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Forest Park rejects lobbyist request

FOREST PARK — In a confusing series of votes Tuesday, city council members rejected a proposal to hire a lobbyist at $8,000 a month to represent their interests in Atlanta.

The lobbyist group is the same one that proposed to represent Morrow City Council but is under two different names. The group that tried to represent Morrow is Capitol Connections and the one offering a proposal to Forest Park is Progressive Affairs. However, both groups comprise the same people — Kevin Thomas, McKinley Lewis, John Clayton and Glenn Baker. Viet Tran is part of the Progressive Affairs group.

According to the Georgia Ethics Commission website, Thomas registered Capitol Connections with the state Jan. 16. Lewis registered Progressive Affairs on Tuesday.

The lobbyist issue was discussed during the Jan. 6 meeting but was not well-received by council. Lewis addressed the board during the public comments portion of the meeting but did not do an official presentation.

“We’re not just about legislation but about building relationships, to make a difference for our citizens,” he said. “We can help with proposals and grants to further help and promote the city. Businesses are leaving, and we need to foster personal relationships so we can keep from having vacant houses.”

When the issue was raised earlier this month, council members were divided, especially in light of the cost. Mayor Pro Tem Maudie McCord wanted to approve the measure but council members Linda Lord and Tommy Smith disagreed.

Hearing from Lewis didn’t change that. Councilman Dabouze Antoine made a motion to table the item and McCord seconded it. However, when Mayor David Lockhart called for a vote, only Lord and Smith voted not to table the issue. McCord and Latresa Akins voted in the affirmative.

Lockhart again called for a vote to ensure everyone who wanted to vote had done so. Again, Antoine didn’t cast a vote, making the count a tie. Lockhart voted with Lord and Smith not to table the issue, which brought Antoine to attention.

“I want to vote,” he said.

Lockhart told him he called for a vote twice and Antoine never spoke and that it was too late to vote.

With the item back on the table, Lockhart asked if there was another motion to be made. Lord moved to defeat the proposal, which was seconded by Smith. This time, the vote was 2-3 to defeat it.

The confusion prompted members to apologize to residents attending the meeting — about half of whom cheered, shouted “Amen” and applauded the apparent defeat of hiring a lobbyist.

The money for a lobbyist was intertwined with the defeat Tuesday of a 4 percent across the board raise for employees, which will cost nearly $250,000 for six months and $500,000 every year beyond that.

“This was not one of our better days and hopefully, we’ll get it together and employees will get a raise because they deserve it,” Lord said. “We’ll need $500,000 for salaries for the next year. I don’t see a need for a lobbyist.”

Lord’s sentiments were shared by the rest of the board in turn.

“I’m not against a raise but we don’t have enough information,” McCord said. “But we don’t have enough information to make a decision. We want you to be satisfied with our decision.”

Residents immediately responded to McCord.

“And we’re not,” shouted one. Other murmurs indicated the group would vote their displeasure at the polls.

Lockhart asked them to be “decent and orderly.”

Smith also said he supported the raise but not the lobbyist.

“I think we should push for a raise but I don’t think we need a lobbyist,” he said. “That will be taking money from our employees’ pockets.”

It was just the second meeting for Antoine, who took office Jan. 1.

“This was not our best meeting,” he said. “We’re here to disagree sometimes. I’m for a raise but I want time and information and not make a rash decision.”

The lobbyist issue could be back on February’s agenda.

The board is expected to meet again Monday at 7 p.m. to reconsider the raise. The meeting is open to the public.