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Council members question role of city lobbyist, effect of resolutions

Council members question role of city lobbyist, effect of resolutions

February 16th, 2014 in News

Members of the Jefferson City Council will consider a resolution Tuesday to support a proposed pay increase for state workers. But some council members have questioned whether resolutions are the right avenue to get involved in state issues, especially since the city is represented at the Capitol by lobbyist and former Mayor Tom Rackers.

At a Council Committee on Administration meeting last week, council members debated both the effectiveness of resolutions on state issues and whether a more appropriate avenue wouldn't be discussing the issues with Rackers.

Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said he was unsure resolutions have any effect on the state legislature and suggested using the city's lobbyist or contacting the local state representatives instead.

"I question whether or not it's a good use of council time," Bray said. "I think there is an avenue to do this with Tom Rackers, our lobbyist."

Fellow 5th Ward Councilman Larry Henry agreed, noting he often forgets that the city contracts with a lobbyist and the city's stance on state issues can be communicated just as well to Rackers.

"I don't think (resolutions are) always necessary if we do have a lobbyist," Henry said.

Rackers has served as the city's lobbyist for about 10 years and currently receives $25,000 annually for his services.

Third Ward Councilman Ken Hussey said he agreed using the city's lobbyist is the best way to voice the city's interest at the Capitol, but added Rackers needs direction on where the city stands and resolutions can help provide that.

"Sometimes it just gives an extra talking point," Hussey said. "Does it sway the vote one way or another? I doubt it ... but it adds a little credibility."

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Tergin (formerly Carroll) said though she believes in the effectiveness of resolutions, the debate brought up a valid question on what truly is the role of the city's lobbyist and suggested a work session be scheduled to discuss the issue.

Interim City Administrator Drew Hilpert said typically it's been the job of the city attorney, a position Hilpert also holds, to communicate with Rackers about the city's interests. Hilpert said though he's been city attorney since April 2012, he only took on the task last fall, after the council fired former City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus.

Because Nickolaus had previously held the city attorney position, Hilpert said Nickolaus continued the task after his promotion to city administrator because of his existing relationship with Rackers.

Rackers said he views his job as looking for bills before the legislature that would have an effect on Jefferson City and its residents, and said he does his best to represent city interests.

"It's just basically looking out for the needs of the city," Rackers said.

He said this session there are quite a few bills that would have an impact on Jefferson City, including the possible pay increase for state workers, a bill to allow events serving alcohol at the Capitol and the old Missouri State Penitentiary, and the potential for rebuilding of the Fulton State Hospital. He recently testified on versions of the bills in the House, representing Jefferson City.

Previously, Rackers said he's worked on issues like cellphone taxes, in which he said Jefferson City was "treated very, very fairly" because the city was on top of the issue.

"It's not my doings - I keep the mayor and (city) administrator on board of what's going on, and they get very involved in the process also," Rackers said, adding that he often sets up meetings between city officials and legislators. "Everybody's over there fighting for a dollar."

Rackers said resolutions passed by the City Council on state issues actually are an important tool for him in the Capitol.

"One of the first things (legislators) ask on everything is about local support," Rackers said.

Being able to point out that the local council has passed a resolution in support of, or against, a bill or an overall issue, helps Rackers to show legislators where municipalities stand. He noted that if legislators can't be shown there is local support for an issue, that issue is likely not to receive much attention.

During the legislative session, Rackers sends a weekly email update to city officials that tracks bills of interest to the city, but his contract has no specific requirement to provide annual reports to the city.