“Open government” is a fundamental democratic principle in this nation and something that separates us from lesser democratic ones. One of the ways to show that government is “open” is by showing with whom the elected official is meeting. As former San Diego Council Member Donna Frye noted, “The public has a right to know who is meeting with their elected officials and why.” Without transparency on meetings, a culture of secrecy emerges making it easier to have the cliche “back-room” deals.
This is why the time has come for the City of Chula Vista to require lobbyists to register with the city. San Diego requires it, Oceanside requires it, the County requires it, so, why not Chula Vista? This registration is a simple list that just states who, what, where and when. Any individual, who is paid to discuss business with the City, would just need to report their name, the name of the company they represent, the subject matter and the time and location when they spoke to the city official. That’s it. Would everyone who deals with city government have to register as a lobbyist? No, only if someone is getting paid to discuss the highest level business with the highest level officials at the city. Sorry, if you need a permit to remodel your bathroom, you can’t call yourself a lobbyist.
Initially, the process should be kept simple and focus only on registration of names. Does the person have a client or employer that is paying for the service of discussing high-level issues with the city? If the answer is “yes,” then, that person needs to register. Of course, the devil is in the details and the more exceptions that are added, the less open the process becomes.
On Wednesday, February 17, the Board of Ethics decided to move forward with this proposal. After it sends its final draft to the City Council, that body can show that it has nothing to hide by implementing it. As expected, those who prefer to do government business behind closed doors will oppose this simple registration. Ironically, we won’t know who opposed it because it will be done in secret. On the other hand, if the City institutes lobbyist registration, it will help contribute to public confidence in the integrity of our local government and help to foster democracy in our city.