The county is seeking proposals from lobbying firms and plans to hire one company to handle lobbying at both the state and the federal level.
About $125,000 is set aside in the county’s budget for lobbying, but Lee said he doesn’t know yet how much Cobb will spend because no contract has been negotiated.
Under former Chairman Sam Olens, the county hired two firms, one for federal and one for state matters, but Lee says consolidating that into one contract will be easier to manage and more cost effective.
He says it’s about having someone in the know and who can build relationships with elected officials.
“There comes a time when you want to try to stop or add or enhance a particular bill and having a relationship with a committee chairman is really where that rubber hits the road, so to speak,” Lee said.
At the state level, officials making decisions, like committee chairmen, may not be part of Cobb’s local delegation.
“I have someone that has a relationship with that person, who I may not be able to do,” Lee said. “I can’t make a relationship with 20 people on the House side and another 15 on the Senate side.”
It’s another story at the federal level.
The end of earmarks, the practice of setting aside cash for a local project in an unrelated bill, means the county is now making its case to more and more unelected executives.
“It used to be I have to go to (Rep.) Phil Gingrey and say, ‘Would you mind putting in $500,000 for a new traffic light,’ and he would work to do that,” Lee said. “Well, since they don’t do earmarks, everything has to be either put into the budget or it’s got to be allocated by one of the budgets of the departments.”
Cobb relies on federal grant money for many transportation projects and some social services.
“Grants are changing the way they do things funding is different,” Lee said.
Dr. Bill Hudson, a retired dentist and former board member of the Georgia Tea Party, sees it differently.
Grants come with strings attached and can end up costing more in the long run, he said.
And spending money to secure that kind of cash isn’t in the best interest of Cobb’s residents, Hudson said.
“Very few grants that come out of Washington have got stuff in it that people want,” Hudson said. “You take these grants with strings you don’t want or like and it ends up costing more money down the road.”
He also has concerns about transparency and says it’s likely residents won’t have much input into what the county is paying a firm to lobby for.
“I think that it needs to be left in our hands,” Hudson said. “If somebody wants to lobby for something … there’s nothing wrong with going down there and doing it. Let’s just say there are a lot of lobbyists down there at the capital, and I would venture say that more than half of them don’t have the best interest of the citizens of this state in mind.”
Though the county has resources through the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, Lee said, that group represents all of the state’s 159 counties and may not be concerned about the specific impact on Cobb.
“I’d like to have somebody bounce off well what does it mean to Cobb County,” Lee said.
He doesn’t have any specific projects in mind that need lobbying, Lee said, but the county needs to have someone on call for needs that do arise.
Having a lobbyist helps put Cobb in the best position possible, said state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell).
“If you were to compare us to the other metro Atlanta counties, and even around the state, many have a lobbyist,” she said.
A lobbyist can do much of the leg work for the county, Morgan said, but it’s important the firm work closely with Cobb’s elected officials to stay apprised of the needs of residents.