WA capdomeSHELTON – The hiring of a lobbying firm to represent Mason County at the state Legislature opened a rift between commissioners Tim Sheldon, Randy Neatherlin and Terri Jeffreys on Tuesday.

Sheldon, a 35th District Democratic state senator since 1997 who joined the commissioners meeting by speaker phone from his office in Olympia, voiced opposition to the $2,000 contract for Westsound Strategic Partners LLC.

Neatherlin and Jeffreys went on to approve the contract 2-1. The firm hired is from Bremerton and will represent the commissioners and Mason County government interests during the 2016 legislative session.

“The best lobbyist is a constituent,” Sheldon said to Neatherlin and Jeffreys before the vote.

Discussion heated up between Sheldon and Neatherlin when Mary Jean Hrbacek , a Mason County retiree who periodically attends commissioners meetings to question county issues, asked the commissioners to discuss the matter before it was approved. She said she agreed with Sheldon.

“Communications shouldn’t have to be forced among people who are paid and already working for us,” Hrbacek said of the commissioners after the meeting. Hrbacek, who worked in the election campaigns of both Neatherlin and Sheriff Casey Salisbury, said hiring a lobbyist was an insult to Sheldon that insinuates “that he doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Sheldon said the county commissioners were already on the legislative agenda. He said he believed the contract was not vetted well enough with county residents.

Sheldon said even though Neatherlin “has not participated one day in the Legislature,” he was sharing his opinion about how things work anyway.

Neatherlin and Jeffreys defended hiring the lobbying firm.

“Having a lobbyist is important to get something passed with other lawmakers,” Neatherlin said.

Jeffreys, who was a lobbyist for five years at the state capitol, said legislative sessions move “fast and furious” toward their end.

“It’s not as simple as having a meeting at the beginning of the session,” Jeffreys said.

Under the contract, Westsound is responsible for providing the county with a weekly legislative report during the session that includes a weekly hearing schedules and a summary of bills important to the county.

Legislative bill tracking of issues that would impact Mason County is another part of the government affairs services.

The firm is required to attend pertinent legislative hearings and lobby the Legislature on all issue that would affect the county.

January 13, 2016 - Jeff Chew ifiberone Newsradio

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