Looking for an alternate track inside the Beltway, the city might be getting another representative to Washington.
Milton Bissegger is his name, head of RSL Associates, a fledgling Silver Spring, Md., company that hopes to specialize in lobbying the federal bureaucracy on behalf of Utah municipalities.Mayor Randy Fitts says he has mixed feelings about it but notes that some local cities - like Sandy - already have hired guns working the capital's corridors, augmenting efforts by the state's congressional delegation to bring home the bacon.
"It's an interesting proposal," said Fitts, recalling that in the mid-1980s South Salt Lake hired a lobbyist who helped land the city a $750,000 grant. "I'd rather see a system where we don't need a lobbyist, but then, I'd like every day to be sunny."
Bissegger, a former assistant to Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, is trying to land a contract with a number of Utah towns and cities that would name him their Washington "consultant," the term he prefers over lobbyist.
Bissegger has directly approached 30 of the state's approximately 230 city governments and has also made pitches at recent meetings of the Council of Governments in Utah and Salt Lake counties, consortiums regularly attended by mayors. He expects responses to start trickling in this week.
The lobbyist's services would cost each client city from $4,000 to $18,000 annually, depending on the size of the population.
He said that because the state's three U.S. representatives and two senators can't keep up with constituent needs, his effort is not a duplication of services.
"When I was with Orton's office, sometimes we'd get 100 requests a day from people," said Bissegger. "The best I could do was usually make some calls and find out who they should contact."
"It's not the fault of the congressional staffs," he said. "They're very hard-working people. They're just overworked."
Bissegger, who is 60, sports a diverse resume. In addition to his experience with Orton, he is a former talk show host for KTKK (K-TALK) Radio in Salt Lake City and served a five-year stint as a State Department diplomat to Argentina.
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, an enthusiastic supporter of the city-lobbyist-in-Washington concept, said a good one more than pays for itself.
"A lobbyist can put you onto where the money is," said Dolan, whose city pays about $30,000 a year for consultations from a company called Jordan and Associates. "If you don't have somebody back in D.C. telling you what's going on, you just don't know."
Dolan's example of a lobbyist's worth is a $650,000 federal bridge-construction grant Jordan and Associates help win for the city last year and another $6 million in federal funding this year for improvements on 2000 East, a gift he says was lined up in part by the firm.
Jordan and Associates also works for Provo, and West Valley City for some time has had its own Washington lobbyist, the Ferguson Co.
Dolan said lobbyists are effective because they're well connected and have the time and staff to diligently focus on one client at a time, an endorsement Bissegger gladly accepts.
"It's the intricacies of the federal government they can work you through," said Dolan.
Less encouraging to Bissegger is the response by Marie Huff, mayor of Spanish Fork, who says her city will get by just fine with the help it already receives from the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
"I don't think we're interested," said Huff.