MANATEE -- An environmental leader has termed Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker's choice of attorney in contract negotiations with the county "highly inappropriate."
"It has come to the attention of ManaSota-88 that attorney Hugh McGuire, Esq. ... also provides legal representation for phosphate mining and land developing companies in Manatee," wrote Glenn Compton, chairman of the environmental group ManaSota-88, based in Nokomis.
"ManaSota-88 finds this highly inappropriate," he wrote.
He added that perhaps a "false sense of security" has developed due to quasi-judicial requirements, designed to deflect lobbying abuses on a local level.
"The Manatee County Commission should act to discourage any possible conflict of interest concerning the county administrator," Compton wrote in e-mailed messages to each commissioner. "This would help
maintain a fair and open decision-making process and bolster public trust."
Hunzeker has the right to choose the counsel he wants, McGuire said in a telephone interview late Monday.
"I've represented a lot of government officials over the years -- there is no conflict," said McGuire, of Parrish, who is a principal at Harrison, Kirkland, Pratt & McGuire.
He said his law firm is "very sensitive" to conflicts of interest, as is the Florida Bar, which oversees ethical matters involving lawyers.
"Mr. Hunzeker is not a voting member of the county commission, and I'm happy to represent him, and proud to represent him," McGuire said.
In an effort to delay Hunzeker's retirement, Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle has proposed a five-year contract offer that would give Hunzeker a pay raise of $34,720.20, up to $203,845 annually.
However, Hunzeker would forfeit a hefty lump-sum retirement payment of $337,411.83, for which he is eligible under a state retirement program.
Asked for comment Monday about the Compton's e-mailed messages, Bustle said, "I'm not looking to make a judgment about a conflict of interest; this is the attorney's prerogative."
"From a personal standpoint, I see no conflict of interest," Bustle added.
Under the contract proposal, Hunzeker would delay his retirement five years, through Jan. 29, 2018.
The matter is slated for discussion at 11 a.m. today during a meeting of the Manatee County Commission.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.