As Long Beach Ethics Commissioners work to refresh the city’s lobbying ordinance, a public meeting meant to get more opinions from the public on what should be disclosed, and by whom, could have to wait until October.
The commission has been looking at how to tighten regulations for when lobbyists and other groups meet with elected and city officials, and how much of those discussions have to be disclosed to the public, since early 2022.
However, recommendations made public earlier this year—which would have changed who qualifies as a lobbyist and would have taken away the disclosure exemption for nonprofits, among other changes—prompted dozens of neighborhood groups and nonprofits to show up and denounce the proposal, saying it would have a chilling effect on groups that are helping vulnerable communities in the city.
Commissioners sought to set up a public forum this summer, where a more open dialogue could be had about the proposed rules, but that idea has been struck down by the city, according to Ethics Commission Chair Margo Morales.
Morales said Wednesday the city did not want to set a precedent for having community meetings for some commissions without offering the same option to all commissions, a concept city officials said is not feasible given the number of commissions and limits on staffing.
Because changes to the ordinance are not being driven by the City Council, which must ultimately approve any changes to city law, having city staff host a meeting on behalf of the commission could give the appearance that they’re supportive of the changes, city officials explained.
If the commission conducted the meeting through a consultant, it could have been allowed, and Morales said she would pursue funding for the commission to be able to hire consultants in the future.
So the commission is now looking to October to host a formal meeting to get more public input on the issue, which will likely be held inside the Civic Chambers Downtown because of its ability to conduct hybrid meetings and allow public comment to be provided remotely.
Commissioners indicated they would like the meeting to be held later in the evening to encourage more participation, which could be an issue with its typical start time of 3 p.m.
What could change after that hearing is unclear.
Some commissioners indicated that they still wanted to at least continue the conversation of whether nonprofits will have to disclose contacts with city leaders in the future, and potentially amend the threshold for how big a nonprofit has to be before it would have to comply with the city’s law.
Others pointed to the meetings earlier this year, when a large number of nonprofits showed up to say that requiring them to dedicate staff time to filling out city reports could further limit their ability to carry out their core missions of helping the community. The commissioners who raised that point questioned whether the issue should just be dropped.
“The two or three meetings that we’ve had here in these chambers where the community showed up—they’ve been respectful of the process, and they’re very tired of the process, and I don’t blame them,” said Commissioner Raul Anorve, who asked if the commission would be interested in dropping nonprofits and “advocacy” groups from their proposed changes.
Commissioner Luke Fiedler said that maybe the issue the commission needs to solve isn’t reducing the amount of information made public, but shifting who is responsible for reporting it by “figuring out a solution that would place more of the burden on elected officials.”
“That discretion is not perfect. It can be abused, but under the circumstances, I don’t see why an elected official can’t do the same,” Fiedler said, referencing commissioners’ requirements to report when they’ve been lobbied.
The city’s lobbying ordinance was first adopted in 2010 to make sure that paid lobbyists who meet with public officials about pending or future projects or other deals were logging their activity with the city clerk’s office.
The city relies on self-reporting and has limited resources to verify that lobbyists are accurately disclosing their meetings with public officials. While the law does carry potential misdemeanor charges and a temporary ban from lobbying in the city for those who violate it, no person has been charged with breaking the law since it was adopted.