In a move to be more competitive against other counties in an effort to bring more state funds to San Benito County, the board of supervisors approved an expenditure of more than $120,000 for one year’s representation by a professional lobbyist.
Ray Espinosa, county administrative officer, explained that Supervisor Robert Rivas originally suggested last February that the county hire a lobbyist. He said the county budgeted the cost of bringing a lobbyist onboard and the ad hoc committee, comprised of Rivas and Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz, narrowed down the selection to the top three firms:
- DiMare, Brown, Hicks, Kessler
- Hurst Brooks, Espinosa (no relation to the CAO)
- Stone Advocacy
Espinosa told the board all three firms were very experienced, and then invited each to come before the board to talk about their services and experience. He said the three firms submitted monthly quotes for retainers from $3,000 to $10,000 plus expenses, but all were open to further negotiations.
After representatives of each firm gave their sales pitch, Espinosa explained that once the board made its decision his office would begin negotiations for a contract. Rivas commented that he had pushed for a move to hire a lobbyist for a number of months. He explained his advocacy for professional lobbyists began years ago while he was still a graduate student at San Jose State University, as a member of the campus newspaper’s editorial board.
“I remember advocating and convincing members of the editorial board to write an editorial on why our county—this was in 2004 and 2005—needed professional advocacy in Sacramento,” he recalled, adding that he received a call from the county’s CAO at that time who wanted to talk to him about his ideas. “I met with Susan Thompson, who was CAO at the time, and she proceeded to blast my opinion on why San Benito County did not need professional advocacy in Sacramento because the supervisors were members of various groups, like RCRC (Rural County Representatives of California). But in my opinion, we need more than what we’re able to get out of RCRC.”
Rivas said he had hoped to get the resolution on the agenda months ago, but was glad to see it finally there, commenting that it is time to finally have representation in Sacramento. He thanked the representatives of the three firms for coming to the meeting.
“When I look around the room I see some of the most talented and respected legislative advocates in the state,” he said. “The bottom line is I want everyone to understand that most other local governments have advocates in Sacramento and we are way behind. The average amount spent by all counties on reportable lobbying were $221,000 (2015 figures) annually. What do we spend? Zero.”
He pointed out that the county has a laundry list of policy needs that a lobbyist can help accomplish.
“Roads and transportation are at the top of the list,” he said. “A rural county having professional advocacy is a big deal.”
Rivas went on to say he had reviewed all three applicants and found them equally qualified, yet each had a unique strength. He said he looks for three things in a lobbyist: the best firm to represent the county; the bandwidth to focus on the county; and a proven advocate who has delivered results. He said he admired all the firms, but ultimately urged the board to choose Stone Advocacy.
Supervisor De La Cruz said when he attends various meetings that he feels the county is at a disadvantage because supervisors from other counties are talking with their consultants and lobbyists.
“I thought it would be nice if we had somebody to talk to before going into a meeting of other supervisors from different parts of California,” he said. “It’s another tool the county can have. I’m going to lean toward Espinosa. I feel that group has the experience and we’ve benefited from their experience in the past.”
Supervisor Mark Medina tossed in his vote for DiMare, Brown, Hicks, Kessler. Supervisor Anthony Botelho said rather than the group presence that organizations like RCRC offer the county needs an individual presence in Sacramento.
“I know my colleague, Supervisor Medina, has some real challenges regarding the work on the levee,” he said. “That’s only half the job. Unfortunately, we’re not able to do the full job because of a lack of resources in the county. It’s going to be a real problem unless we get somebody onboard advocating for us up in Sacramento. At times, as a small county, we sometimes get lost in the mix.’
He said he once thought Sacramento and Washington had too many lobbyists, but now sees the value in having them as advocates for the county. Supervisor Jerry Muenzer pointed out that Highway 25 was a $300 million project and that the state is “saying they don’t have the money or even the desire to deal with that.”
“We need help up in Sacramento,” he said and pointed out that Highway 156 had been put on the back burner. “We need somebody lobbying for us to bring that to the forefront and get that moving.”
Muenzer said while he supports hiring a lobbyist he wanted to include in the negotiations that the contract was for one year only, as a trial contract. Rivas made the motion that the board select Stone Advocacy to represent the county. The board voted 3-2 in favor of the Sacramento-based company, which submitted a bid for a monthly retainer of $10,000 plus expenses.