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Denied conflict-of-interest waiver, lobbying firm drops Miami-Dade County to represent Uber

@PatriciaMazzei

Tally at least one victory for Uber Technologies over Miami-Dade County.

The ride-for-hire service remains illegal under county rules. But Uber has hired away one of Miami-Dade's outside lobbying firms. 

Ballard Partners has given up its county lobbying contract to represent Uber in Tallahassee, according to a letter the firm sent Monday to County Commission Chairman Jean Monestime.

"It has truly been an honor to represent Miami-Dade County for the last several years and we hope that we will be able to do so in the future," firm president Brian Ballard wrote.

Last week, the firm asked the county for permission to work for both Uber and the county, given that Ballard doesn't directly represent Miami-Dade on ride-for-hire matters and no legislation has been filed -- yet -- that would put the two sides at odds in the state Capitol. Commissioners rejected the request, following advice from the county ethics commission.

"He is wonderful. He is incredible," Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said of Ballard. "But at the same time, we have a situation here."

That left Ballard with a decision to make. He chose the presumably more lucrative Uber gig over the county's annual $50,000 contract, mentioning that his firm "believes strongly" in Uber's technology.

As a parting note, Ballard pointed out that most of Miami-Dade's outside lobbyists represent a variety of interests at the same time without issue. During last week's meeting, Ballard's senior counsel Sylvester Lukis had referenced another county lobbyist in the room -- "his majesty, Ronnie Book," Lukis said -- who works for myriad interests in Tallahassee.

"The point is that Miami-Dade County should take a second look at its policies regarding its lobbyists and potential conflicts," Ballard wrote. "Clearly in those cases where the lobbyist is responsible for covering specific matters, they should not be allowed to represent interests in direct conflict with those matters. On the other hand, in those cases where the lobbyist is not responsible for a matter, it shouldn't be restricted to assist other clients that might be promoting a position that the County doesn't support."

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