Following a tense exchange, the Gila Community College (GCC) governing board voted to keep their longtime lobbyist — for now.
TriAdvocates, public policy lobbyists located in Phoenix and Washington, D.C., have represented GCC since the college partnered up with Eastern Arizona College (EAC).
That grates on northern board members Larry Stephenson and Tom Loeffler.
“What’s good for EAC is not as good for GCC,” said Stephenson, “(TriAdvocates is) mainly good on non-monetary items, but it’s not accomplished much on fiscal issues.”
The two board members accused TriAdvocates of deliberately sabotaging GCC’s efforts to gain independence and receive its fair share of workforce funds.
“TriAdvocates did not do any particular favors on financial gain,” said Loeffler. “When I worked on our independence with Senator Allen, she came up with language and TriAdvocates said no, we will use this language instead.”
Loeffler said TriAdvocates used language from the other community colleges, (including EAC), on the bill to move GCC toward independence, rather than clearer language that would have moved the process along faster and easier.
Stephenson and Loeffler have battled against EAC throughout their tenure on the board, since the two seek to wrestle GCC free from the status of provisional college.
The provisional college status requires GCC to receive its accreditation from EAC. Without this arrangement with EAC, graduates from GCC would not have recognized credentialed degrees.
As a provisional college, GCC does not qualify for the state equalization funds that EAC obtained when it converted from a private Mormon college to a rural community college.
According to Loeffler and Stephenson, EAC receives millions of dollars in state aid as part of equalization funds.
The state closed off access to the equalization money after EAC and several other rural community colleges qualified for the extra support. The Legislature set up a formula that made it virtually impossible to form another community college district in a a rural county.
The rural districts had asked for help from the state as they do not have the property tax base enjoyed by urban counties like Pima and Maricopa.
The Legislature last year changed the formula so that GCC could achieve independence. However, the Legislature is also phasing out the equalization funding. The Legislature also denied GCC equal treatment for things like job development funding. Several other community colleges played a key role in denying GCC equal funding.
In Stephenson’s and Loeffler’s opinion, that creates a conflict of interest with TriAdvocates.
Stephenson had found two other lobbyists to put before the board, but he neglected to arrange for a presentation from the three companies. That turned the three southern board members against the two new companies supported by Stephenson and Loeffler.
Moreover, Gila County Supervisor and former GCC board member Michael Pastor stood to speak on behalf of TriAdvocates.
“It kind of amazes me that you have three bids in front of you without representation,” said Pastor. “I, as a board member, would surely want to hear from all the candidates before carte blanche hiring a new firm.”
The board decided to compromise on the vote since TriAdvocates had a 30-day exit clause from its contract.
The board asked that the two new lobbyist groups and TriAdvocates make a presentation to the board at the next meeting so the board can vote on a final group to represent it in the state capitol. Until then, TriAdvocates continues to represent GCC.
Globe board member Bob Ashford had no qualms about who he would like to see remain the lobbyist for GCC.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “TriAdvocates is responsible for our good reputation and they have been a good partner.”