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Lobbyist meets with local PAC

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Benefits will not come overnight, according to local leaders

By Stephen Lega

During the past month, the Marion County Fiscal Court and the Lebanon City Council took its first step into the field of lobbying.

Friday morning at the Hampton Inn, the Citizens for Continued Growth of Marion County, a political action committee, met with Karen Thomas-Lentz, the lobbyist who will be working on behalf of the city and the county.

Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw, Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly, Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund, Spring View Hospital CEO Mike Sherrod, Freddie Higdon (the president of the Marion County Industrial Foundation), George Spragens (an industrial foundation board member), Freddie Hilpp and others were among the approximately 15 people who attended the meeting.

Dennis George, the outgoing chairman of the PAC, opened the meeting by reviewing the projects identified as priorities by local leaders and explaining why they believe a lobbyist is needed for the benefit of the community.

Former State Sen. Dan Kelly was the majority leader when he resigned from the senate last fall to become a circuit judge.

Since Kelly's resignation from the senate, former state representative Jimmy Higdon of Marion County was elected to fill Kelly's seat, although he does not enjoy the same seniority Kelly did. Another Marion Countian, Terry Mills, won a special election earlier this month to fill the remainder of Higdon's unexpired term in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Last summer, when rumors of Kelly's pending resignation were circulating, members of the PAC discussed how they could maintain a connection with the most influential figures in Frankfort, according to George.

Thomas-Lentz said that she suggested the county may need a buffer in Frankfort following Kelly's judicial appointment, according to her comments during Friday's meeting.

George also said that hiring Thomas-Lentz will help the community because of her relationships with leaders of both parties and in both the legislative and executive branches of government.

At the same time, George cautioned that it could take years before the community sees the benefits of Thomas-Lentz's lobbying efforts.

"We hope others will see this is not going to be an overnight process," he said.

In addition to the city and the county, Thomas-Lentz is the active legislative agent for 15 other employers, which include AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and the Kentucky Liquor Retailers Coalition.

She explained that as a lobbyist she speaks with legislators, cabinet and department officials and officials in the governor's office, but she also tracks legislation and keeps her ear to the ground about programs that could benefit her employers. She added that she sometimes hears about bills before they are filed.

"There are thousands of pieces of legislation in Frankfort," Thomas-Lentz said. "I visit with legislators all day, every day."

She added that she's honored to be working for her home community, but she was clear that her work is only just the beginning.

"I can't flip a switch and you'll have all kinds of things in your lap," Thomas-Lentz said. "It doesn't work like that."

George noted that hiring Thomas-Lentz could be particularly beneficial since this is an election year. As fund-raising efforts are held, the PAC and its members may be able to make contributions to various campaigns, which could help get the ear of Kentucky's decision makers. But George noted that the community is more likely to have decision makers' attention if their contributions are presented by Thomas-Lentz along with contributions from her other employers.

According to George, a public official might listen to someone who writes a $1,000 check, but that official is more likely to listen to someone who brings them $20,000 for their campaign.

Thomas-Lentz also gave a brief overview on what has been happening during the 2010 regular session of the General Assembly. She said she would continue to review the daily action on legislation in committee and on the House and Senate floors.

She also encouraged local officials to visit the Capital themselves.

Local priorities   During the Feb. 12 meeting of the Citizens for Continued Growth of Marion County, a political action committee, the members discussed the priorities for the community. These goals have been presented to Karen Thomas-Lentz, the lobbyist recently hired by the Lebanon City Council and the Marion County Fiscal Court. Those goals are:

1. Improvements to the Marion County Area Technology Center

2. Improvements to the transportation system. Specifically, this included improvements on Danville Highway, the bypass connection between Ky. 55 and U.S. 68, and Hwy. 49 between Hwy. 2154 and Hwy. 68, among other locations.

3. An additional water source for Lebanon from Green River or the Green River Reservoir.

4. A northwest sewer lift station for Lebanon (Haydon Brothers development)

5. Improvements to the communications system (E-911)