Thursday, September 24, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Committee gets preview of lobby registration fight

Two things became clear Wednesday when the Audit and Finance Committee heard a brief presentation and two speakers on proposed revisions to the lobby registration ordinance: First, the proposed changes will be controversial. Second, City Council Members Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman are prepared to fight – along with members of the engineering, architectural and contractor community – to limit the number of new people required to register.

Brian Thompson, chair of the Ethics Review Commission’s working group on the ordinance, told committee members that the group had listened to testimony from about 30 people at a meeting this week, with approximately half of the speakers coming from the contractor, landscaping and engineering community.

The speakers were unified in their opposition to the changes envisioned by Council Member Leslie Pool and attorney Fred Lewis. Thompson said in order to be required to register, a person would have to meet seven separate criteria, which will probably be one of the most contentious items.

Another source of controversy is likely to be the question of whether the person is “trying to influence a city staff person on a discretionary decision.”

Keith Jackson spoke on behalf of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Texas, which he said includes about 65 firms in the city. He said most of the group’s membership does work with and for the city. “As we’ve read this resolution and rough draft ordinance, it appears that all our members will have to register as lobbyists even though we do all our work for the city.”

Troxclair said she, too, was very concerned about the word “discretionary” and about the fact that proposed changes in the ordinance would eliminate many engineers and landscape architects from serving on boards and commissions.

Jackson is a former member of the Zoning and Platting Commission, and he said he was concerned about that issue as well.

Zimmerman suggested that it was not lobbyists the city needed to be watching but city employees.

Pool said, “With regard to lobbyists on city boards, we’re not saying landscape architects or architects can’t serve on a city board.” She seemed to think that architects and engineers could still serve on a board or commission as long as they did not appear before that board or commission as a lobbyist. That is already prohibited by city ethics regulations.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Audit and Finance Committee: a sub-group of the Austin City Council. It's members are charged with oversight of city fiscal operations and anything that falls under the purview of the Office of the City Auditor.

City of Austin Ethics Review Commission: The Ethics Review Commission is charged with review of, among other issues, ethics complaints leveled against City of Austin boards and commission members. They meet quarterly.

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