After significant pushback from the nonprofit sector, the city’s Ethics Commission has reversed course and will likely not recommend that these organizations register as lobbyists if they routinely seek to influence city decisions.

Commissioners are now seeking to instead add requirements that elected leaders and top officials — including the mayor, City Council, department heads and the city manager — upload their calendars to the city website on a monthly basis, and require additional leaders in city government to maintain publicly available calendars that can be obtained quickly through a public records request.

The idea is that any contacts by nonprofit officials and others will be revealed publicly on these calendars, if not on disclosure forms by lobbyists.

One of the biggest fears from nonprofit leaders — specifically 501(c)(3) public charities — is that they would be saddled with onerous reporting requirements with limited budgets and staffing. That limitation, along with broadening of the definition of lobbying, could result in them being silenced on issues such as housing, immigration and more.

The revised recommendation, presented at the Ethics Commission meeting Wednesday, “lifts up the importance of nonprofits and how they serve the broader community,” said Michelle Byerly, executive director of The Nonprofit Partnership.

She and others thanked the commission for listening to feedback over the past two years and changing course.

But critics have said that nonprofit organizations like Long Beach Forward do as much lobbying as other individuals and firms, particularly on housing. And the Ethics Commission itself seemed to support more stringent requirements after a survey showed the public wanted more transparency for this sector.

The commission noted that many other jurisdictions, including Los Angeles and San Diego, have reporting requirements for nonprofits that lobby for causes and specific actions.

But, instead of placing the reporting burden on nonprofits, the commission is now leaning toward placing this burden on the government leaders who take meetings with any group or individual.

If passed, the new ordinance would require the mayor, City Council, city prosecutor, city auditor, city attorney, the city manager and all department heads to upload their calendars to the city website by the 10th of each month for the previous month’s activities.

In addition, the assistant and deputy city managers, assistant department heads, the city clerk, bureau managers and all members of city charter commissions would be required to maintain calendars in a way that can be easily provided through a records request.

“Disclosure of calendar information by certain City leaders will go a long way to improve transparency and build public confidence in City decision-making,” the commission said in its report Wednesday.

The calendars must show all scheduled non-internal meetings, public events or speaking engagements and non-scheduled meetings with people related to city business.

The new requirement would provide transparency around who is lobbying for what, as well as how responsive city leaders are to the public, the commission report said.

The calendars will also help ensure that registered lobbyists are submitting accurate information on their required forms.

“At present, there is virtually no mechanism to enforce the requirement for filing by lobbyists so there is little deterrence for noncompliance,” the commission said.

The commission is also recommending more staff to enforce these new requirements, and clarifying and upping the penalties for failure to report activity, both for lobbyists and government officials.

The commission will discuss the changes to the city Ethics Code again in August before submitting final recommendations to the City Council for approval.

Editor’s note: The Long Beach Post is a member of The Nonprofit Partnership. Please see our ethics policy here

Melissa Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-512-6354.