Anaheim Considers “Sunshine Ordinance” And Restrictions on Lobbyists

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 City Council members are considering a “sunshine ordinance” that would restrict city officials and employees from influencing city decisions until two years after their employment ends, and require paid lobbyists to register with the city.

The ordinance, proposed by Councilman Jose Moreno, also would require certain city officials to retain all email communications for 90 days, rather than the current 37 days, and calls for signs to be posted at the sites of large-scale developments explaining the project. The proposed ordinance is up for a vote at Tuesday evening’s city council meeting.

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

Several cities, however, also have separate restrictions on lobbying by former elected officials, city commissioners and executive-level city employees.

Moreno, who promised to introduce a sunshine ordinance upon his inauguration to the city council in December, said Monday his ordinance was sparked in part by his concern with the way a previous city council passed major tax subsidies for luxury hotel developers.

“…It wasn’t clear who was talking to the city council, who was advocating for certain positions,” Moreno said. “And one of the things I ran on was transparency and integrity, so I thought it was really important to put forth an ordinance that shines as much as possible [a light] on the workings of city government.”

He believes the ordinance will help build trust in local government among residents.

“We are a city that has extensive corporate interests embedded in it, so it’s really important a clear distinction is made between those who run the city and those who have a special interest in the city,”  Moreno said.

Revolving Door Bans

Perhaps the most ubiquitous example in Anaheim of an official-turned-lobbyist is the city’s former mayor, Curt Pringle.

Pringle, who was mayor from 2002 to 2010, also owns a lobbying firm, Pringle & Associates, and is a registered lobbyist with the county of Orange. His firm represents several companies that have done business before the city, such as Anaheim Resort Transportation, Anaheim Gardenwalk and Aramark, to name just a few.

It’s not illegal to lobby a government agency you once worked for or represented.

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 restriction on the so-called “revolving door” between public and private employment only applies for one year after a person permanently leaves their job.

Moreno’s ordinance would extend that restriction to prohibit “any city official or employee of Anaheim” from lobbying the city for two years after their employment ends.

“I'm not so concerned that there’s lobbying happening, it’s part of the American political system and free speech,” said Moreno. “But people should know if a paid lobbyist is trying to influence the city council.”

It would also prohibit former city officials and employees from “accepting employment from a person or organization that entered into a contract with the city” within a year of their departure if the city official “personally or substantially participated in the award of the contract.”

City officials and employees also would be prohibited for two years from competing for city contracts that they formerly made recommendations on or approved.

Other cities, such as Los Angeles and Palo Alto, have similar revolving door bans.

The ordinance would also require lobbyists to register with the city and imposes a fine, the cost of which has yet to be set, for those who fail to register.

Public Notice

Moreno’s ordinance also largely restates existing laws regarding access to public records, when meeting agendas become public and how meetings are broadcast on television and online.

But it does add additional requirements, such as requiring all email traffic for city council members, their staff, and city department heads be retained for 90 days.

Government agencies regularly destroy old records on a schedule, including emails.

The city’s policy is to preserve some emails generated by staff but to periodically wipe others from the city’s servers every 37 days.

The ordinance would also require greater public notice regarding large-scale developments.

That means signs would be posted at the site of major developments with information about the proposed project. It would also create a webpage with a list of major developments, their cost and timeline.

The city council will consider the sunshine ordinance at its regular meeting Tuesday at 5 p.m.

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