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Camden nixes contract with McClees lobbying firm

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, December 6, 2018

CAMDEN — Camden County commissioners have voted against rehiring the county’s lobbyists, after most decided the county already had an advocate in Raleigh and needed to save money.

In a 3-1 vote on Monday, commissioners opted not to renew the county’s contract with McClees Consulting, at $20,000 a year for two years.

Voting not to renew McClees’ contract were board Chairman Tom White and Commissioners Randy Krainiak and Ross Munro. Vice Chairman Clayton Riggs cast the lone vote in support of continuing the contract. Commissioner Garry Meiggs was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Camden commissioners first voted to hire McClees Consulting in 2013, and its current, two-year contract expires this month. The firm consists of Joe and Henri McClees, a husband-and-wife team. The couple asked for another two-year contract at $20,000 a year – no change from their current price – but commissioners tabled action on the deal last month.

In opposing the renewal, White said Camden could rely on the N.C. Association of County Commissioners to keep it informed and lobby against harmful legislation.

“I feel like we can pretty well get whatever we need through them,” he said of the NCACC. “You can get that information without paying $20,000 a year.”

White also claimed the McCleeses had only helped the county once, and Camden needed to save money, citing solid waste disposal as one rising cost for the county.

Krainiak also opposed the expense, and said the county should rely on its elected officials, including U.S. House Rep. Walter Jones and Rep. Bob Steinburg, to advocate for its needs.

“I don’t they’re any stronger than the voices of our elected officials,” Krainiak said of the McCleeses.

Munro said Camden seemed to be doing well regardless of the McCleeses, citing Ken Bowman’s work as county manager and Camden’s success in winning state and federal grants.

Riggs strongly supported hiring the McCleeses. He said the NCACC represents all 100 counties in North Carolina, meaning it may not always take Camden’s side on pending legislation.

“There comes times when those other counties that we’re talking about that are represented by the [NCACC] vote directly opposite of what is affecting northeast North Carolina,” Riggs said. “Sometimes what you get for free is not consistent with what we need.”

Riggs also said that, if detrimental legislation arose suddenly, Camden might easily spend $20,000 or more in legal and travel expenses. The McCleeses are a good deal, he argued.

Bowman didn’t argue for or against the contract on Monday, but did note that few counties in North Carolina employ their own lobbying firms. Those that do tend to be larger, urban counties, he said.

Pasquotank County is another client of the McCleeses, and some commissioners there have reservations about them as well.

During Pasquotank commissioners’ organizational meeting Monday, Commissioner Frankie Meads said he felt the firm had been a little “lax” last year, and he wanted to see them push for two of Pasquotank’s legislative priorities, namely increasing taxes on solar farms and getting other counties to contribute towards facility costs for the district attorney and public defender staffs that serve the region.

Commissioner Cecil Perry added he felt the McCleeses had been lax as well, alluding to his criticisms last year that the firm didn’t contact him enough while he was county chairman. Perry ended his time as chairman last month, and commissioners on Monday elected Jeff Dixon as chairman for the next year.

In an interview Tuesday, Dixon offered his support for the firm. The NCACC analyzes how bills affect counties overall, but the McCleeses “drill down” more into how bills could affect Pasquotank, he said. He also said the McCleeses do provide commissioners frequent updates on legislation.

He also said the firm will be useful next year, given numerous new lawmakers will take office and need to be informed about Pasquotank’s interests.

“They’re going to have their hands full,” Dixon said.

Pasquotank voted last year to hire the McCleeses at $30,000 a year through 2021.

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