Fresno pays firms in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. for lobbying and governmental relations services, and has its own in-house employee as well. The annual tab exceeds $200,000.
Is it worth it?
Fresno City Council members want to know.
During today’s weekly council meeting, a contract renewal was up for Simon & Company, which lobbies on behalf of the city in Washington, D.C. The cost: $65,000 annually for two years, with the option of two additional one-year terms.
But then the questions started.
Given the city’s tight budget, belt-tightening and outsourcing, Council President Clint Olivier asked, is having a lobbyist in the nation’s capital really necessary?
He suggested putting a federal-level lobbyist on hold for three years, and then revisiting it.
City Manager Mark Scott seemed annoyed the possibility was even raised.
Cutting the lobbyist, he said, would be a disaster for Fresno. Budgets would have to be slashed, he said, because the city has become more reliant on federal grant money that Len Simon, of Simon & Co., routinely helps land.
“He is so good,” Scott said of Simon. “He knows the people he needs to know.”
Council Member Andreas Borgeas then weighed in. The deal is good, he agreed, but what are the city’s priorities? He also thought the two new incoming council members should have a chance to weigh in on that question.
His idea: Hold off three months until those priorities are established.
Then the Sacramento lobbyist — who is paid $95,000 annually — and local Governmental Affairs Manager Katie Stevens — who made more than $66,000 last year — came into the picture.
Again Scott was miffed.
“Katie is a 70-hour a week employee often times,” he said. “Yes, she is needed.”
In fact, Scott said, all three are needed.
“We’re lucky to have this team,” he said.
But Council Member Lee Brand felt a study was in order. Could another lobbying firm in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. do it cheaper or better? Does the city need lobbyists in the two capitals and in City Hall? Can all three positions be justified?
The questions, Brand said, must be asked.
“We’ve got to have a few tools left,” Scott responded. He said council members were starting to “nitpick” and he urged them to “go do your homework” to see if the city’s lobbying ranks were overstaffed.
In the end, at Brand’s urging, the council decided to extend Simon & Company’s contract six months — to June 30. Between now and then, a council workshop will be conducted to see whether that money and position, as well as the Sacramento lobbyist and Stevens’ position, are warranted.