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Lawyer tries to heat up lobby reform fight

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Although he declared victory on Monday after a City Council committee approved the lobby registration resolution he was instrumental in writing, on Tuesday attorney Fred Lewis accused land-use professionals of misinterpreting the resolution.

On Monday, Lewis sent out an email stating that “Lobby reform at Austin City Hall took a giant step forward today! The city’s Audit and Finance committee passed the excellent lobby reform resolution proposed by Council Member Leslie Pool.” He said that Pool and “developer lobbyists agreed to some minor revisions, and the Austin City Council is likely to pass the reform resolution in December.”

However, on Tuesday, after an Austin American-Statesman headline misstated the impact of the resolution, Lewis took an entirely different tone, with an email that said, “The intent of the lobby reform resolution passed out of the city’s Audit and Finance Committee yesterday was to include the development lobby, despite their public statements that it exempts all of them.”

The Statesman story appeared under the headline, “Architects, engineers exempt from lobby law.” The story stated that Pool was “bowing to pressure from the city’s design and development industries.” But Pool was invested in getting the resolution passed, and if it needed clarification, she was willing to add it since that would mean more support.

Architect Stuart Sampley leads a group of design professionals who initially opposed the ordinance. They supported it after Pool made changes on Monday. Sampley disputed some of the contents of the Statesman story as well as Lewis’ statement that the group has said its members are exempt from the lobbying reforms. In particular, he said, “The articles that came out, specifically in the Statesman, that this exempts all of us – that’s not true.”

Sampley proposed some changes to the ordinance to make it clear that design professionals, such as architects and engineers, who are doing their day-to-day, routine work to comply with city codes and policies would not be considered lobbyists. Pool accepted Sampley’s amendments, and on Monday the committee approved the resolution unanimously.

Pool explained on Tuesday, “I made the amendments I did yesterday to insert additional clarity on who was covered and who wasn’t. And when Sampley came to me and said his group would move from opposing my resolution to supporting if I were to accept his sentence,” she considered his language and accepted it.

She added, “I’m hoping the resolution passes on Dec. 17. This is the work plan for the city manager to write the city ordinance. This is not the be-all and end-all.”

On Tuesday, Lewis said in his email, “We will have to clarify, by amendment, the resolution at City Council on December 17th. The development lobby is subject to reform, like all others.”

Lewis urges those reading the email to join his group, Lobby Reform Now. In an earlier email, Lewis asked those receiving the information to write a non-tax deductible check to Save Our City Austin Inc. However, this week’s emails do not include such a solicitation.

Casey Dobson, an attorney for the 11 land-use organizations that Sampley speaks for, said, “Nobody on our side has said the development lobby is exempt from the ordinance. No one in our coalition is claiming anyone is exempt.” Dobson said that anyone who meets the threshold outlined in the proposal would be required to register as a lobbyist. “He’s trying to stir up a controversy or wave a bloody shirt that doesn’t exist,” said Dobson of Lewis.

Pool said she did not know whether she would accept whatever amendments Lewis proposes. She said that in addition to Lewis, there might be others who would offer amendments, and she will have to look at all of the proposals.

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