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City’s D.C. lobbying contract to be vetted by Council

Fresno City Hall

City’s D.C. lobbying contract to be vetted by Council

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Garry Bredefeld and John Ellis are headed for a debate in the Fresno City Council Chamber.

The topic: Do cities in general, and Fresno in particular, have to “pay to play” in American democracy?

Bredefeld is District 6’s council member. Ellis is government affairs manager for Mayor Lee Brand.

The issue at Thursday’s council meeting is a request from Ellis on the consent calendar: Approve a three-year contract for $195,000 with the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm of Simon and Company, Inc. The deal includes two one-year options.

Simon’s lobbyists will be charged with getting our municipal government lots of money from our federal government.

Ellis thinks the $195,000 deal is great.

“Since beginning operations in 1987, Simon and Company has developed a successful track record helping local governments take advantage of opportunities and solve problems within the federal legislative and executive branches,” Ellis wrote in his report to the council. “The City’s relationship with Simon and Company has proven fruitful as the firm has grown to understand the many local needs and challenges, an understanding that comes with a longstanding working relationship.

“Simon and Company has represented the City of Fresno at the national level in Washington, D.C., providing assistance in legislative affairs, intergovernmental relations, federal grants and program development, and special projects. During its time representing the city, Simon and Company has successfully assisted in securing more than $60 million in federal appropriations.”

Bredefeld thinks the $195,000 deal is bad.

“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Bredefeld told me by phone earlier this week.

Bredefeld said he plans to pull the Simon proposal from the consent calendar for a full council debate.

The Simon deal calls for City Hall to pay $5,083.33 per month for the next 36 months. The city also will pay up to $4,000 annually for reimbursable expenses.

Simon currently is Fresno’s lobbyist in the nation’s capital. The new deal’s monthly cost is the same as the old deal.

Ellis wrote that having a federal lobbyist under contract has allowed Fresno to do such things as: “Compete for scarce resources; have access to a newly elected President and his Cabinet, as well as Congressional leaders and their staffs, federal agencies, and other important decision makers; stay abreast of and influence federal agencies; monitor important legislative initiatives, be they positive and negative; receive important notices about grant opportunities, as well as assistance and advice on how best to present the grant applications; receive instruction about how to mobilize City resources.”

I don’t know a thing about lobbying in D.C. Still, that seems like a lot of service for five thousand bucks a month. Donald Trump is going to open the Oval Office to Fresno’s interests for that kind of money?

I’ll let Bredefeld explain his thoughts in detail on Thursday. But I gather that his fundamental point is this: Local taxpayers are already paying for locally-elected representatives to serve local interests in D.C. Local taxpayers are already paying for local officials such as Brand and Ellis to trumpet local interests in D.C. Local taxpayers are already paying their fair share to fund a vast bureaucracy in D.C. Why should local taxpayers pay a lobbying firm to do something that should already be routine – if the system weren’t stacked against the taxpayer, the forgotten man and woman?

Of course, you don’t have to be William Graham Sumner to know that stacking the system against the forgotten man and woman is precisely the point of the system.

Case in point: Remember President Barack Obama’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative?

The amount of ink spilled on this Rube Goldberg-type idea would fill Friant Dam. But the basic concept was the same as the one behind the rehiring of Simon and Company: The federal government is so big and complex and contradictory that it’s beyond the ken of anyone outside the federal government to effectively use the federal government without inside help.

Fresno, as you recall, was chosen in July 2011 as one of six cities throughout the nation to take part in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2, as it came to be called) pilot project.

Here’s a bit from a May 11, 2011 federal news release on the initiative’s launch: “By integrating government investments and partnering with local communities, SC2 channels the resources of the federal government to help empower cities as they develop and implement their vision for economic growth.”

To my thinking, SC2 and Simon are doing the exact same thing.

City Hall tells me I’m wrong. Communications Director Mark Standriff told me by phone on Tuesday that the proposed Simon deal and SC2 are “two different services.” If I correctly understood Standriff, the former is about getting money and the latter is about getting expertise.

But if SC2 was the success that I’m told it was, then doesn’t City Hall now know how to do everything that Simon and Company promises to do for $5,000 a month (plus expenses)?

I close with another piece from Ellis’ report to the council:

“In short, Simon and Company keeps tabs on all significant actions of the federal establishment which could make a difference to Fresno. And over the years, the return on the City’s investment with Simon and Company is proven. The firm is always proactive, responsive and attuned to the City’s needs. The firm sends a weekly update of relevant news at the Capitol, sends out special reports as needed, and regularly provides notice of grant and funding opportunities. In addition, they provide logistical support when the Mayor, members of the Council, and Department Directors travel to Washington, and are able to open doors to critical federal and legislative offices for these visits.”

We need Simon and Company to go see Jim Costa?

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver and advisor to The Collegian, the student newspaper of Fresno State.

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