CITY HALL ‚Äî City Council wants you to know your lobbyists.
After discussing some specific philosophical beliefs about the definition of lobbying, council voted unanimously to have city attorneys draft an ordinance requiring lobbyists to register with City Hall.
The attorneys will come back with a specific ordinance for council‚Äôs approval, likely sometime next year.
“This is done in virtually all cities of our size and particularly of our budget and it’s not something that’s meant to be punitive or meant to be anything other than transparent,” said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich who introduced the idea along with Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez.
Mayor Kevin McKeown noted the item seemed to have two components. One would be the ordinance requiring that lobbyists register with City Hall.
“The other that I heard, was very interesting, would just be a policy decision,” he said, “that henceforth the records of who meets with whom in the Planning Department are transparently available to members of the public. I’m pretty sure records are already kept ‚Äî our people do keep logs ‚Äî but I’m sure how easily accessible they are.”
“Our schedules are currently public records,” responded City Manager Rod Gould. “We’re asked for them regularly. There’s nothing secret about who we meet with.”
Himmelrich noted that a policy change could require members of council to disclose who they‚Äôve met with regarding a particular project, as is done at the Planning Commission level.
“I would hope that those declarations would really include everyone someone talked to about a project,” said Councilmember Pam O‚ÄôConnor, “because even if they weren’t a paid lobbyist there are people out who have special interests. Whether it‚Äôs a neighborhood group, a neighborhood political group, I think all of those conversations, I think those should all be there for full transparency.”
O‚ÄôConnor and Councilmember Gleam Davis asked that the ordinance require registration of all lobbyists not just, as the item was worded, “lobbyists representing clients who seek benefits or contracts from the City.”
“Sometimes people lobby not seeking a contract, but to oppose something and that technically isn’t covered by the wording here,” Davis pointed out.
All six present council members agreed.
“I’m very interested in what the definition of a lobbyist is,” Davis said. “It seems to me that there are people in town who may not directly lobby us or staff but may, shall we say, encourage or facilitate the lobbying of others. And if we’re really trying to be transparent it seems to me that one of the things that’s really important is not just to know who meets with who but who tells so-and-so to meet with someone.”
She asked city attorneys to keep that in mind when trying to create a definition.
“I think that there’s a lot of indirect lobbying and I don’t know if there’s a way to capture that or not,” Davis sad, “but I’d just be interested, when it comes back to us, what the definition of a lobbyist is.”