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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley City Council argues over contract for federal lobbyist

Spokane Valley City Council is divided over whether to continue a $78,000-a-year contract with its federal lobbyist.  (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A debate over whether Spokane Valley should renew its $78,000 annual contract with a federal lobbyist got heated last week, with some council members arguing their lobbyist has been almost useless and others saying the firm was instrumental in bringing an Amazon facility to the city..

Spokane Valley has been paying Cardinal Infrastructure for three years to act as its federal lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

The city hired the firm in December 2018 and hoped Cardinal’s expertise and political connections could help Spokane Valley get federal funding for major transportation infrastructure projects, including costly bridges that would eliminate conflicts between drivers and trains.

Some council members said during the Dec. 7 City Council meeting Cardinal Infrastructure has done good work for Spokane Valley.

“They know what they’re doing,” City Councilman Rod Higgins said. “They are earning their money. It’s money well spent.”

Other council members raised concerns about the lobbying firm’s performance.

“I would like to see us go with someone else, because $78,000 is a lot of money to not get anything out of it,” City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said.

Peetz said she has found Cardinal Infrastructure to be unprepared, unprofessional and ineffective at securing federal funding for the city’s transportation infrastructure projects.

“We haven’t had anything fruitful, we haven’t had any allocations since we’ve had Cardinal Infrastructure,” Peetz said.

Peetz also said that since she and Mayor Ben Wick took over as the city’s liaisons with Cardinal two years ago, the firm has done a poor job providing the city with updates and understanding the city’s priorities.

“The very first time we met with them, they asked us what our priorities were, and the lady asked us, ‘So is immigration still one of your priorities?’” Peetz said.

But Peetz noted that the city hired Cardinal Infrastructure to focus on transportation issues, and immigration is not an issue that’s even on the city’s official legislative agenda.

Cardinal Infrastructure Partner Sherry Little told The Spokesman-Review in an email that the firm had a successful year lobbying for the city in 2021. 

Little said Cardinal helped secure “congressionally directed spending for projects in pending legislation” and has helped the city apply for grants. 

“We look forward to our future work with the City and will continue to zealously represent Spokane Valley’s interests to Congress and the Administration,” Little said. 

City Councilwoman Pam Haley defended Cardinal and said she disagreed with virtually all of Peetz’ criticisms of the firm.

Haley said that when she, Higgins and City Councilman Arne Woodard went to D.C., Cardinal Infrastructure lobbyist Bennett Resnick helped them make important connections with Amazon leaders.

“The only reason we have Amazon in the Valley is because of them,” Haley said. “They have done things for us. We haven’t gotten any great, big, huge railroad crossing things, but my argument on there would be there haven’t been a lot of them that have been passed in the federal government, period.”

Peetz said she disagreed Cardinal Infrastructure was the reason Amazon built its $150 million facility in the city.

“The Amazon thing was already in the process before that happened,” Peetz said.

“No it wasn’t,” Haley and Woodard interjected.

“Don’t revise history,” Woodard said.

“I’m still speaking, I did not interrupt you,” Peetz said.

“Then stop lying,” Haley said.

Peetz continued.

“We were told from other organizations around the city that that was already in the works,” she said. “I’m not taking away from anything, I’m just saying my opinion and what I was told.”

Wick said he’s felt a disconnect between the city and Cardinal and wondered if they might have too many clients. He said working with the firm has been “challenging,” and it hasn’t seemed as though it understands what the city is attempting to achieve in D.C.

“I just would have expected our lobbyist to know our priorities when I was calling,” Wick said.

While Peetz was the only council member to openly call for a new lobbyist, several said they don’t like that Cardinal Infrastructure is asking for $78,000 in 2022. The city paid Cardinal $58,500 in 2021, instead of the original $78,000 contract amount, because the firm’s staff didn’t fly out to visit Spokane Valley in person.

“I am disappointed in them not reducing the fees,” City Councilman Tim Hattenburg said.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the Cardinal Infrastructure contract renewal on Dec. 21.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Cardinal Infrastructure.