When Georgia's legislative session starts in January, Columbia County will have some extra help in Atlanta.
The county commission recently engaged Oglethorpe Public Affairs to lobby on its behalf with state and federal lawmakers.
Based in Augusta, Oglethorpe Public Affairs is owned by Scott MacGregor, a former official with the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce, and Michael Shaffer, the former district director for late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood.
Shaffer's political connections were a deciding factor in hiring the company, commission chairman Ron Cross said.
The county has invested millions in developing Wildwood Park as a viable tourist attraction and wants to continue to do so. But the park is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has to approve all construction projects at the lakeside property.
"We need someone who can work with the federal government and the corps of engineers with what we're trying to do at Wildwood Park," Cross said. "Michael Shaffer has worked with them forever."
Shaffer said his firm offers just such services.
"Everybody thinks when it comes to public affairs, it's lobbying. ... Some of that is basic, strategic government consulting," Shaffer said. "It's bouncing stuff off of people who have been around some of the agencies for a lot of years."
Cross also thinks it is necessary to have someone helping county officials keep tabs on bills proposed on a state level.
Again, Cross believes Shaffer's connections should help.
"Over my course with Charlie Norwood, I have worked with many legislators," Shaffer said. "During his terms, and because of redistricting, he represented over 50 Georgia counties. During that period of time, you work with a lot of legislators at all levels."
In July, Cross signed a $12,000 annual contract with Oglethorpe Public Affairs, which he said was considerably less than other agencies.
"We talked about hiring a lobbyist for years, but it's always been in the $60,000, $80,000 or $100,000 category," he said. "In Cobb County, they told us they pay a $100,000 retainer each year, but it's worth $1 million to them in various ways."
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