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Lobbying firm cannot represent Miami-Dade County and Uber at the same time, commission says


One of Miami-Dade County's hired lobbying firms recently made this awkward request of elected commissioners: Would the county be OK with the firm also representing Uber Technologies, the ride-for-hire service that happens to be operating illegally in Miami-Dade?

Ballard Partners requested a conflict-of-interest waiver after the firm was hired by Uber to lobby state lawmakers during the upcoming session. Last year, Uber tried unsuccessfully to get lawmakers to legalize the company's business, which is outlawed in counties like Miami-Dade that regulate taxicabs and related forms of transportation.

Uber and competitor Lyft have set up shop anyway, despite being targeted by Miami-Dade code-enforcement officers, who last year impounded cars and gave out tickets

Given that the county and Uber are in an adversarial position locally -- and perhaps also at the state level, if Uber pursues legislation that trumps local authority -- the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust opined Ballard should not be allowed to represent both clients simultaneously. Sylvester Lukis, senior counsel for the firm's Miami office, disagreed, telling commissioners no conflict exists for now, because no state legislation has been filed for the county to support or oppose.

Lukis went as far as to suggest that having Ballard represent both the county and Uber could result in "mutually satisfactory" legislation. 

But commissioners weren't buying it. They voted unanimously Wednesday to deny Ballard's request.

"If we go forward with this waiver, we'll be paying our lobbyist to work against our own interests," Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said.

When asked by the board, Lukis declined to say which client would take priority if the firm had to choose one over the other.