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City lobby team gears up for 2009 Texas Legislative session

Monday, December 22, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The City of Austin has lined up its lobbying team for the 2009 session of the Texas Legislature. The City Council has allocated $830,000 to be spread out among 10 different lobbyists or firms to represent the city’s interests at the state capitol.


In selecting the lobbying team, “we look at contractor’s willingness to assume risk in advocating for unpopular ideas at the legislature,” said John Hrncir, the city’s Governmental Relations Officer. “What may be popular here is often not popular with the state as a whole.”


The staff also had to take the membership and leadership of the legislature into consideration when choosing the lobbying team. “Of course, we look at the makeup of the legislature for diversity of race, gender, political affiliation. All of these factors are taken into account as we evaluated the lobby team,” Hrncir told the City Council during its final meeting of 2008. “We did not make huge changes. We made cuts in the current team.”


The Council approved the team proposed by the city staff: Reggie Bashur, Randall Erben, Marta Greytok Consulting, Cliff Johnson, Demetrius McDaniel/Greenberg Traurig, McWilliams and Associates, Joe D. Valenzuela, Clayton A. Pope, Susan C. Rocha, and Angelo Zottarelli.


However, Council Member Mike Martinez did have some questions about the selection process. “About a year ago, this Council asked city management to develop some type of process that would create some transparency and some public input into how our lobby team is selected,” he said. “Unfortunately that didn’t happen. There’s no justification in the backup for the decision.” Martinez said that made difficult for him as an elected official to justify the city’s expenditure to citizens.


Since that request in 2007, Hrncir said. “There’s been a change in senior management at the city. We talked about bringing someone from the outside to evaluate the lobby team, the situation that we’re in and with facing this upcoming session. Instead, it was decided to do an interim decision process.”


That process involved the staff evaluating the level of interest each lobbyist had in representing the city, their experience in dealing with both political parties in the House and Senate, and their other clients. “Inevitably there will be conflicts, but we want to make sure that throughout the team…looking at them as an aggregate…that all of our issues can be addressed by at least some of the members of the team and not be blocked by conflict,” Hrncir said.

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