The chair of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee wants answers from the Donna Deegan administration about a city contract for a politically connected lobbying firm leading to an unvetted role for a former campaign worker turned policy analyst.

The latest flashpoint between the Democratic Mayor and the supermajority Republican legislative branch: the ongoing contract the city has with Langton Consulting, and what consultant Stephen “Dare” Griffin is doing for the company and for the administration in City Hall.

“My concern is misuse of taxpayer dollars. The Administration all along has maintained that this no-bid contract to Langton was for grant writing, lobbying and public policy, but we learned in November that Langton had to outsource the lobbying part. Now we’re hearing that this no-bid contract is also being used to pay a Deegan campaign adviser,” said Nick Howland.

“Now we know why the Mayor approved this contract behind closed doors, resisted my request to re-bid it, and nearly vetoed my Transparency for Taxpayers Act,” added Howland, who said he wants a meeting with the administration and Griffin privately, and that he expects Griffin to appear in front of the Finance Committee March 5.

Howland’s bill was intended to stop future deals like the one Deegan struck with Langton, but the City Council was powerless to stop the initial hiring of the company in the wake of the administration’s unilateral and premature termination of its deal with Ballard Partners amid acrimony with employees like former Mayor Lenny Curry and former Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury.

Asked about Langton’s work product, or that of Griffin, Howland said he hadn’t seen any evidence of what the city is paying $25,000 a month for.

Howland is specifically concerned about Griffin’s “trail of employment” that led him from the campaign to the transition team while still being paid by the “Donna for Duval” political committee before Langton’s agreement started in September.

Council Auditor Kim Taylor confirmed that roughly $4,000 was paid out to Griffin as a member of the Deegan transition team after her election in May of last year. Griffin also collected $8,000 from the “Donna for Duval” political committee, with $3,000 dispersed in April 2023 for “research services” and $5,000 more dispersed in one July installment and one August payment for “policy consulting.”

“Transparency is lacking,” Howland said. “I have a concern about how taxpayer money is being used.”

Howland questions Langton outsourcing the lobbying piece, then choosing to “pay a consultant with a checkered past.”

“Are taxpayers getting value out of the contract?”

Howland’s concern comes after his colleague, Rory Diamond, lamented the “confusing and dispiriting” hire of Griffin given the consultant’s documented legal issues from the 1980s through 2017 that both men believe should have been grounds for a background check.

Both suggested that the reason for the unorthodox arrangement may have been, in part, to give a campaign worker a city gig without customary vetting. This read is rooted in a statement from Diane Moser, the city’s Director of Employee Services, who said the city doesn’t “conduct background checks on non-employees except for our volunteers who work with children and the elderly.”

The Deegan administration defends the arrangement, saying as part of a three-paragraph statement Florida Politics ran in full Wednesday that it’s “absurd” to suggest that Langton was hired to give a campaign supporter a gig and describing Griffin as “one of the most brilliant policy minds we have in Jacksonville.”

We reached out for a response to Howland’s asks and claims but did not receive a response Wednesday, with the administration clearly intent on closing the book on this matter.

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