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City lobbyist's efforts not so convincing

April 18, 2001

City lobbyist's efforts not so convincing



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's $200-an-hour lobbyist never met with Washington County lawmakers and wasn't able to convince Gov. Parris N. Glendening to give the city any project money this year.

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But Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Jack A. "Jay" Gullo Jr. did exactly what the city asked of him. It's too early to judge his work because he was hired midway through the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day session.

"I don't think we can hang our hats on this, but we can't say it was a failure," Bruchey said.

The Hagerstown City Council voted unanimously Feb. 27 to hire Gullo at a rate of $200 an hour. Gullo had estimated he would bill the city for up to $9,000 for his work during the session that ended April 9.

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So far, the city has paid $620 to Gullo's law firm, Funk & Bolton, P.A., of Baltimore, Hagerstown Finance Director Al Martin said. Gullo said his total bill for the session will be less than $3,000.

Some members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly were critical of Gullo's performance, particularly the fact that Gullo never met formally with them.

"I never once saw him lift a finger to do anything for the city of Hagerstown. I think it was a huge waste of money," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Shank said he talked with Gullo once during a chance meeting in Annapolis, but Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee and Sen. Donald F. Munson each said they never met him.

"I think it's strange. I would think that coming to see the legislators would be the first piece of business," said Munson, R-Washington.

Bruchey said Gullo wasn't hired to lobby local lawmakers. He was supposed to lobby Glendening and members of the General Assembly from other parts of the state.

"We're supposed to have our delegation on our side already," Bruchey said.

Councilman William M. Breichner said he expected Gullo to meet with local lawmakers.

"I expected that to be a very important part of the job. That is disappointing," Breichner said.

Gullo said the city gave him a very narrow scope because he was starting so late in the session.

"It's like starting a football game in the second half," he said.

Gullo said one of his main goals was to lobby Glendening's office to provide state money for two city projects - a proposed Civil War museum in Hagerstown and a $4.4 million plan to improve the neighborhood around the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

Glendening didn't fund either project.

Another goal, to develop a formal government relations program, is still in progress.

A third goal was to bring to the city's attention any legislation that would negatively affect Hagerstown.

"There really wasn't anything that came out," Gullo said.

McKee questioned whether it was a conflict of interest to hire Gullo, who is mayor of New Windsor, Md., to lobby for Hagerstown.

"I can't see how a mayor of another municipality can throw his full heart into lobbying for another municipality," said McKee, R-Washington.

Gullo said there are no conflicts between his job as a lawyer and lobbyist and his role as mayor of New Windsor, which pays $3 a day. His term ends in May and he is not running for re-election.

If anything, his role as mayor enables him to better understand the city's needs, he said.

Bruchey said Gullo is particularly qualified to represent the city's concerns because he's a past president of the Maryland Municipal League. Gullo also has lobbying experience working for the Alliance of Maryland Dental Plans.

Breichner said he expects to get a report on Gullo's lobbying effort. So far, he has received copies of two letters Gullo wrote on behalf of the city.

It's rare for a city the size of Hagerstown to hire a lobbyist, said Jim Peck, director of research for the Maryland Municipal League. Only Baltimore city and the largest counties in the Washington suburbs have full-time lobbyists, he said.

The league tries to look out for the welfare of all municipalities during the General Assembly session, he said.

Peck said he reads every bill filed and alerts the affected city or town officials.

When there are issues that affect most or all towns, the league's legislative committee decides whether to take a position. Peck writes position papers and may organize panels of people to testify for or against bills.

Despite their criticism, local lawmakers said Hagerstown can benefit from having a lobbyist in Annapolis.

Under such a hectic pace, local lawmakers don't always have time to give attention to the city's pet projects, they said.

"The lobbyists are there working the hallways, the committee rooms and the back rooms," McKee said.

Munson said the Washington County Commissioners should consider using a lobbyists' services.

"Frankly, I think this is probably one of the smartest moves the city has made," Munson said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, declined to judge the hiring decision.

"I think it's the prerogative of the mayor and council. It seems to work for other municipalities and other counties," he said.

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