HIBBING (AP) -- The Minnesota Smoke Free Coalition criticized the city of Hibbing for hiring lobbyists who also work for a tobacco company.
The city in October hired Jerich and Associates of Mendota Heights to represent the city's economic development and other interests to legislators during the session that begins next month. The firm's client list includes R.J. Reynolds.
Judy Knapp, executive director of the Minnesota Smoke Free Coalition, said the hiring is unsettling because the Hibbing council last month passed a resolution calling on the Legislature to handle any restaurant smoking regulation. The coalition and other anti-smoking proponents have been lobbying Minnesota towns and cities to ban smoking in restaurants and other public areas.
"In effect, the Hibbing City Council has told the state to take away its local control, and this is exactly what the tobacco industry wants," Knapp said in a letter to the council.
City Administrator John Tourville said the city hired Ronald Jerich because he grew up in the Iron Range and because both he and wife Valerie had experience negotiating with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The city is trying to purchase an old Hibbing Community College building from MnSCU.
"In all sincerity, this is all about economic development and trying to go with someone with a proven track record who's from this area," Tourville said.
Jerich and Associates also represent Northwest Airlines, the Minnesota Twins and Xcel Energy.
Council member Rick Wolff, who proposed the smoking resolution, said he never met the lobbyists and didn't know they also represented Reynolds. "There is no connection between them and (the resolution). That wasn't our reasoning in hiring them," he said.
Wolff said the Jeriches' other clients shouldn't matter to the city as long as the lobbyists effectively represent Hibbing's interests. "Lobbyists work for a lot of people," he said.
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