Some question decision to spend thousands on lobbyists - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Some question decision to spend thousands on lobbyists

(WMC-TV) - The Shelby County government spent more than $240,000 on state and federal lobbyists in 2011, but some question whether taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

"It's just invaluable to have a lobbyist," said Shelby County legislative advisor Christy Kinard.  "It's definitely saving money, it makes it more efficient."

Kinard said having someone well connected at the capitol is an invaluable asset.

"Because she is the eyes and ears on the ground in Nashville," said Kinard.  "She is the one who has developed the relationships not only with our delegation members, but the members from all other 94 counties."

Some question whether government agencies are paying outside contractors for work they can do themselves.

Memphis and Shelby County Schools have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists in the past.  This year, it was the unified school board that had to determine the value of a voice at the state capitol.

"I think it's a waste of money," said Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

Whalum was outvoted when his fellow unified school board members agreed to hire lobbyist Fred "Tony" Thompson, Jr., the son of actor and former senator Fred Thompson.

Whalum could not recall how much Thompson will be paid.

"Off the top of my head, I can't remember, but it's well worth little Fred's time," said Whalum.

Thompson is actually under a $75,000 contract.

"I don't think we're going to get anything out of it in terms of education for the children in Shelby County," said Whalum.

Whalum said he disagrees with a common philosophy that school boards need a voice in Nashville to affect legislation.

"It is so deep and so untraceable in terms of who really gets the benefit, and I just think it's a very untoward way to do business," he said.

Some say lobbyists are a vital part of running a successful business.

Fred Thompson, Jr. did not respond to Action News 5's e-mails or voicemails Friday.

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