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In a contentious debate harkening back to last year’s election, the Cambridge City Council sent a resolution to committee that could potentially institute municipal lobbying regulations.
According to sponsoring Councillors Jan Devereux, Nadeem A. Mazen, and Dennis J. Carlone, the resolution aims to make local government transparent and accountable by disclosing conversations and donations associated with lobbyists.
“It would benefit the public to require lobbyists to register and publicly report their work in the City of Cambridge,” the Council’s resolution read.
The resolution cited similar legislation making its way through the Massachusetts State Senate and Boston City Council. It also gave examples of cities across the nation that had implemented lobbying regulations like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.
“People are talking about having the same types of disclosures that exist at the federal level,” Mazen said. “Those meetings and those actions you take as a lobbyist are under greater and much more transparent public scrutiny.”
While the resolution passed, some council members expressed concerns that neighborhood groups would fall under the categorization of lobbyist.
“If we’re trying to encourage transparency at all levels of government, whose life does it include?” Councillor Craig A. Kelley said. “It’s not entirely clear. I think we need to specifically figure out what it is we are looking for before we turn around and say ‘this is how we regulate it’.”
However, Devereux said that regulations would not impact local activists but rather individuals who receive substantial payment for their efforts and interactions with the City Council.
“That is not what we’re looking at,” Devereux said. “We’re looking at paid professionals representing clients.”
Such disagreements reminded some councillors of the previous election cycle, in which topics of campaign finance were of great importance.
“Transparency, lobbying, and public disclosure were a part of the last election,” Mazen said. “Some people have a huge preponderance of their money coming from special interests.”
“It costs a surprising amount of money to run a campaign for city council,” Devereux said. “[The resolution] was not to dredge up any divisive feelings left over from the campaign.”
The Council was split according to last election’s slates on where to send the resolution next. Devereux, Carlone, and Mazen originally intended for the resolution to be sent to the City Manager for review, however, the remaining six councillors preferred to send the order to the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for further discussion. Councillors Devereux, Carlone, and Mazen were, unlike the other six councillors, not members of the “Unity Slate” from last fall’s election.
“I think the signal that some of my colleagues are sending in not sending it to the Manager is ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we took our time with this’ rather than everyone circle their wagons because this is important,” Mazen said. “I think people are just putting their priorities out there on full display.”
Discussion on the resolution had been postponed from the council’s meeting on March 21 after Kelley suggested the council do “some more research.”
The Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee is currently in the process of determining a successor to City Manager Richard C. Rossi, a process which may delay the discussion of this resolution.
—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.
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