Council gives consensus on proposed lobbying ordinance

By: 
DARRELL JACKSON, Glendale Star Editor
“I felt this is designed to prevent special interests from controlling the political process. It ensures ethical behavior on lawmakers and political official and enhances public confidence in our government." -- Yucca Councilmember Joyce Clark

A council item of special interest brought forth by Yucca Councilmember Joyce Clark aimed at more transparency for public officials, hit a snag during the Nov. 27 council workshop to discuss the proposed ordinance.
The ordinance, which is based on a similar ordinance the city of Phoenix has, says “each lobbyist must disclose to each city official with whom the lobbyist communicates that he or she is acting in the capacity of a lobbyist.”
Should a lobbyist discuss an issue with a city official, that lobbyist would be required have registered with the city and produce a quarterly report.
Those reports would have to list any expenditures including anything over twenty-five dollars itemized separately and any event expenditures also be reported.
“I felt this is designed to prevent special interests from controlling the political process,” Clark said. “It ensures ethical behavior on lawmakers and political official and enhances public confidence in our government.”
Clark added that is does not prevent lobbyist from communicating with staff on proposed legislation, but it would restrict practices such as giving elected officials sporting event tickets, paying for meals or other entertainment events.
“These practices, rightly or wrongly, have contributed to public perception that gifts and favors can buy access to legislature and sometimes it can affect their votes on issues,” Clark said.
Councilmembers questioned the basis of the proposed ordinance.
“I am a tad confused because most of this seems to be related to reporting of expenses and accepting gifts, rather than toward transparency on who is interacting with council members pro or con on an issue and that is where I thought we were heading,” Barrel District Councilmember Bart Turner said. “I haven’t noticed a major gifting issue and in our code of conduct policy prohibits us from accepting gifts from the public.”
Vice-mayor Lauren Tolmachoff added that the proposed ordinance would move the city away from their aim of being more business oriented.
“As far as political contributions, that is required by the candidate to report during our candidate reports and those are online,” Tolmachoff said. “I think we are trying to more towards a business friendly environment and requiring zoning attorney’s and other people to do more work, I just don’t believe that it just doesn’t create a very business friendly environment.”
Sahuaro Councilmember Ray Malnar questioned what would be required to be reported by any lobbyist.
“Seems a little arduous to require reporting everything a lobbyist talks to a councilmember,” Malnar said. “I get transparency, but I don’t know anywhere else that requirement for a lobbyist to report a phone call or meeting.”
Malnar then asked City Attorney Michael Bailey about a specific situation, “if I lobbyist who contacts me over the phone or meets me somewhere, where there is no compensation like lunch, would they be required to report this.”
Bailey said, “Under that scenario, they would have to register with the city but not report it if there was no expenditure.”
After much discussion, and attempts by Clark to move forward with the ordinance, council gave consensus on moving forward with a possible ordinance but with only two items.
“I believe we should have lobbyists sign in when they come to the council office for a meeting and register with the city as a lobbyists,” Turner said.
After council gave consensus to move forward with that, Malnar wanted to clarify his stance days later.
“Some of the things suggested, I just couldn’t agree with,” Malnar said via a phone call. “My problem is with tracking of every action that a lobbyist does with every official. Both Councilmembers Turner and (Ocotillo Councilmember Jaime) Aldama both seemed to suggest the same.”
Malnar said he did not believe that transparency was a real problem and he only had questions about the proposed ordinance.
“There are times when I want to hear from many different people on certain issues,” Malnar said. “Am I going to be forced to have anyone who contacts me to give me their opinion on an issue to report that we had a discussion? That will hinder my opportunities to hear from everyone on certain issues.”
While a lobbyist is defined in the proposed ordinance as, “any person who is compensated to lobby for a person other than himself,” there were groups that could fall under that definition.
“Would the Save Glen Lakes people be a lobbyist, not officially, but I do know they have raised funds, so under the definition, they would be one,” Malnar said. “As written, overall it is pretty accurate with what Clark wants and we just didn’t agree to continue with the reporting of it. We moved forward with the registering and a check in list at the council office.”

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