Gila Community College will pay $36,000 this year to a lobbyist that also represents Eastern Arizona College, and who is contractually required to side with EAC should a conflict of interest arise.
Board members voted 3-2 at a recent meeting to renew lobbyist Mike Gardner’s contract despite protests from both board members in Payson.
“I think it’s inappropriate to spend $40,000 on a lobbyist who is also the lobbyist for EAC,” said member Larry Stephenson.
Member Tom Loeffler said he would rather see the money spent on scholarships to help students pay the increased tuition costs.
“If we can’t afford even $10,000 for our students, we can’t afford $40,000 for our lobbyist,” Loeffler said.
Because the legislature is currently consumed with balancing the state budget, he added that lawmakers likely wouldn’t discuss community college interests in the near future.
The other members, in Globe, agreed that not renewing the contract could be detrimental to GCC’s future.
Ashford said the interests of GCC and EAC run parallel to one another.
Member Armida Bittner called the lobbying firm, Triadvocates, “very loyal and persistent.”
Lobbyist Mike Gardner says he’s working to get GCC bonding authority, to equalize its funding, and to defeat legislation that would negatively impact GCC’s funding.
GCC, as a provisional college, is also ineligible to receive millions of dollars available statewide for workforce development.
EAC has said it would not support GCC gaining a share of that money because that would reduce EAC’s portion of the finite pot, according to Loeffler.
Gardner’s contract outlines his work to equalize GCC’s overall funding, but does not say anything about working to eliminate the provisional status.
Although GCC and EAC are both rural community colleges, GCC receives substantially less per-student funding than similar colleges because of its provisional status.
EAC runs GCC because Gila County is not legally allowed to run its own college. Property valuations and population counts fall beneath legislatively set thresholds.
GCC board members have said they want to lobby the legislature for equal funding, and also to allow the county to run its own college.
However, the lobbying contract appears only to address equal funding.
Loeffler has prepared an action plan to give GCC freedom, and members were to discuss it at an upcoming work study session. Ashford has yet to schedule the session, despite promising to for months.