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Iowa City moves forward on hiring Des Moines lobbyist

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | SEPTEMBER 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City officials are in favor of hiring a lobbyist to improve communication with state legislators.

At a work session Tuesday evening, the City Council discussed a recent recommendation by City Manager Tom Markus to hire a lobbyist in order to increase communication between the city and state policymakers. Though officials said past lobbying efforts have been made by city councilors as well as the Metro Coalition and the Iowa League of Cities, a lobbyist would allow the city to have more concrete and regular representation at the state level.

City officials will now communicate with firms and sit down with potential candidates for the position, Markus said.

“Right now, we’ve had good success,” he said. “However, going forward there is some value in us contracting specifically with a lobbyist.”

A position would cost the city between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.

Appointing a current staff member with lobbying duties would be inefficient, officials said.

“As a practical matter, it’s difficult to have staff and councilors running to Des Moines,” City Councilor Ross Wilburn said. “It would be good in being offensive and reactive to things that are happening at the state level. That person would communicate with elected officials, which would be much better for both us and them.”

Hiring a staff member, though, would also prove to be less economically efficient, so the city will likely contract a current lobbyist to work on its behalf.

“I don’t think it would be fiscally responsible to do this legislative work for a staff position,” said Councilor Regenia Bailey. “Keeping in mind that what a city does as it lobbies is seek federal and state funding and see what resources is available. It’s more of an investment than an expense.”

Lobbyists for Iowa City would assist on securing funding, grants, and, more specifically, legislative action to modify a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling regarding apartment cooperatives, Markus said.

City Councilor Connie Champion believed hiring a lobbyist would help bring the city closer to par with other Iowa cities.

“The way this Legislature’s going, we could have three or four lobbyists and still be behind in the game,” she said at the meeting.

Markus said he would meet with area cities that have lobbyists to discuss what they’ve accomplished with the position.

“Our delegation was very supportive of this,” he said. “They recognized that we need to have discussion on both political sides of these issues.”

And Mayor Matt Hayek said he has heard other cities talk about their successful lobbying efforts.
“It’s not a long-term commitment; we can see how it goes,” he said.


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