Kingsport uses Nashville company to keep up with what's going on in legislature

Matthew Lane • Jan 14, 2018 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT — To better understand what’s going on at the state level, the city has chosen to contract with a Nashville-based firm that specializes in monitoring the Tennessee legislature and providing strategic counsel to a number of cities and businesses across the state.

And though the company is run by registered lobbyists, Kingsport considers the firm more of a government relations tool.

About the company

The firm Kingsport employs is Windrow Phillips, located across the street from the legislative plaza in downtown Nashville. Its partners are Anna Windrow, Bill Phillips and Ryan Swindell — all registered lobbyists.

Kingsport is currently in its second year with the company and pays $23,000 a year for its services. According to its website, the firm has experience at every level of government and offers an unparalleled resource for its clients.

Some of those clients include Amazon, Bank of America and a number of Tennessee cities including Kingsport, Johnson City, Alcoa, Brentwood and Gatlinburg.

History behind the deal

Three years ago, Kingsport had an employee who specialized in government relations, but after he left the city, he was replaced with someone who specializes in public relations and marketing.

In short, Kingsport was not set up internally to monitor what’s going on in Nashville, said City Manager Jeff Fleming.

“We decided we needed someone to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening at the state level, so we decided to outsource the government relations aspect to a private group,” Fleming said.

Benefits of the contract

The Tennessee Municipal League does a great job of representing communities in the state, Fleming said, but he notes it can’t be in all places at all times.

Through its deal with Windrow Phillips, Kingsport gets updates and information about what’s taking place in the state legislature, about bills and regulations working their way through the process that the city might not otherwise know about.

Fleming said such bills could be about drug seizure laws, changes in financial models or issues affecting schools — all kinds of day to day topics that can substantially impact a local budget or a decision-making process.

“We maintain a close relationship with our elected legislators, and this is not an indication of our relationship with them at all,” Fleming said. “It’s just the fact you need someone professionally monitoring the potential impact that might happen to the city based on activity that happens in Nashville.”

Not considered lobbying

Though all three partners in Windrow Phillips are registered lobbyists, Fleming said from his point of view, the company is simply a government relations firm for the city. Kingsport doesn’t submit bills to the company, nor does the city ask it to introduce legislation.

“When you say ‘lobbyist,’ it sounds like we’re actively trying to make something happen in Nashville. That’s not what our lobbyists do. They keep us informed of what’s transpiring at the state capitol, what bills are on the horizon and when committee calendars are being changed.”

Fleming said he doesn’t have a problem with Kingsport employing a lobbyist. It’s just that he doesn’t want to imply there’s a relationship where the city is trying to actively manipulate the process in Kingsport’s favor.

“My personal belief is to do the best you can to advocate your position ... a position that is advantageous to more than just you,” Fleming said. “You have to think of the greater good. That’s why it’s government, why it’s the public service. Corporations hire lobbyists to advocate on their behalf. I just think it’s different in the government sector.”