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Eastern Iowa leaders say lobbyists have been good for their towns

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | SEPTEMBER 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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As Iowa City officials discuss hiring a lobbyist to push for the city’s interests in Des Moines, leaders from other Eastern Iowa communities say having a voice in the statehouse has been positive.

Officials in places like Coralville and Cedar Falls said the position allows quick communication and feedback on what goes on at the state level, which allows cities to make more informed decisions.

Iowa City city councilors will discuss the recommendation at a meeting tonight.

At present, nine cities in Iowa have hired lobbyists.

In Coralville, which has had a lobbyist for more than 10 years, Coralville City Councilor John Lundell said it has been a huge benefit to the city. The position costs $27,500.

“I don’t like to use the term lobbyists because I think there’s some negative connotations,” he said. “I think of them more as a government-relations people. It’s a really great communications conduit.”

Cedar Falls City Councilor John Runchey said that after hiring a lobbyist, officials received more regular legislative feedback.

“They can tell us what piece of legislation is coming down almost hour by hour,” Runchey said. “We decide where we’re going to be on these issues before the Legislature goes into session.”

Markus said the lobbyist would focus on issues such as the Amtrak train service, action to modify the taxation on apartment co-operatives, and state funding.

The lobbyist would be required to attend City Council meetings quarterly, develop annual off-session reports, and communicate with groups with similar interests as Iowa City.

Iowa City officials said they are open to the discussion.

City Councilor Regenia Bailey said she supports maintaining similar efforts of other Iowa cities.

“Many of us on City Council have good contact with legislators,” she said. “But a lobbyist would be able to coordinate efforts, organize staff. It makes a lot of sense.”

But City Councilor, Mike Wright said his main concern is how other cities have benefited from a lobbyist and if the city will profit from the addition.

“Only thing I’m apprehensive about is getting enough bang for the buck,” he said. “Getting enough return in what we’re investing in.”

But Bailey sad she is thinks it is worth the investment.

“We should prioritize finding the funds,” she said. “I think this is more of an investment than an expense. There are spending opportunities that we should be aware of, and legislation that can affect the ability to maintain our fiscal health.”

Officials believe that investing the money into a lobbyist would be more effective than turning it into a staff position.

But even with a lobbyist in place, Bailey said, communication among local, state, and federal policymakers will not cease.

“I think it’s important that community leaders have good relationships with delegates,” Bailey said. “And even with a lobbyist, I think that will continue. It’s the same with department heads and city staff — those relationships have to be maintained at all levels.”


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