Urban Politics #11: Proposed Ordinance Would Hinder Citizen Access to Elected Officials

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.


Proposed Ordinance Would Hinder Citizen Access to Elected Officials

Seattle may require citizens contacting city officials to register and file financial reporting forms as lobbyists. If adopted the ordinance would apply to any citizen who contacted elected officials or their staff 12 or more times during a 3 month period.

For instance, anyone who might have e-mailed the Mayor and all the City Council members twice within the last 3 months regarding two previous issues covered in Urban Politics (e.g. the Freeway Park Garage and the Stadium) would have to register as a lobbyist. Each of you in the above example would be required to file a report with the City Clerk describing “each contact made during the preceding quarter, listing the names of the City Elected Officials and their personal staff who were contacted and the position advocated.”

Volunteer community groups, who spent more than $200 per month in any one month of a quarter “presenting a program addressed to the public” at which influencing Council bills is discussed, must also register and report as a lobbyist. For instance if a community group holds a forum or a rally to oppose a particular legislative matter, e.g. establishing an Urban Village or approving of a landuse permit for a Wallmart store, it appears that they would have to register as a lobbyist organization if they spent more than $200 for renting a hall and printing flyers.

Lobbyist organizations must file monthly reports describing “the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and business or occupation of all persons organizing and managing or hired” to assist their programs. All persons contributing more than $25 to that groups efforts would also have to be listed.

Groups and individuals who did not file these reports would be subject to a “late filing penalty” of $10 per day for each unfiled report. The origins of the proposed ordinance may have resulted from some legitimate concerns of having professional consultants lobby city officials in the past. Recently a couple of City Councilmembers had to stop a pair of paid lobbyists from trying to negotiate a deal in the privacy of their government offices concerning the city’s pending charges to a cable company. But the proposed regulations go far beyond what is needed. They would only serve to isolate public officials from the public. They must be drastically amended or they will undermine the basic tenants of our constitutional right to petition our government.

Representatives from Civic Foundation, the Seattle Community Council Federation and labor unions have spoken out against the restrictions of this proposed ordinance. There will be a public hearing from 8:30 to 10:30 A.M. at the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission meeting on Feb. 21 at Camp Long, 5200 35th Ave. SW. After the hearing, the commission is scheduled to act on the ordinance and send it to the City Council.

According to the city’s web site the commissioners on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission are:

Timothy Burgess, Chair
Marc A. Boman
Daniel J. Ichinaga
John A. Loftus
Jeri A. Rowe
Catherine L. Walker

If you cannot testify on Feb. 21, then email or fax your comments on the proposed regulations directly to the Commission. The Commissions phone number is 684-8500, fax: 684-8590, and email: director.seec@seattle.gov.

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