Both the Knox County School System and the City of Knoxville use lobbyists in Nashville. According to Mayor Rogero’s communication specialist Jesse Mayshark, Tony Thompson is the contracted lobbyist for the city. The City of Knoxville pays him $55,000 a year for lobbying. The city also pays $30,000 in annual dues to the Tennessee Municipal League, and the bulk of that money goes to pay for a lobbyist who jointly represents the four big Tennessee cities.
Knox County Schools also uses a lobbyist firm in conjunction with other major school systems. Knox County Schools Communications Manager Melissa Ogden explained in detail how it operates:
“Southern Strategy Group provides governmental consulting services to the Coalition of Large School Systems (CLASS). CLASS consists of the five largest school systems in Tennessee, for which the Knox County Schools is a member alongside Shelby County, Memphis City, Metro Nashville, and Hamilton County school systems. Each of the five school systems pays dues to CLASS. CLASS then pays Southern Strategies group for professional services. Since the Knox County Schools chaired CLASS during 2011/2012, the Knox County Schools paid Southern Strategies from the dues collected.”
According to Mr. Mayshark, contracting with lobbyists is vital to the interests of city residents. He explained how with so much happening so quickly in Nashville that it is nearly impossible to rely on news media or state representatives from Knox County. He stated how a bill can be dormant for months and then in the course of a few hours be voted on.
Our elected officials could be in a subcommittee meeting while in another chamber a bill that might cost city taxpayer millions could be going through a committee vote. He stated the importance of being proactive instead of reactive. Mayshark presented a very recent example of the need for a city lobbyist occurred when a local State Senator tried to sell Lake Shore Park. The city was able to rapidly respond to the situation.
Dan Andrews reporting.