Beth Leytham: PR Gatekeeper to Tampa City and Hillsborough County
The key players in this story of possible subterfuge and under-the-counter back-room dealing are Beth Leytham, who has a PR firm in the area and has several very close connections to various city and county officials. Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and Commissioners, Ken Hagan, and Sandy Murman join the fray. Also involved is Parsons Brinckerhoff, a company employing the Leytham Group for her help and subcontracting her services on a project for the City regarding transit other programs.
If you want the full experience, including several video interviews with the various people, click here. But here’s the condensed Everything-PR version:
Beth Leytham included work with political campaigns as part of her firm’s areas of specialization in the past, and also prior to 2000 registered at various times as a lobbyist. She volunteered during the political campaigns of Mayor Bob and Commissioners Ken and Sandy.
She continues to act unofficially on behalf of Mayor Bob. Keeping track of his calendar and advising him how to handle various PR and other issues. She has also represented him on various occasions. She says she does all this as a vigilant and active steward for her community. And, oh how we’d love to believe her.
But since Mayor Bob and the Commissioners have been in office, Leytham’s firm’s business has multiplied greatly and much of that is due to her subcontracting for firms receiving generous contracts from Hillsborough County and Tampa City. Some of those contracts have been awarded without a bidding process. One had bids, but the company, Parsons Brinckerhoff, was awarded the contract but didn’t have the best offer in any of the forms of measuring.
PB didn’t bat an eyelash before making contributions to the various political campaigns, as did Leytham, her firm, and a marketing firm she and PB also work with and the founder of that firm. But hey, there’s nothing to see here folks, just keep moving along.
Next, the text message questions arise. You see, in Florida, all political and government officials, as well as those contracted to help them, are required to supply their business communications relating to work upon requested from any party. For the most part, that is on the honor system.
If the person says they don’t have anything business-related in their correspondence, emails, or text messages, the public has to accept that response or get a court order.
The news team did a lot of requesting, they also got a lot of responses saying there was nothing business related in their correspondence with Ms. Leytham, only personal. And Ms. Leytham, refused to even discuss the issue, even though one of her government contracts is to act as public relations advisor to a City entity and is paid approximately $60,000 per year for doing so.
And then at least one text message was unearthed showing Ms. Leytham sharing texts with Mayor Bob about how she’d already spoken with the two commissioners and the ideal situation for their transit program would be to hire an engineering firm with a PR firm attached already. Oh, did we forget to mention that Parsons Brinckerhoff fit that bill perfectly. There were others that also fit that bill, but by Ms. Leytham’s suggestion they were all weeded out because one or the other would create political problems, or were too busy.
That left one remaining choice. We want to make it clear, in this instance Ms. Leytham was not hired by the City, but PB was, and they subcontracted Leytham bringing her $185,000 at last count for this one job. It also appears that Leytham did a fair amount of advising to her political friends, and much of her advice ended up benefiting her pocketbook in other deals.
For that, she should have registered as a lobbyist. But all the political friends said she wasn’t doing lobbyist work, and if she was, she would have registered.
Easy to get caught in that never-ending circular whirlpool if you’re not careful. As one official put it, this all just doesn’t meet the “sniff test.”
It’s certainly a major story in the Tampa media, and Tampa Public Relations world.