By Mark Carlisle
Glendale will soon make lobbyists register with the city and sign in whenever they meet with a member of City Council at City Hall. The ordinance will be adopted on a trial basis after it goes into law July 1, 2019.
Council gave a consensus to move forward with the ordinance after its officially voted on in an upcoming Council voting meeting.
Many details need to be clarified about the new law, including how long the trial basis will last. Mayor Jerry Weiers suggested “a few months, a year” when he suggested the trial basis, but a time period was never agreed upon.
Also not nailed down in the Tuesday, Nov. 27 meeting was whether meeting with council members outside of City Hall required the same sign-in procedure as those in City Hall and what the penalty would be for breaking the law.
Lobbyists, those paid to influence city officials on behalf of another, will have to register with the city and disclose on whose behalf they are lobbying. City Clerk Julie Bower said her office will make registration available online.
City Council scaled back a proposed ordinance brought before Council by Yucca District Councilwoman Joyce Clark as a council item of special interest.
“It’s intended to give the public information on which interest groups are involved in pending city matters,” Ms. Clark said about the ordinance, reading from a prepared statement to start discussion on the topic. “Lobbyists, I believe, should not be allowed to work in anonymity. The public has a right to know what interest groups have shaped proposed legislation, and it’s important that the public voice is not drowned out by the voice of special interests.”
Ms. Clark’s proposed ordinance emulated the city of Phoenix’s ordinance adopted last year, except with lesser penalties. This draft ordinance also would have required lobbyists to submit a quarterly report on all expenditures spent lobbying council members or other city officials.
Others on Council felt this was too burdensome for lobbyists.
“I think we are trying to move toward a more business-friendly environment and requiring zoning attorneys and people to do more work in reporting, my opinion is it doesn’t create a very business-friendly environment for the city for development that we want,” said Vice Mayor Lauren Tolmachoff of the Cholla District.
Barrel District Councilman Bart Turner, along with other on Council, felt existing city and state laws already cover the reporting of gifts and expenditures.
Several on Council defended lobbyists as getting a bad rap. Ms. Tolmachoff lamented that “lobbyist” had become a “dirty word” and that lobbyists serve an important role in the political process.
Mayor Jerry Weiers said when he was in the Arizona House of Representatives, in which he served from 2005 to 2013, that he would invite a lobbyist from each side of an issue into his office to debate the issue and it would help him become more informed about each perspective.
Sahuaro District Councilman Ray Malnar said he didn’t want the law to discourage lobbyists from starting a dialogue with him.
“I invite lobbyists and members of the community to communicate with me, and I don’t want to dissuade that at all by having them be required to report every time that they make a communication with me,” he said.
Mayor Weiers said with the law beginning at the start of next fiscal year, July 1, 2019, it will give the city seven months for an education period.
Council will have to decide on a penalty process for violations. Ms. Clark’s draft ordinance proposed a minimum fine of $250 and a maximum of $1,000. City Attorney Michael Bailey also noted the city could implement a notice for a first offense or multiple notices but warned it could make the law toothless.
“If it’s a notice, then we provide X number of notices, but we have to accept the fact then that there may be a situation where we will have somebody that does not register,” he said. “Or, you’ll have to put in place some sort of punitive measure for them not registering.”
Council members will also need to determine if the law applies beyond them.
The draft ordinance, models after Phoenix, lists a city official as the mayor and Council and anyone who works for them, the city manager, executive staff, city department heads and anyone who serves on a Glendale board, commission or committee, which are volunteer positions. During their workshop last week, Council only discussed having lobbyists sign in if they came to City Hall to meet with the mayor or a member of Council.
The draft ordinance also specified that the law would only apply to paid lobbyists. It exempts those not paid to lobby on the behalf of someone else and people speaking or acting on their own behalf, among other exemptions.
When the topic was last before Council nearly a year ago in December 2017, Mayor Weiers and Ocotillo District Councilman Jamie Aldama proposed another suggestion.
They wanted to protect against a possible unintended consequence of essentially barring paid employees from nonprofit organizations from pleading their cases to Council.
Mr. Turner suggested what’s called a 20 percent exemption, which would exempt any nonprofit, or 501(c)(3) organization, from lobbying regulations so long as lobbying makes up less than 20 percent of that organization’s activities.
That exemption was not listed in the ordinance or discussed during last week’s meeting.
Council’s next voting meeting will be Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 5:30 p.m. The agenda for the meeting is not yet posted.