As the lobbyist turns
Revelations about the city’s garbage contracts gave rise to complaints about a “revolving door” for former city managers-turned-lobbyist at City Hall. But the issue is more complicated than local media reports let on.
As mentioned in these pages a couple of weeks back (see “Garbage in,” SN&R Bites, July 5) the Sacramento County grand jury blasted city leaders for a garbage contract with BLT Enterprises. The gist of the report is that the contract was a rip-off for taxpayers—in ways too numerous to name here.
But the grand jury also complained that “lobbying by immediate past city managers was problematic for some City staff.”
Those “immediate” past city managers—Bill Edgar and Bob Thomas—actually left their posts years ago. Edgar left city employment in 1999; Thomas in 2005.
Both men took money from BLT Enterprises to negotiate an agreement between the city, county and the company that would stop hauling the city’s garbage to Nevada and start dumping it at the county’s Kiefer Landfill. The contract was negotiated in 2010.
It turned out to be a costly one for the city. And while it wasn’t the biggest or most obvious problem cited in its report, the grand jury hinted the influence of Edgar and Thomas was partly to blame.
“The City Council should consider a prohibition precluding former City employees from lobbying, consulting or advising on City contracts for a period of 1-5 years after separation from city employment,” the report reads.
The Sacramento Bee editorial page also complained about Edgar and Thomas’ “unique powers of persuasion,” and Councilwoman Angelique Ashby told online news site Sacramento Press that she wanted to end the practice of revolving door lobbying, noting that the state of California has policies against it.
“It’s imperative that we discuss the Grand Jury findings and modifications to policy to address any issues we have,” she told the Press.
But, in fact, the city of Sacramento already has a policy banning lobbying by city employees for one year. It’s the same policy as the state.
Like the state, the city’s policy prohibits employees from lobbying on any subject matter that had direct involvement in when they worked in government. For a former city manager, that means pretty much any subject.
Edgar was Sacramento’s city manager up until March 1999. He started working with BLT in May 2005, more than four years later. Thomas left the city at the end of 2005, also well before the 2010 contract was being hammered out.
In Edgar’s case, the issue is complicated, because he came back in 2011 for six months as interim city manager while the city looked for a permanent chief executive. Edgar had finished his lobbying work with BLT in December 2010.
Both Edgar and Thomas were well within the time limits set by city’s revolving-door lobbying rules. But the city could always consider tougher limits.
SN&R was not able to find a comprehensive list of revolving-door rules for local governments by press time. But according to the watchdog group Public Citizen, only about half of the states in the United States prohibit staff from coming back as lobbyists within the first year. Of those, six states have a two-year ban.