Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Sewer district to hire PR firm to tell story

KEY LARGO -- In an attempt to better control its image and make a case for more county funding, the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District is considering hiring a public relations firm to the tune of $3,000 per month.

For months, the district has tried lobbying the county government for a bigger piece of the pie from incoming sales tax dollars. Now they are turning to Hibiscus Marketing, a Key Largo-based firm, to try to drum up community support.

"I'm all for it," board member Norm Higgins said at a July meeting.

Frank Hawkins, who owns the company, was expected to make a proposal to sign a contract at the district's Tuesday, Aug. 5 meeting. Results were not available by press time.

If the board agrees to hire Hawkins' firm, it could cancel the agreement at any point with 60 days of notice.

"I am very hesitant to enter a year contract at any price," board member Andy Tobin said.

After reviewing Hawkins' proposal, Tobin said he wants the district to stay focused on leveling out a county spending disparity board members say exists between Upper and Lower Keys residents of unincorporated Monroe.

"I want someone who is focused," Tobin said, adding he is not that interested in having the firm issue press releases, which is part of its proposal. "All of that is nice, but not essential."

Board member Robbie Majeska's daughter works on an intermittent basis for the Hawkins' company and Majeska has previously hired the company to do work for his pet shop. The sewer district's attorney, Ray Giglio, said the board's hiring of Hibiscus Marketing would not give Majeska any special benefit and his vote would not constitute a conflict of interest.

At a July meeting, district accountant Peter Rosasco suggested Hawkins study the history of the relationship between the county and the district.

"Holding people accountable to the promises they made to the district has to be primary," he said.

In addition to focusing on the district's relationship with the county, the district will pay Hibiscus Marketing to write positive stories to distribute to local residents.

Hawkins proposes to issue information as a way to counter local news coverage.

"They show up, sit through the meeting, talk to the board members, the staff and visitors and write a story," Hawkins wrote about the local media in his proposal. "So for the district, it's always a reactionary relationship totally dependent on the whims of any reporter at any given time."

The company plans on writing a quarterly newsletter highlighting the competency of district plant managers and workers. Hawkins compared the newsletter to the monthly magazine the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative mails to its members.

Hawkins, who serves on the FKEC board, says if the proposed $36,000 contract is approved, it will come at a much lower price than what FKEC pays for an in-house public relations officer.

In addition to a newsletter, Hibiscus Marketing wants to include a bi-monthly mailer inside wastewater district's bills.

The marketing firm also plans to make the district's Facebook page more interactive. Currently, the page sees little activity and is mainly used to post meeting agendas.

jgore@keysnews.com

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