A conflict involving vital workforce development funds has prompted longtime lobbying firm Triadvocates to quit representing Gila Community College (GCC) before the Legislature, according to a Feb. 5 letter sent to board president Sam Moorhead.
The lobbying group will also stop working for Eastern Arizona College (EAC).
“Triadvocates adheres to a strict set of standards and ethics to ensure that each of our clients receive zealous advocacy,” wrote the lobbying firm. “As we look to the immediate future, it has become apparent that Triadvocates can no longer ethically and zealously advocate for either college.”
The resignation stems from controversy about Sen. Chester Crandell’s SB 1076 which would allow provisional community colleges to receive their fair share of workforce development funds.
“Triadvocates wrote the bill,” said GCC board member Larry Stephenson. “SB 1076 was opposed by all 10 presidents of the community colleges. They basically opposed us and Santa Cruz getting workforce funds.”
Both GCC and Santa Cruz are provisional community colleges. Each pay other districts to provide accreditation so students can transfer credits and get a degree.
EAC provides accreditation and administrative services to GCC.
Neither provisional college district can get the same equalization funds or workforce funding as other rural districts.
Two years ago, then-senator Sylvia Allen tried to pass a bill that would have given provisional community colleges the same workforce funding as accredited colleges, such as EAC. The money would help GCC support vocational programs like nursing and fire science certification programs.
Allen’s original bill would rely on the same formula for calculating workforce funds for provisional colleges as for accredited community colleges. GCC would have gained hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would have come out of the millions of dollars the other college districts currently receive.
But to get the bill passed, Sen. Allen had to drop equal funding for vocational programs after the state’s other community college districts opposed the shift.
“Two years ago Triadvocates made a run for workforce funds,” said Stephenson. “They feel they came up short. So they had Senator Crandell introduce the bill.”
Triadvocates pushed the bill, which upset EAC as well as the president of the Maricopa Community College District and the other eight presidents around the state.
This put Triadvocates in an impossible situation, said Stephenson. The firm could either support the status quo and EAC or support GCC’s effort to win equal funding for vocational programs.
Stephenson said this breakup has been coming for years.
Last year, he and former board member Tom Loeffler lobbied strenuously to find another new lobbyist, but recently deceased member Robert Ashford vetoed the effort.
After Loeffler resigned, the board put off making a decision until Gila County Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell could find a new board member.
In the meantime, the pot boiled over — which didn’t surprise Stephenson.
“I called it a structural conflict of interest,” said Stephenson. “How could they serve two masters?”