent on the consultant and its employees, partners and subcontractors to remain mindful of the county's policy and fiscal interests and positions vis-a-vis other clients,'' reads the agreement.
Meek didn't make the initial cut in 2006 when the county decided to scale back its Washington lobbying team from eight to three firms and put the contracts out for bid. The county had been spending nearly $1.2 million a year.
''Paying this much for this many people was simply unacceptable,'' County Commissioner Sally Heyman said in March 2006.
But two months earlier, Heyman directed staff to add Meek and former state Rep. Mike Abrams -- who came in fourth and fifth place -- to the lobbying team. ''This was coming out of nowhere,'' Rasco told county investigators, who concluded Heyman did not violate the ethics code because the lobbying office reports to the commission.
The commission unanimously approved hiring Meek and Abrams on an ''as-needed basis'' and set their pay at a maximum of $75,000 a year. County officials said the money would come from reserves set aside for hiring outside experts in case of an emergency, such as a terrorist attack or major hurricane.
Two years later, Heyman now says the county should consider paring down to two lobbying firms. The county pays two full-time employees in Washington to lobby the federal government, in addition to the team of three law firms plus Meek and Abrams.
''Are we getting our money's worth?'' Heyman asked. ``Originally, I thought so. I don't know right now, to tell you the truth.''
© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.