Lobbying firms certainly appear to have no compunction about accepting clients with conflicting interests...we've seen that already. First Virginia Beach and VUI shared a lobbying firm which, when asked to choose between the two, chose VUI and dropped Virginia Beach. Now Kemper Consulting has accepted VUI as a new client while representing the City of Norfolk and the company seeking to take over Virginia's port terminals in Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Newport News. How might this indirectly affect Norfolk's position on uranium mining at Coles Hill?
From "Norfolk Needs a Lobbyist Free of Distractions", published in The Virginian-Pilot, March 27, 2009:
A $3.5 billion proposal to privatize the state's port operations could have a far-reaching impact on many of the region's local governments and businesses. That's provoked questions about how a lobbying firm with close ties to many of the key players in the deal will sort out its potential conflicts of interest.
Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim is correct to broach the issue now, before his city finds itself at a disadvantage in delicate financial negotiations.
Kemper Consulting represents Norfolk on issues before the legislature and state agencies. But CenterPoint Properties, the Illinois company seeking to take over operations of the state's three port terminals in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News, is also a client.
CenterPoint's proposal is likely to be one of several pitched to the state this year. State officials will compare the merits of all bids, while also weighing whether Virginia would be better off maintaining control of its most valuable asset.
Norfolk's desires can't and won't be the only factor in the negotiations, but as the host city for the largest terminal it can't afford to get lost in the jockeying. It must have an advocate whose interests are in complete alignment.
CenterPoint is offering to pay Norfolk $3 million annually to cover lost tax revenues, road repairs from truck traffic and other services. That's nearly triple the pittance now paid by the state, but well short of the costs now borne by the city.
Fraim is reasonably giving Kemper time to propose a solution that could satisfy his concerns, but a resolution could be complicated by other clients of the firm. Kemper also represents the Virginia Maritime Association, a group of more than 400 companies that promotes commercial growth at the port.
In an unrelated matter, Kemper has taken on a new client in Virginia Uranium, a company seeking state approval to mine in Pittsylvania County. Virginia Beach opposes the mine until it receives assurances that the project will not contaminate Lake Gaston, the city's primary source of drinking water.
Norfolk has taken no position on the matter but is monitoring the issue because it stores and treats Beach water supplies.
The port is properly Norfolk's top concern. Strong commercial growth at the waterfront could assure the city's economic prosperity, but hasty deals will bring high costs and years of regret.
Given those stakes, city officials must demand a lobbyist free of distractions.