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Lobbying 101: Playing by the rules

by Sheila Gardner

Douglas County’s fledgling lobbying team – the county commissioners – experienced the harsh realities of politics in the capital city Thursday, and they didn’t much like it.

To testify before the Legislature, commissioners were required to register as paid lobbyists – at $90 each – and to abide by the Nevada Open Meeting Law. That means every time three or more commissioners from the five-member board go to the Legislature, an agenda must be posted in advance and the county has to dispatch a clerk to Carson City record minutes.

Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed estimated it will cost the county $4,000 through May for a part-time employee to attend and transcribe a legislative hearing.

That’s twice what Reed budgeted for the legislative session. In addition, the clerk’s office must prepare an agenda, copy, post and mail the agenda to approximately 125 recipients anytime a quorum of the board may be present.

“Everyone at the Legislature says the best lobbyists are the commissioners, elected officials and the public,” said Commissioner Kelly Kite. “But it’s going to cost $10,000 to keep us legal.”

The Nevada Open meeting law regulates how public officials conduct the public’s business.

When Kite and Commissioner Don Miner attempted to obtain cards designating them as unpaid lobbyists, they were told because they drew salaries as commissioners, they were paid lobbyists.

n Revenue recovery? “That will cost us $60 each,” said Miner. “It’s (Gov.) Kenny Guinn’s revenue recovery program.”

The commissioners’ coach -county lobbyist Mary Walker -told the board it was important that they be there for critical times, but they didn’t have to be there all the time.

“None of us is that brain dead that we could sit there through 2,000 or 3,000 bills,” Kite said.

District Attorney Scott Doyle advised commissioners that they have a certain amount to spend on the Legislature, but the board needs to budget the money so there is enough at the end of the session.

“As elected officials, you have a certain amount of political capital to spend. When it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Save some for the crunch at the end of the session,” Doyle said.

“The good news is the ethics commission budget got cut,” joked Miner. “Even though we were guilty (of an open meeting law violation), there was nobody there to prosecute us.”

n Up to Legislature. Doyle said even though the county may disagree with the Legislature’s definition of a lobbyist, when commissioners are in Carson City, they are on somebody else’s turf.

“We don’t interpret the law,” he said. “You may be stuck with that interpretation until it goes to a higher power.”

Walker told the board that it’s important who is selected to represent the county at the Legislature.

“It’s kind of like being in a show,” she said. “You want the best performance up there. You want quality. You don’t want somebody who might hurt you more than if you weren’t there. You need a planned approach.”

Kite said he understood.

“We’ll work it out,” he said. “People need to know if a bill comes up that’s important, we can’t meet on it, we can’t give you direction. I just wanted everyone to know how stupid some of our laws are.”

The board decided to deputize County Manager Dan Holler and Douglas County Sheriff’s Lt. Ross Chichester as clerks to take minutes at the Legislature.

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