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Lobbyists jockey to maintain state lobby contracts

Tuesday, February 5, 2008 by Austin Monitor

After weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the City Council on Thursday awarded a total of nearly $1 million to 12 lobbyists and/or lobby teams for work during the current year at the state level. The lobbyists are the same as those who worked on the city’s behalf during the 2007 legislative session.


The maneuvering related to whether all of those who had contracts for the previous year would continue to be paid during the interim between legislative sessions or whether some of those payments would be redirected to lobbying at a federal level. Ultimately, the Council decided not to reduce any payments for state lobbyists this year but to add to the federal lobbying effort.


The highest paid city lobbyists at the Texas Legislature each received $90,000 for both FY2007 and will be paid that amount for the current year. Those include Carl Richie, Reggie Bashur, Randall Erben, McWilliams and Associates (Dean and Andrea McWilliams), Robert and Thomas Johnson, Clayton Pope, Cliff Johnson, Demetrius McDaniel and (Don) Adams and (Angelo) Zotarelli. Susan Rocha receives $72,000; Marta Greytok, $65,000; and Carl Parker, $40,000.


Some members of the Council indicated last week that they would be looking to change the state team when the contracts expire on September 30 and several Council members said they want to beef up the city’s lobby team in Washington, DC.


“I really believe that we need to have a pretty measurable, expanded effort in Washington, DC,” Mayor Will Wynn told his colleagues. In response, Chief of Staff Kristen Vassallo said she expects to bring back options for adding to the city’s representation in the Congressional arena as soon as next month. However, the idea of eliminating some of the current state lobbyists has been put to rest for the current year.


Asked who came up with that proposal, Council Member Sheryl Cole said, “I don’t know where that idea began…I don’t know if it was with the staff, legislative department, the team leader or the combination…but that was brought to me.” She said both Vassallo and lobbyist Carl Richie talked to her about diverting some state lobbying funds to the federal effort. “But I don’t know whether a particular Council member put that on their minds,” she said.


McCracken said, “Traditionally, we’ve had a two-year contract,” with state lobbyists and that the lobbyists believed that they were in the second year of a two-year contract. The contracts did not indicate that lobbyists would be paid after Sept. 30, 2007 but included a sentence saying Council would have to approve any additional funding after that date.


One idea was that “our lobbyists would just go to one-year on, one-year off,” McCracken said. However, some of the lobbyists were apparently not informed about that change before Council members heard about possible changes.


McCracken added, “We’ve had a little bit different structure in the past year (2007) about how the contract is structured–one member of our lobby team being the quarterback for the whole team.”


Richie was that quarterback but he wouldn’t be during the current year, McCracken said.


“We’ve run into a little problem in that—I think that was a pretty effective model during the session—but one thing we’ve learned is we need to have the management of the contracts themselves with city staff. It creates a higher comfort level for all the members of the team … because in a way they compete with each other, too,” McCracken said, adding that in the future the city’s Government Relations Officer, John Hrncir, would be managing the lobby contracts.


Council Member Mike Martinez, who grilled city staff on how decisions are made who gets lobbying contracts, told In Fact Daily, “As we move through the 80th Legislative interim, I would like for the city to take a hard look at our legislative representation.  In my mind, it only makes sense to examine who we contract with from session to session in light of changes in membership and changes in our legislative priorities. Being hired to lobby on behalf of the City of Austin should not create a sense of entitlement but rather a reward for hard work, results and dedication. “ 


Brewster McCracken said the city should add to its federal effort to bring transportation funds to the city as well as adding to the amount of funds going for Austin Energy’s lobbying efforts. He noted that the city has its eyes on locating a new office of the National Energy Renewable Energy Laboratory (ENREL) in Austin.


Currently, the city has a contract with Barbara McCall and Associates of $75,000 for general lobbying duties in Washington, DC and Austin Energy pays Duncan, Weinberg, Genzer & Pembroke $120,000 for lobbying related to energy issues. (No one in the firm is related to Austin Energy’s Roger Duncan.)

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