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City lobbyists should be registered, mayor says

Paid lobbyists who lobby Lexington city officials and employees will have to register with the city's Board of Ethics, disclose money spent on their activities and file quarterly financial reports under a draft ordinance proposed by Mayor Jim Newberry.

Urban County Council members received the draft hours before they left for winter break.

Newberry said the ordinance would make local government "more open, accountable and transparent." Asked whether any inappropriate lobbying activities had triggered the ordinance, the mayor said no. However, the proposal has already been criticized by some council members.

Councilman Julian Beard was critical of the proposal's timing, and he questioned the need for a lobbying ordinance at all. For the mayor to wait until just hours before council went on Christmas break, then "dropping on us a fairly substantial piece of legislation ... this isn't the way you would hope your mayor would work with council," Beard said.

Beard, a former economic development director for the city, said that in his experience, lobbying has never been a problem on the local level.

"There are a whole lot of things that need to be fixed; lobbying isn't one of them," Beard said. "But all of a sudden, out of the clear, blue sky, to say, 'Let's go fix a problem' that doesn't seem to be a problem, it doesn't feel right."

Newberry said the lobbying proposal traces to a 2006 campaign promise. "I'm halfway through my term. We got the platform out to identify things that remained to be done," he said.

Newberry said he did not know of any lobbyist who has acted inappropriately toward city officials or employees.

Sixth District Councilman Kevin Stinnett said he did not know of an instance when lobbying on the local level "has been an actual problem."

But with spending controversies at Blue Grass Airport and the Lexington Public Library over the past year, Stinnett said, "It's good to have these guidelines in place."

Tenth District Councilman Doug Martin said a lobbying ordinance would "bring transparency to city workings."

He called it a "a light-of-day kind of ordinance to ensure there are proper disclosures concerning folks who represent interests before the city."

Kentucky's largest city does not have a lobbyist-registration law, said Chad Carlton, communications director for Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. "We don't have much in the way of lobbying, as they do in Frankfort."

In Lexington, Councilwoman Diane Lawless said she's unclear about Newberry's purpose in proposing the ordinance: "What is he getting at with this?"

Chuck Ellinger, councilman at large, said that because the council deals with local issues, he knows most of the people who contact him. He could not recall any time when a paid lobbyist invited him to dinner to discuss a local issue.

Lexington's draft ordinance is patterned after state statutes governing the registration of lobbyists at the state level.

A lobbyist, Newberry said, is an individual "getting paid to come down here to influence decisions."

Beard said he hoped that did not include lawyers commonly hired to represent their clients, presenting information to council or any number of city boards such as the Planning Commission.

City spokeswoman Susan Straub said an attorney appearing before council representing a client would not have to be registered as a lobbyist.

Citizens who call their council representatives, or city employees appearing before council to express their opinions would not be considered lobbyists.

Lobbyists would have to turn in itemized statements with receipts showing how much money they spent on food, drinks and entertainment to influence legislation.

Ed Lane, 11th District councilman, generally favored restrictions spelled out in the ordinance.

"If people are paid to lobby government, it would be nice to know who they are and what company they're representing, rather than us thinking we're speaking to an individual citizen," Lane said.

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