A proposed "revolving door ordinance" that would bar former Santa Monica city officials and high-ranking employees from doing business with the city for an extended period of time has been returned to City Atty. Robert M. Myers after a first reading.
The City Council on Tuesday asked Myers to narrow the ordinance and make it more specific. Council members also expressed concerns that the broad terms of the ordinance would prohibit them from giving free advice to developers and other people after they left office.
They told Myers that paid employees should be more restricted after they leave city service than officials who receive little or no compensation for their service. Myers said he would bring a revision back to the council in two to four weeks.
"Bob (Myers) had basically written the ordinance so that (former) council members couldn't give anyone free advice and that's kind of silly," said Mayor Christine E. Reed. "When we leave office we're often looked to for advice."
Councilman Alan S. Katz said the ordinance should specifically prohibit former city officers and employees from receiving financial gain from associations with people or companies who do business with the city.
"The ordinance was extremely well done," Katz said. "But it's crucial that the public be reassured that (city officials and employees) won't hedge their decisions when they're in office because they're conscious of what they'll be doing when they're out of office."
Mayor Reed first raised concerns in January about high-ranking employees and officials earning unfair benefits from public service.
No one has made specific allegations about impropriety, but the ordinance was suggested after former City Manager John Alschuler Jr. joined a consulting firm that had done economic analysis on the city's land-use plan. Council members said other former employees and officials have also joined or legally represented firms doing business with the city.
"It was somewhat dismaying to see city employees walk out this door and into the arms of developers," Reed said. "There was the appearance that you gain your experience on the public payroll and turn around and sell that experience and knowledge to the private sector."
The ordinance would apply to all department heads and some top-level assistants. The law would also affect City Council members and members of the city Planning Commission and Architecture Review Board. It would not affect employees who have already left the city. Myers suggested that anyone who violated the ordinance be fined up to $500 for each violation.
City Manager John Jalili told the council that such laws are common at the state and federal level, but are rare in municipalities. Myers said his initial suggestions were based on state and federal laws.
"The proposed revolving-door ordinance would prohibit former city officials from ever engaging in lobbying and advocacy activities before the city, where the matter is one in which the city official participated personally and substantially during the term of his or her employment," the draft said.
Members Generally Pleased
"Additionally, this ordinance would impose a two-year prohibition on representation for compensation before city administrative bodies, on any subject whatsoever, whether or not such matter was one in which the city official participated. The intent of the ordinance is to prevent former city officials from using confidential information or knowledge gained during their tenure with the city in order to influence a proceeding to their advantage.
Council members seemed generally pleased with Myers' effort, but made several suggestions for changes in the hourlong discussion on the issue. Instead of two years, Reed suggested a six-month prohibition on former officials and employees receiving compensation for appearing before the city.
Reed also suggested that the Santa Monica Rent Control Board consider adopting the ordinance. And several council members asked for more specific language.