Patty Fuller, The Union Democrat

Three ranking members of the Calaveras and Alpine county sheriff departments were in Washington, D.C., last week to boost their chances at $13 million in federal grants for a microwave communications system the departments would share.

Joining them was Kristi More, a partner in the Ferguson Group, a lobbying firm the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department has hired to help gain state and federal money for varying projects and upgrades.

Calaveras County Undersheriff Mike Walker, Capt. Clay Hawkins, head of

the department's Special Operations Division, and Alpine County

Undersheriff Robert Levy were on Capitol Hill for four days. They met

with representatives from several federal agencies - including the U.S.

Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation - and Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Fair

Oaks, whose district includes Calaveras and Alpine counties. Meetings

were also held with staff members for Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane


Making face-to-face pitches and a lobbyist's help may be the

deal-makers the rural counties need to stand out among so many agencies

vying for money from a wide range of federal program sources, Hawkins


He noted the Ferguson Group has already helped the Calaveras law

agency win grants totaling $1.2 million to build a new radio tower in

the Valley Springs-Jenny Lind area and end spotty communications

problems patrol deputies had in that west county region.

The much larger $13 million, if received, will cover a second phase

of an ambitious overall and regional communications upgrade that

ultimately would involve six Sierra foothill and mountain counties -

Amador, Calaveras, Alpine, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Mono. The network

would also include law enforcement officers with federal agencies, like

the Forest Service, with offices in the region.

"We went so we could pitch the proposal and show the regional

connectivity," said Hawkins, who has already devoted years to improving

how Calaveras County deputies, dispatchers and other law agencies


"The days of the single agency requesting funding, I think, are gone," he added.

In the second phase, towers serving both Calaveras and Amador

county deputies, would be built and enable use of a technology allowing

them to access data directly via a patrol car computer rather than

through a dispatcher.

"The system has been around in law enforcement for years but mostly

in metropolitan areas," Hawkins said. "In rural areas, we need more

towers. ... And it's so expensive in this terrain because we have to

build high-elevation towers."

Information on how much the Sheriff's Department is paying the

Ferguson Group was unavailable Monday. Calaveras County officials have

used the lobbying group in past years to gain an edge on other grant


Hawkins said lobbyist More arranged the many meetings with state representatives and federal agencies.

More, based in Ferguson's Folsom office, said a variety of small

public agencies are using lobbying firms even during the current

economic slump since state and federal grants are often the only money

sources possible for projects.

"Smaller local agencies have limited resources in terms of staff as

well as expertise," she said. "Having us is almost an extension of

their own staff. We're able to kind of manage the (grant) projects and

direct them to the federal sources."

Having agency representatives actually come and make personal pitches is a plus, she added.

"The congressional delegation likes to hear from constituents, and

likes to hear from them in person," More said. "There's a different

level of support when you actually spent the time to meet with Lungren,

for example, on his turf."

More predicted that Calaveras and Alpine county officials should

know by winter, at the latest, whether they indeed will receive

millions in grant funding for the communications project.

Contact Patty Fuller at or 736-0916.