MOUNT VERNON — Candidates love to grandstand about the influence of lobbyists and special interests in Washington, D.C., but it’s worth remembering that sometimes we’re the ones sending the lobbyists. The Knox County Commissioners returned to session Thursday after a trip to Washington earlier in the week to lobby lawmakers on grant applications and stimulus funds.
The three commissioners, Allen Stockberger, Robert Wise and Teresa Bemiller, were joined by Knox County Health Department Commissioner Dennis Murray. The commissioners invited Murray to help draw attention to the county’s need for funds to set up self-contained wastewater processing operations in the unincorporated hamlets of the county. The commissioners are ultimately responsible for the county’s wastewater district, and Stockberger said that Murray has advised them that the private leech beds of many local hamlets are no longer capable of meeting Environmental Protection Agency standards, thus requiring the upgrade.
The four rode to Washington in a county vehicle to join up with the National Association of Counties’ legislative session, which kicked off Monday with seminars, a speech from NBC White House television correspondent Chuck Todd and a presentation to the group by a representative of President Obama’s administration.
Tuesday was spent lobbying, first with Sen. George Voinovich’s legislative aide, promoting the hamlet project, as well as a proposed project to make safety upgrades to Ohio 95 west of Fredericktown. Stockberger said that Voinovich’s staff recommended that the county lobby the Ohio EPA for assistance with the hamlets project and to lobby the Ohio Department of Transportation for the highway safety project. They also discovered that although the Senate has a grant application process that is virtually identical to the House of Representatives’ program, it has to be applied for separately, and has a deadline of this Friday. Thus the commissioners have been hustling since they returned in order to have an application in for the Senate to join the county’s previous proposal to the House. All the hoop-jumping has left the commissioners a little nonplused.
“There are so many different steps in the process, it’s a little worrisome,” Stockberger said Thursday, adding that the board felt like they learned a lot on this trip about how to work with Washington officials.
Later in the morning Tuesday, they met with Rep. Zack Space and members of his staff. Though they attended at different times, both Murray and Space are graduates of Kenyon College, giving them some common ground for opening up renewed conversations about the pending projects. The commissioners will be following up with Space’s staff Monday on action items discussed during the meeting.
The commissioners returned Tuesday, but not before taking a detour to pick up Wise’s cellular phone, which had become dislodged on their morning trip on the D.C. metro. Fortunately, a woman on her way to work at a local food-packaging facility found the phone, called Stockberger, and arranged, with limited English, for the commissioners to stop by her plant and retrieve the phone. Wise gave the woman a reward for her help.