Commissioners formally hire lobbyist; Collins appointed Warden at WCJ

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Rusty Barr and Jon Collins were appointed the deputy warden and warden respectively of the Warren County jail at Wednesday’s Warren County commissioners meeting.

Warren County officially has a lobbyist.

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners Ben Kafferlin and Jeff Eggleston voted in favor of a contract with Long, Nyquist & Associates. Commissioner Cindy Morrison voted against.

There was a lively discussion involving the commissioners and several members of the public.

The commissioners who approved the measure argued that the lobbyist agreement is likely to bring money to the county that wouldn’t have been available without them. They expect their investment to be returned and multiplied.

“I believe it would be the start of increased funding for other organizations,” Kafferlin said. “We’re all paying taxes. The more of that money we can get coming back, the better.”

“If we don’t roll the dice… at least try to get more funding for this county, we are making a mistake,” Eggleston said. “Everybody’s trying to get access to funding. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

The one-year contract is for $60,000, and can be canceled at any point by a majority vote of the commissioners, Eggleston said.

“If it doesn’t work I am perfectly happy firing them on the spot,” Kafferlin said. “We need a shot in the arm in this community.”

“The people involved in this organization are originally from Warren County, they have ties to Warren County,” Eggleston said. “This is one of the best firms in the state.”

Kafferlin said he would prefer to be the one “pounding on doors” in Harrisburg, but the nature of the commissioners’ job does not allow enough time.

“I would definitely lobby on behalf of my constituency,” Morrison said. “It’s what I’m paid to do.”

Asked if the commissioners would ask the firm to lobby on behalf of municipal issues, Eggleston said he would support that. “We can be the aggregator of all these little projects for the county.”

Kafferlin and Eggleston said they would like to see the firm work to help the Rouse be able to engage in the Intergovernmental Transfer (IGT) that could net the county home $1.5 million. “We have the opportunity to bring in millions of dollars,” Kafferlin said.

That is not specific enough for Morrison. “I still don’t have a particular project that we’re hiring a lobbyist for,” she said. “If the Rouse wants to do that, the Rouse should hire a lobbyist.”

She said the county and the citizens should expect elected officials to represent them in Harrisburg.

“Hiring a lobbyist is extreme. We have three representatives (State Rep. Kathy Rapp, State Sen. Scott Hutchinson, and State Sen. Michele Brooks) that can get this job done for us.”

“I think the game playing needs to stop,” Morrison said. “It’s a $60,000 gamble and we’re dealing with a budget that is very tight.”

Eggleston didn’t argue that there are no problems with the system.

“I’m here to play the game that’s in front of me, not the one I wish existed,” he said. “We’re constantly missing opportunities.”

“We have a corrupt government in Harrisburg,” David Bauer said. “We’ve sent people to jail… don’t participate in that corruption. This is the kind of thing that creates it.”

Ash Khare suggested that approving the contract would be a “decent way to experiment.”

He said Long, Nyquist can reach parties on both sides of the aisle and can help get through to the governor. “This is a great firm.”

Khare said counties with high populations all “have government relations people or lobbyists.”

“It sounds like there’s a game to play,” Troy Clawson said. “It’s pay to play. Can’t Pittsburgh and Philadelphia throw more money at it than we ever could?”

The commissioners briefly talked about the value a county-wide grant writer would bring to the courthouse, but did not bring up any specific motion. “I think the grant writer is a separate piece,” Eggleston said.

Wardens appointed

The commissioners approved the appointment of Jon Collins as warden and Rusty Barr as deputy warden of the Warren County jail.

“The jail will be in capable hands,” Morrison said. “We feel this appointment is well-warranted.”

Sheriff and former warden Ken Klakamp submitted his resignation so he could concentrate on his duties as sheriff, the commissioners said, and to recognize Collins and Barr.

“I’d like to thank Ken Klakamp for a phenomenal job as warden,” Eggleston said. “He wants to give them an opportunity to continue that good work.”