Government / Politics

County lobbyist leaves supervisors with mixed feelings

Last December, San Benito County hired lobbyist Kim Stone at $10,000 a month. The monthly retainer was later renegotiated down to $8,000. It's still a case of wait-and-see on how successful she may be in diverting state monies to the county.
Supervisor Mark Medina did not vote for Stone, but is hopeful that she will snag
Board Chair Anthony Botelho warned that staff will have no excuses once the system is fully active. Photo by John Chadwell.
The proposed $120,000 to cover a lobbyist in the upcoming budget.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct an error.

When lobbyist Kim Stone appeared at the May 8 Board of Supervisors meeting, it was expected that she would provide an update on her activities for the county. Instead, she thanked the supervisors for approving three consent agenda items and told them why their votes were important.

The first of the agenda items referenced by Stone was a letter of support for SB 623 that would create the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. The second was to approve and sign a letter opposing, unless amended, AB 1964 that would force local health departments to provide oversight of day camps. And the third was to approve and sign a letter opposing AB 1912, which would eliminate the Joint Exercise of Powers Act (JPA) provisions for community choice aggregation of electricity. Stone explained that a JPA in the Los Angeles area had failed and its 200 employees lost their jobs and pensions.

Supervisor Mark Medina told BenitoLink after the meeting he was disappointed that she didn’t report on her recent efforts in the capital to benefit the county.

“I should have asked her what she was working on and where she is in regards to a timeline in bringing money to the county,” Medina said. He added that he will be meeting with her May 28 to discuss this.

Stone told BenitoLink on May 16 that she is looking at the possibility of securing a portion of a $9 billion state surplus. She said legislators are trying to determine if the surplus should be made available to counties, or kept in a rainy-day fund because they are anticipating a downturn in the state’s economy.

Medina said he was looking forward to meeting with Stone and recounted that last December he did not vote for her to be the county’s lobbyist.

“It was a 3-2 vote and I know she’s on the payroll, so I’m going to get what I can out of her,” he said. “The way I look at it, business-wise, is that we hired her in December, but to be a lobbyist she needs to have some contacts already. That’s what I’m looking for.”

He said he knew very little about her when she was selected because he had received the information packet on her the Thursday before the Tuesday vote.

“It was hard to do the research,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a service to anyone to make a decision so haphazardly without investigating it.”

At a December 2017 meeting, Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said that while he supported hiring a lobbyist, he wanted the $10,000-per-month plus expenses contract to be for just one year on a trial basis. In January 2018, the amount was lowered to $8,000 month, for a contract total not to exceed $100,000.

During the May 15 special board meeting, Budget Officer Melinda Casillas, who is a candidate for county treasurer-tax collector-public administrator, gave a presentation on the status of the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget. In it, $120,000 was included to continue paying for a lobbyist.

Board Chair Anthony Botelho told BenitoLink by email that Stone was instrumental in making the board’s concerns known regarding the prolonged closure of Highway 25 for rail repairs.

“I am aware of other projects of significance that is premature to disclose,” he said. “This would be a better-timed story in a couple of months. With that said, accountability and performance will be evaluated given the reasonable opportunity of time for me to evaluate the merits of this position. At this time, I see value.”

Supervisor Robert Rivas, who originally suggested that the county hire a lobbyist and supported Stone’s bid last December, said by email: “Kim Stone has been doing excellent work on a number of different fronts on behalf of San Benito County, such as: the growing local homeless issue and roads/transportation. She is looking into many issues that are important to local residents.”

In December, Rivas nominated Stone and her lobbying firm, Stone Advocacy, to represent the county in Sacramento. The county lobbyist previously worked with Supervisor Rivas’ brother, Rick Rivas, when she was president of the Civil Justice Association of California, a Sacramento-based nonprofit group that lobbies against policies that would make it easier to bring lawsuits against businesses. The group’s board of directors includes major companies such as Kaiser Permanente, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo Bank, The Dow Chemical Company, and ExxonMobil Corporation.

***Even though Stone and Rick Rivas had worked together before, Stone couldn’t recollect exactly when she met Robert. However, she told BenitoLink that, as a lobbyist, she knew most legislators and many of their staff.***

Stone left the lobby firm in December 2016, and Rick Rivas now works as the San Francisco program manager for Equality California.

Supervisor Rivas has previously stated that knowing someone does not create a conflict of interest, in regards to his December vote.

See BenitoLink articles on the hiring of county lobbyist:

***This paragraph was added after the original publication.

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]