County taps lobbyists to help improve its reputation on Capitol Hill
November 20, 2009
Courthouse officials have tapped a Wasatch Front-based lobbyist as they seek to improve Summit County’s reputation on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
Registered lobbyists Casey Hill and Robert Walton head the Hill Strategic Consulting lobbying firm. They will take on a range of issues as Summit County’s newest point men inside the Statehouse.
Hill said he will help the Summit County Council start relationships with key legislative figures.
"It’s really those personal relationships that make all the difference, and helping you develop those is something that we would put very high on our priority list," Hill told the Summit County Council Wednesday.
The county is paying about $40,000 each year to influence state lawmakers not to pass laws that hurt Park City’s tourism-heavy economy. Officials defended the move.
"My perception is that some of the bad rap that we receive is due to some disgruntled landowners who are venting their frustrations with our land-use laws and maybe some of the positions we have taken," Summit County Councilman Chris Robinson said. "There are parties down there that are talking to people in the Legislature and these people all have agendas."
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Landowners and developers who have lost lawsuits against the county have complained to the Legislature, Dave Thomas, a deputy county attorney who advises the Summit County Council, said in a telephone interview.
"They present a false impression of the circumstance," Thomas said. "Legislators get a false perspective from someone who has an ax to grind and maybe they do not know the full story."
State Senate President Michael Waddoups, a Republican, told county councilpersons recently that someone in Summit County complained to him that a set of planning guidelines that allowed landowners to transfer development rights in the Snyderville Basin was akin to "corruption."
But Thomas rejected that accusation.
"It’s important that Summit County be able to tell that story and to have relationships with legislators," said Thomas, a former state senator who represented Davis County on the Hill.
Local officials also failed in their last-minute efforts this year to stop a bill from passing which could allow some private landowners to bypass zoning laws and build major commercial development at Quinn’s Junction. For years, people who have owned the property have had disputes with Summit County about what should be built near the entryway into Park City.
But Hill said this year he will have spoken to legislators "long before a committee is making the votes."
"Most of the votes are already decided by the time the committee is sitting around talking about it," Hill said.
The lobbyists will help make legislators aware of local efforts to attract visitors to Summit County resorts.
"It’s not that we want to relegate this to some hired gun to help take care of our dirty work. It’s so we can better be on the offensive and not on the defensive with things," Robinson said.
When plugging budget shortfalls next year, councilpersons said they hope Utah legislators will not dip into local tax coffers to help balance budgets throughout the rest of the state.
"I have a lot of appreciation of the tourism industry up here and how it’s done, and the benefits it brings to the state," Walton told the County Council. "In general, I think our strategy will involve a lot of one-on-one meetings. Getting you in front of key people alone, I think, is appropriate."
Given the number of bills lawmakers sponsor each year, county councilpersons said they cannot keep up with every piece of legislation that could impact Summit County. Several hundred bills were introduced in Utah last winter at this year’s legislative general session.
"Having a lobbyist there full time that has access and that has already established relationships, is an invaluable tool," Thomas said.
But state Rep. Mel Brown, a Coalville Republican who represents Park City, said he doesn’t know the lobbyists Summit County hired this week.
"As far as the ability for them to influence legislators, I don’t know about that because I don’t know the lobbyists," Brown said in a telephone interview Thursday. "If it doesn’t do anything else, it can probably keep [councilpersons] better informed about what is coming down at the Legislature."