Eastern Arizona College and Gila Community College Provisional District now have the same lobbyist.
Mike Gardner of Triadvocates, like all lobbyists, will work to influence votes in the state legislature.
The motion to hire Gardner was passed by GCC governing board members Mike Pastor, Bernadette Kniffin and acting chairman Bob Ashford at a Dec. 15 meeting. Gardner was hired at a salary of $36,000, plus "reasonable costs and expenses." Any expenses over $300 will need prior approval by the board.
"I would rather not put our money in the blender with EAC's lobbying money," said Larry Stephenson, who cast a dissenting vote.
According to Ashford, there was an immediate need to hire a professional lobbyist who will be ready to go when the legislature begins meeting in January. "The same individuals who were opposing the provisional statutes last legislative session are ready to do that same thing again, and will probably be more organized," Ashford said.
When questioned about the potential conflicts that might arise using the same lobbyist as EAC, Ashford said the legislative agendas of both community colleges are in close alignment. "The possibility of a conflict is very remote. If a conflict should arise, provisions exist within the agreement for remediation," he said.
"(EAC and GCC) both have the exact same goals ... to promote higher education in the rural part of our state," said Gardner via e-mail with the Roundup. He agreed the potential for conflict was minimal. According to Gardner, with more than 1,000 bills before the legislature every year, it is not unusual to have a lobbyist working on more than one cause.
Gardner predicted a good year for community colleges and said, as someone who grew up in rural Arizona, he is familiar with the cause of rural education and economic development.
Clerk position debated
Pastor raised his voice during Thursday's meeting and accused citizens of northern Gila County of "mistrust" when he made a motion that the board clerk position be tabled completely.
"We have the services of staff at all three campuses helping us take care of those items that need to be taken care of," Pastor said. He further stated there had been "no problems" for the past year, nor any during the three prior years that EAC administered GCC.
"Every time we get into these discussions we have to ... get legal interpretation because there is so much mistrust from people up north as to what we're trying to do for this college," Pastor said.
Kniffin seconded the motion, but Stephenson voiced his objection. "I don't think it's mistrust, I think it's called independence. I think that there are certain of us, myself as a board member, trying to assert the independence of GCC as opposed to being operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of EAC. We should be allowed to have independent staff to help us," Stephenson said.
Pastor withdrew his motion and the board agreed to re-advertise the clerk position.
Assistant Gila County Attorney Brian Chambers had his own conflict of interest. Chambers said he couldn't legally advise board members about signing a quitclaim deed titling the land GCC sits on from the defunct State Community College Board of Directors back to Gila County.
The board voted to sign the quitclaim deed, and the land was deeded to Gila County. Stephenson had the only dissenting vote.