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Council Bars Paid Lobbyists from Boards and Commissions

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By Jorge Casuso

January 12, 2023 -- Eight years after it began hammering out a lobbying law, the City Council on Tuesday agreed on final revisions that bar paid lobbyists from serving on boards and commissions.

In a 5 to 2 vote, the Council gave the final go-ahead to preclude any person who has been paid to lobby the City from being appointed to a board or commission.

It also precludes any member of an appointed body from "simultaneously acting as a lobbyist/legislative advocate" ("Council to Continue Tweaking Lobbying Law," October 24, 2022).

The second reading of the ordinance -- which is usually little more than a formality -- was opposed by the two newest Councilmembers, who tried to further amend a law that had been in the works for 18 months ("Confused Council Tables Lobbying Law," March 9, 2022).

Councilmember Jesse Zwick said he worried that the new ordinance was "overly broad in terms of its definitions."

He said some constituents feared the new law would bar those who work for non-profit organizations that advocate for such causes as the environment and affordable housing from serving.

"A lot of the people who are motivated to serve in these jobs are the same people motivated to serve of boards and commissions," Zwick said.

The ordinance -- which exempts architects and contractors serving on commissions that require professional expertise -- should make similar exceptions for those who work for non-profit organizations, he said.

Councilmember Caroline Torosis, who along with Zwick was newly elected to the Council in November, agreed.

"I still think that the way this is designed is still pretty broad and difficult to interpret," Torosis said.

City Attorney Doug Sloan explained that simply working for a non-profit that advocates for a cause did not disqualify that person from serving on a board or commission.

Under the definition of "lobbyist" in the ordinance, that person would have to be "paid for the purpose of influencing the City of Santa Monica," Sloan said. "That's their job."

Sloan offered to provide a formal legal opinion to accompany the ordinance.

Zwick's proposed amendment was swiftly rejected by Councilmember Phil Brock, who had made the motion to approve the ordinance. Brock, however, accepted Sloan's offer as a friendly amendment.

Torosis also floated the idea of creating an Ethics Commission, an idea quickly embraced by Brock, who said he would like to see such a commission "established within the next year."

"I think that would be something that would help transparency and help residents once again to peer behind the curtain and make sure they see what is happening in the City," Brock said.

Mayor Gleam Davis cautioned that "establishing a board or commission is not a financially neutral decision."

The Council would need to explain "what we would not do with the money used to establish the commission," Davis said, referring to the City's list of unfunded programs and services.

In the end, the Council voted to approve the ordinance, with Zwick and Torosis casting the opposing votes.

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