Sometime in the next few months, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin's administration will be asked to prove that the city's annual $200,000-plus lobbying effort is worth the money.
City Manager Mark Scott said he welcomes the chance to justify not only contracted lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, but a third on the city's staff as well.
There was a time when congressional representatives and state legislators handled such duties, but as the issues have become more complex and the competition among cities more pitched, professional lobbyists have grown more important for government agencies.
Scott said it is about "paying someone to help us know how to go about being competitive" in Congress, the Legislature and federal and state agency offices.
Fresno isn't alone in that thinking. Cities as big as Los Angeles and San Francisco and as small as Fowler and Tulare pay or have paid to have someone represent their interests in Sacramento or Washington -- or both places. Other cities across the nation do the same.
And, in terms of dollars, Fresno's annual federal lobbying $65,000 tab seems like a bargain.
Similarly sized Long Beach, for instance, paid $110,000 for a federal lobbyist last year and $150,000 in 2011, data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows. And that doesn't include an additional $120,000 in lobbying dollars spent over the two years by that city's water department.
Much-smaller Modesto, and similarly sized Anaheim, each spent $90,000 on federal lobbying last year. Sacramento's bill was more than $200,000.
It's worth it, said Randi Knott, intergovernmental relations officer for the city of Sacramento.
"The investment you put in the lobbyist will come back several fold," she said. "There is finite money, finite funds, no earmarks. It is incredibly important to have somebody to pitch your story about your community and bring back some of the tax money that is flowing out."
Gone are the days, Knott, Scott and others say, when a call to a congressional representative was sufficient. Others agreed, saying a paid advocate is the most efficient way of navigating both the federal and state bureaucracies.
But quantifying that need, and putting an actual dollar value on the service, is another matter.
City's D.C. lobbyist makes its case in memo
Last month, Len Simon, who heads the firm that lobbies on Fresno's behalf in Washington, wrote a four-page memo outlining the city's accomplishments in the nation's capital over the past four years.
In the memo's second sentence, Simon writes the successes are the shared work of Swearengin, Scott and the city's staff, as well as the City Council and "the members and staff of our Congressional delegation."
One of the first successes listed is "regional high-speed rail funding which totals $3.7 billion, but is centered in Fresno and the Central Valley."
Asked if Simon and Company should get credit for landing the first leg of the state's proposed high-speed rail project in the Valley, Scott said "no." But he did say Simon was part of the greater team that worked together to lobby the Obama administration.
It was the renewal of Simon's $65,000 annual contract that initially sparked the City Council to question if such contracts are the best use of city money in tight budget times.
Then and now, Scott said that Simon more than earns its $65,000, and Rose & Kindel, the city's Sacramento lobbyist, does the same for its $95,000 annual contract.
The tie that binds, Scott said, is Governmental Affairs Manager Katie Stevens, who made more than $66,000 in 2011 (the most recent salary figure available). She is the one who coordinates between the city's various departments, the lobbyists, the League of California Cities and the region's state and federal legislators. She writes grant applications.