City Council hires lobbyist to represent Issaquah in Olympia
August 7, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah needs a lobbyist to advocate in the marble corridors beneath the Capitol dome — and coax state legislators to support local projects, City Council members said in a contentious decision to hire a longtime Olympia lobbyist.
The council agreed in a 5-2 decision July 16 to hire Doug Levy to represent Issaquah in Olympia. Members spent $21,700 to hire the former congressional staffer and onetime journalist through December.
If the council decides to hire Levy for 2013, as expected, the cost for next year is expected to reach $48,000 plus expense reimbursement. The council shapes the municipal budget for the upcoming year each autumn and approves the spending plan in December.
By the numbers
Staffers at Issaquah City Hall studied nearby cities’ Olympia lobbying efforts to produce the legislation to hire a lobbyist for Issaquah.
2011 lobbying expenditures
Eastside cities average
Other King County cities
Bothell (part of Bothell is in Snohomish County)
Issaquah 2012 lobbying expenditure
Sources: City of Issaquah, Washington Public Disclosure Commission, Washington Office of Financial Management
Supporters said the city can no longer afford to miss out on additional dollars from Olympia — in the form of grants for local projects, perhaps, or dollars for parks and transportation in Issaquah.
“Particularly now when dollars are hard to come by and people are fighting for a smaller and smaller pot of dollars, there is just no way that we can expect to have attention in Olympia if we don’t have somebody sitting at that table advocating on our behalf,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said before the decision.
The dissenters, councilmen Mark Mullet and Joshua Schaer, raised questions about the cost and the process to select Levy.
“I think, frankly, that this is a bit of a gamble,” Schaer said. “I don’t think there’s a guaranteed return on our investment. I don’t know what the likelihood of getting anything out of this $20,000 actually is.”
The council acknowledged the expenditure is not a sure bet, but proponents said the city needs to try regardless.
“We could send him off to Olympia and work for us, and we could come back, unfortunately, with not any additional dollars in our coffers next year,” Councilwoman Eileen Barber said.
Legislative agenda is next step
Plans call for the council to develop legislative priorities and then adopt the list in the near future.
Officials said a lobbyist could aid Issaquah in the search for dollars to upgrade and improve aging Lake Sammamish State Park. The city and the state parks agency embarked on a yearlong partnership in June to maintain the park in the future.
Or a lobbyist could secure funds to execute a multimillion-dollar package of transportation projects proposed for the North Issaquah Local Improvement District, a stretch near Costco corporate headquarters and Pickering Place.
Supporters said the council needs to develop a list of priorities early, as legislators start to lay the foundation for the January 2013 session.
“It’s clear to me that sooner is better,” Council President Tola Marts said.
Schaer questioned the decision to hire Levy before the council developed a solid priority list for the lobbyist.
“I think that’s putting the cart before the horse to authorize over $20,000 and then say we’re going to develop some legislative agenda,” Schaer said. “We don’t even know what that agenda is, yet we’re choosing the full option and authorizing the full amount of money.”
The council considered hiring Levy under shorter, cheaper contracts, but in the end chose a year-round option. The contract cost through December is pro-rated.
Council members emphasize access
Issaquah is already represented in Olympia through the Association of Washington Cities, a statewide group, but officials said a lobbyist dedicated to Issaquah could produce more results.
“As we heard, the dollars in Olympia are getting less and less,” Barber said. “It’s important to begin to make the contacts, get to know the players — and it is important to be down there now.”
The council considered hiring a lobbyist last year, but the idea failed to gain traction until after a June goal-setting retreat.
Opposition to the proposal continued as the council conducted a final debate on whether to hire Levy.
“I have a bit of a philosophical problem with the city and its body of elected officials lobbying other public servants for things that I believe we can do quite effectively as a municipality on our own with the contacts that we have and the good relationships that we have with our friends in Olympia,” Schaer said at the July 16 meeting.
Councilman Fred Butler said past attempts to organize council members to lobby the Legislature did not generate much success. The council is part-time, and most members juggle careers in addition to city duties.
“I disagree with, ‘The city can do the lobbying and preparing of the legislative agenda on its own,’” Goodman said. “Otherwise, we would have done that.”
City Administrator Bob Harrison said staffers contacted other cities. Leaders elsewhere recommended Levy and Issaquah officials then checked his references.
“What we found is that he did produce results for the communities that he did represent,” Harrison said.
Levy’s other government clients include Bothell, Everett, Federal Way, Kent, Puyallup, Redmond and Renton, plus the nongovernment Recreational Boating Association of Washington and the Washington Recreation & Parks Association.
Many lobbyists handle a large portfolio, and Issaquah leaders seemed excited about Levy’s clout at the Capitol.
“I’m convinced that the city also went out and found the best person for this,” Marts said. “There’s not a lot of people that are in this business, and the city did due diligence.”