What a difference a week makes! Just a few days after we published a news story about the ineffectiveness of the city's current lobbying regulations, four of the five city council members signed on to an ordinance that is aimed to tighten up the rules.
But—wait!—before you hit the snooze button, here's why that's important: By the time an issue—any issue, even something you might care about—comes before council for a public hearing and vote, it's been batted around in the backrooms of city hall, with lord knows who representing lord knows what interests showing up to influence the decision making.
The problem is that there's very little transparency in the process, meaning that your elected officials could have been convinced by lobbyists to vote against your interests, and you'd never have any way of knowing.
Okay, that's not entirely true. The city has an ordinance that requires lobbyists to report their activities, but it only applies if they spend more than 16 hours in a quarter lobbying, and it hasn't done a stellar job of furthering the goal of transparency.
Wonder of wonders, council has decided to fix that problem, and is poised to pass an ordinance that cuts that 16-hour requirement in half, which, ideally, will force more lobbyists to register.
Curiously, the only member of council to not sign on as a co-sponsor of the ordinance was Mayor Tom Potter. But according to his spokesperson, Potter was only left off the list because his chief of staff was out of town. He apparently plans to vote for it.
"Since the beginning," mayoral spokesperson John Doussard says, "he has favored making the system as transparent as possible—his suggestion is to list all contacts and phone calls, whether it involves a lobbyist or not, and do it in real time, which is especially critical with controversial issues."
Potter voted against the rules in December 2005, but the reason he gave was that they specifically exempted too many groups (like neighborhood associations), and that the threshold was too high.
Speaking of high thresholds! Former city council candidate Dave Lister announced last week that, contrary to wide expectations, he would not run for office again next year.
"To run a serious race for '08, I would need to start campaigning now and that's just not in the cards for me, no matter what Potter decides," Lister said. "The earliest I would be a candidate again is 2010."
In 2006, Lister added some unexpected candor and humor to the race against Erik Sten—it looks like the city will have to wait another few years for a reprise.