Reprinted from The Daily Advance
Elizabeth City has never paid a lobbyist to advocate for the city before the General Assembly but that is about to change.
City council’s finance committee unanimously voted last week to begin the process of hiring former state Sen. Bob Steinburg as the city’s lobbyist in Raleigh. All eight councilors serve on the finance committee.
Steinburg, who lost his bid for reelection in the May Republican primary, resigned from the state Senate July 31 to pursue work as a lobbyist.
While Steinburg is able to recruit clients, he can’t officially begin lobbying efforts until Feb. 1. State law requires that state lawmakers spend a “6-month cooling off period” after leaving the General Assembly before becoming a lobbyist. Steinburg resigned in July so he could begin lobbying efforts in next year’s session of the General Assembly.
City Councilor Johnson Biggs raised the issue of hiring a lobbyist at Monday’s meeting so that the city can have someone in the state’s capital seeking state money for projects. Pasquotank currently retains Jackson Stancil as its lobbyist. It previously retained the McClees Consulting firm.
The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene for a long session sometime in January.
“What (Steinburg) would be providing us with is access to leaders, budget writers in the General Assembly,” Biggs said. “(Steinburg) could uncover opportunities for additional funding that we may not know about. (Steinburg) could also help us get appointments that we otherwise wouldn’t get with leadership on both sides in the House and Senate.’’
Steinburg served six years in the House before being elected to a pair of two-year terms in the state Senate, which Biggs said is a plus.
“Given Sen. Steinburg was a colleague of these individuals, it is going to give us a little better access than if one of us picks up the phone and calls one of the chief budget writers,” Biggs said. “Those people at the table making these decisions are not from northeast North Carolina.”
Biggs said a strong estimate of paying Steinburg would be $36,000 a year, or $3,000 a month. Council unanimously approved negotiating an agreement with Steinburg that would be brought back to City Council for final approval.
“We will hammer out some details and bring it back,” Biggs said.
Mayor Kirk Rivers said that the city needs representation in the state capital. Rivers does not vote unless there is a tie among the eight councilors.
“I know in the past several weeks, I’ve said I am going to go to Raleigh but it seems that something always comes up and we never make it to Raleigh,” Rivers said. “We have a lot of needs and we need to have someone constantly in Raleigh to call.”
Councilor Johnnie Walton agreed with Rivers, saying the city needs someone “at the table” in Raleigh.
“If you are not at the table, you don’t know what is on the menu,” Walton said. “(Steinburg) has been touching shoulders with a lot of the people that are in Raleigh and that will be an asset. We need contacts and I think it possibly could be a good thing.’’
Councilor Javis Gibbs said Steinburg’s service in the General Assembly speaks for itself.
“(Steinburg) has a passion for northeastern North Carolina,” Gibbs said. “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money and I think this will be a good investment overall.’’
Councilor Joe Peel, who is a former mayor, said in the past the city felt it didn’t need a lobbyist because the area’s representatives “were fairly local.” Steinburg, of Chowan, was defeated in the GOP primary by state Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, in the newly configured 1st Senate District that stretches all the way to Carteret County.
“We knew them and that has changed,” Peel said.
If the proposal is approved, the city wouldn’t start paying Steinburg until February.
“My whole purpose is to only have clients in northeastern North Carolina to work with them and help them,” Steinburg said.
Steinburg said that even though he couldn’t be paid until next year he would be willing to meet with city leaders to discuss priorities for next year’s legislative session. He said he can now legally go out and solicit clients like the city but that any contracts he signs have to have a start date of Feb. 1, 2023.
“I can meet with them, plan with them, but I can’t advocate for them until Feb. 1,” Steinburg said. “I can’t be paid 10 cents until Feb. 1.”
Steinburg said he will also advocate for the city at the federal level if needed, most likely with the assistance of another lobbyist. If that happens, Steinburg would pay that lobbyist out of the money he receives monthly from the city.
“The city would not have to pay anybody else,” Steinburg said. “I would be able to use my contacts with the folks up in Washington after Feb. 1.”
Rivers said that City Council will need to also need to be involved in lobbying efforts going forward.
“We still have to follow up,” Rivers said. “We have to go up at least once every two months to make sure we are constantly contacting our legislators.’’
The city may be just the first of Steinburg’s potential clients in the area. Camden County Manager Erin Burke confirmed Friday that Camden commissioners plan to hold a special meeting Wednesday where one of the topics for discussion will be a proposal to hire Steinburg as a lobbyist.
Burke said the county previously retained a paid lobbyist but hadn’t had one in at least three years.
According to Daily Advance archives, Camden commissioners hired McClees Consulting in January 2015 and then voted to end the contract nearly four years later, in December 2018. At the time, the county was paying McClees $20,000 a year for two years.
The Daily Advance is a newspaper based in Elizabeth City and serving Chowan, Camden, Currituck, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. Coastal Review is partnering with The Daily Advance to provide readers with more stories of interest about our coast.