Lobbyist balks at Council transparency bill

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 12:00am

When it comes to land use and zoning bills, Metro Council has developed the practice of closely listening to neighborhood residents as a primary determinant in whether the legislation passes or not.

In the last year or so, District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman believes there have been instances where public opinion on Metro zoning bills has been influenced by push polling and lobbying efforts, which sometimes contained wrong information.

In response, Holleman has filed a bill that would amend the zoning code and make reporting public lobbying efforts a condition of conducting a Council public hearing. If a group proposing a zoning change lobbies members of the public, and doesn’t report such action to Council, then the bill would be deferred by rule.

“This bill is trying to weed out people who intentionally pass out misinformation,” he said. “It’s not intended to infringe anyone’s right to political speech. It doesn’t inhibit anyone’s right to speak about anything at anytime.”

Holleman’s bill has drawn the ire of Nashville’s lobbying community, which believes it takes unprecedented action and infringes on a person’s constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment.

Super lobbyist James Weaver from the firm Waller Lansden Dortch and Davis registered with the Metro Clerk on June 16 so he can lobby against Holleman’s bill. The plan is to pass the bill when it is on public hearing July 7 and then defer it for more fine-turning on third reading, Holleman said.

"There is a saying in the legal biz, 'difficult cases tend to make make really bad law,’” Weaver said. “This effort and Councilman Holleman's bill is a poster child for that old saying. While our clients and I understand perhaps Councilman Holleman's intent, we sincerely and respectfully question his method. [We view this as] an unneeded, unprecedented new local regulatory scheme that seems to contain criminal liability for failure to comprehend and report the most minute details of a landowners efforts to put his or her property to its highest and best use.

“In no case can we support an ordinance that so clearly violates at least three different principles contained in the First Amendment.”

As it stands now, the bill would amend zoning code to require disclosure of lobbying, push polling and similar efforts to sway the public. Holleman said it was possible he would amend the bill so it was included in the Metro code pertaining to registered lobbyists instead.

The bill does not require those who oppose a zoning bill to register when they make similar public lobbying efforts.

6 Comments on this post:

By: seanche on 6/23/09 at 12:48

“This bill is trying to weed out people who intentionally pass out misinformation,” he said. “It’s not intended to infringe anyone’s right to political speech. It doesn’t inhibit anyone’s right to speak about anything at anytime.” Jason Holleman

Be careful Jason, you might end up weeding yourself out. You ought to be giving advice on controlling the people to the Mullahs in Iran. Mr. Misinformation

By: Kosh III on 6/23/09 at 5:53

This would require lobbyists to tell the truth and the lobbyists are opposed because it would violate their constitutional right to tell lies.

By: govskeptic on 6/23/09 at 6:07

"Lobbist Balks": What a surprise! This well known lobbist only registered as same with the coursel to oppose this legislation. All person that are paid one nickel for same should at least have to register. It's not fair to the taxpayers to have it otherwise.

By: girliegirl on 6/23/09 at 7:34

Mr. Councilman, what if the lobbying is being done by a neighborhood activist who isn't considered to be a lobbyist? If I don't like the Maytown project and I start phoning people in that area and giving them wrong information, I could "kill" the bill temporarily over and over, correct? And what if we posted misinformation about it on FaceBook or another Public domain? Your bill will assist activists in killing ANY development or growth or even re-urbanization in the city. Maybe you should "defer" this bill....

By: JeffF on 6/23/09 at 9:52

No word on how the taxpayer-paid lobbyist at McNeely, Piggot, & Fox will be effected by this legislation. These rules are aimed at stomping on their competition. Oh it must be nice to have the man you supported so heavily be mayor of Metro.

By: courier37027 on 6/23/09 at 8:28

Watch it Jeff, you are getting close to insulting the education, uh, green, er, committee creating, oops, pet control, oops, administration as pure as wind-driven snow mayor.