June 18, 2009

Eyebrows raised at lobbyist contract renewal

You don't see this everyday:

A routine renewal of a longtime lobbyist's contracts turned into a heated discussion among Clark County commissioners about how those who are paid handsomely to promote the county are seldom scrutinized.

Taking his job seriously, County commissioner Steve Sisolak argued that it was irresponsible to fork over $2 million to "lobbying, public relations, marketing and community outreach" organizations without a competitive bidding process in place.

Especially at a time when the County is cutting back on other spending, the amount spent on lobbying can be seen as extravagant.

Even though the lobbyist in question, Marcus Faust, was ultimately rehired for the job, Sisolak's criticisms of the overall system found sympathy with other commissioners.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said that although lobbyists are necessary, they must answer to the public.

"How do we properly make sure taxpayers' dollars are accounted for?" Giunchigliani asked.

She recommended that lobbyists be required to write reports on what they accomplished as part of their re-hirement process.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly praised Faust but said that it "raises eyebrows when you hear of this conglomeration of contracts that add up to a large amount of money."

Commissioner Larry Brown said the first step to getting a handle on the problem is making a list of all the lobbyists and the terms of their contracts. No county agency should ever stonewall a commissioner, he said.

"I do find it unacceptable that Mr. Sisolak ran into obstacles getting information," Brown said. "I find it offensive."

I'm glad the commissioners at least recognize potential problems with the current lobbying system and Steve Sisolak spoke up raised objections like he did. Hopefully, the Council starts holding lobbyists accountable.