Council debates $180K contract to hire lobbyist in state budget crunch

Rehiring Tauzin Consultants as a lobbyist for the St. Charles Parish government drew spirited debate among council members who questioned the need for one when the state of Louisiana is struggling in one of its worse budget crunches in history.

Council members voted 8 to 1 in favor of rehiring the firm.Parish President Larry Cochran urged the council at Monday’s meeting to support hiring the firm, saying he saw firsthand what Tauzin Consultants could do in earlier work it did for the parish at no charge.

“CPRA [Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority) has money and we need it,” said Cochran of seeking levee construction funding. “We also need help with inventory tax protection.”

Cochran said $180,000 for both state and federal lobbying “is not that much money” and is an amount that could be easily recovered in funding. He added the money is already in the general budget.

The one-year contract calls for $15,000 a month or $60,000 for lobbying on the state level and $120,000 for a Washington presence per year. It runs June 7 to June 6, 2017. Duties include requiring the firm to secure state and federal permits, state and federal appropriations for projects including hurricane protection levees, infrastructure such as drainage, wastewater, parks and recreation, and community needs such as animal control.

The council approved a revised agreement that broadened the firm’s duties and includes a clause that allows either party to terminate the relationship without cause with 30-day notice.

Tauzin Consultants is headed by former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin and his son, Tom. A native of Chackbay, Billy Tauzin also headed a pharmaceutical company lobby group called PhRMA and was considered the highest paid health-law lobbyist at the time at $11.6 million a year.

Casting the lone vote against hiring the firm, Councilman Terrell Wilson said he met with Billy Tauzin briefly and mulled over the move extensively, but still could not agree with it because of timing and cost.

Hahnville resident Milton Allemand maintained the fee should be spent on levees, as well as questioned rehiring a firm he maintained was terminated for non-performance.

In 2011, the council hired Tauzin Consultants, making the parish its first client.

By April of 2013, the council and then Parish President V.J. St. Pierre entrenched over renewing the firm’s contract. St. Pierre maintained the council could not hire the service without his approval.

The proposed 33-month contract had a base salary of $10,000 a month plus $750 a month for expenses. St. Pierre would not budge on approving the move even after the council hired an attorney to try to force him to approve.

Ultimately, his veto held and the contract was not renewed.At Monday’s meeting, Billy Tauzin thanked the council for the earlier work and noted the area’s substantial water, sinking land and government interference that requires help with addressing these concerns.

“It is the greatest time to lobby for money when money is tight,” he told the council. “The timing is now to reengage. Let’s get this parish and federal government to get these levees built.”

Tauzin and Cochran also both say politics, not non-performance, was why the firm was not rehired.Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier called for hiring Tauzin Consultants.

“I see that you have to remain present and visible to have your needs met and, as a council member, I don’t know if it’s within the realm of us doing this as a council,” she said. “If you don’t stay present, you do get forgotten. You don’t have a hand in crafting the legislation that could benefit you as a parish.”

Fisher-Perrier singled out levees and flood insurance rates as key issues warranting monitoring, particularly after areas of the parish contended with skyrocketing rate hikes in the past.

“We all saw in 2012 what can happen,” she said. “They’ll write us off basically.”

Fisher-Perrier also said she considered Tauzin’s fee fair, particularly when the firm is among the few that does both state and federal lobbying.

“We’ve had experience with them in the past and I saw a quantity of money that came from prior relationships from their experience in government,” she said.

Hogan, who earlier said he would not support the move unless he was given substantial justification, on Monday supported hiring the consultant mainly for CPRA funding and controlling flood insurance rates.

On Hogan’s request, Tauzin also agreed to provide monthly reports on the firm’s progress, and he wanted to limit any automatic contract extension.

Councilman Dick Gibbs also maintained the parish could lose money by not hiring a lobbyist.

“I believe this is an absolute necessity,” Gibbs said. “The state and federal governments are not broke – they’re just broken.”


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