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Fifty-eight lobbyists registered to bend ears, twist arms at City Hall

Monday, May 6, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Although the City of Austin requires lobbyists to register and pay a $300 fee once a year, the city does not notify registered lobbyists when their registration has expired. That means a number of local lobbyists were surprised to learn that their names were not on the official registry when In Fact Daily searched the list in late April.

 

Several people were informed that their names no longer graced the list – and by implication that they might be running afoul of the law by lobbying. Most of them hurried over to the City Clerk’s Office to pay fees and get registered.

 

Longtime lobbyist Jerry Harris and his law partner Nikelle Meade of Brown McCarroll were among those surprised by expired registrations as were David Cancialosi and Jim Bennett. They all quickly re-registered.

 

When asked about the registration, Harris said he was not aware that their registration had expired. He explained that his secretary had been ill and then retired but that he would make sure the city got its check the same day. The next time we checked a few hours later, both Harris and Meade were registered.

 

Harris listed only two clients, including Austin Yellow Cab. Meade, who is board president of the Real Estate Council of Austin, can be found regularly at City Hall with a client list that reflects her frequent visits: She has 101 clients registered next to her name, including recent economic incentives recipients HDi Plastics, developer Perry Lorenz, WTP4 contractors Corolla Engineers, and – in true Austin fashion – the Cathedral of Junk

 

City Clerk Jeanette Goodall said she will look into notification. “Why we’ve never done that I don’t know…I can see if we can automate it,” she said. Goodall took over as City Clerk upon the retirement of longtime City Clerk Shirley Gentry in December.

 

There are currently 58 lobbyists registered with the city. That figure is close to both the 2012 number and the 60 lobbyists that we found registered with the city in 2010.

 

The list, meanwhile, includes some of the region’s most recognizable names and firms. Those names appear next to some of the country’s most powerful corporate interests.

 

The list starts both literally and figuratively with attorney David Armbrust of Armbrust and Brown. According to the list, Armbrust represents developers – including Cypress Real Estate, Forestar Real Estate, and Lennar Homes – the Southern Company energy firm, and the Radisson Hotel chain. Armbrust also represents the hedge fund Titan Capital Group.

 

Armbrust partner Richard Suttle reports 49 represented interests. These include the Circuit of the Americas, a host of development interests, and White Lodging, the group behind the construction of Austin’s future JW Marriott hotel. Suttle, known as a very effective representative, also boasts Google, Inc. as a client as well as the University of Texas.

 

Graves, Dougherty, Herron, & Moody partner Michael Whellan represents rideshare firm SideCar, South by Southwest, Texas Disposal Systems, and St. David’s Healthcare among his 15 reported clients. Partner Rick Triplett, who is less visible, lists 83 clients.   

 

Steve Drenner, who has been associated with a number of different firms but always as a development representative, is currently with Winstead PC. Drenner represents 17 interests. These include the waste handlers at Republic Services, the HEB grocery chain, and the developers at Grayco Partners. Drenner also represents Endeavor and Stratus Properties.

 

Winstead PC’s John Donisi represents 26 developers including the Endeavor Real Estate Group and Stratus Properties. Other Winstead clients include Cousins Properties (represented by Donisi and Amanda Swor), CWS (Donisi and Swor), Mueller developers Catellus Commercial Group (represented by Pete Winstead), and the Delaware North Companies hospitality group (Winstead).

 

Though she’s moved to San Antonio, where she’s the director of planning and development for Kaufmann & Kileen, Michele Haussmann maintains a list of 19 Austin clients. That list – also made up entirely of development interests – includes Endeavor and Little Woodrow’s. Haussmann moved with Drenner and Donisi when their firm Drenner & Golden dissolved.

 

Former Austin City Manager Jesus Garza is listed with only one client, but it’s a big one: Local hospital chain – and future University of Texas medical school partner – Seton Healthcare. Of course Garza is president and interim CEO of Seton Healthcare Family. Technically, he would not be required to register as a lobbyist for representing Seton at City Council or before any commission.

 

In addition to Garza CEO Greg Hartman, Ashton Cumberbatch and William Berger, all Seton employees, have registered to lobby.

 

The city’s former head of planning Alice Glasco also maintains a client lobbying list. It includes developer Jimmy Nassour, builder D.R. Horton, the recently topical Little Woodrow’s bar, and Schlosser Development.

 

Another former Austin public official, ex-Mayor Bruce Todd, represents the Austin/Travis County EMS Employees Association and the Shady Hollow Municipal Utility District.

 

Former Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley also recently registered as a lobbyist. She listed Lone Star Rail, Seton Healthcare, Strategic Partnerships and Red Leaf Properties as her clients.

 

Former Assistant City Manager Joe Lessard is registered to represent the interests of Lone Star Rail also.

 

Glen Coleman, who was an aide to Council Member Randi Shade and also worked in the city’s water utility, registered last week to represent five clients, mostly related to water conservation.

 

Metcalfe, Wolff, Stuart & Williams partner Steve Metcalfe’s client list includes 39 parties, most of which are development interests. These feature Gables Residential, Endeavor, and Promiseland West. Metcalfe also represents fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, and the Leander Independent School District.

 

Metcalfe/Wolff’s Michele Lynch represents nine clients including Promiseland West, development interest Stratford, and the Dinerstein Company.

 

Trey Salinas’ client list includes 20 interests. Among them are the Circuit of the Americas, Endeavor, waste handlers Balcones Resources, Water Treatment Plant 4 contractors at risk MWH, and Wal-Mart.

 

Attorney John Joseph with Coats, Rose, Yale, Ryman and Lee, lists 15 clients. His lobbying partner Pamela Madere has a shorter list.

 

Alice Myers, known around City Hall as Cis, has relatively few clients, but they include Whataburger and Sonic, two big chains interested in preserving the drive-through option for their restaurants. Robert Littlefield, better known as Mark, is also registered.

 

Frequent commission visitor Mike McHone was missing from the registration list. He said he only lobbies on behalf of the non-profit University Area Partners and receives no remuneration for that. Anyone who receives or spends less than $200 a year lobbying is not required to register.

 

The city also lists 609 companies that have sought lobbying help with city politics. However, not all of these firms appear to have retained active counsel. The companies include recognizable names including high-tech firms Freescale and Apple, and Oracle America, the San Antonio Spurs basketball club, as well as defense contractor Northrup Grumman.

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