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Moonlighting ex-Collier County deputy manager lobbied for county vendor in ‘apparent’ conflict of interest

Former Collier County Deputy Manager Sean Callahan was quietly fired in January of 2022 after county staff discovered he was secretly working as a lobbyist for a powerful Washington D.C. lobbying firm – a moonlighting job that violated county policies, ethical guidelines, and anti-fraud measures.

Now a new report by the county’s Office of the Inspector General reveals that one of Callahan’s undisclosed lobbyist clients, Jacobs Solutions, is a long-time vendor for Collier County.

The OIG report, which was exclusively obtained by the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLCGA), found that Callahan was in “apparent” violation of the county’s conflict of interest policy when Jacobs Engineering and CH2MHill, both subsidiaries of Jacob Solutions, became his clients. Notably, these companies were appearing before the Board of Collier County at the time with county purchase orders totaling $4.5 million.

Callahan’s county head shot

His remaining roster of lobbying clients ranged from investment management firms to multinational technology companies and educational content providers, including businesses with connections to Bonita Springs and Cape Coral in bordering Lee County.

In mid-June FLCGA shared the OIG’s report with multiple commissioners, all of whom declined comment. Despite the report’s finding of a conflict and possible illegal conduct on Callahan’s part, commissioners approved a brand new contract with Jacobs on July 11.

The report found no “direct” evidence that Callahan, who was being paid a $170,000 salary when he was terminated from the county, influenced the commissioners in favor of his clients. But it notes he was acting as Jacobs’ paid lobbyist while preparing agendas and frequently appearing before the board. Lobbyists are required to register, which Callahan failed to do. “As he did not register, pursuant to (Florida law), he could be subject to prosecution,” the report states.

The OIG did not respond when asked if the County Clerk forwarded the findings to any law enforcement agency.

No comment from Jacobs

County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow said he first learned of the report when the Florida Center for Government Accountability sent it to him.

In an interview, Klatzkow emphasized that if Callahan had used his connections to influence contract awards or if he unlawfully benefited the companies he lobbied for while acting as county manager, it would be a serious offense warranting further investigation.

Klatzkow explained that due to the fact that the three page report was not produced within the statute of limitations for ethical violations, the OIG report has little practical value in that regard. “If his acts violated the Ethics Ordinance, and I am not saying that he did, the limitations period has expired,” he said.


“I wish that report would have come in earlier,” Klatzkow added. “I mean, you know, at the end of the day, until a judge says something, it’s just opinions.”

Media representatives for Jacobs Solutions, the parent company, did not respond to a request for comment. Attempts to contact Callahan for comment were also unsuccessful.

Local Jacobs vice president Bill Gramer didn’t respond to numerous calls seeking comment and repeatedly hung up the phone when contacted by a reporter.  The companies have been doing business with Collier County for over three decades, with key staff members like Gramer serving for more than 20 years.

“A huge conflict of interest”

Callahan’s covert career as a lobbyist began in March 2021 when he was appointed as a senior policy adviser by Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a Washington D.C. lobbying firm that amassed $15.96 million in fourth-quarter federal lobbying revenue for 2021, setting an industry record.

That was the same month Collier County Manager Mark Isackson took an extended medical leave and Callahan was appointed acting county manager. The OIG report details how Callahan swiftly secured at least 30 high-profile lobbying clients. These included 22 domestic companies and eight foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia.

His lobbying activities involved in-person meetings, Zoom sessions, emails, and telephone calls with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Experts had previously raised concerns about how he managed to juggle his full-time job as deputy manager while engaging in such extensive lobbying work.

In the aftermath of Callahan’s ouster from the county, commissioners lambasted his actions as “distasteful” and said he showed a “profound lack of ethics and professionalism.” Each commissioner made calls for reform to prevent similar situations in the future, and each expressed interest in knowing more about Callahan’s lobbying activities.

“Did he have special access to congressmen, and to the governments of different counties throughout the state? Of course, yes,” then-Commissioner Penny Taylor told the Naples Daily News at the time. “He knew what business was coming in. He knew what business we were doing. He was the face of the business of Collier County and economic development. So, of course, he had his pulse on what was going on.”


After she reviewed the report this week, Taylor said the county should consider pausing Jacobs’ contracts until further review. “We cannot continue doing business like this,” she said. “Absolutely not.”

Still, the commission awarded the company Jacobs its most recent contract just this week at the July 11 meeting. According to the consent agenda report, the company beat out 108 other bidders to provide professional design services for the Collier Area Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility project located at 8300 Radio Road. Last month Commissioners also approved a $5.4 million agreement to Jacobs Engineering for the widening of Wilson Boulevard from Golden Gate Boulevard to Immokalee Road.

When FLCGA asked about the OIG report, all the commissioners and County Manager Amy Patterson declined to comment. Commissioner Dan Kowal, who unseated Taylor last year, said he plans to look into the matter further, citing a lack of direct knowledge of the matter.

The lack of response from elected officials has raised concerns among watchdog organizations and community members, who expected decisive action from the commissioners in light of the report’s findings.

“This was a huge conflict of interest,” emphasized Ben Wilcox, a longtime ethics watchdog and research director at Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute in Tallahassee. Wilcox said he believes further investigation is needed, including examining all the county contracts Callahan was involved with to determine if his secret lobbyist job had any influence on them.

Elizabeth Radi, a Collier County resident who advocates for transparency and integrity in local government, said she was especially disappointed that commissioners haven’t addressed the fact that Callahan was working with county vendor Jacobs.

“We need to be able to trust our leadership,” said Radi. “We need to hold our leaders accountable. They’re not stupid. They all knew.”

About the author: Rachel Heimann Mercador began freelancing in 2023 and has previously written for The Institute for Public Service Reporting in Memphis, The Naples Daily News, and The Mercury News.