Last week, City Commissioner Sam Adams announced that he was moving forward on a comprehensive proposal to make lobbying at city hall more transparent. After a year of discussion and input from "stakeholders," he had finally secured the votes needed to pass the ordinance at council—Commissioner Erik Sten and Dan Saltzman agreed to co-sponsor the piece, bringing the votes to three out of five.
Along with Commissioner Randy Leonard, Mayor Tom Potter had gone on record opposing the ordinance as too complicated. Much of the public input at last Wednesday's (December 14) council session was from supporters urging the mayor to change his mind—excluding of course Irwin and Lili Mandel (an omnipresent couple who attend nearly every public city meeting) who lambasted the council members, based on an Oregonian article that morning, for having already made up their minds on the ordinance before the public hearing.
"Your hearings are a farce, playing the citizens as fools," Lili Mandel chided.
At first, the testimony from the Mandels was puzzling. The lobbying ordinance had gone through nearly a year of process and change, mostly the result of input from the public, and was hardly an example of backroom dealing.
But when it was Leonard's turn to speak, the complaints fell into context. (Two months ago, Leonard countered Adams' proposal with one of his own—a far less comprehensive plan that was modeled on the state legislature's lobbying rules. With Sten and Saltzman signed on to Adams' plan, Leonard's pitch was buried.)
"The irony here is that the vote is going the way it's going because of backroom horse trading," Leonard said at the session.
That term—horse trading—was picked up by the local media (the Oregonian and Tribune), whose reporters ran with Potter and Leonard's claims that Adams was only able to get Saltzman's sponsorship—and probable vote—by agreeing to vote on Saltzman's proposal to reform the Fire and Police Disability and Retirement (FPD&R) plan. For the discussion of two rather mundane issues, it added an irresistible nugget of drama.
Unfortunately, the horse-trading soap opera was a story without much of a story—not least because Adams has long supported Saltzman and FPD&R.
"The irony is that in this case, no horse trading had to be done," Adams told the Mercury.
Further, he argued, "Horse trading happens in this building all the time, but apparently I'm not supposed to say that."
The horse-trading jab "was a good sucker punch, but a sucker punch nonetheless," Adams added.
With that backdrop, the council was scheduled to vote on the lobbying regulation Wednesday, December 21—just after press time. Unless something major changes, the vote is expected to be three (Adams, Sten, Saltzman) to two (Potter, Leonard). Adams said that he had hoped to persuade the mayor to support the ordinance—given Potter's campaign promise to make city politics more transparent—but decided that a year was long enough to wait.
"The mayor has not engaged us on the substance of this issue," Adams said. "For the first time [Wednesday morning], I'll hear his substantive concerns on this issue."
If it passes, the ordinance will require lobbyists who spend at least 16 hours a quarter lobbying elected officials to report how much money and time was spent, whom they talked to, and the focus of the lobbying. It will also require elected city officials to post their weekly calendars online.
Essentially, the council is voting on a trial version of the regulation. Built into the ordinance is a six-month evaluation, during which the effectiveness and feasibility of the regulation will be analyzed. Which means that even if council passes the regulation, this horse opera is far from over.