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Taxpayer questions lobbyist hire

The Harrison County Council last Monday night unanimously voted to approve a $48,000 additional for lobbying firm Capitol Assets LLC to protect the county’s riverboat gaming funds at the state legislature level.
Before the vote took place, Depauw resident Phil Smith, during the public comments portion of the meeting, questioned the role of Capitol Assets. He asked the board if Capitol Assets, which was hired by the county for 2009, also was hired to lobby against the government reform plan supported by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Commissioner Terry Miller ‘ in attendance along with fellow commissioners James Goldman and Carl (Buck) Mathes ‘ said the firm was hired to protect the riverboat funds but Rick Cockrum, of Capitol Assets, is lobbying against the government reform plan ‘because he wants to, for us.’
Smith then asked the commissioners if they asked Cockrum to lobby against the reform legislation.
‘I’ve asked everyone to,’ Goldman said. ‘I think it’s ridiculous to turn county government into a dictatorship.’
Smith said he was unaware of Cockrum working for the county against the government reform legislation and said most people in the county also were unaware.
‘I think Phil missed a point,’ Miller said. ‘They’re not charging us anything.’
Smith also questioned whether the county needs a lobbying firm at all, for either purpose. He said the county has a state representative, Paul Robertson.
‘If we have him, do we need another lobbyist?’ Smith asked. ‘I’m sure he’ll keep our best interests in mind.’
Smith also said the council and commissioners both have a legal representative, Shawn Donahue and John E. Colin, respectively, who could keep the officials informed of any legal changes at the state level regarding gaming funds.
‘That, I assume, would be their job,’ Smith said.
Councilwoman Leslie Robertson said she didn’t think $48,000 was all that much money when compared to the $23 million the group is trying to protect for the county.
‘It’s just another pair of eyes, ears and a voice for Harrison County,’ she said.
Smith said there’s a difference between the firm keeping the county informed of the happenings in Indianapolis and lobbying against certain legislation.
Robertson said she didn’t see a problem with Capitol Assets lobbying against county government reform. She also said nothing was intentionally done to keep Smith or anyone else uninformed.
Other than the $48,000 additional out of riverboat gaming funds, the council also unanimously approved $56,900 for an operating and projects budget for the Harrison County Regional Sewer District.
The council approved, with a 4-3 vote (Councilmen Ralph Sherman, Gordon Pendleton and Richard Gerdon against), a $3,600 additional out of the county general fund for a postage meter and machine for the courthouse.
The council will next meet Monday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m. at the courthouse in Corydon.