Community

Port Orchard considers keeping lobbyist in Olympia next year

Port Orchard’s city council members disagree on whether or not to renew the city’s contract with Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, the lobbying firm they hired for the first time last year to represent the city in the state Legislature.

“I think a lobbyist is a nice thing to have,” said Councilman Fred Chang. “I think the question is, can we afford it? The city of Bremerton, for example, does not have one this year because they don’t have the money.”

The firm hasn’t yet brought any money to the city during the current legislative session, but Mayor Lary Coppola argued it was still worth the $25,000 the city paid.

“I made it really plain to them,” he said. “They needed to pay for themselves or we wouldn’t even talk to them next year.

“By and large, I feel they’ve been worth the money they’ve been paid,” Coppola said. “I’m satisfied with their performance.”

The lobbying firm has had success with several of its bills.

One got a $950,000 appropriation for the De Kalb Street Pier into the Senate’s draft of the budget, said Briahna Taylor, the main governmental affairs consultant representing the city.

“Funding-wise, that’s the city’s big success,” she said. “Granted, it hasn’t been finished yet, and we may not be included in the final budget. The fact that the city was included in any budget was incredible.”

The De Kalb Street Pier wasn’t what the city initially wanted.

The council had requested funding to buy land for a parking garage downtown, but Gordon Thomas quickly realized land-acquisition projects weren’t doing well this legislative session. So, the company switched gears from the land appropriation to the pier.

And that wasn’t their only success.

The firm also successfully helped pass a bill to allow cities to reduce planning commission terms from four years to six.

“Six years is an awfully long time to serve on the Planning Commission,” Taylor said. “Also, reducing it to four years alligns it to (terms for) city council members and other elected officials.”

Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs also helped get rid of mandatory penalties to cities that fail to produce documents requested through public records requests.

Cities have, in the past, automatically paid a penalty for failing to produce a document that had been requested, regardless of the circumstances, Taylor said.

Now, “A judge has discretion to determine the penalty to be issued,” she said. “(Cities) are not necessarily going to incur those.”

It’s not quite what the lobbying firm had hoped for, though.

They hoped for “more significant reform than what passed,” said Taylor.

Besides the supporting bills, the lobbying firm also tracked about 200 of the approximately 5,000 bills introduced to the state Legislature that could impact the city.

The council will decide, at an upcoming council meeting whether or not to renew their contract with the lobbying firm.

Council members John Clauson, Rob Putaansuu and Chang said they wanted to know how much the firm plans to charge before they support or oppose renewing the contract.

The city may get a good deal for the lobbying firm next year, since the session is short and the city is a fairly new client.

And retaining the firm, in general, could be a smart investment, said Greg Jacoby, the city’s attorney.

“Over time, if they’re good, you will get a return,” he said. “If you, every few years, decide to hire a lobbyist, it will be far less effective than if you just renew it each year and have a presence in Olympia.”

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