Tooth Marks: The Brawl at City Hall Over Real Ethics Reform Is Only Just Beginning

Angela Hunt is putting the bite on the mayor today on the issue of ethics reform.

The council is being briefed on possible new ethics rules growing out of the City Hall corruption case. Council member Hunt and four other members signed a letter a couple weeks ago asking City Attorney Tom Perkins to give them a briefing on what other cities do, so this is that.

Perkins gave them a lot of technical stuff first. Now it's going around the horseshoe for questions, and Hunt, in her inimitably polite way, is getting down to brass tacks.

First, she asks what good it will do to have lobbyists provide information about their activities at City Hall on a quarterly basis, as Perkins has suggested, instead of having them do it right away, when they're lobbying and when there's daylight on the issue.

"The primary goal of this is to provide transparency and to eliminate even the appearance of impropriety," she says. In order to do any good, Hunt says lobbyists should have to file reports weekly.

Next, she says it doesn't do much good just to get a list of names of the council members the lobbyists have called. They'll just put a call in to every council member so they can say they called everybody.

Says Hunt, "On this document, it says, 'City officials contacted on issues.' But it doesn't note the date the officials were contacted, the length of time the lobbyists met with the officials. And to me those are two of the most important issues. If we're trying to get at transparency and disclosure, that's the type of information we want."

Hunt wonders why we should waste our time compiling lists of gifts lobbyists have provided to council members:

"It seems to me we want simply to prohibit gifts." She asks Perkins, "Is there a reason we can't prohibit gifts?"

Perkins says, "No."

Hunt also suggests a no-gifts rule should apply to the clients who hire the lobbyists:

But now she gets to the real stuff. Hunt doesn't say it, but clearly she is talking Carol Reed, whose name came up in the corruption trial. Reed's PR company runs Mayor Tom Leppert's campaigns and all of the campaigns associated with the members of the Dallas Citizens Council, an elite business leadership group that meets in secret and has roots deep in the city's troubled past.

What came out in the trial was that Reed also commands six-figure fees for representing real estate developers to the council. Some people think Reed comes to the council with special influence because she's got the Citizens Council bucks behind her.

Hunt says, "I think we need to look at prohibiting a lobbyist from working for both a council member and on behalf of an issue that's going to come before the council member. It's either one or the other."

She mentions the specific case of lobbyists who run political campaigns for council members, including the mayor.

"If they represent or work for a city council member or a mayor, frankly, there's a great deal of influence, even though its unspoken, that goes along with representing a council member or a mayor," Hunt says.

This is the real fight. Everybody on the council wants to do some kind of eyewash on this issue to get rid of the stink from the trial. But Hunt is talking about teeth.

This will get gooder.

Tennell Atkins is very bristly about this. He's mad because he didn't get a copy of Perkins's proposed disclosure forms until today's meeting. He says he needed more time to do his "due diligence" on the issue.

He gets off into the same area that Linda Koop just covered: Will this kind of reform operate against nonprofits, specifically churches?

Oh, come on. This is what you get from people who don't have an appetite for the basic reform. Koop and Atkins are searching for innocent kitty cats and puppies who will be damaged for life by lobbyist reform.

When it's Sheffie Kadane's turn, he asks if it's lobbying activity for Willie Cothrum, the city's leading City Hall lobbyist, to speak to him on an issue in the corridor at City Hall while they are walking.

Perkins's answer? Yes.

It's still lobbying, even if the lobbyist is walking. And, I guess it's still lobbying in the corridor, not just in the lobby.

That's the difference: Hunt, you can tell, wants to put some teeth in this stuff. Kadane, Koop and Atkins all are worried about getting bitten.

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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