Mohave County moves quickly on new position to monitor Legislature
12/19/2013 6:02:00 AM
By Kim Steele
KINGMAN - It didn't take long for the Mohave County Board of Supervisors to fill an unadvertised position created at a public meeting the day before, despite strong opposition from two Board members.
Travis Lingenfelter was hired Tuesday morning as a full-time employee for six months to monitor House and Senate bills during the upcoming legislative session and perform other specialized duties. Lingenfelter also will work on environmental issues, special projects, property management and economic development for the county.
Lingenfelter, who will start Dec. 30, will be paid $40,000 for the six months, which will include travel expenses and use of a vehicle for two trips a week to Phoenix. The job includes office space but no benefits, and Lingenfelter will report to Mohave County Administrator Mike Hendrix.
The creation of a new job came out a request earlier this month by Supervisor Buster Johnson, District 3, for the county to hire a professional lobbying firm in Phoenix to monitor bills that could have a negative impact on Mohave County. Johnson wanted the contract to run throughout the legislative session, which begins in January and lasts about 180 days.
But it quickly changed direction after Board Chairman Gary Watson, District 1, said a new county employee could not only keep track of those bills on the Internet, but could handle some of the Board's upcoming special projects and issues.
Supervisors Johnson and Hildy Angius, District 2, voted against hiring a new employee. Supervisors Watson, Joy Brotherton, District 4, and Steve Moss, District 5, voted in favor.
"I voted against this, and I'm not happy with what has happened," said Angius when contacted Wednesday about Lingenfelter's hire. "I didn't see this as being a position created for someone. And I think what we're doing is a big mistake."
But Watson said Wednesday that the Board did not choose Lingenfelter before the vote and the position was not opened specifically for him.
Watson said he is very pleased that Lingenfelter was offered the job by Hendrix and quickly accepted it.
Lingenfelter has spent more than a dozen years working in the public sector, including stints as the economic and procurement director for Mohave County and as the executive director of the Mohave Educational Services Cooperative. He graduated with a degree in American political studies from Northern Arizona University and obtained a master's degree in public administration from Norwich University in Northfield, Vt.
"I do know in my experience with Travis that he is exceptionally bright and motivated," said Watson. "We wanted someone who could do a variety of functions and do them very well. Travis would have been my first choice for that."
Hendrix said he, and not the Board, chose Lingenfelter for the position based on the job description he was asked to create. Hendrix said he knew the legislative session would begin in January and made the position temporary, which exempts the county from having to advertise, so it could be filled quickly.
Hendrix said he emailed the supervisors after Lingenfelter accepted the job so they would know he had found a qualified person.
"The best person I knew who could accomplish the tasks in this job description was Travis," said Hendrix. "He has tremendous talent, is local and knows county operations better than anyone. The decision was mine. I could have selected anyone for the position and I chose him."
Earlier, the Board discussed spending about $3,000 a month for a lobbyist to monitor legislative bills and activities.
The county had a lobbyist, Mike Williams & Associates of Phoenix, and paid $75,000 annually to the firm about 12 years ago, but hasn't had one since after the Board and the lobbyist disagreed on issues.
At both Board meetings, Johnson specified that the lobbyist would only monitor bills, not champion causes for the county.
Johnson said he doesn't believe anyone can tell what's going on in Phoenix and do a good enough job just by watching the Internet. He said bills change and are rewritten on an hourly basis during the heat of the session and that information is only discussed in the hallways, which means a lobbyist must be there in person each day.
Several Phoenix lobbying firms submitted proposals to the Board before the meeting, asking fees of $30,000 to $50,000 for services during the legislative session, and another firm requested more information so it could customize a quote.
The potential hiring of Lingenfelter was a rumor Johnson had heard before the Board's vote, but he said the other supervisors who supported the position had not shared the idea with him.
Johnson noted Lingenfelter would have his work cut out for him as he steps into the new job Johnson still believes was created especially for Lingenfelter.
"I'm not surprised about him getting this job and I figured it was coming," said Johnson. "The other supervisors got the votes to create the position and that's the beauty of a democracy. I'm not mad about it. You do get disappointed when a good idea you've had doesn't come out the way you envisioned it, but that's politics."
Lingenfelter recently applied for the job of city manager for Kingman and was one of three applicants out of 13 semifinalists to be considered. The resident was passed over in November by the Kingman City Council, which voted unanimously for John Dougherty of Reedsburg, Wis.
When that occurred, Brotherton publicly expressed her disappointment that the Council didn't choose Lingenfelter, especially since he is local.
Brotherton said she worked with Lingenfelter several times when he was a county employee and was always impressed with his talent. Brotherton said when she found out he was running for the city manager's position, she emailed all of the Council members to tell them that he would make a wonderful choice.
Lingenfelter, 38, said he can hear the conspiracy theorists who will claim he was given the job because the supervisors felt sorry for him after he lost the competition for city manager.
He laughed and said that situation took place several months ago and is over with, and he is ready to move on with his life and future.
He currently is a partner in Lingenfelter Investments, where he manages a real estate investment portfolio.
"I was doing my own thing and was satisfied with it when I got a call Tuesday from Mike Hendrix," said Lingenfelter. "The county was good to me while I was there and I am happy to help it out again. I'd like to think that since I am Mike's sole choice, he believes I am up to the challenge of this position.
"I'm familiar with the legislature and have done some lobbying, and I have enough perspective and historical context to do a good job with these upcoming special projects."