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Too early to judge success of Hagerstown's lobbyist, officials say

June 27, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The City of Hagerstown has spent nearly $48,000 over the last six months for the services of a federal lobbyist, but officials say it's too early to tell whether the city will see a return on its investment.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Tuesday that the city has received routine reports from The Ferguson Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm that the city hired in January to help secure federal funding for several projects ranging from a black-history museum to water system upgrades.

"It's too early in the process to give any indication" of how successful the efforts will be, Zimmerman said. "At this point, (appropriations) are working through (congressional) committees and subcommittees."

According to its contract with the city, The Ferguson group was paid $7,500 a month from January until March 15, when the rate increased to $8,500 a month. If the city retains The Ferguson Group's services next year, the monthly rate would climb to $9,000 beginning Jan. 15, 2009.

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Kareem D. Murphy of The Ferguson Group said his organization's responsibility is not to secure funding from the federal government, but to ensure that clients are as competitive as possible by helping draft grant requests and arranging meetings between city officials and members of Congress.

"The Ferguson Group doesn't ask for funding," he said. "The mayor and council must do that ... I basically help their efforts be more productive and more robust. I help them help themselves."

Murphy said Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and some members of the council met with members of Congress in February to discuss the city's interests. To his knowledge, Murphy said, the only other time that city officials met with members of Congress was in March, when Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean made a visit while she was in Washington.

"There's been no official meeting to our knowledge," Murphy said. "But that's not to say (the city) hasn't been in any communication."

Murphy said he would know more about what funding might be coming to Hagerstown when Congress appropriates the money at a date that has yet to be determined.

Parson-McBean and Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said the council did the right thing to hire a lobbyist.

"At this point, I am confident not only in The Ferguson Group, but also the support our agenda has received from our congressional leaders," Parson-McBean wrote in an e-mail. "The Ferguson Group, mayor and council and city staff has submitted a diverse agenda that has received positive feedback from a member of Sen. (Barbara) Mikulski's staff, and both Sen. (Benjamin) Cardin and Mikulski have voiced their pleasure" in Hagerstown coming to Capitol Hill for support.

"As you know this is a process that takes time, especially with this being an election year laced with many political uncertainties and, with that said, I will be hoping and praying that we will be on the receiving end of much needed federal funding for the City of Hagerstown."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said The Ferguson Group never promised that the city would see a return as early as June.

"I anticipated this," he said.

Metzner, who voted to hire the lobbyist, said he expects he'll have to answer to the taxpayers if The Ferguson Group's efforts fail to pay off by the end of the year.

Speaking from Ocean City, Md., where he was attending the Maryland Municipal League's annual conference, Bruchey said he was told by other municipal leaders who retained lobbyists that the first year could be disappointing, but that lobbyists usually deliver within the second year.

"Some said they got back tenfold their investment," Bruchey said.

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker, who also was in Ocean City for the MML conference, could not be reached for comment.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer did not return a telephone call seeking comment.




Earlier this year, City of Hagerstown staff members and representatives from The Ferguson Group created a prioritized list of projects for which the city would try to obtain federal funding. Following is that list:

  • $1 million for water system upgrades

  • $850,000 to extend Haven Road

  • $900,000 to purchase radio equipment

  • $150,000 to help establish a museum for the Doleman Collection, a collection of African-American artifacts

  • $650,000 to support a minority- and woman-owned businesses program

  • $24 million to rehabilitate the water and wastewater collection system

  • $3 million for the Professional Court Extension

  • $4.72 million to extend Eastern Boulevard

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