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Port Orchard’s lobbying group faces skeptics, in spite of successful track record

Port Orchard’s city council voted last week to pay $25,000 to Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs to represent the community to the state and federal levels of government, and the investment comes with the expectation the relationship will yield tangible results for the city — just as it has for one of Port Orchard’s neighbors.

Gig Harbor has retained the same firm since 2007 at a cost of $36,000 per year, and many believe it’s been a good investment, said Rob Karlinsey, Gig Harbor’s city administrator.

“We have a list of bills we want (our lobbyist) to support, and she goes after them,” said Karlinsey. “And most of the time, she’s pretty darned successful.”

The firm has brought the city more than $8.5 million in funding, Karlinsey estimated, as well as favorable legislation with no financial impact.

Recently, Briahna Taylor has worked as Gig Harbor’s main governmental affairs consultant through Gordon Thomas Honeywell.

She will also represent Port Orchard.

She attended Pacific Lutheran University from 2003 to 2007 and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English and political science.

In 2008, she began a night school program at Seattle University’s School of Law, where she’s on pace to graduate in 2011.

She worked as a session aide in the Washington State Senate for five months while in college, and she’s worked at Gordon Thomas Honeywell since 2006.

Recently, she worked with the state Legislature to clarify Gig Harbor’s ability to impose construction moritoria on shorelines.

“That was a pretty important bill that she pretty much passed single-handedly for us,” said Karlinsey.

Favorable references, like that from Gig Harbor, played a major factor in Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola’s decision to select Gordon Thomas Honeywell over other lobbying firms.

“They made a presentation to the council and it was pretty impressive,” said Coppola.

“I got names of different lobbying firms, and asked for references from their clients,” he said, and Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs got the best reviews.

“In spite of the state’s budget problems, there is a lot of money for capital projects,” Coppola said, “and issues that will need legislation. I talked to the council, and they liked the idea of having a lobbyist.”

But during a recent city council meeting, several members expressed concerns about the idea.

“I don’t think that we should fund a lobbying firm in this economic environment,” said Councilman Fred Chang.

Councilman Rob Putaansuu also opposed the idea.

“It would be foolish for us to spend money if we think we’ll get money for capital projects,” he said. “I see it as more spending money so that we can save money to potentially do things that are foolish with our tax dollars.”

Gil Michael, a Port Orchard resident, spoke strongly against the idea at the beginning of the city council meeting, when funding for the firm was approved.

“The state doesn’t have any money,” he said. “They’re cutting funds to schools they’re cutting funds to homeless, they’re cutting funds to meals programs to interpreters.”

“If anyone on the bench thinks that the parking garage has higher priority than any of those items I just listed,” Michael said, “you need to go find another job.”

Coppola responded that, although the state has a dry operating budget, it has funding available in the capital budget that the city could try for.

Putaansuu and Councilwoman Carolyn Powers said they felt uneasy about the fact that Gordon Thomas Honeywell started working on the project before the city council officially voted to hire them.

But Coppola saw it as a good sign.

“They really hit the long ball to try to get this early on,” he said.

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