Independent Ethics Board proposes stricter ordinances on lobbying

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Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 4:06 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board is looking at recommending new ordinances targeting lobbying in the Capital City.

The recommendations come after a years-long FBI investigation, resulting in a federal corruption trial and guilty pleas from a former City Commissioner and his longtime political aide.

The three proposals come after months of discussion by the Ethics Board. They’ll need to be formally sent to the City Commission. The Board meets on Tuesday, September 21, to discuss.

The first draft ordinance includes four recommendations; they would change the City’s Code of General Ordinances. The Ethics Board’s document says they can be adopted without any changes to the City Charter.

The first recommendation fleshes out the definition of lobbying. The Chair writes that it “eliminates any ambiguity in the current ordinance, which will better protect those individuals and entities engaging city government and instill confidence with the public.”

The second recommendation deals with the registration of issues and contact logs.

This recommendation requires lobbyists to maintain contact logs, so that all official meetings are disclosed, and requires lobbyists to use the name or title and/or ordinance number that he or she wishes to discuss.

The duty to maintain and submit the contact logs would fall on the lobbyists, to be submitted no more than three days after the activity.

The third recommendation would place a ban on contingency fees; the Board recommends the City adopt similar language to the state.

The Board’s draft makes any contingency payment a criminal misdemeanor.

The fourth recommendation would create a requirement for quarterly compensation reports to be available to the public on the City’s website.

The second draft ordinance proposed by the Board is an amendment to the City’s Charter. It suggests broadening the Ethics Board’s jurisdiction to include lobbyists, and it would subject to approval by voters.

The third draft ordinance has two recommendations that would also change the Code of General Ordinances; however, they are contingent on the passage of the charter amendment, so they cannot yet be adopted.

The first recommendation would expand the Ethics Board’s jurisdiction to review lobbyist penalties.

“The proposed language maintains the Office of the City Treasurer-Clerk as the body with original jurisdiction over lobbyist complaints but adds the Independent Ethics Board as a body with appellate review for those lobbyists that dispute their penalties,” the Chair writes.

The second recommendation incorporates the Board’s role in lobbyist enforcement. The proposed language maintains the role of the Independent Ethics Officer to serve as a point of contact for complaints against lobbyists, but it also allows the Officer to initiate the complaints through the Office of the Treasurer/Clerk.

“The proposed changes establish the Independent Ethics Board as a secondary administrative step for those penalized lobbyists seeking judicial review of their penalties and/or discipline,” the Chair writes.

You can read the full draft of the proposed changes here. The recommendations can be found under Agenda Item 7, titled “Old Business.”

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