Tallahassee commissioners make some ethics rules changes, shoot down lobbyist logs

Magnifying glass is looking at the people stand near the checkbox for voting in elections. Lobbying interests, election corruption, voter bribery, and rigging election results. Selective focus
The differences came along the lines of disagreement between Tallahassee's Independent Ethics Board and City Attorney Cassandra Jackson.

The Tallahassee City Commission moved forward with some ethics ordinance changes Wednesday, but decided against making further changes to rules about lobbying city government.

The Commission unanimously approved a slew of changes, like substituting the language “corruptly” in the misuse of public position ordinance to “in a manner inconsistent with the proper performance of his or her office” so it no longer requires intent, and banning people lobbying the city to get paid contingency fees. The changes were one of several recommended by the city’s Independent Ethics board last month.

However, the Commission was split 3-2 against making further recommended changes to the city’s lobbying definition or requirements.

Mayor John Dailey and Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox and Curtis Richardson voted down several motions, citing City Attorney Cassandra Jackson’s disagreement with some of the board’s recommendations.

One of the changes voted down was a board-backed change to the city’s definition of lobbyist. Jackson argued the current definition and the proposed one were substantively the same, except for two parts:

— The new definition deleted the qualifier that a person is a lobbyist only if paid “for the purpose of lobbying . . .”

— The new definition included language to clarify that lobbying can occur “during the time period of the entire decision-making process.

Jackson recommended against changing the definition in analysis supplied before the meeting, but drafted new language that could add those two differences to the current definition if the commission wanted to add it.

Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter voted to adopt that language, but it was voted down.

Another proposed change would have required lobbyists to keep a log of when they met with city officials and employees that included what issues were discussed. The log would have had to be turned into the city’s Treasury Clerk within three business days. Some Florida jurisdictions currently require lobbying contact logs (Palm Beach County, Tampa, Broward County).

The original recommendation from the ethics board also included language requiring city officials to ensure people lobbying them are registered, but Jackson recommended against it because it would be difficult to enforce and was vague. However, she did not weigh in on using the logs without that language.

Matlow made a motion to adopt the logs without the requirement, but it was voted down. The three commissioners who voted against it did not elaborate on their reasoning.

Matlow said he thought the logs were an important step, even if there were enforcement difficulties.

“I do think we should establish the policies then create real penalties to enforce them or we are just going to continue to have unchecked, unregistered lobbying in our community and I can’t support that,” Matlow said.

The final recommendation voted down would have drafted a charter amendment asking voters if they would want lobbyists under the jurisdiction of the Independent Ethics Board. Jackson said that lobbyists were not included in the language of the board’s jurisdiction that was approved by voters in 2014 and her office has not been made aware of any need for the change. She recommended against moving forward with the amendment.

Matlow and Porter voted in favor of drafting the charter amendment, but it was voted down.

Matlow took to Twitter after the votes to express his dissatisfaction with the outcomes.

Florida Politics has reached out to Dailey, Richardson and Williams-Cox for comment on their votes. This story will be updated with their responses.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood


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