Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Thomas will lobby Legislature for Haines Borough

 


The Haines Borough Assembly on Dec. 29 authorized acting manager Julie Cozzi to draw up a $45,000, one-year lobbying contract with former state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines.

Mayor Jan Hill broke a 3-3 assembly tie on whether to contract with Thomas. “You are not going to find another lobbyist who is going to represent Haines better than Bill Thomas,” Hill said. “He knows the system. He knows the players. He knows how it works and he’s willing to do it.”

Thomas became a default choice when the only other lobbyist who submitted a proposal to the borough, Anchorage-based Denali Daniels and Associates, withdrew its proposal and recommended Thomas for the job.

But assembly member Margaret Friedenauer said Thomas submitted a contract for the job, not a proposal.

“We can all say we know Mr. Thomas and respect him and his experience and of course I do, but frankly I was a little insulted by his proposal. It doesn’t give me a clear idea of what he’s going to do as a lobbyist for Haines. It doesn’t give me any information on why this person wants this job and what this person might do for us,” Friedenauer said.

Friedenauer said a lobbyist hire would be irresponsible because the assembly doesn’t have a “clear, strategic plan in place” for a lobbyist to follow. “We have two or three capital projects.” She also reported that at a recent Alaska Municipal League workshop, municipal leaders were advised that hiring a lobbyist in the coming session would be advisable for towns pursuing legislation, as opposed to funding.

“If you’re just going in there to ask for money or to protect money, good luck, it may not be worth it,” Friedenauer quoted the workshop leader as advising.

Friedenauer and assembly members Ron Jackson and Tresham Gregg voted against the contract.

Member Mike Case said Thomas’ proposal was inadequate but he supported the contract anyway, as other Southeast municipalities have lobbyists. “(Thomas) should have given us a better proposal but I’m still going to vote for him because it’s in the borough’s best interest, not his best interest.”

Jackson raised questions about the borough’s contracting process, noting that the request for proposals included discussion of committee review of proposals. Acting manager Cozzi said she and Hill had read the proposals and reviewed them. “I also, myself, interviewed Mr. Thomas,” Cozzi told assembly members.

When questioned via email after the meeting, Cozzi said she hadn’t interviewed Thomas before recommending the contract with him. “I don’t believe I said I interviewed Mr. Thomas. I did not do that. I said the Mayor and I both reviewed the proposals. (I’m) not sure what I said that sounded like I conducted interviews.”

 About a half-dozen residents spoke against hiring lobbyist, citing cost, the state’s budget crunch, and the option of lobbying by citizens and elected leaders.

“The borough assembly has been anything but fiscally conservative in the past couple years,” said resident Gershon Cohen. “If this gets pushed through, I think it’s going to be one more example of how we spend a lot of taxpayer money without understanding what we’re going to get, because frankly there’s no plan out there for what to do.”

Thomas and the borough this week signed a professional services agreement that stipulates that his “contract” with the borough includes the services agreement, wording of the request for proposals, and Thomas’ submitted contract.

In an interview, Thomas defended his submission, saying he provided what the borough asked for in its request for proposals, including a transmittal letter, a statement of experience, a proposed fee and three references. “We went through the request and submitted exactly what they asked for. They didn’t ask for a resume or client list (or list of deliverables),” he said.

He later submitted a resume and additional references.

Thomas said he foresaw no problem providing written, weekly reports on his activities, as per wording in the borough’s RFP. “But I don’t want to see them showing on somebody’s blog. Those would be confidential.”

Thomas said he understands his agreement with the borough to mean he’ll be paid a flat $45,000 and cover his own expenses, but that he can submit bills for items like taking a legislator to lunch. “I’m not going to drag 15 people out to the Baranof (Hotel) and run up a bill. I understand the concerns around town,” he said.

He said the contract’s term of a year makes sense, even though the legislature term is only 90 days. “You’ve got all year to talk to legislators. There will be times when legislators will want to meet elsewhere.”

Thomas said he interpreted the borough’s legislative priorities as his to-do list, including advocating for ferry funding and state revenue sharing and capital projects such as Lutak Dock, sewage treatment plan, boat harbor boat ramp, boat harbor drive-down float, and school locker rooms.

 
 

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