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July 30, 2007

Retirement board paid $55,000 to lobbyists

The Essex Regional Retirement Board last year spent more than $55,000 to pay a Boston-based lobbying firm to guide board-sponsored legislation through Beacon Hill.

The money went to the firm of Kearney, Donovan & McGee. So why did the board need lobbyists?

The board has filed legislation for the last six years, according to board Executive Director and Chairman Timothy Bassett. Last year, it filed 16 bills.

"They run the gamut from trying to improve benefits to trying to improve the administration of the retirement system," Bassett said. "We have had two or three of those bills passed and signed into law, which we're really happy about."

Bassett said the board-sponsored bills enacted into law actually save taxpayers money in the long run.

Eight years ago, when county government was abolished, the pensions of retired county employees fell onto the shoulders of the 19 towns within the Essex Regional Retirement Board, instead of all 34 communities that were part of the county. When board-sponsored legislation corrected the formula, the 19 towns were reimbursed $1.5 million for overcharges, Bassett said.

"We think it's worked very well and we've gotten good results," he said.

But Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, wondered why the board should spend money on lobbyists when it could get the same results for free with a simple phone call.

"If it's so important, why can't they call their state rep and have him lobby for you?" Anderson said. "That's what he gets paid for. The board could ask for a meeting with their state reps and senators, explain the problem and let them go in and lobby for free."

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