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Travis Commissioners vote to hire in-house lobbyist

Monday, August 18, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Travis County Commissioners are moving forward with posting and hiring a governmental relations position that is a county employee, despite opposition from Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who has supported the concept but said the county is moving too late to effectively meet the needs of the upcoming session.

Over the course of several meetings, Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt has spearheaded the discussion of bringing a person in-house. In July, a laundry list of reasons was offered for bringing the position in-house, not the least of which was primary loyalty to the county.

“It’s my opinion that this position is distinct from any kind of legislative consulting position that we are putting out on an RFP,” Eckhardt said. “This position would have loyalties exclusively with Travis County, would develop an expertise specific to Travis County and then would be able to work with whatever consulting experts that we choose to hire, whether the consultants were hired on specific issues or they were more broadly dispatched.”

In the end, the position would allow Travis County to make more sophisticated arguments to state and federal government, Eckhardt said. It would make it easier for Travis County to represent a voice for the region.

Daugherty agreed the position would add value to the county. His point was that it would be difficult to bring someone up to speed who comes on board in September or October if the legislative session starts in January.

It would make more sense to bring someone on board in anticipation of the 2011 session, Daugherty said.

“I’m just saying the effectiveness that this person is going to be able to have in this next legislative cycle in my opinion is going to be very, very small,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty, however, was overruled. Earlier this month, commissioners agreed to fund both a governmental relations position – no one is allowed to call it a lobbyist – somewhere in the pay range of $70,000. An assistant is budgeted at around $32,000. An operating budget also had been created.

All told, it is a $150,000 annual expense. When Daugherty called for a motion to reconsider the expenditure in early August, he failed to get a second.

While Judge Sam Biscoe suggested that the county use an outside search firm – at a price of between $10,000 and $15,000 – the court and human resources staff were more inclined to use the county’s existing network of contacts and membership in organizations to find a qualified applicant for the position.

The new position, which is now posted, could be filled in October or as early as September.

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