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State lobbying commission sidelines executive director

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The Indiana Lobby Registration Commission placed its executive director and general counsel on paid leave Monday, the day before a busy filing day for the state's lobbyists.

Sarah Nagy, who has held the dual jobs for 14 years, said she was surprised to receive an e-mail on Martin Luther King Jr. Day notifying her that she was on administrative leave. She has since retained Indianapolis employment-law attorney Kevin Betz.

"I can't really comment on my administrative leave because I don't really understand it," she said. "I'm a little surprised by it, actually."

Nagy said she was hospitalized earlier this month for lupus-related complications and over the weekend submitted paperwork for a partial medical leave, but she said her current status is not voluntary. She'd intended to be in the office Tuesday to answer questions and receive paperwork from lobbyists as they met the annual registration deadline.

The commission sidelined Nagy after a trying period in which she and lobbyists struggled to interpret the ethics law passed in 2010 ahead of the General Assembly's current session. The law lowered the threshold at which lobbyists must report their spending, from $100 to $50, and banned them from taking leglislators on out-of-state junkets.

Other aspects of the law were confusing, Nagy said, and the commission needed to offer its interpretation before she could generate new forms and explain to lobbyists how to report their activity. One lobbyist, who declined to be named, agreed that the new rules were confusing but said the lack of guidance from Nagy was frustrating.

"I'm not authorized to act independent of the full commission," Nagy said. "So I empathize with every one of them," she said of the frustrated lobbyists.

Nagy said she had urged the commission to hold more meetings between Sept. 30 and a Nov. 1 deadline, but past Chairwoman Jan Abbs declined. The commission convened on Dec. 10 and finally settled some lingering questions, she said.

Abbs could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. Sue Scholer, who became chairwoman of the four-member board this year, declined to comment on what prompted Nagy's leave. "It was just an action that was taken by the commission," she said.

Commission member Scott Mellinger also declined to comment, citing a confidential personnel matter. He said Chuck Harris, a retired Ivy Tech Community College executive, would fill in for Nagy until her employment status is resolved.  

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