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New City lobbying contract(s)

 
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2005 4:54 pm    Post subject: New City lobbying contract(s) Reply with quote

The city's contract with the Baker Donelson law firm quietly expired earlier this year. After 3 years and about $425,000, there's no visible payoff from the legal representation and lobbyist services that the city hoped would yield new or increased assistance payments from the US Department of Energy. Sad

It appears to me that the city could demonstrate "special burdens" that would justify special compensation under the Atomic Energy Community Act of 1955 and other statutes that govern the federal relationship with Oak Ridge and other "atomic energy communities." However, the current City Council has not shown any inclination to pursue this matter aggressively.

So, it seems that we're $425,000 poorer... Sad

What will be done with the funds saved by no longer employing Baker Donelson? There's a new proposal to hire professional lobbyists to represent the city government in Nashville and Washington, DC, at a total cost greater than was being paid to Baker Donelson. Shocked

The proposal was presented to City Council this past Monday evening. They voted to defer action, but they did agree to spend $8,000 for one month's services by Bill Nolan, an Oak Ridge resident who once served in the state legislature and now makes his living as a professional lobbyist. Mr. Nolan had already been working without pay to help overcome some political hurdles faced by some bills that the city is trying to get passed ­-- one to create drug-free zones near facilities such as day care centers and two measures related to radioactive materials. It probably makes sense to finish what's been started with his efforts in Nashville, but in the future I hope the City of Oak Ridge can find ways to deliver our messages to Congress and the state General Assembly without such expensive professional help.

The Oak Ridger has not taken notice of the lobbying contracts, but The Oak Ridge Observer ran a story on this matter in this week's edition. My views on the proposal were quoted in that article. Here's the full text of the comment of mine that was quoted:
Quote:
Lobbying services are a luxury item for a small city like ours. This help can be valuable when we have clear and specific goals for action in Nashville or Washington, but we should not get used to this luxury. The combined price tag ($150,000 for one year) for the two lobbying contracts presented to Council was more than what we were paying Baker Donelson, and there was no competitive bid process.

I would prefer to spend that money on local needs -- for example, $150,000 would be just about enough to hire two more police officers and build the new playground needed at Highland View Park.

Other Council candidates were also quoted in that Observer article -- look for it in the paper edition or online after March 31.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2005 8:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Oak Ridger finally ran an article on these lobbying contracts (possibly due to griping in their online forums), but unfortunately the reporter got the story completely wrong! Shocked

The article says (in part):
Quote:
The city of Oak Ridge has entered into two lobbying contracts with The Ferguson Group and Bill Nolan and Associates, in an effort to identify funding and stay abreast of legislation affecting Oak Ridge.

This is not correct. The paper got the story wrong.

I'm puzzled about the error -- I thought that the reporter was at the same meeting I attended. Confused Perhaps she does not realize that city government can't make a contract without City Council approval.
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daco



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Location: Oak Ridge

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2005 10:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ellen,
It is quite possible that I am reading this wrong, but it appears to me that council actually has entered into a contract with The Ferguson Group.
Like you I think that this money could be spent much more productively.
If I am wrong please explain.

“3. TERM
This Agreement shall commence on the March 21,2005 and terminate on February 28,
2006, unless terminated earlier as specified in Section 7.
4. COMMENCEMENT OF SERVICES
TFG shall commence performance of the professional services immediately.
5. COMPENSATION AND EXPENSES
A. Compensation
On or before April 1, 2005, the City shall pay TFG $16,000.00 for the services to
be provided under this Agreement. For the remaining months under this
Agreement, the City shall pay TFG a fixed fee of $8,000.00 per month, payable in
advance on the 1st of every month.
B. Reimbursable Expenses
TFG shall be entitled to reimbursement of certain expenses, estimated at
$500.00 per month, which shall not exceed $6,000.00 during the full term of this
Agreement. Reimbursable expenses shall be invoiced separately to the City
along with a detailed list of expenses. Reimbursable expenses shall include long
distance telephone calls, faxes, document production, overnight delivery, courier
services, business meals, out-of-town travel that has been pre-approved by the
City, and in-town taxicab transportation within D.C. Similar expenses not
specified above may be reimbursable by the City upon approval of the City.”


http://www.cortn.org/agendapackets/03212005/agenda%2003-21-2005.pdf
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2005 12:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are reading from the agenda package. That's the material that was presented to City Council for consideration.

The online agenda package has not been annotated to tell which items were approved, amended, rejected, or deferred. You need to check the minutes of the meeting to get that information. (Or attend the meeting, or watch it on TV, or get a report from a reliable source who attended or watched.) Trust me -- this particular item was not approved or rejected (they took no action on it).

Unfortunately, the official meeting minutes won't be available until after the April City Council meeting, when this link will be activated. Even then, the agenda package will remain online forever, including the contract that wasn't approved. Shocked

The situation is confusing. Oops
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2005 1:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Status Report

The Oak Ridger has corrected its story (see http://oakridger.com/stories/033005/new_20050330017.shtml for the March 30 article that corrected the error). I'm quoted in it, probably because I contacted the reporter and editor about the earlier error.

Meanwhile, the push for new lobbying contracts continues. A council committee will recommend a full 6-month contract with Bill Nolan & Associates for lobbying in Nashville (that's $48K, including $8K already approved). Staff is pushing for a 12-month contract with the Ferguson Group for lobbying in Washington, DC (cost to the city would be $102,000), but the Council committee has not made a recommendation. Also, the Oak Ridger reports that the Anderson County Commission is likely to enter into their own lobbying contract with Nolan and Associates. (The details of this are not clear; it appears that they may be proposing to share the cost of the contract with the city.)
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 7:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

More Status

Today's News Sentinel reported on City Council subcommittee discussions with the Ferguson Group about representing the City in Washington, DC. The article implies, but does not directly state, that the committee supported the proposed contract. (I was not at the daytime meeting on Friday.) In any case, the proposal will go to Council at its April 18th meeting.

The article explains that the lobbyist would help the city in seeking three specific items in the 2006 federal budget: $2.1 million for expansion of water and wastewater systems in the city's west end (in general, "west end" refers to the Horizon Center, ETTP, and Rarity Ridge areas), $200,000 to help improve the rowing course on Melton Hill Lake, and $300,000 for redevelopment in the Highland View neighborhood.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 7:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Nashville lobbyist would assist the city in pushing two pieces of proposed legislation:

1 - A pair of bills to authorize "tipping fees" on facilities used for disposal of mixed radioactive and hazardous wastes. Anderson County's legislators, State Senator Randy McNally and Representative Jim Hackworth, introduced HB880-SB892 in the Tennessee General Assembly. This bill would allow municipalities and counties to collect fees from generators that send waste to a mixed waste disposal facility in their jurisdictions. The idea is that the city and counties could collect fees from DOE for waste disposal in DOE's Environmental Management Waste Facility in Bear Creek Valley.

This proposed law is a good idea. This would be one way to compensate the community for the stigma and costs of hosting DOE waste and contamination. The law would not cost the state anything and would only affect Oak Ridge, so it is not surprising that it has been moving smoothly through the legislature. (The General Assembly website reports on its status at http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/BillCompanionInfo.asp?BillNumber=HB0880 ).

2. A proposal to expand the definition of "drug-free zones" (where special penalties apply for drug crimes) to include not just schools, but other places where children gather, such as day-care centers. This would address some important local needs. Although it sounds like an idea anyone could support, it may not pass easily (or at all) because there is a "fiscal note" attached (meaning: it would cost the state money to implement it).

These are good initiatives, but I don't like the idea of using our city's public funds to pay for a lobbyist (basically, to buy influence) to get them passed. I believe that relatively few people in town are even aware of these proposals, so grassroots support in the community may not be strong. If the city government has identified needs for important new laws, it should sell its ideas locally and ask the citizenry to help get them passed, rather than bypassing the citizens and paying lobbyists to help sell the ideas in Nashville.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As for those spending proposals in Congress, if they are good ideas with strong local support and the Congress can find money in the US budget for pork barrel projects (these are the kinds of earmarked spending items that are commonly called "pork barrel"), I hope that our Congressional delegation could get them passed without the help of $8000 per month in paid lobbying.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 14, 2005 12:03 pm    Post subject: City's "tipping fee" bill is making progress in Na Reply with quote

Today's News Sentinel reports progress on the bill that is one of the city's chief objectives for lobbying activity. The news story says (in part):
Quote:
Bill to impose special OR tipping fee clears panel
The Tennessee Senate's environmental committee on Wednesday voted 8-1 to send out of committee a bill that would allow Oak Ridge and Anderson and Roane counties to impose a tipping fee on hazardous wastes that are stored, burned or processed in Oak Ridge....

The enabling legislation now goes before the Senate's finance committee.
"There's no financial impact on the state, so we don't anticipate any major problem there,'' Oak Ridge City Manager James R. O'Connor said...

This is positive news regarding a worthwhile endeavor.

I continue to believe that Oak Ridge could have accomplished this through staff and citizen effort, without the help of an expensive hired gun. The bill's easy passage through the environmental committee underlines this.

PS - According to the article, the House environmental committee will consider the bill on Wednesday, April 20. The news article does not indicate that the bill was amended fairly significantly in the Senate. The current Senate version (PDF file) has different wording that does not use the term "mixed waste" (I think the new wording is better), places a maximum dollar limit on the fee, and specifies that the state department of revenue would collect the fee on behalf of counties and/or municipalities.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2005 12:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oops. Oops

I just edited the previous message. The link pointed to the bill as introduced, not the amended version. Now it is correct. Cool-Red
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2005 4:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Much has happened since I last commented here. Shocked

First, at its April 18 meeting the City Council did vote to enter into contracts with the two lobbying firms. The contract with Nashville lobbyist Bill Nolan is for a full 6 months, as proposed, but the term of the one with the DC-based Ferguson Group was shortened. The contract will end in October; including what appear to be retroactive payments for work done before the contract was signed Confused, it will cost "just" $75,000, versus the $102,000 originally proposed. The vote on both contracts (not reported in the Oak Ridger's article; the Oak Ridge Observer had more details) was 4-2. Council members Willie Golden and David Mosby opposed the contracts, and Leonard Abbatiello was absent. I asked questions at the Council meeting about the lack of competitive bidding, and the answers satisfied some of my concerns by indicating that the City had evaluated several offerors and had negotiated on price. However, I still had misgivings about the whole arrangement -- I have the distinct feeling that the money that formerly went to Baker Donaldson was "burning a hole in the City's pocket," so the City found a new place to spend it. I figure that if the citizens of Oak Ridge were already "sold" on the proposals being pushed in the legislative bodies, volunteer lobbying by citizens would go a long way toward getting them passed.

Next chapter: The "tipping fees" bill has run into serious difficulty.
    DOE and its local contractors and subcontractors are lobbying hard against it. This was predictable: DOE has consistently told the community that the local DOE budget is a zero-sum game -- money spent on economic development initiatives or paid to local governments must come out of local operations. Therefore, the department and its contractors consistently oppose efforts to extract more money from DOE. This is one reason why the effort to obtain "special burdens" funding for the city (what Baker Donaldson was supposed to pursue on our behalf) was attractive to me. Instead of coming from local operations budgets and overhead accounts, it should have led to a new line item in the federal budget. Some DOE elements appear to be misinterpreting the thrust of the proposal, interpreting it as an annual rental fee for previously disposed waste rather than a "tipping fee" for waste placed into disposal. Meanwhile, though, I think that Nolan has been misrepresenting the situation by implying that the Bear Creek Valley disposal cell is a destination for out-of-state wastes, similar to the commercial radwaste sites in South Carolina, Washington, and Utah. In fact, that waste cell is restricted to waste from local cleanup activities.

    Even more serious than DOE's opposition, the state's attorney general issued an opinion that the bill would be unconstitutional. This particular result wasn't exactly predictable, but a legal challenge was. As Willie Golden pointed out in comments at the April 18 City Council meeting, the bill in Nashville was never a sure thing for the City, but only the first step in a long process.

Next up:
The Senate version of the bill has had an additional amendment proposed ( here's the latest amendment in PDF form). The House version of the bill is set to be considered in committee on May 4.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 03, 2005 9:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

By now, everyone probably knows some of the history of the "tipping fees" proposal that the City's lobbyist worked for in Nashville.

DOE and its local contractors opposed the initiative (they pointed out that the money to pay tipping fees would reduce their budget for other activities) and the state attorney general issued an opinion that the proposal would not be constitutional. Thus, the proposed legislation was removed from active consideration. I hope that the episode will lead to productive discussions between local governments and federal officials about ways for the federal government to compensate local communities for the burdens and impacts of being host to government nuclear operations.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 03, 2005 9:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Server logs on this site show that some visitors have found their way here by searching for "lobbying contracts."

I tried searching Google on that term, and I found that lobbying by local and state governments is an issue in many areas. For example, this State of Illinois press release from 2003 tells about the new governor's cancellation of some expensive contracts with Washington, DC, lobbyists. In part it says:
Quote:
In keeping with his administration’s ongoing efforts to carefully examine all areas of state spending, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is eliminating several expensive contracts that have required the state of Illinois to pay out large sums to Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and law firms.

“Reforming state government means not simply changing the way business has been done in Springfield for many years, but also the amount of business the state has awarded to firms in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

In recent weeks, Blagojevich has cancelled a pair of six figures deals with Washington, D.C. public affairs firms and legal offices. Another contract expired at the end of 2002. The Blagojevich administration declined to seek a renewal of it.

On Thursday, he is asking the State Board of Education to terminate a two-year contract that would have required the state to pay more than $330,000 annually.

These costly contracts are another example of the state’s taxpayers shouldering a burden which they can ill afford at this time,” Blagojevich said.

In addition, the services called for under the contracts are of limited value, Blagojevich emphasized, because much of the lobbyists’ work merely duplicates efforts already being carried out by the state’s strong Congressional delegation.

Relying on these firms ignores one of the great assets that we have-- a talented Congressional delegation, including the Speaker of the House and hard-working members from both sides of the aisle,” he added.

Governor Blagojevich's remarks mirror many of my own views on the subject of lobbying.
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