How to reach elected leaders: Play the game, it’s not difficult

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If you

 If you were given the task of creating a new governance model for Colorado, you might well discard the entire existing system.

It’s a system that is unwieldy, haphazard, illogical, unrepresentative, and, it seems, easily gamed.

Taken together, counties and cities comprise both a vast market and a vast problem for businesses large and small.

How do you reach decision-makers? How do you market your product and/or stave off inappropriate regulation?

It’s simple. You join the Colorado Municipal League (CML) or Colorado Counties, Inc (CCI).

CML describes itself as a “a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has served and represented Colorado’s cities and towns since 1923.” Similarly, CCI is a “nonprofit, membership association whose purpose is to offer assistance to county commissioners and to encourage counties to work together on common issues.”

You’re not a city or a county? No problem! Both organizations welcome “Corporate Associates” as members. They’re not shy about describing the benefits of such memberships.

CCI’s website couldn’t be more explicit, describing its corporate associate program as follows:

The program puts you in touch with key county decision makers: commissioners, mayors, councilmembers, managers, road and bridge supervisors, county attorneys and health and human services managers.

The program will give your organization exposure and access to county officials and give you ongoing access to information about county issues and activities across the state.

The program is an efficient and cost effective way for your company to interact with purchasing decision makers for Colorado’s 64 counties for the entire year.

The program can play a large role in your marketing efforts. Counties benefit by identifying potential suppliers who have demonstrated interest in county business.

CML is just as straightforward.

“During these challenging economic times,” CML Executive Director Sam Mamet notes on the organization’s website, “municipal officials are finding it more important than ever to speak with a strong, united voice on key issues. They accomplish this by being active members of CML. Through associate membership, your organization will be identified as a true supporter of their efforts and a champion of municipal government.”

Corporate associates can sign up for various marketing opportunities, from being a title sponsor of CML’s annual conference (price not disclosed), sponsoring an elected official’s luncheon during the conference ($9,750), sponsoring a “fun run” ($2,400) or being the “supreme sponsor” of an attorneys breakfast. Base membership is $675.

A Washington-based nonprofit, Public Citizen, issued a report this month sharply critical of such programs among similar national organizations. The report’s authors noted that:

“… these associations have no meaningful rules in place to prevent corporate funders from using their sponsorships to influence officials’ policy-making decisions. Few of the associations discussed in this report have any restrictions on which companies qualify as sponsors.”

Dealing with the system

Colorado is divided into 64 counties, which are (at least theoretically) arms of state government. Counties are responsible for law enforcement within their borders, including supporting the court system, the district attorney, sheriff and jail facilities. Counties also provide state-funded social services, and are responsible for road and bridge construction and maintenance. Significantly, they control land use in unincorporated areas.

El Paso County, with 636, 963 residents, is the largest county by population; San Juan, with 692 lonely souls, is the smallest.

Counties may be governed by three or five elected commissioners and may also fill the offices of treasurer, assessor, coroner, clerk and recorder, surveyor and sheriff through elections. The commissioners exercise a wide range of powers, many expressed in archaic legalisms from the mid-19th century. For example, commissioners may regulate and control and/or license: Bawdy houses and houses of prostitution; disturbances and riots; loiterers and prostitutes; unleashed or unclaimed animals; purchase and/or possession of tobacco products by minors; dance halls; escort services; and flea markets.

As well as extensive regulatory powers, Colorado counties have the power to incur debt, enter into contracts, and enter into lease-purchase deals.

They‘re not the only ones. There are 271 incorporated cities and towns in Colorado, ranging from Front Range metropolises such as Denver and Colorado Springs to dusty little villages of a few hundred inhabitants. Like counties, cities have extensive regulatory and police powers, and control land use within their borders.

Not influenced

Local elected officials pooh-pooh any suggestion that corporations exercise undue influence over either CCI or CML.

“When I went to the NLC (National League of Cities) conference I thought of it as an information-gathering time,” said City Councilor Brandy Williams. “There were (corporate) booths, but not lobbying.”

Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin, who’s a member of the CML Board, welcomes corporate membership.

“It’s a real opportunity to meet face-to-face with suppliers,” she said. “I’m a real believer in relationships, and this is just one more way to fund these very important organizations.”

“I see both CCI and CML as the lobbying arms for county and city government,” said veteran County Commissioner Sallie Clark. “I never thought that our (CCI’s) financial supporters thought they deserved anything special from us, but their contributions allow CCI to be even more effective.

“Everything that the federal government does comes to Denver, and Denver sends it to us. There are unfunded mandates, inappropriate legislation and the numbers are enormous — $100 million just for the I-25 Cimarron interchange. We need all the help we can get.”

And help may be on the way. The agenda for CCI’s winter meeting, scheduled in Colorado Springs for Nov. 26-28, includes this item: “County Workers Compensation Pool Meeting.”

The members of the County Workers Compensation Pool and the Colorado Counties Casualty and Property Pool combine the business of both pools into one annual meeting.

The meeting concludes with a raffle of a dozen $50 bills for meeting attendees, sponsored by Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Inc., the CWCP and CAPP broker.

For local officials, every dollar makes a difference..  CSBJ