One of the many perks of being on Winslow City Council is getting to travel to conferences in distant locations. Many people in Winslow's past have taken advantage of these opportunities whether it is a chance to go shopping in the nation's capital or to strive for federal attention for constituents back home.
Winslow Mayor Allan Affeldt and Councilwoman Sue Bumpus recently traveled to D.C. to be a part of the Annual Conference for the National League of Cities and Towns. While there they met with Arizona representatives and the Ferguson Group lobbying firm hired by the city of Winslow at $7,500 a month to lobby for Winslow in D.C.
Affeldt was dissatisfied with Council's choice to pay for the lobbyist because of the cost and that he believes someone on Winslow's city staff could be more effective. After meeting with the Ferguson Group, he said he was still unimpressed, and later in the last Council meeting, Affeldt challenged Winslow City Council and City Administrator Jim Ferguson about the high cost and small amount of reports given to the City. There is no relation between City Administrator Jim Ferguson and the Ferguson Group, lobbying firm.
"I am concerned that we are really not getting the value for our money here, and we could really put that money to better uses," Affeldt said.
The City voted to begin paying the Ferguson Group $90,000 a year or $7,500 a month back in January on a month to month contract to lobby federal representatives to assist with levee decertification and getting the City out from under mistakes made by a previous administration. The City contracted with the National Park Service to get land for golf course that failed. Now the City cannot sell the prime commercial property because of the agreement they made with the Park Service. It will take an act of Congress to get out of that deal and some land had already been sold which could complicate matters. A similar situation of land sales and poor planning was conducted near the Winslow Airport which threatens the airport existence, so the City needs to works with the Federal Aviation Administration to work around that,
Some on City Council and the City Administrator Ferguson believe Winslow needs to pay the lobbying firm to help with these issues.
Administrator Ferguson said that he was not as pleased as some on Council about the Ferguson Group's last report to the City on what they accomplished, though he added that things in DC can be very slow and take a long time to see any progress.
Councilwoman Sue Bumpus said, "The money that we are paying for a lobbying group would be better spent on a salary for a deputy city administrator who could take on the duties of being Winslow's lobbyist in D.C. to familiarize him or herself with the process."
Mayor Affeldt said that his having a sense of the legislative process, Winslow could get better results by having a deputy administrator do it since it is not as hard as many would think. Bumpus agreed.
Administrator Ferguson has asked Council to hire a deputy administrator to assist him in managing the city. A few weeks ago, Councilman Harold Soehner suggested they promote someone already working for the city of Winslow to have the new job. Councilwoman Judy Howell protested that they hire someone new from outside the City to avoid Winslow's tendency towards cronyism; whereby they will end up having someone under qualified and over paid. Her suggestion was ignored.
A committee was created of council members to create the qualifications that will be used for the internal promotion.
Affeldt and Bumpus said they believe if the Council is going to spend a considerable salary over $90,000 for a deputy administrator then that person should be responsible to lobby, too, instead of spending twice as much.
Councilman Robin Boyd said they should wait longer to give the lobbying group more time to prove themselves before canceling their contract so soon.
Affeldt argued that the City has wasted $30,000 to date and they have little to no report of what the lobbying group has actually done. Councilwoman Lugo said she did not want to get rid of the lobbyists because she is not yet sure she knows what they are doing.
"When Allan and I went to D.C., the impression I got was that the most important thing was that we as City representatives were there and not a lobbyist," Bumpus said. "Sure it is helpful to have someone who knows the ins and outs in D.C., but that is something City staff could pick-up on."
Administrator Ferguson said he has experience with the legislative process and that it is more complex that some people believe because much of the work done is done by congressional staffs and federal bureaucracies.
"Jim, if you had a choice between having a deputy administrator or having a lobbying firm, which would you have?" Affeldt asked.
Administrator Ferguson said that would be a Council decision. Lugo said that was not a fair question.
Affeldt said the City does not have much money and has many other important project and services in need of funding and Council should not approve spending $90,000 on a lobbyist and another $90,000 on a deputy administrator.
Administrator Ferguson said they have a balanced City budget that includes both expenditures. He added that this deputy is not his so much as it is the city of Winslow's.