As the Texas Legislature considers passing a proposed ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, the question of whether the practice should continue has spilled into many municipal election contests across Texas, including the races for seats on the Amarillo City Council.
While the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying has come under fire from legislators, and the Republican Party of Texas has even made banning the practice one of its legislative priorities, the practice has remained popular with government entities across Texas.
Amarillo, like many other cities across Texas, employs lobbyists during each legislative session to lobby on certain issues specified by city leaders. According to Transparency USA’s data, the City of Amarillo has spent between $210,005 and $465,000 each year on the practice.
The issue became a hot one in the city’s mayoral race this year when Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson made her position clear in a recent interview. Nelson’s opponents have pushed back against the practice, led by comments from businessman and challenger Michael Hunt. However, while Amarillo voters have seen where the mayoral candidates stand on this issue, the positions of city council candidates may still be less clear.
Here is a look at the candidates for Amarillo City Council seats and where they stand on taxpayer-funded lobbying, as noted in their statements from questionnaires to The Amarillo Pioneer and interviews with other local media outlets.
Amarillo City Council, Place 1
Jason Tillery: U.S. Navy veteran Jason Tillery says he believes tax dollars should be spent on things that are in the best interest of Amarillo and should have the support of Amarillo residents. In a recent questionnaire on the issue of taxpayer-funded lobbying, Tillery said, “If the community agrees to funding a lobbying effort, then that is one thing, but the citizens should have a say in where their money is going.”
Hobert Brown: U.S. Marine Corps veteran Hobert Brown was among the first of this year’s city council candidates to speak out in opposition to the practice. In his questionnaire, Brown said, “It’s the responsibility of the mayor and city council to lobby for anything that their city might need. Under no circumstances should taxpayer money be used for lobbyists.”
Cole Stanley: Building company owner Cole Stanley stated in his questionnaire that the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying should be used cautiously, saying in part, “Amarillo should have a strong voice in Austin [without a lobbyist]. However, if the system is broken and requires taxpayer funds through lobbyists, then every citizen should see a transparent accounting of where the money went.”
Amarillo City Council, Place 2
Jason Foglesong: High school government teacher Jason Foglesong has expressed complete opposition to taxpayer-funded lobbying, believing the practice should be illegal in Texas. Foglesong said in his questionnaire, “It’s not an appropriate thing to spend tax money on. The people have representatives in Austin to speak out on their behalf. The idea that anyone could use tax money to pay for a lobbyist to represent their own interests is outrageous, and the practice should be illegal.”
Freda Powell: Incumbent City Councilwoman Freda Powell expressed support for continuing the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying in her questionnaire, saying “one-size public policy does not fit all.”
On the issue, Powell said in part, “Cities often join associations and hire advocates to work on behalf of the citizens. These advocates are experts in their fields, monitoring hundreds of bills filed each session and alerting us to any that might be potentially bad for our residents – as well as helping us promote legislation that would benefit our citizens. The cost of having representation in Austin is a small part of our annual city budget. But the return on investment is invaluable. Through advocacy, cities often gain funding for important capital and infrastructure projects, including airports, water systems, roadways, and community centers. Not only do these projects provide services to citizens, but in some cases, they bring revenue back to our city.”
Joe West: Joe West, an administrative assistant at Amarillo College, said that while the practice could be useful at times, he would prefer to be an advocate for local citizens as their elected official. In his questionnaire, West said, “I believe there’s a time and place for it, but it’d be difficult to find a reason why I wouldn’t do my best to ensure that I’m down there working for Amarillo alongside our state Legislature while citizens at home know what we’re working on and why.”
Amarillo City Council, Place 3
Tom Scherlen: Retired industrial hose company executive Tom Scherlen is opposed to taxpayer-funded lobbying, saying in his questionnaire, “I believe the city council should do their own lobbying. … As a businessman, I made plenty of flights to other cities, set up meetings, and was busy all day. This should be geared into the way the city operates its business.”
Eddy Sauer: Incumbent Eddy Sauer did not respond to the Pioneer questionnaire addressing the issue, but he has expressed support for continuing taxpayer-funded lobbying in recent media interviews. In an interview on the High Plains Pundit Podcast in February, Sauer rejected claims by other candidates that elected officials can do the city’s lobbying, noting the distance from Amarillo to Austin.
“What we also have to understand is that we’re also 500 miles away from Austin, Texas, and so, yes, we do need to be down there helping with the lobbying part of what goes on,” Sauer said. “But the deal is every time we make that trip, it is a 500-mile trip and a two-day event. And we have to have some help because we are in competition for certain things that we need to have done with Dallas, and Houston, and San Antonio, and all of those cities are within [a couple of hours] of being in Austin and being able to take care of that.”
Amarillo City Council, Place 4
Ali Ramos: Social worker and graphic designer Ali Ramos has also expressed opposition to taxpayer-funded lobbying, making the issue one of the first topics she addressed on the campaign trail. In her questionnaire, Ramos said, “I believe that the city leaders in Amarillo need to rely on each other to be the voices that Amarillo needs and to go to the legislative sessions themselves. City council members are elected to make sure that the concerns in the city are heard. If that is not feasible, then there should be a limit proposed to funding lobbyists.”
Howard Smith: Incumbent City Councilman Howard Smith has expressed support for continuing the practice, saying “there is a time and a place for utilizing lobbyists.” In his questionnaire, Smith hailed the Texas Tech Vet School as an example of a project that received assistance from lobbyists paid with tax dollars.
Sharyn Delgado: Educator and behavioral counselor Sharyn Delgado has taken a softer stance on taxpayer-funded lobbying, praising Amarillo’s legislators for their work and saying Amarillo citizens should ask more questions about the practice. In her questionnaire, Delgado said, “However, my educator’s mind always reminds me not to have a knee-jerk reaction or take a stand against something until I see the data or results. I think it is fair for citizens to ask about the results of taxpayers’ dollars being spent on lobbying.”
Richard Herman: In his questionnaire, former Justice of the Peace Richard Herman expressed support for continuing taxpayer-funded lobbying in certain instances, saying, “If it is done properly, it can bring more opportunity to future generations in our community, but [it] should be monitored closely to make sure we are not spending more than we are receiving.”
The races for the Amarillo City Council seats will be decided on Saturday, May 1.