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Shea denies work with Austin Youth Hostel was lobbying

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 by Michael Kanin

According to financial documents filed with the Austin City Clerk’s office as part of election law requirements, Austin mayoral candidate Brigid Shea earned between $10,000 and $20,000 for contract work that she did last year for American Youth Hostels, the parent organization of the Austin Youth Hostel. Though both Shea and hostel director Kassi Darakhshan say that neither party considered Shea’s efforts lobbying, the former Council Member’s work with the hostel appears to fall into that category.


Shea told In Fact Daily that she began working for the hostel in the summer of 2011. According to the clerk’s office, Shea was not registered as a lobbyist at that time. By then, the hostel was starting to face the potential of an eviction from its location on park land on South Lake Shore Boulevard, close to one end of the future Lady Bird Lake boardwalk. Officials with the city’s Parks and Recreation department argued that the facility was not suitable to sit on park land (See In Fact Daily, March 2, 2012).


According to Shea and Darakhshan, Shea met with officials from two Council offices as part of her work for the hostel. City of Austin Parks and Recreation director Sara Hensley told In Fact Daily that Shea also met once or twice with parks department officials as part of a contingent of hostel defenders. Hensley said that she was under the impression that Shea was only “doing that as an interested citizen.”


Hensley cited the interest that Shea took in the matter when she served as a Council member. “My understanding…was she was very engaged, as she was back then,” said Hensley.


In a phone interview, Shea said she bases her belief that the work she did for the hostel was not lobbying on a legal opinion from attorney Fred Lewis. Lewis confirmed for In Fact Daily that this was the case. He added that his opinion rested on the notion “that there was no action to be taken (on the hostel) before Council at that time.”


Lobbyists who spoke with In Fact Daily scoffed at that take but only one would speak about it on the record. “I don’t know how Brigid views the world but if I’m going to see a decision maker at the city I think the lobby ordinance requires you to register as a lobbyist, unless it’s purely a social call,” said Armbrust and Brown’s Richard Suttle. His partner, David Armbrust, is a supporter of Mayor Lee Leffingwell and has been a bundler for Leffingwell’s campaign.


Indeed, many lobbyists prefer to over-register for clients that they may only have incidental or uncompensated contact with, just to be sure that this type of issue doesn’t arise. Attorney Jim Cousar – who emphasized that he didn’t know if Shea lobbied for the hostel – reminded In Fact Daily that “it’s the lobbying ordinance that establishes criteria about whether it is lobbying.”


“(Parties) can’t agree that you won’t call it lobbying,” Cousar added.


As defined in the City Code, lobbying “means the solicitation of a City official, by…means other than public expression at a meeting of City officials open to the public” via the Open Meetings Act. However, the city statute does carve out an exception for “a mere request for information or an inquiry about a municipal question, matters, or a procedure or communication to a City official which is incidental to other employment not for purpose of lobbying.”


Shea said that the meetings with Council Member Laura Morrison and an aide for Mayor Lee Leffingwell were merely informational. She points to Lewis’ interpretation of the lobbying rules. “There wasn’t a pending contract, there wasn’t a request for money,” she said.


Whether or not she was serving as a lobbyist, Shea got involved with the Austin Youth Hostel just as it began to take action about the possibility that it might be evicted from its spot by Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department. In a vote last week, the City Council extended the hostel’s lease by 10 years.


Shea says she was not part of that resolution. “I had nothing to do with that,” she says.


According to city code, a violation of the lobbying ordinance can result in a Class C misdemeanor.

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