What does the Burbank City Council have to hide?
That's the question many are, or should be, asking after the council's decision last week to kill a proposal to require paid lobbyists to register with the city before they discuss projects with city officials.
Council members dismissed the proposal because, they said, there were no problems here in Burbank. But why wait until there is a problem? The council should be proactive ? let the people of Burbank know how important it is to them that everything be above board. There is no such thing as an unnecessary precaution ? particularly in politics ? that's why its called a precaution, to protect against possible danger.
The council's move was especially disappointing at a time when, on the national scene, concerns abound over government eavesdropping without a court order and when, locally, residents worry about the influence developers and unions have in local elections.
In the midst of all this, City Councilwoman Marsha Ramos' idea of establishing an ordinance requiring lobbyists being paid by outside agencies to register with the city before discussions with city officials and elected leaders was a refreshing dose of sunshine.
With such an ordinance on the books, city officials would know off the bat that whoever they were dealing with was being paid to try and influence them. And by extension, the public would have been in the loop on who was lobbying their leaders, because under Ramos' proposal, they would have been required to disclose their interests to the city.
But Ramos' idea was short-lived ? hushed by a council that didn't think it was needed.
Much to what should have been their chagrin, Councilmen Dave Golonski and Jef Vander Borght did not see how such an ordinance was relevant. Council members, Golonski said, are largely aware of the interests of persons who approach them on city business.
Of course they are, but that doesn't make elected officials any less accountable. And if a law can make them more accountable, then it should be on the books. A good bet says most of council members' constituents don't know who their leaders are doing business with.
Vander Borght said he meets with only 10 to 12 people each year, half of whom are homeowners or concerned citizens, the other half attorneys. If a few lobbyists start to slip in there, they could start influencing policy. Just by broaching the subject of who is lobbying the city, we are enlightened with a glimpse of who leaders are meeting with.
Imagine if there was ordinance that backed up the public's right to know who is trying to influence city decisions.
Burbank had a chance here to shed some light on its political process, and in so doing, promote open government and accountability. Instead, by not allowing city staff to identify lobbyists paid to represent outside agencies, the council missed an opportunity to keep its constituents in the loop on who wants to do business in the city.
What's worse, it was the second time in three years that the city shot the idea down.
Too bad. In doing so, it cast a new June gloom over sunshine on government.