City Hall Wants Lobbyists to Report All Meetings. To Whom? Dunno. Stop Asking.

We always knew you can't beat City Hall. Now it looks like you can't even meet City Hall.

As of April 1, people or institutions deemed to be lobbyists at City Hall will be required to go online and report every meeting or contact they have with certain city officials.

My sources tell me firms that do business regularly with City Hall are trying to get geared up to do this reporting the right way. They don't want to look like slimy meatballs in public or, worse yet, put themselves in a position where somebody can come after them for violating the new law. But the same sources have been telling me for weeks that they can't get City Hall to come up with a list of the city employees with whom they are supposed to report meetings.

Presumably the city doesn't want its new Web-based reporting software cluttered up with things like, "10:30 a.m. August 15, 2010: Spoke to Brendan Gilpin, operator of City of Dallas claw-arm truck, out in front of my house about please don't leave trash can in middle of street if possible and can I put lumber in it?"

In meetings over a period of months, city officials have promised the list, but the lobbyists say it's never forthcoming. I just spoke to the City Secretary's Office, and they confirmed that the list has not yet been promulgated.

But here's the even more awkward thing: The Web site and software the lobbyists are supposed to use have not yet been made available.

Work in progress, I was told.

I could be wrong, but my impression is that today is March 15. The new law goes into effect in two weeks. It represents a substantial burden, the lobbyists tell me, in terms of the reporting and paperwork they must do. But the city -- supposedly the big hammer in all this -- can't get its act together two weeks before the process is to go into effect.

I wrote about this last September. Lobbyist reform is an idea pushed by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert in response to the recent federal Dallas City Hall corruption trial. As I reported at the time, this so-called reform almost totally ignores the kind of lobbyists who figured importantly in that trial and on whom Leppert is extremely dependent -- the ones who sell influence and entree. It focuses instead on the lawyers and engineers who actually do work for people: preparing documents, getting studies done, helping the uninitiated thread the needle of city requirements.

And now this. Come April 1, City Hall lobbyists will be required to report their meetings with all officials whose names appear on the list that is not yet available on the Web site that is not yet up.


You know what this reminds me of? The anti-dog-poop law. The anti-homeless-shopping-cart law. The anti-rooster law.

In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Angelo says to Escalus:
"We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror."

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze