By David Pendered
Fulton County appears to be calling for another shakeup in the county’s lobbying team at the state Capitol and before Congress. The county is seeking a single firm to advocate the county’s position at both levels of government.
On Monday, the county is slated to host a conference to explain terms of the lobbying contract. Oct. 22, is the deadline for responses to the county from companies seeking the work, according to a request for proposals released Sept. 19.
Fulton County now retains two lobbying firms, one to work at the state Capitol and one to work in Congress, according to lobbyist disclosures.
The firm that represents Fulton County at the state Capitol was founded by a longtime leader of the state’s Republican County, and its website does not list a presence in Washington. The firm that represents the county before Congress has offices in both Washington and Atlanta.
This repositioning of the county’s management of external affairs – i.e., lobbying – is the latest shift in an ongoing movement that dates to 2013. That’s when Fulton’s Board of Commissioners voted to abolish the Division of Intergovernmental Affairs. The division was housed in the county manager’s office and was responsible for:
- “[L]egislative matters at the state and federal levels and also manages the County’s pursuit of state, federal and private grants to support County operations….”
Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts was a commissioner at the time he sponsored this successful effort to abolish the division. A resolution approved by the Board of Commissioners observed the division:
- “[I]s not structured and functioning in a manner that is in the best interests of the citizens of Fulton County [and]
- “[T]axpayer resources would be better used by eliminating the Division of Intergovernmental Affairs and redistributing certain of that Division’s functions to other existing County Departments.”
The county’s external affairs are now managed by a department established to oversee both external affairs and all communications.
The department’s budget this year is about $3.1 million and external affairs accounted for about 18 percent of the budget, or about $568,000, according to a midyear review released in July by the county’s assistant chief strategy officer.
Peachtree Government Relations represents the county at the state Capitol, according to disclosure reports. The firm was founded and is headed by Don Bolia, a a veteran lobbyist at the state Capitol longtime leader of the Georgia Republican Party, including a stint as executive director in an era when Republicans were in Georgia’s minority party.
Peachtree Government Relations does not list federal experience on its website and does not have a federal presence on the government transparency website operated by the Center for Responsive Politics, which describes itself as a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit research organization.
Greenberg Traurig’s Diane Blagman handles Fulton County’s affairs before Congress, according to the center’s report. The company’s receipts have fallen steadily since 2014, when it reported $170,000 in payments from the county. Over the years the payments fell to $140,000, $130,000 and the 2018 payment of $60,000, according to the center’s report. The center sourced its data to the Senate Office of Public Records, which it says was downloaded on Aug. 28.