Las Vegas Sun

May 23, 2019

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Many hands at work on lobbying effort this year

Commissioners are at it too, joining county staff and hired guns

Commissioner Tom Collins wanted to know: If lobbyists hired by the county aren’t doing their jobs, can they be fired?

He asked that question during Clark County’s preliminary budget workshop Tuesday.

No one answered. But after the meeting, Commission Chairman Rory Reid said it is way too early in the legislative session to assess the lobbyists’ performance. Collins later agreed and said he has full faith in county staff who lobby in Carson City — but he’s reserving judgment on the county’s hired guns until he sees what bills make it out of committees this month.

What brought this on?

Several things. Some people in Carson City are complaining about Clark County’s direct involvement — or lack thereof — in the legislative process. One concerned Clark County legislator said commissioners seem at times to be hurting or failing to help their own lobbyists’ efforts. For example, the legislator said, he hasn’t seen a lot of county staff testifying on behalf of bills that would benefit specific agencies. At the same time, the source said, commissioners and county lobbyists appear at times to be working at cross purposes. A county resolution approved by the commission this year was meant to avoid that problem by formally asking county commissioners, staff and lobbyists to speak with one voice in Carson City. But two high-level county staffers speaking on the condition of anonymity say actions by Collins and Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, both former Assembly members, are not always in concert with lobbyists.

What do those two commissioners have to say for themselves?

Giunchigliani said she is working on bills or proposals — brought to her by constituents — that lie outside of Clark County’s aims.

Collins said he doesn’t always agree with county staff, or the positions taken by the Clark County Commission, and he doesn’t hesitate to voice his dissent.

“I won’t speak for other commissioners, but generally the commission is not always unanimous on issues,” he said. “And sure, some legislators have been calling me and I’ve been calling them.”

But if a county commissioner asks a lawmaker to act one way on an issue, and a county lobbyist asks the lawmaker to act a different way, is that hurting the county?

Some lobbyists and legislators said of course it is. Collins, however, said, “We are working together, overall. And where there are some differences, if maybe we have to tiptoe a little better, OK ... I don’t think we’re harming the county’s legislative actions.”

What happened to the idea of prohibiting local governmental entities such as the county from spending taxpayer money on hired lobbyists?

Assembly Bill 442’s joint sponsors include a formidable bipartisan trio of Senate Majority Leader Steve Horsford, D-Las Vegas, Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas. The bill would prevent state government, local governments and their various components from hiring outside lobbyists.

Are commissioners at odds over this bill?

It appears that most do not support it.

Reid said he doesn’t “see the point of disarming ourselves.”

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said, “We have to have people up there on our behalf, especially when commissioners and staff can’t be up there every day.”

Commissioner Larry Brown noted that upcoming legislative sessions will include a lot of rookie lawmakers because term limits will be clearing out the old guard. “So it will be very important for us to have a strong voice up there or, at the end of the day, we will miss out on some opportunities or let some things go that adversely affect the county.”

And though Collins is critical of some lobbyists’ performance, he calls the anti-lobbying bill “absolutely stupid ... the state could then take money from us and we’d have no fight.”

Giunchigliani is the only commissioner who strongly supports the bill. She says hiring outside lobbyists is a waste of taxpayer money. For this session, Clark County hired Dan Hart & Associates for $102,000 to lobby for the county and retained R&R Partners for $90,000 to lobby for University Medical Center. Giunchigliani said county staff can handle the lobbying on their own. Not to mention the fact that two members of the Assembly, Kelvin Atkinson and Kathy McLain, are county employees.

Do the county’s on-staff lobbyists do a good job?

Commissioners have openly applauded this year’s efforts by Chief Financial Officer George Stevens, Assistant County Manager Darryl Martin (who is leaving next month to manage Dallas County, Texas, government) and Administrative Services Director Sabra Smith-Newby. But they are just three of the county employees registered to lobby for Clark County. Any county staff member who goes to Carson City to lobby must register. So far 15 people with Clark County affiliations, on-staff and contracted, have registered, including County Manager Virginia Valentine. Four more people are registered as lobbyists for Metro Police, which is partially funded by Clark County.

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