It’s called a lot of things, from lobbying to schmoozing. Whatever the name, it’s not the kind of thing local government should be spending money on.
The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce probably had something a bit more concrete than jawboning in mind when it offered to assist Traverse City Light & Power further its relationships with the city owned utility’s key commercial customers.
But even the chamber had a hard time explaining exactly what services it would perform under a proposed $35,000 contract with the city owned electric utility. Wisely, chamber officials pulled the plug on the whole idea
A number of Light & Power board members pushed Doug Luciani, chamber president and CEO, and L&P executive director Tim Arends to better define the services chamber officials would provide under the proposed contract and how board members could measure the results.
Arends said there weren’t yet answers to all the questions because not all of the program had been developed yet.
“Some of the things the board was asking for we really weren’t able to answer their questions,” Arends said. “We couldn’t really say what the program was going to be because we were going to be developing it over the first year.”
That wasn’t good enough for L&P Board Chairman Pat McGuire and others. “It seems a little bit squishy,” he said.
The original chamber proposal involved chamber staff arranging a series of eight targeted meetings with key L&P commercial customers, providing regular written outreach efforts, and hosting one larger social and educational event.
The contract would also have upgraded L&P to a premier chamber membership and provided free tickets to events such as the chamber’s annual dinner, golf outing, and other social and educational activities the utility could then dole out to its key customers.
Those kinds of activities — free meals, free tickets, and access — are the meat and potatoes of lobbying efforts around the globe. Usually, the targets are elected officials, but plenty of business leaders rely on informal social situations to make face-to-face connections.
The idea of L&P meeting with its big customers from time to time makes perfect sense. And so does providing regular written outreach efforts and maybe even buying lunch for an occasional meeting — if there’s something to say.
But offering tickets to the chamber’s annual dinner or paying for a golf outing or other social and educational activities is too much. Light & Power is selling electricity and it can be presumed its big customers care more about what they’re paying and the service they’re getting than a round of golf.