County adjusting to cuts in its lobbying efforts

Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 5:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 10:43 p.m.

Alachua County staff is planning ways to best direct its lobbying efforts, which took significant budget cuts at both the state and federal level for fiscal year 2013.

The county's federal lobbying budget was halved from about $60,000 to $30,000 while the state-centric position of legislative affairs director was eliminated. Communications Coordinator Mark Sexton will handle state lobbying. Rick Mills, the former legislative affairs director, now works as the county's budget director.

"Right now, it's a heavy learning curve for me," Sexton said last week. "I need to get to know the folks involved — not just the elected officials, but their staff."

Sexton will be juggling his responsibilities as the county's communications coordinator with being its primary state-level lobbyist.

He said it will be important for him to spend as much time as he can in Tallahassee during his first legislative session to get a feel for the process. After that, he said, he expects to have a better understanding of when he needs to be in the state capital and when he can remain in Gainesville.

He expects technology to allow him to maintain contact with his communications staff when in Tallahassee. His staff is able to keep things running smoothly when he's out at conferences or legislative meetings, he said.

When Mills worked full-time as the legislative affairs director, he spent most of his time in Tallahassee during the legislative sessions working with fellow lobbyists to advocate for local government issues. He filled the position for a decade, working with legislators on issues like unfunded mandates passed down to local governments from the state or federal government.

"It was a lot of travel," Mills said. "It gets really fast-paced during the session."

Sexton expects he will need to focus on the debate over counties' involvement in Medicaid as Alachua County and other local governments deal with the disputed bills they are expected to pay to the state, as well as growing concerns about the need for stronger protections for Florida's drinking water.

At the federal level, the county slashed its budget in half but will continue to work with its longtime lobbyist, F. Marion Turner.

The county stuck with Turner after he switched from the MWW Group to a different firm, Alcalde & Fay, this year. He has been the county's lead federal lobbyist for years, Sexton said.

"Marion is very sympathetic to what's going on with county budgets," he said. "So he was very sympathetic to that and eager to work with us and, from what I can tell, provide essentially the same services."

The amount of federal funding the county has received has waned in recent years as it and other local governments face a dearth in earmarks for various projects, Sexton said. Turner plans to attend the County Commission's first meeting in January to get direction from them as he finalizes his legislative agenda for the year.

The impact that the county's lobbying cuts will have this year is unknown. Commissioner Mike Byerly said shrinking lobbying may end up costing the county more than is saved in the long-term by, for example, reducing its ability to get grants and other funding sources.

"But we're at that point now where we're having to make decisions like that — where virtually everything we cut from the budget has consequences like that," he said.

Commissioner Susan Baird said that, at the state level, she and her fellow commissioners should be personally doing much of the networking that Mills did as legislative affairs director.

"We need to be in touch with all of our representatives and make sure they understand what our issues are and which ones are more important than others," she said.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top