The city of Mount Airy recently appropriated $105,000 to hire a financial adviser and an attorney to provide extra legal services, and most recently has added a lobbyist to its arsenal of specialists.
This is believed to be the first time that the city has ever joined forces with an official lobbyist to represent its interests in legislative channels, although it dabbled with the idea about eight years ago.
Local officials this month enlisted Holloway Group Inc., headed by a former member of the N.C. General Assembly, to assist them “with acquiring funds to help with various projects,” according to a city resolution forging that relationship.
This includes the ongoing, costly effort to redevelop the former Spencer’s Inc. textile property downtown which the municipality now owns.
A contract authorized by the city commissioners between Mount Airy and the lobbying firm calls for it to paid $1,000 a month, for a $12,000 total during the one-year period specified.
Bryan Holloway, the front man for Holloway Group Inc., formerly served District 91 in the state House of Representatives, which includes Stokes County. Holloway, a Republican and former social studies teacher who was first elected to that post in 2004, resigned in October 2015 to take a lobbyist position with the N.C. School Boards Association.
Now he will be working to seek state budgetary allocations and grants on Mount Airy’s behalf.
“You’re on the payroll,” Mayor David Rowe told Holloway.
“I know the budget inside and out,” Holloway, a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that has much say over the purse strings in Raleigh, told city officials during a meeting last week when the contracting process was authorized.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved that in a 5-0 vote, after City Manager Barbara Jones advised that Holloway’s services are timely, given the connections he has maintained with state lawmakers.
“We have many needs in the city,” Jones said, which includes infrastructure improvements at the former Spencer’s site which are expected to cost about $4.5 million.
Holloway, in a pitch to the commissioners, suggested that he might be just the man for the job.
“I think I can help you have a lot of success,” he told them.
“Every single client I had last year (numbering five in all) got something that they wanted,” Holloway added.
In response to a question from Commissioner Shirley Brinkley concerning whether Mount Airy might become lost in the shuffle, the former state lawmaker said he mostly represents public education clients and Mount Airy will be the only municipality.
“You’re not going to be competing with any other towns.”
In explaining the services he will provide to Mount Airy, Holloway pointed out that the state Legislature will always spend a certain sum of money helping localities.
“It just depends on who gets it — that’s what it boils down to,” he said.
Holloway indicated that the role of a state lobbyist is a full-time proposition, not just when the N.C. Assembly is convening. This includes both a “short” session this spring and a long one next year in which he thinks results can be realized for Mount Airy.
“There’s more to it than being in Raleigh when they’re there,” Holloway said of legislators. “There’s a lot to it — it’s not just walking in the door and saying, ‘give Mount Airy X-amount of dollars.’”
Brinkley also expressed concerns about being able to monitor Holloway’s progress during the course of the contract in terms of updating local officials on what he is accomplishing concerning funding allocations.
“I’m happy to do reporting however you want,” Holloway responded, which discussion indicated will include regular contacts with the city manager.
Jones said if the arrangement doesn’t work out, the municipality and lobbying firm can part ways on a friendly basis, but she believes it will prove beneficial.
Mount Airy officials have considered hiring a lobbyist only one other time in recent memory.
That was in 2010, involving a proposal by Wayne Ronald Boyles III, a man with Mount Airy ties who was operating a consulting firm in Northern Virginia.
Boyles offered his services to the city at the rate of $36,000 per year, which would have included lobbying for Mount Airy in Washington, D.C., to secure federal government grants and arrange contacts with key officials there.
Economic development was one of the areas Boyles pledged to help the city with, but the plan was derailed after Surry County Economic Development Partnership President Todd Tucker — who was consulted on the matter — said it likely would be money wasted
The commissioners’ May 3 vote approving the contract with the state lobbyist came on the heels of action on April 19 to provide $105,000 for the financial adviser and legal services.
It was stated then that the $100,000 financial component would include assisting with funding for a proposed Barter Theatre expansion in Mount Airy which presently is stalled by state regulators at the Local Government Commission.
The $5,000 legal expenditure was targeted for a lawyer in Raleigh who has experience working with the commission who is to represent the city during an upcoming presentation aimed at gaining favor with those regulators.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.