Pasquotank Commissioners hire a lobbyist

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Joe McClees, a well known lobbyist in the North Carolina General Assembly, picked up a new client this week – Pasquotank County.

Joe McClees, a well known lobbyist in the North Carolina General Assembly, picked up a new client this week – Pasquotank County.

ELIZABETH CITY — At the finance committee meeting on Monday, the lobbying firm of Joseph McClees Inc. made a pitch to the Pasquotank County Commissioners for the firm to represent the county’s interests before the General Assembly. The proposed three-year contract provides for compensation of $15,000 for year one, $25,000 for year two, and $30,000 for year three.

The firm, based in Oriental, N.C, is a husband and wife team. Mrs. McClees is a trial lawyer by training. Current clients for McClees include the nearby counties of Camden and Currituck.

Chairman Winslow stated that he had spoken with the county mangers in these counties to verify that they were satisfied with the services that this firm provides. The area’s state legislator, Rep. Bob Steinburg describes the firm as effective and hard workers.

So why did Pasquotank County decide this service was needed? The commissioners claim to have been blind-sided by a piece of proposed legislation and they wanted someone close to the action in the legislature that can keep an eye on proposed legislation and let the commissioners know what might be coming their way.

The fee structure provides an opportunity for the lobbyist to build a relationship with the county at a lower cost and grow into the higher fee. But this is a three-year agreement with no “out clause,” which was suggested by Commissioner Frankie Meads – if elected officials, at some point in the future, wanted to forego the use of lobbyists.

The Commissioners and Mr. McClees discussed the possibility of his firm assisting them with marketing our county to prospective businesses seeking to expand in Virginia that might seek to locate here. One must wonder that if this becomes part of the services provided, if the county will still need an economic developer?

During a recent interview with County Commission Chairman Joe Winslow, economic development was a major topic of discussion. He stated that the future of Northeastern North Carolina was more closely aligned with southeastern Virginia than it was to Raleigh. We agree. But when asked what development efforts were being pursued in Virginia, the answer was none. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, our economic developer needs to focus his efforts on becoming involved in the business community in Virginia and spend the majority of his time and effort to market the Elizabeth City area to employers and business owners.

We question the value of expenditures for lobbying efforts of this type. It appears that a lobbyist does nothing for our county commissioners that they could not do for themselves. If they went to Raleigh periodically, they could meet with their elected representatives and learn firsthand what legislation is coming down the line. There are lists of proposed bills that go to the legislators. Therefore, our commissioners could obtain the information and avoid being ‘blindsided,” without having to pay a third party to monitor legislative affairs.

In other business, the commissioners spoke about the hard work of the county staff in preparing the recent budget. In particular, Commissioner Griffin spoke about the need of preparing for next year’s budget as soon as possible because the spending that was denied this year has not gone away. We agree with this statement, but at no point did he speak about any spending reductions.

So while we achieved a balanced budget this year, it was accomplished through failing to approve requested funding by the School Board and College of the Albemarle, plus substantially reducing our reserve fund – an option this is unlikely to be available next year.