COT Lobbyists Ordinance Allows For Secret Communication

Tallahassee Reports has learned that the COT proposed ordinance to register lobbyists will allow lobbyists to secretly communicate with city commissioners and city staff about pending proposals and contracts. The current Leon County ordinance prohibits such communication and requires written correspondence.

At the upcoming City of Tallahassee Commission meeting, there will be a public hearing for ordinance No. 11-O-03AA – Providing for Registration of Lobbyists. The agenda item states that “Mayor Marks has requested that the City Commission consider the adoption of a City ordinance providing for lobbyist registration in the same manner that the Leon County ordinance provides.”

However, the last two lines of the agenda item analysis states: “The Leon County ordinance, when passed, was written to include a communications prohibition regarding county procurement activities. This prohibition has not been included within the proposed ordinance in that it applies to individuals involved in self-representation and is not limited to regulations regarding lobbyists.”

The COT staff analysis indicates that this provision was taken out because it applies to individuals as well as lobbyists. Tallahassee Reports contacted county officials and asked about this issue. County officials said that the language applies to individual citizens and lobbyists because we do not want individuals or lobbyists talking to decision makers during the “cone of silence” without a written record. “Cone of silence” refers to a specific period of time when critical decisions are being made about contracts and RFP’s.

Former County Commissioner Cliff Thael, who pushed for the lobbyist registration ordinance currently on the books with Leon County, said the “cone of silence” is the whole point of lobbyist registration. “Without this language, the ordinance is nothing more than window dressing. An ordinance without that language is saying to lobbyists, ‘just file the paperwork and pay $25 – you can still talk to decision makers without a paper trail’. Lobbyists registration is supposed provide transparency, not condone secret conversations.”

Research by Tallahassee Reports indicates that other jurisdictions that register lobbyists restrict communications during the procurement process. For example, Palm Beach County just passed an ordinance that requires lobbyist registration and includes a “Cone of Silence” provision like the one included in the Leon County ordinance.

According to the Palm Beach County website, “The ‘Cone of Silence’ means a prohibition on any communication, except for written correspondence, regarding a particular Request for Proposal, Request for Qualification, bid, or any other competitive solicitation. The “Cone of Silence” is in effect from the time/date of the deadline for submission of the proposal, bid or other response to a competitive solicitation, until the time that the Board or County Department authorized to act on behalf of the Board, awards or approves a contract, rejects all bids or responses or otherwise takes action which ends the solicitation process.”

Other jurisdictions that include similar provisions are Tampa, Orlando, Boyton Beach, Coral Gable, and Miami-Dade.

The hearing on the lobbyist ordinance is Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at City Hall.

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