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City Lobbyist Register Ordinance Could Be Revived

City Of Pensacola

Eight months after first going before the Pensacola City Council, a proposed ordinance to set up a lobbyist registry is close to being resurrected.

Mayor Ashton Hayward floated the idea in October of last year, via his digital newsletter.

“Anyone that’s coming down on behalf of another individual or business that wants to lobby the council or myself, we need to recognize that [and] they need to be transparent about it,” said Hayward last January.

The ordinance would require anyone paid to speak at a City Council meeting or seeks to lobby on behalf of an individual or organization to register. They would also have to disclose their clients and subject matter.

The item was set for a special council meeting in late March, but it was pulled from the agenda by the Mayor’s office and went away.

“I think it needs to be done, and actually it’s something that I have wanted to do for some time,” said Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who wants the lobbying ordinance placed on the November 12 meeting agenda.

“Since the Council has been meeting only once a month, our agendas tend to be extremely long,” said Myers. “I just haven’t brought it up because I wanted it to get the attention that it deserves, and not be part of such a lengthy agenda.”

Pending any changes to the bill, the four key points are: annual registration and a 25 dollar per client fee; disclosure of any direct business with city elected officials, a ban on deliberate false statements when lobbying. And, before addressing the council or other city boards, a verbal disclosure of their registration and whom they are representing.

“If you’re a concerned citizen, on behalf of a neighborhood association or yourself just talking about what you’d like to see out of your community, the language is perfectly clear in the ordinance,” Hayward said. “But if you’re coming up to the dais to speak to the Council or myself, just disclose who you’re working with.”

Under the proposal, elected officials and government employees are not considered lobbyists if they are communicating with the mayor, council or board members in their official capacity. Neither are attorneys or others under contract with the city who address issues within the scope of their contracts.

Myers has been researching lobbyist ordinances in a number of other Florida cities and counties. She says there’s no reason Pensacola shouldn’t have one.

“I think it helps know who’s being paid to lobby officials for the purpose of getting contracts and making public policy,” Myers said.

There are no concrete numbers as to how many lobbyists work City Hall. Myers says she’s met with some, as have other council members and the Mayor.

If passed by the City Council in its current form, the penalties for violating the lobbyist ordinance include up to a $500 fine and/or 60 days in jail. And, each day of a violation would constitute a separate offense.