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San Benito
May 28, 2024

County cuts ties with lobbyist who returned nothing

The county paid a Sacramento lobbyist $10,000 a month for a year and received nothing in return before ending the arrangement in January.

Now, the board chairman wants to shift those dollars over toward revitalized efforts to hire a new staff executive with the Economic Development Corporation of San Benito County.

“There wasn’t a good return on that investment,” said Board Chairman Mark Medina, who was against the hiring of lobbyist Stone Advocacy in December 2017 when the board hired the firm in a 3-2 vote. “I feel if we use those monies toward the EDC, we’ll see a bigger return on our investment.”

The hired lobbyist last gave an update presentation to the county board in October and acknowledged her firm Stone Advocacy had not returned a single dollar to the county since her hiring. Supervisors in December 2017 approved hiring Stone for $120,000 per year in hopes she could return funds to the county from other sources such as the state government.

Medina wants to re-allocate those dollars to the EDC in order to help the organization hire a full-time executive director, and he’s hoping to get buy-in from the City of Hollister on the funding end, too.

The EDC has not had a permanent, full-time leader since the departure of Nancy Martin in 2012 after four years on the job.

EDC organizations are common in counties. They are nonprofit organizations that generally advocate for the recruitment of new businesses to the area in an effort to spur economic growth.

Before Martin’s hiring over a decade ago, local government and business interests had come together to increase funding toward the EDC director position with hopes of making the role more credible and professional.

Medina joins new Supervisor Jim Gillio in showing recent interest to fund the EDC position. Gillio in January broached the prospect as well. Gillio wanted to use funds from the new business license tax approved in November to fund the position, which would likely come with a six-figure annual price tag.

“We have a lot of economic activity right now and potential,” Gillio said in January. “I think we need to harness and focus that energy.”

As for Stone Advocacy, principal Kim Stone acknowledged in an October presentation that her firm had made just one attempt to obtain funds by that time — for local homeless services — and that the request failed. She defended her lack of return to the county by noting the firm needed to have specific projects for which to advocate.

Medina was on the short end of a 3-2 vote at the Dec. 12, 2017 meeting to start negotiations with Stone Advocacy. He and Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz were against the hiring, while supporters were Supervisors Anthony Botelho and former Supervisors Jerry Muenzer and Robert Rivas. The board ultimately chose Stone, the sole practitioner at her firm, over two other applicants: Dimare, Brown, Hicks & Kessler; and Hurst Brooks Espinosa. The county received a total of seven interested firms last year after putting an ad in a Sacramento publication soliciting for lobbyist help.

“We just need to hold people accountable,” Medina said. “If we decide to give money to the EDC, we need to make sure there is a return.”

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