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City council hires lobbyist

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In a split vote Thursday night, the Roswell City Council hired a lobbyist to speak for the city in the State Capitol. The dissenting council members questioned if spending $40,000 was a move the city should make when it is cutting $31 million from its expenses for the next fiscal year.

In a 6-4 voice vote, the City Council approved a service contract with Thompson Consulting LLC, Albuquerque. The scope of work section of the agreement specifies Thompson Consulting will develop and improve relationships and credibility for the city with state executive officials, legislators and their staffs; seek the approval of governmental actions favorable to the city; and provide advice and counsel to members and city staff on strategic approaches to accomplish those objectives.

A consultant will be able to keep in contact with Santa Fe in ways city officials and city councilors cannot, City Manager Joe Neeb said in introducing the proposal.

“We all have other jobs to do, so the idea of this agreement is to put somebody up there that is in the area that can speak with the legislators on a regular basis and help champion our cause,” he said.

“The challenge we have is that, if you’re familiar with what happens in the statehouse, you’ll go up there and they’ll go into caucus, go into all these other conversations, so you may not be there when the actions are being heard,” Neeb said.

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Joseph Thompson, the principal of the consulting company, has a strong background in lobbying, Neeb said, noting he has been employed as a lobbyist by the city of Albuquerque.

Thompson represented District 31 in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005 and was Minority House Whip. He became a consultant shortly after leaving the Legislature.

The service agreement is for $40,000 — or $4,000 a month through April. The expense has been included in the city’s proposed 2021 budget from the community development fund. The agreement can be terminated by either party with seven days’ notice.

Several councilors questioned spending the money when the city is facing cuts in the proposed budget that include furloughs of city staff, a hiring freeze and cost recovery for quality of life services such as the zoo and museum.

Councilor Juan Oropesa said the city already pays money to the New Mexico Municipal League, the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District/Cog and the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation, which he said should provide lobbying services.

“I have a big concern spending $40,000 on something that we already are receiving services for that we are paying for. So perhaps our budget situation is not as dire as we make it to be,” Oropesa said.

“We’re looking at $31 million being short, but yet we don’t stop spending,” he said.

Councilor Margaret Kennard brought a question from a constituent wondering if there would be extra money available from the state considering the economy.

“That’s a wonderful question and I’m not sure what that answer is,” Neeb said.

“I don’t have a really good answer other than I would say if you don’t play the lottery, you don’t win,” he said.

Councilor Angela Moore also questioned the timing of spending the money and said the $40,000 could maybe be used toward eliminating another furlough day for city employees.

Councilor Judy Stubbs said it was premature to hire a lobbyist and suggested the city revisit the agreement later in the year.

“We don’t know what the session is going to look like. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the election and we don’t really know what the money or the tone of the Legislature is going to be in January,” she said.

Councilors Jacob Roebuck, Jeanine Best, Barry Foster and Jason Perry spoke in favor of hiring the lobbyist.

Having a lobbyist will save the city money, Roebuck said.

“Any time that Joe (Neeb) doesn’t have to be in Santa Fe, that means he is working here for us. And Joe is not cheap, and he’s worth it. The same with our senior leadership. This amount of money to protect the time and spread our senior leadership farther … it seems to me that’s easy,” he said.

He reiterated the agreement can be terminated in a week’s time if the council doesn’t believe Thompson is doing the job expected.

Best said that organizations such as the municipal league will advocate for themselves rather than for a specific community. She agreed the termination clause would be “easy in-easy out” if the council desires.

“I think it’s a perfect opportunity to get a little further ahead,” she said.

A lobbyist would allow the city better access to legislators, Foster said.

“That’s what we need is the better access. True, Mr. Thompson is a Republican, but he’s been doing this and we’ve seen that he has some crossing-the-aisle ability and has communication with the fourth floor,” he said, referring to the governor’s office.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.