Five days before the start of a potentially tough state legislative session, Fulton County leaders have shed their top lobbyist.
Mike Vaquer has been a voice for the county at the state Capitol for the past seven years. But county commissioners, determined to do this year’s lobbying themselves, decided Wednesday that they could no longer justify his high pay amid budget cuts.
Paid hourly as a temporary employee, last year Vaquer earned $123,000 and was slated to earn $96,000 this year, said William Ligon, the county’s director of intergovernmental affairs.
The move is a major shift in strategy so soon before what could be a pivotal session of the General Assembly. For the first time, Northside Republicans will have firm control over bills affecting county governance, and they’re considering eliminating some county services or shifting them to the county’s cities, where 90 percent of Fulton’s residents now live.
Lawmakers will also approve new district maps and could eliminate Commissioner Robb Pitts’ countywide seat, adding a new seat for north Fulton and significantly increasing the area’s sway over the county.
Wednesday’s vote to eliminate the in-house intergovernmental affairs division, which Pitts prompted, also put in question the jobs of Ligon and two other staffers. The panel left it to interim County Manager David Ware to decide how to monitor the movement of bills and committee actions, which Vaquer has done in the past.
“It’s not a bad strategy if they will truly do it,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. “I think if (Commission Chairman) John Eaves is willing to go over there and discuss his issues directly with the delegation without using a lobbyist, that goes a long way toward repairing those relationships.”
Commissioners also decided against hiring outside lobbyists with the firm Arnall Golden Gregory at a cost of $260,416, saying that would send the wrong message to legislators who believe Fulton is bloated and wasteful.
Denying that contract and eliminating the in-house staff frees up more than $400,000.
Enjoy expanded coverage of college football for UGa, Tech and the SEC, with our SEC Insider, covering all Southeastern Conference matchups and articles by AJC staff and regional newspapers that cover the SEC.