Forsyth County commissioners’ decision Tuesday to renew an annual consulting services agreement has raised some concerns in the community about the state lobbying record of the contract-holder.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve the $60,000 contract for consulting services with Subsidium LLC.
The contract was first approved with the holder, county resident and former state lawmaker and transportation official Mike Evans, in 2009 and has been renewed each year.
The agreement specifies that Evans will “represent and advise Forsyth County on matters pertaining to Forsyth County in the governmental service area. (The governmental service area consists of representing Forsyth County with state and federal entities in regards to Forsyth County’s interests.)”
He also meets with representatives of government agencies and advises the county on political matters, strategic planning and “maintaining visibility with various entities and officials.”
The word “lobby” is never mentioned in the county’s contract. However, Evans has registered with the state as a lobbyist, and Forsyth County is listed as one of the entities he represents, as is the city of Cumming and other area governments.
His required monthly reports for 2009, 2011 and 2012 with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission show no expenditures and only mention lobbying activity for Forsyth County in May 2011.
Evans did not register in 2010. He filed registration for 2013 on Tuesday, after clearing his balance for past due fees from late reports.
The empty lobbying reports and lack of 2013 registration prior to the Tuesday commission meeting prompted several questions from the community about whether Evans is legally representing the county as a lobbyist.
Evans did not respond to phone and e-mail requests to clarify the relationship between his consulting contract with the county and his registration as a lobbyist with the state.
State law currently defines a lobbyist, in one category, as someone who “is compensated specifically for undertaking to promote or oppose any matter before the State Transportation Board,” as well as several other qualifying activities.
The Web site states that someone generally must register if he is “paid specifically to take any action intended to promote or oppose the passage of any legislation/regulation/ordinance by the State legislature and Governor, any State Agency.”
Evans’ monthly reports to Forsyth, which are required by his contract, detail his progress on county projects.
Those reports, obtained by an open records request, show regular activity primarily in meeting and talking with both county and state officials on transportation issues.
In 2010, when he did not register at the state as a lobbyist, Evans reports several phone conversation and meetings with then-State Transportation Board member Steve Gooch, as well as meetings with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Governor’s Planning Director Todd Long and Rep. Mark Hamilton.
Though commissioners and county staff didn’t visit the issue of lobbying reports or activities, which are not mentioned in the contract, officials on Tuesday spoke highly of Evans and his work.
New Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said she met with Evans prior to the Tuesday discussion to renew the contract and talked about his work with several officials.
“I kept hearing, and it’s good to know, ‘Mike has value,’” Mills said. “It is good to have measurement as much as possible.”
His monthly reports to the county and meetings with the transportation committee provide some ability to measure obtaining success in a consulting contract.
The 2012 year-end report highlights his work with the state Department of Transportation to relieve Forsyth County from having to pay an estimated $600,000 to relocate utility lines as part of the upcoming widening of Hwy. 20, as originally proposed.
Evans also states he worked with GDOT to allow reimbursement to the county for all right-of-way costs for the Bethelview Road widening project, instead of the state-proposed $11.6 million cap.
“I have mentioned in the past that in these difficult financial times for transportation in Georgia, it isn’t about getting more money, it is about holding onto money that has been promised,” he wrote. “I find my role many times as one of keeping the project from slipping back to a later year on GDOT’s scheduled construction start.”
In 2011, he secured $500,000 from the DOT for a transportation enhancement grant, typically used for pedestrian or sidewalk projects.
Evans wrote that “it was the highest amount awarded in the 9th Congressional District, and I believe the only one that received funding from two different GDOT board members.”
Other projects worked on in the contracted years included a Ga. 400 interchange at McGinnis Ferry Road and the widening of Ga. 400 and Hwy. 9.
He also details meetings over the years with new State Transportation Board members, several of whom he refers to as longtime friends.
He wrote about a helicopter tour of Forsyth taken with a new member in 2012, to give her “a different perspective of the county, one that I think will benefit both of us in the long term.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, County Manager Doug Derrer emphasized the importance of relationships while describing to commissioners the services of the contract.
“It’s about representation at a level other than the local level,” he said. “It’s also about escalating a particular project or matter to the right person at the right time. Again, it’s about relationships, it’s certainly about projects and getting things done and getting things on the county’s radar.”
Evans has served in several political capacities, including eight years in the state House of Representatives, a legislative liaison for the Georgia House and a member on the Georgia Board of Community Affairs.
He also served on the transportation board as chairman but resigned in April 2008, citing a budding romantic relationship with then-DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham.
The two have since married and Gena Evans now heads the State Road & Tollway Authority.