Kennard Resigns City Lobbying Job
Former city attorney quitting rather than continue
in a position as the City of Austin’s chief lobbyist
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Posted Tuesday June 30, 2015 4:16pm
Updated Tuesday June 30, 2015 5:10pm (to add Council Member Tovo’s comments)
Updated Tuesday June 30, 2015 5:27pm (to add link to the city manager’s memo)
“I believe that she would have continued to deliver outstanding service in this function,” Ott stated in a memo to the mayor and city council members. “She has committed to staying with us for a few months to ensure that we can transition these important duties.”
Kennard, city attorney since March 2011, was assigned in December to head the city’s lobbying team on an interim basis during the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature, filling a critical gap left by the retirement of the city’s longtime lobbyists John Hrncir and Rod Ellis.
Kennard did not immediately return a message left on her home telephone for a comment.
Ott praised Kennard for her work during the session. “Austin faces critical issues in every session and this one was no exception,” Ott wrote. “I believe that Karen’s expertise and experience ... helped Austin defend against bills that would have limited, or in some cases eliminated, your local control. She was instrumental in our support of the Council adopted agenda. As I knew she would, Karen excelled in a difficult environment.”
Kennard’s stormy tenure
The city attorney reports directly to the city manager and yet is the chief legal counsel to the City Council, a role that requires a delicate dance in avoiding the displeasure of either.
Attorney Bill Aleshire of Aleshire Law PC, a former Travis County judge, has been a continuing critic of the way the city responds to public information requests since that function was transferred from the Public Information Office to the Law Department in the wake of the Travis County Attorney’s investigation of the city’s disturbing open government violations, exposed by The Austin Bulldog’s investigative report published January 25, 2011. (See “Open Meetings, Closed Minds.”)
Kennard was city attorney at that time and Mayor Lee Leffingwell claimed in news reports that the regularly scheduled round-robin meetings being held in circumvention of the Texas Open Meetings Act had been authorized by the city attorney. (See “Mayor Claims Lawyers Okayed Private Meetings But City Won’t Release Proof.”)
Aleshire recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin on behalf of client Brian Rodgers because of the city’s failure to respond to his several requests filed under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA). (See “City Sued Over Public Records.”)
“With Kennard’s resignation, I expect the quality of legal advice to the City to be improved,” Aleshire said. “For example, I strongly suspect that had Ms. Kennard done a better job as city attorney, (1) the prior Council would not have gotten in trouble for Open Meetings violations, (2) the City’s public information system—housed in Kennard’s law department—would have performed better and avoided lawsuits, (3) financial disclosure laws would have been enforced instead of ignored, and (4) the City Parks staff and purchasing office would not be ignoring the Charter prohibition against giving up parkland to private profiteers without voter approval.
“I also recall Ms. Kennard giving outrageously wrong legal advice to the City Council telling them, that under the City Charter, the Council could not adopt a policy requiring City employees to put all e-mails about city business on the city’s computer so they were subject to disclosure under the TPIA.”
Kennard’s lobbying praised, interim successor continues
Posted Sunday, January 22, 2012 9:30pm
Updated Friday, January 27, 2012 3:20pm
Lobbyists Can Only Give Candidates $25 But
Can Collect Unlimited Contributions for Them
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012
Why would city regulations prohibit a registered city lobbyist from contributing more than $25 to an officeholder or candidate for mayor or city council, but allow a lobbyist to solicit and bundle unlimited contributions on behalf of officeholders and candidates?
That was a question the 2012 Charter Revision Committee dealt with in its meeting last Thursday.
Based on the case presented by its five-member working group, the Committee voted 12-1 (with David Butts and Kathleen Vale absent) to approve a recommended change that would limit the amount of bundled contributions by registered city lobbyists to a maximum of $1,750 per candidate per election cycle for individual bundlers and $3,500 per candidate per election cycle for firms that bundle. This restriction would not apply to anyone who is not a registered city lobbyist.
This restriction would put a severe crimp in the kind of fundraising that some registered city lobbyists are doing for current officeholders.
The Austin Bulldog’s analysis of the most recent contribution reports filed by the four members of the City Council running for re-election—Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, and Council Members Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole—indicates that two registered city lobbyists bundled a total of $33,500 $44,470 in single reporting period for Leffingwell, Martinez, and Spelman. (Added Spelman’s bundled contributions to previous total January 27, 2012.)
In reality they bundled even more than that, but the contribution reports report filed by Cole and Spelman list lists only the names of bundlers and do does not identify the specific contributions these lobbyists solicited on their her behalf.
Lawyer-lobbyist David Armbrust of Armbrust & Brown PLLC bundled 24 contributions totaling $8,400 for Leffingwell, and 29 contributions totaling $10,150 for Martinez, and 36 contributions totaling $11,200 for Spelman. According to the lobbyist registration information posted on the city’s website, Armbrust has 17 clients involved in building, real estate and real estate development, financial services, hotels, property management, energy, and waste disposal.
Lawyer-lobbyist Michael Whellan of Graves Dougherty Hearon and Moody bundled 26 contributions totaling $8,050 for Leffingwell and 20 contributions totaling $6,900 for Martinez. City lobbyist registration records indicate Whellan has 13 clients, including property owners, real estate developers, taxi cabs, healthcare provider, and music.
The ambiguity of the current City Code regarding how to report bundled contributions was also addressed by the Charter Revision Committee. Members present voted unanimously to recommend more stringent and accessible disclosure of all bundled contributions.
With no discussion, the Charter Revision Committee also voted unanimously to recommend that Article X, Section 2 of the City Charter be clarified to indicate that ex-officio members of the Planning Commission are non-voting members whose attendance does not affect quorum requirements. Both the City Council and the Planning Commission had referred this matter to the Committee for consideration.
These recommendations will be forwarded to the Austin City Council, along with all the recommendations previously approved by the committee, for possible action.
What City Code requires