County, city may hire lobbyist in Frankfort

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By Stephen Lega

During the Jan. 21 Marion County Fiscal Court meeting, Tom Lund, the executive director of the Marion County Industrial Foundation, asked the county to consider an agreement to hire a lobbyist in Frankfort.

The proposal calls for the county and the City of Lebanon to share the cost of hiring Karen Thomas-Lentz, who is registered as a legislative agent (a.k.a. lobbyist) with the state. Thomas-Lentz's registration lists 43 employers, 15 of which are active at this time. She is the daughter of the late Sam B. Thomas, a former state representative from Marion County. Lund said that the industrial foundation has formed a political action committee, but PACs cannot hire lobbyists.

Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly also advocated for hiring a lobbyist and offered $2,500 from his general welfare fund to pay half of Thomas-Lentz contract for the first three months of the year.

The magistrates approved the expenditure from Mattingly's general welfare fund, but they expressed reservations about whether this was a good use of county funds. They also made their approval conditional on the City of Lebanon agreeing to pay the other half of Thomas-Lentz's fee.

Mattingly argued in favor of hiring a lobbyist. He said several counties and cities have lobbyists.

According to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, three fiscal courts, six cities and the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government have hired legislative agents. Not all of them are active at this time, however. An organization called Team Taylor County is also registered as a lobbyist's employer.

Mattingly added the county hopes to benefit from upgrades to the Marion County Area Technology Center, and the county could benefit from having someone on the ground in Frankfort.

The magistrates weren't as convinced, however.

Magistrate Steve Masterson said he wishes all lobbyists would be run out of Washington and Frankfort, but if everyone was going to have one, the county may need one, too.

Magistrate John Arthur Elder III added that he had concerns about the process that led to this recommendation being presented to the county.

Mattingly included a memo with the Thomas-Lentz invoice that indicated that he had spoken to magistrates about the possibility of hiring a lobbyist. The memo also reads that he, Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw and members of the industrial foundation interviewed lobbyists, and they selected Thomas-Lentz because of her local ties.

Magistrate Jackie Wicker asked if the industrial foundation would be willing to help pay to hire the lobbyist. Lund responded that the foundation cannot hire a lobbyist because it is a 501(c)3 organization.

Magistrate Roger "Cotton" Smothers questioned whether this was the best use of county funds. He noted that earlier in the meeting the county had approved a request for one power stretcher (which cost approximately $10,000) for the EMS, when the director had requested two stretchers.

Smothers added that the county has a state senator, who previously served as a state representative, who has helped with projects for the county.

"If they are up there working for us, why should we send someone else up there?" Smothers asked.

Masterson said his motion was only for the first three months of the year, and Smothers specified that he only voted for paying the fee because it was coming from the county judge's general welfare fund.

In reply to the magistrates stated concerns, Mattingly said the county expected good things to come from this decision.

"We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't expect it to bear fruit," he said.