The US Capitol in Washington D.C.
Six GOP Congress members from Texas, including five with nearly a decade of experience, are retiring. Credit: WikiCommons / Diliff

City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Wednesday voted to recommend three lobby firms to represent San Antonio on Capitol Hill, including one focused primarily on airport issues.

The committee, led by outgoing Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), affirmed an evaluation group’s choice of Clark Hill Strasburger and The Normandy Group, as the Washington, D.C.-based firms, and Serna & Serna as the local liaison for the City of San Antonio’s federal legislative services program.

Clark Hill would act as the lead firm for the program, and Normandy would focus on airport issues, if Council approves the recommendation at its June 25 meeting. Because it is a high-profile contract, the City’s audit committee also will review the process on June 18.

The City has retained such consultants to represent its policy interests on the federal level for more than 24 years, and the program is focused on four priority areas as directed by the committee – military installations, aviation, transportation, and housing.

“They are our eyes and ears on the ground and provide access to federal agencies and to legislators outside the home delegation,” said Jeff Coyle, director of government and public affairs. “They identify grant opportunities and position us to secure those opportunities, and they work with other communities for the purpose of creating alliances.”

The evaluation committee was made up of City staff from the government and public relations department, the aviation department, the city manager’s office, VIA Metropolitan Transit, and the Alamo Federal Executive Board.

Three firms were selected from among the bids the City solicited – one seeking a lead firm based in D.C., the other for a local liaison. Separate solicitations, which released in December, allowed the evaluation committee to build the team they preferred rather than relying on one firm to bring in a subcontractor, Coyle said. This was the first time the City issued two solicitations for the federal legislative services program.

Jeff Coyle, director of government and public affairs
Jeff Coyle, director of government and public affairs

“We also brought more money to the table,” he said, in order to increase the number of bidders from which the committee could choose. The prior budget for all lobby consultants was $270,000, but the new budget allows $345,000, which includes $120,000 from the Airport Enterprise Fund due to the airport’s added federal priorities and needs.

Previously, there were only three bids submitted for the program. This time, there were a total of 11 bids.

The two-year contract with Clark Hill, which represents major cities including Baltimore and Philadelphia, is valued at $200,000 a year. Serna & Serna, a firm with clients including the San Antonio Water System, CPS Energy, Bexar County, and VIA Transit, will get $45,000 a year during a two-year contract.

The contract with Normandy is valued at $100,000 a year for two years. Both Clark Hill and Normandy agreed to reduce their contracts in order to allow the aviation department to continue working with Normandy, which focuses its efforts on issues such as airport facility charges and improvement funding for the San Antonio International Airport.

Downs Public Affairs has held the contract for the past 12 years, Coyle said. Although Downs bid again and the City was pleased with the firm’s previous work, the committee felt that the other proposals coming from “major D.C. players,” and the resources they could offer, were attractive in terms of advancing the City’s interests in Washington.

“These are the folks who are representing us in Washington, and when you look at past years and issues we have dealt with – the federal courthouse downtown was a major priority that finally got funded a couple of years ago and the nonstop flight to Reagan National, which hasn’t happened yet, but we are making progress –  there’s a lot of funding at stake,” Coyle said. “We’ve gotten significant [Department of Justice] funding for additional San Antonio police, money for body cameras, and we’ve used Community Development Block Grants and federal funding for major redevelopment projects like Wheatley Courts on the Eastside.

“So who is representing us in strategizing, and the connections they are able to provide, is really important.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.