City Hall

Ethics Department: Ceis Can Lobby City

By Erica C. Barnett February 4, 2011

Lobbying by former deputy mayor Tim Ceis has raised eyebrows around City Hall, where some have suggested his presence might run afoul of rules designed to prevent ex-city employees from immediately lobbying their former employer, on the grounds that former employees have more influence and inside knowledge of City Hall than other lobbyists. Ceis recently started a new lobbying firm called Ceis Bayne East Strategic, along with former city council liaison Emelie East and longtime Ron Sims aide Ryan Bayne; the firm has lobbied the city on several issues.

However, the director of the city's Ethics and Elections division says city law allows Ceis to lobby anyone in the city except the mayor's office itself.

City law includes a number of outs for public employees that render the "prohibited conduct" law, aimed at preventing the "revolving door" phenomenon, largely toothless.

The first out: Although the law prohibits former employees and officials from communicating "with an employee of the agency of the City with which he or she was previously employed" for a year after they leave the city, the ethics division has interpreted that literally---meaning that Ceis can lobby the city as long as he doesn't lobby the mayor's office directly.

(Similarly, Ceis' partner Emilie East, the former liaison to the city council under Mayor Greg Nickels, is only barred from contacting employees at the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, the agency that technically employed her.)

The second out: Although city law also prohibits former employees from "assist[ing] any person on a matter in which he or she participated," the firm of a former employee is allowed to do just that. Ceis' firm, Ceis Bayne East Strategic,  lobbies on behalf of Russell Investments to change the sign code---an issue on which Ceis presumably worked at the mayor's office---but Ceis himself isn't registered to lobby for Russell.

If an employee can leave the city, turn around, and immediately start lobbying the city (including the city council, which ultimately makes all legislative decisions), then what is the point of the city's lobbying policy? "The legislative determination was that if you're lobbying your former department, that's where you're going to have influence," ethics and elections director Wayne Barnett says. "It was meant to get at [the question of], do you have any special inside knowledge or experience?"
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