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County commissioners considering hiring lobbyists in Raleigh, Washington

SALISBURY — Rowan County could soon have a lobbying presence in the state and national capitals.

Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds brought in lobbyists Chris Wall and Andy Munn from the Raleigh-based EQV Strategic firm to talk at Tuesday’s meeting about the services a lobbying firm could offer the county. The lobbyists’ presentation was added to the agenda as the meeting began.

Edds originally reached out to EQV after consulting with County Manager Aaron Church and County Attorney Jay Dees. Edds said his desire to explore hiring lobbyists for the county came from watching other neighboring areas benefit from grants.

“For the six years that I’ve been commissioner, I’ve been happy for surrounding communities as I’ve seen that they’ve been able to make announcements on federal and state grants,” Edds said. “Frankly, to be honest with you, sometimes I feel like I’m outside in the rain peering through the window watching how the party is going.”

Edds said he wants to be part of the party. That’s why he met with Church, Dees, Wall and Munn a couple of weeks ago to determine whether hiring lobbyists for the county could increase the county’s ability to land grants and generally increase its influence over legislators at the state and federal levels. While Rowan County has landed grants before, Edds would like to see it do so more frequently.

“Considering that there’s a lot going on in the world in the way of grant work, especially from the federal and state area, we thought that it would be good for us to discuss this,” Edds said. 

Both North Carolina natives, Wall and Munn boast a combined 45 years of experience in state and federal governments. Wall began his career working as a senior staffer for several North Carolina politicians, including Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Virginia Foxx. He also worked as a lobbyist for the National Pork Producers Council. Munn served in North Carolina politics as director of policy for Thom Tillis when he was speaker of the house and as deputy chief of staff for his successor, Rep. Tim Moore.

During Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, Wall and Munn explained what their services and presence in the North Carolina State Legislative Building could mean for Rowan County.

“We’re the ones who are there every single day to convey Rowan County’s position to not only your local elected officials, but then House and Senate leadership as well,” Wall said. “We bring our relationships with the administration, even with the individuals who are career government employees in various departments. Andy and I have the relationships and know the right buttons to push at the right time for what Rowan County wants to achieve.”

Commissioners asked Wall and Munn a variety of questions, inquiring about their prior experience, their other clients and how they would divide their time between state and federal levels. Commissioner Judy Klusman pressed them about the makeup of EQV’s staff, expressing concerns that the firm is composed of only conservative lobbyists.

“One of my concerns, and no offense because I’m a Republican, but once again having had the experience working with lobbyists, the most successful firms that I worked with had both Republicans and Democrats in them,” Klusman said. “What are your future plans in trying to get some quality Dems in with your firm?”

Klusman said she dealt with numerous lobbyists during her time as a member of the Wisconsin state legislature.

Wall responded to her question by saying that they would vet Democratic candidates for their firm once the election season was over to ensure that they hire the best people possible.

Commissioners decided to delay voting on hiring EQV Strategic, or any lobbying firm, until they have time to consider the decision, check references and determine how the county will pay for the firm’s services. Money to pay for the lobbyists could come from a budget amendment, the county’s roughly $18,500 contingency fund or from money that has already been designated for a consultant position, but has not been used.

An agreement between the county and EQV Strategic would most likely be for 12 months, but it would include a way for Rowan County to exit the agreement at any time.

“What we do offer in all of our contracts for all of our clients is a 30-day out clause,” Wall said. “If for some reason we’re two months in and the commissioners decide this isn’t something we want to do or we miss a big opportunity and Rowan County is left out, that gives you the opportunity to say this isn’t working out. You can exercise that 30-day option at any time.”

Edds said that EQV’s services would cost the county about $5,000 a month for a retainer. To him, having the lobbyists working for Rowan County’s interests would be worth the investment. 

“We’ve taken some time on that, but that’s time well spent,” Edds said after the presentation concluded. “I wrote down the one phrase that I liked (from the presentation), which was ‘hired assassin.’ I think that’s a good analogy. I think everyone knows what we mean by that.”

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