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Commissioners consider dumping county lobbyist due to budget

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By Alice Du Pont

Whether or not the county's lobbyists, Chris Doolin & Associates, are worth the $50,000 they are paid annually was on the table Tuesday night during the regular meeting of the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners.

Doolin gave a detailed report on his accomplishments for the county during the past three years and told commissioners that his efforts have resulted in more money for the county, from a little over $5 million three years ago to more than $12 million this year. But commissioners, worried about tightening the county's belt, weren't so sure that Doolin's efforts could not have been accomplished by the legislative delegation which is made up of Sen. Al Lawson and representatives Marti Coley and Alan Williams.

Several years ago that delegation, which included Rep. Curtis Richardson, advised the commission to prioritize their requests to the Legislature to avoid confusion. At the time, Lawson said, during an annual town meeting preceding the opening of each session, that there is never enough to money to go around and a prioritized list of needs and wants would help the delegation when committee chairmen asked which project is most important and which project can wait during a particular funding cycle.

Doolin said they were asked by the delegation to help the county get dialogue going which included input from municipalities, civic groups and individuals. Once the list is compiled, Doolin presented it to commissioners, who had the final decision on legislative priorities. Doolin & Associates would then take the list and lobby for passage.

Doolin has been contacted for three years consecutively, although the position hasn’t been bid out, and the contract was renewed for 2009 during tan October commission meeting.

“We were asked by the Legislature to come in and get a dialogue going," Doolin said.

Doolin said his firm also represents the Small County Coalition, an organization of 35 small counties statewide. Gadsden County pays $4,250 annually in membership fees to the coalition. Part of that money includes a lobbying effort.

"Shouldn't we be getting your services through the Small County Coalition?" asked Commissioner Doug Croley.

He said he was also concerned that Doolin's efforts generate grants that were costing the county money. Some of the grants require a percentage of matching funds or the county is left to its own devices to maintain grant-funded projects.

"The concern to me is this whole process of running up and down the halls (in the capitol) to get money to which you have no way to maintain. I talked to Lawson, Coley and Williams and they tell me we don't need a lobbyist," Croley said.

Doolin disagreed and said they were not roaming down halls trying to pick up money.

Croley also asked Doolin if he had tried to use his influence to get any county commissioner or any county employee to consider Ajax Construction Company favorably. Jay Smith, Ajax vice-president, is Doolin's nephew. He denied using his influence to help Smith and said his involvement was merely to help the company get into a position to understand local governments.

Commissioners decided to accept the 2009 legislative priorities as proposed by Doolin & Associates, but said that they will request proposals from other lobbyists at the end of the 2009 fiscal year.