Business-to-government interactions have become increasingly more complex.
These complexities manifest themselves in a number of ways. Are you a real estate developer seeking land use or environmental permits to create jobs or provide housing for a community? Are you a sports franchise seeking to partner with local government to fund a stadium or arena so that you can bring a sports team to the local community? Is your business one of several wineries and vineyards in the region that need both health and food regulation policies and land use rules tailored for an industry that is different than all others? Are you seeking to do business with local or state government? Are you an Indian tribe struggling to do business in Indian country? Are you a school district seeking to streamline local land use regulations as they affect educational facilities? The list goes on.
Navigating these relationships is often difficult, and the process for obtaining results is often complex and murky. Too often, businesses approach government to ask for things like public policy enactments, legislation, funding, contracts and development permits before carefully developing strategies and plans that consider the impact of the current regulatory and political climate as well as biases of elected/appointed officials and their staff. Successful interactions with local governments often requires a combination of strategic relationship building, public policy research, development and advocacy, legislative drafting and advocacy, educating elected officials and key staff members on your issues and, on occasion, rallying public support for your cause.
What usually does not work:
Talking to only one elected official and assuming that they will resolve your issue, or that your permit will be granted, or that the policy or legislation you seek will be approved. Showing up during the public comment period of an elected official’s meeting and asking for what you want. Writing letters to the Editor complaining about how things are and how things ought to be.
The first step is to identify very clearly what your permitting, policy, legislative, contracting or general relationship objective is. After that, develop a strategic plan for: (A) who you need to talk to (elected officials and staff), (B) in what order should they be approached, and (C) determine who should have these conversations.
Your strategic plan should provide for if and when you will supply written communications and submit appropriate applications or other documents relative to when you have your conversations with elected officials and staff. Your plan should also identify what follow-up activities you will engage in depending on the responses you receive from your conversations and submitted written material.
You may need to engage external support to accomplish your objective. This is not successfully done by rounding up an angry interest group, neighbors or relatives to appear at public hearings in support of your cause. However, it does require both a plan for strategic communication with outsiders, as some may oppose your objectives, and a plan using outsiders to influence those in position of whether your objective will happen or not.
The most important thing to remember in dealing with elected officials and their key staff members is to be open, honest, truthful and candid.
If you do not have experience in the areas of public policy, legislation, permitting and contracting with or between governments, there are firms that do community outreach and attorneys with public policy, legislative drafting and permitting experience that also have credibility, relationships and access to elected officials and key staff that are based on integrity and a track record of success.
Steve Horenstein is managing partner at Horenstein Law Group PLLC and handles all things business law, corporate real estate law, land use law, and government strategies.