Facts SLO City Hall cannot defend

October 24, 2018

Mayor Heidi Harmon

OPINION by RICHARD SCHMIDT

It was one of those Alice in Wonderland moments observers of the San Luis Obispo City Council see so often under our current mayor’s rule.

Jeffery Specht, a candidate for the council, had just begun speaking during public comment. He’s running a low-budget campaign, so this is one of his major forums for presenting ideas. He’d got as far as stating his name, and the fact he’s a candidate, when Mayor Heidi Harmon interrupted him:

“Are you lobbying?” she demanded, in a tone more accusatory than inquisitive.

Specht, like many in the audience, was non-plussed. He hesitated, lost a bit of his three minutes of allotted time, said “maybe,” then launched into his planned denunciation of the council’s mistreatment of city residents.

What was going through Harmon’s head to cause her to interrupt Specht that way? Was it just being mean to a critic, which is common behavior for her? Or did she really think he was violating the city’s lobbying ordinance and needed to be reminded to say he’s a lobbyist?

Specht certainly wasn’t “lobbying” as that is defined by city ordinance, but because moments before Harmon had said something perfunctory about lobbyists having to register with the city clerk – a reference to the ordinance, one might assume that was the connection.

Lobbyists, or “municipal advocates” as city law calls them, have to do a good deal more than “register” with the city clerk, but Harmon’s typically soft on facts and details, and the city has never enforced the lobbying ordinance anyway. This episode looked like more of Harmon’s and the city’s being kind to powerful special interests, and hard on residents and critics, whom she brands “uncivil” merely for questioning what she promotes.

City code defines “municipal advocates” as persons paid to influence a public decision. The code requires that before they attempt to peddle influence with staff or a decision-making body, like the Planning Commission or City Council, they must register as “municipal advocates,” revealing who’s paying them to influence what, and that when speaking with staff or decision-makers they must verbally reveal this same information, as in “I am a municipal advocate representing Jane Doe.”

Before this ordinance was adopted, a fair number of people who were obviously grinding some other’s axe wouldn’t reveal whose agent they were. Sometimes decision-makers had no clue what strings were being pulled and by whom. The ordinance was intended to shed light into what had been a dark place. I was one of its authors.

Shortly after it was adopted, Common Cause, the national good government organization, singled out San Luis Obispo’s municipal advocate ordinance as an exemplary model for other small cities to adopt.

But this law has never had an easy time in its home town. City hall’s bureaucrats were never on board.

First, they arranged firing the wonderful city clerk who’d assisted residents in drafting the ordinance over objections from other city hall brass. City efforts to make the ordinance’s requirements known to lobbyists have waxed and waned over the years.

Richard Schmidt

Some mayors have understood how important the ordinance is for open government, others don’t get it. Watching Harmon’s fumbling with understanding the ordinance’s intent – daylighting paid-for-hire speech, not impeding personal speech like Specht’s – suggests she’s in the don’t get it/don’t care group.

The current city attorney told me she’s never brought a lobbying violation enforcement action in all her years with the city, which began in 2005. I can’t remember any enforcement in prior years back to ordinance adoption in 1994.

No enforcement in all that time: Is that a reasonable proposition?

It might be, if there were evidence the ordinance is being followed so faultlessly there’s no need for enforcement.

City offices are crawling with lobbyists. One would expect, if the ordinance were being taken seriously, there would be lots of registrants, and that staff in all departments would daily be reminding those seeking favors or pushing a commercial point of view to shape city decisions of their need to register.

Yet thus far in 2018, only two lobbyists have registered, and one of those is the Chamber of Commerce’s new legislative advocate, whose predecessor now works in a high administrative post for the city, as does another of her predecessors. The other registrant is an already-departed lobbyist for Bike SLO County.

With the amount of development taking place, the fact only two municipal advocates have registered this year, and neither is development-related, suggests Harmon’s city hall isn’t working to ensure compliance.

That impression is further borne out by a mere six registrations in 2017, and only one in 2016 under the previous mayor. None of those are related to development. Two are out of town lobbyists for the bottled water industry opposed to proposed city regulations, three are pro-environment lobbyists urging support for coastal protections, one is a marijuana lobbyist from Monterey, and one is another Bike SLO lobbyist since appointed chair of the city bike committee where her lobbyist function continues from inside the wormy apple.

Prior to 2016, there were no registrations from 2012 forward. None!

The city’s story is they were lost – an interesting self-inflicted indictment of incompetent record keeping. But I question that since I recall during one of my periodic checkups on who’s registered noting years when the paper filing system showed no registrants, and upon asking the city clerk being told that’s because in fact there were none.

There’s a similar gap, with no registrations, from 2002 to 2011.

And municipal advocates having to do with development lobbying? One must go back to 2002 to find a single one.

Given today’s feverish pace of development, this is preposterous. One gets the clear picture city hall is giving a pass to lobbyists for the industry that changes our physical surroundings the most – the very industry whose shenanigans had precipitated creation of the ordinance.

Not a single development lobbyist registration in the past 16 years is a fact city hall cannot defend.

Which brings us back to our confused and partisan mayor. Specht, exercising his free speech right to address the council on subjects Harmon would prefer not to have to listen to, got a “Are you lobbying?” prompt. Yet actual lobbyists for the development industry don’t. Nor, apparently, does anyone at city hall inform them they must register.

Common Cause may extol our lobbying ordinance, but it takes an engaged and supportive mayor and staff to make it work, and it appears SLO has neither at this time.


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cynic

i don’t really understand this but i think it’s funny how they photoshopped dude’s photo with a grey background to make it look like a mugshot


George Bailey

Folks,


Vote NO on Heidi Harmon.


It is becoming clearer and clearer that Heidi Harmon is the wrong person to be SLO’s mayor, and only the most radical, ardent far-left extreme liberals support her reelection.  She has failed us with her whacky agenda, and I am fed up with the fact that she is cozy with out-of-town developers, taking money from them to push their agenda.


We deserve better than a failed mayor who violates her own ‘civility pledge’, acting immature at a political forum, throwing microphones, and walking out while her opponent is speaking.  She acts hypocritically and does not tolerate opposing viewpoints.  This is not healthy.


Her opponent, Keith Gurnee, is mature, focused and wise.  He welcomes ALL voices, acts maturely, and has the talent to bring our community together.  Mr. Gurnee is a man of integrity and has the necessary skill set to help our community move forward on a range of issues.


On Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, vote Mr. Keith Gurnee for SLO Mayor.


Vote Jeffrey Spright & James Lopes to SLO City Council.


Vote NO on Carlyn Christianson, Aaron Gomez & Heidi Harmon.


Thanks!


Mr. George Bailey


mary margaret

While Mayor Harmon gives lip service to “civility” she’s actually a behind the scenes bully. She wields her power to accuse and threaten removal from future meetings in her private emails. Is that why a uniformed SLOPD officer sits at the back corner of council meetings since her regime took over? When it’s a contentious issue there are sometimes two officers. This is not a secret if you attend council meetings. She is a total hypocrite. She’s stormed out on citizens politely expressing their opinions if they differ from her’s. She also often focuses her uncivil behavior on women more than men. She’s oh-so- sweet to her followers and admirers though and extremely civil to them. It’s shocking to be one of the targets of her bullying and incivility when it’s all due to an apparent intolerance of different opinions than those of the Mayor.


aye-caramba

Face it, most of us were hoping for better, but it is painful and uncomfortable to watch this gal lead at all… it would be better for all of us if she were to return to eco-advocacy, and have the adults return to the helm.


nazbol gang

VOTE THEM ALL OUT.

Good reporting, Schmidt. I’m glad I found this web site. Sadly, SLO is how you spell corruption now. I’ve heard several anecdotes from workers who’ve had to deal with Harmon about her elitism, rudeness, pushy attitude, disregard for common courtesy etc etc. So basically SLO has been forced wide open and there is a huge cash grab going on by the trendies and fundies trampling all over the law. People like Harmon are hoping to smooth it all over with a veneer of progressivism. She cries out in pain as she stabs you in the back.


JordanJ

While Heidi Harmon says she wants to hear from everyone, her angry, rude and ignorant behaviors say otherwise. I do not care that Harmon was a maid and an aide at a preschool before being elected mayor, but the issue is she refuses to educate herself. She repeatedly interrupts speakers she does not agree with in violation of open meeting laws. She needs to go!