Anaheim City Council Passes County’s Toughest Restrictions on Lobbying

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Anaheim City Council Members Kris Murray, Lucille Kring, Dr. Jose F. Moreno, Mayor Tom Tait, Denise Barnes and Stephen J. Faessel, from left, (Councilmember James Vanderbilt wasn't present but attended by telephone) conduct a City Council meeting in their chambers at City Hall on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

Anaheim elected officials and workers will be barred from lobbying the city for two years after they leave their jobs under a new “sunshine ordinance,” the strictest restriction on government lobbying in Orange County.

The new ordinance, proposed by Councilman Jose Moreno, also prohibits the city from hiring people from lobbying firms, and requires paid lobbyists to register with the city and file quarterly reports.

It also would require city council members and executive level staff to retain all email communications for 90 days, rather than the current 37 days, and calls for signs to be posted at the site of any large-scale development explaining the project.

At the July 25 city council meeting, council members exchanged barbs over provisions of the law, with some council members accusing the measure’s author of targeting them and their staff.

Councilman Steve Faessel, who supported the ordinance, said he asked to see drafts of the ordinance, but was denied.

“This document is about openness and clarity, and yet I asked for some involvement, more than two months ago…and since it was considered a work in progress, I was denied,” Faessel said. “I understand some of my colleagues asked for the same courtesy and they didn’t get it either.”

“I find that it was written in such a way that would cost three of our council members their aides and not the other council members their aides,” Faessel added.

One of Faessel’s city council part time aides is an employee with the public relations firm FSB Core Strategies, and could be affected by a provision in the ordinance that prohibits the employees of lobbying firms from working with the city. Jeff Flint, the company’s CEO, is a registered lobbyist with the county of Orange and has represented the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

Moreno said he did not intend to target any council member with the ordinance, although he realized some would be affected by it.

“While any ordinance will have unequal impacts on people…that doesn’t mean that it’s inequitable,” Moreno said.

The council voted 5-2, with council members Lucille Kring and Kris Murray voting no, to approve the ordinance.

Kring said the ordinance would “increase the load and expense to developers.” She said the city already is transparent and she doesn’t believe there is a problem with lobbyists.

“You are looking for a solution to a problem I believe does not exist,” Kring said.

Murray, who called the ordinance “half-baked and not ready-to-go,” also introduced a number of amendments she said would strengthen the ordinance, although the council voted to exclude her amendments. Murray will introduce those changes to the ordinance as a separate item at the August 15 council meeting.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, meanwhile, praised Moreno for proposing the ordinance.

“I applaud you taking on the establishment and the lobbying establishment…this represents change at city hall,” Tait said.

City Council Aides

While definitions of the term “lobbyist” differ, it generally refers to anyone paid to influence government decisions.

The Anaheim ordinance defines a lobbyist as anyone who receives $500 or more a month to communicate with city officials for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative actions.

City council members each have a budget for hiring part-time policy aides, although the mayor has a full-time aide. Some members use that budget to contract with public affairs firms. 

Councilwoman Denise Barnes’ part time aide, Matthew Holder, is a registered lobbyist who has previously worked with Barnes’ campaign consultant, John Lewis, and is a public affairs consultant. Holder said the county database is outdated and he has not been a registered lobbyist for the past year and a half.

Moreno argued at the meeting that aides who work for lobbying firms have access to sensitive city information that may give an advantage to the firm they work for.

City spokesman Mike Lyster said Faessel does not believe his aide should be barred from working in Anaheim under the ordinance, and that he will seek a legal opinion from either the city attorney or an outside body.

“I think everybody else will likely have to go through the same process,” Lyster said of the other council aides.

Kring’s aide, former city council candidate Steve Chavez Lodge, used to work for Hill International, a city contractor.

Murray, who works for the public consulting firm Willdan, has a contract with the company Communications LAB to provide both her city policy aides and to do work for her campaign.

Shirley Grindle, a citizen watchdog who has independently monitored campaign contributions to politicians countywide for years, said she would like to see the quarterly reports filed by lobbyists include disclosure of what campaign contributions they have made to the council during that period.

She also rebuked council members for hiring staff from lobbying firms.

“I recently found out that some of you hire lobbyists as your staff to help you do your jobs…and I can’t tell you how bad I think that is,” Grindle said. “They do not have a good name anywhere…because they’re paid to get your vote, to get a project approved.”

Anaheim resident Cynthia Ward said she believes people who have worked on council members’ campaigns should not be allowed to work for them as paid aides.

“We trust them a lot…there’s no definition of what kind of projects they’re working on,” Ward said of council aides. “I think we need more assurance than that.

Kring accused Moreno and Councilman James Vanderbilt of allowing their aides to work on their political campaigns.

Moreno, responding to Kring’s accusation about a recent event, said his paid council aide Jacqueline Rodarte volunteered at the event, which was a thank you party for campaign supporters.

Vanderbilt said his aide, Helen Myers, volunteered her home for a meet-and-greet for his campaign.

“I want to make sure there is a clear distinction between volunteering and work for hire,” Vanderbilt said.

Similar Laws Statewide

Many sunshine ordinances in California — such as ones adopted by Santa Ana, Oakland and Contra Costa County – largely focus on clarifying policies on public access to records and public meetings.

The state Political Reform Act generally restricts state officials and certain local officials, such as city managers and elected officials, from being paid to attempt to influence their agencies on matters they worked on while employed by the government.

The state “revolving door” restrictions on lobbying, which aims to limit the influence of officials who move between public service and the private sector, only applies for one year after a person permanently leaves their public sector job.

Anaheim’s sunshine ordinance is a hybrid that resembles regulations passed by some cities with their own ethics commissions, such as Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco.

Anaheim is only the second city in Orange County to have a lobbyist registry; both the county of Orange and Irvine also require lobbyists to register.

According to Lyster, the city spokesman, the lobbying restrictions and two-year “revolving door” ban would not apply to city commissioners.

The city of San Jose restricts all city officials, including commissioners, from participating in any lobbying for two years.

Limits to the Ordinance

Vanderbilt raised concerns about a provision of the ordinance that bars employees from accepting employment or receiving compensation from a person or organization that has entered into a contract with the city, within one year of leaving their job at the city.

In order for that provision to apply, the employee must have a substantive role in the awarding of the contract, and subsequently perform work related to that contract after leaving the city.

Vanderbilt raised concerns that the ordinance was too broad, given the number of public agencies, nonprofits and private entities the city contracts with.

“I’m concerned that we’re taking a hatchet as opposed to a scalpel to this approach,” Vanderbilt said.

It’s also unclear how the city can enforce rules on where a former city employee can work after they leave.

“There’s not an enforcement mechanism for this revolving door section,” said Acting City Attorney Kristen Pelletier. “We would put together administrative regulations that would apply to our employees.”

While the city can’t stop someone from going to work for a lobbyist after they leave the city, they can keep them from “being the person to come back and lobby the city,” said Moreno.

Tait said many of the regulations will require self-enforcement by city officials.

Possible Changes

Although the city council voted Tuesday to approve Moreno’s ordinance, Murray has proposed several amendments to it for the next city council meeting.

She has suggested adding a conflict of interest section of the ordinance that would clarify conflicts for council members and executive staff, and require council members to notify the city clerk before meetings about potential conflicts of interest. She also proposed requiring council members to disclose which of their colleagues they communicated with in the process of requesting an agenda item.

Tait accused Murray of targeting him with one of her proposed changes, which would require council members to disclose when family members may benefit financially from a decision.

In 2013, there were questions about whether Tait could participate in decisions about Angel Stadium. Tait used to own a piece of property near Angel Stadium, which he later transferred to two of his adult children.

“I know that was directed toward me – very direct,” Tait said.

Faessel proposed postponing the vote on Moreno’s ordinance in order to allow the council to digest Murray’s amendments, but the majority of the council turned him down.

“What can it hurt by putting this off to the next meeting where we have a chance to receive Councilmember Murray’s suggestions,” Faessel said.

“That gives lobbyists two more weeks to lobby us not to do this,” Moreno said. “The method people often use to stop something is to stall it, stall it, stall it.”

“This is not a request to stall, this is a request to strengthen,” Murray responded.

Tait, Moreno, Vanderbilt and Barnes voted to reject Murray’s amendments.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.