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Lobbying Dos and Don’ts for Neighborhood Councils

INTRODUCTION:

Neighborhood Councils are an important source of political information and news for their communities, so it is natural to want to encourage stakeholder engagement with state and federal elections. However, as public officials, Neighborhood Councils and their board members must follow certain legal guidelines when taking positions or posting information about political issues, ballot measures, and candidates.

The Office of the City Attorney is the best authority for Neighborhood Council boards and board members to consult regarding the Dos and Don’ts of lobbying and of making statements regarding ballot measures and state or federal legislation. Please use the procedure outlined in this document to contact the Office of the City Attorney for advice on this and other Neighborhood Council-related matters.

Below is a best practices overview regarding Neighborhood Councils and lobbying. This latest version has been updated to include the use of digital media outlets and tools, such as email newsletters, Nextdoor, and social media.

 

NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCILS and BALLOT MEASURES/LOBBYING/STATE & FEDERAL LEGISLATION

 

Ballot Measure – Do’s

Neighborhood Councils may take positions on a ballot measure (City or state) before it is placed on a ballot and communicate their positions to the City Council.

Neighborhood Councils may state their position taken on a proposed ballot measure (City or state) in their minutes and may post the minutes on its website if the Neighborhood Council regularly posts its minutes on its website.

Neighborhood Councils may host informational forums about ballot measures (City or state). The forums must provide equal time to each viewpoint to enable all sides to present their positions. Neighborhood Councils should refer and adhere to the guidelines provided by the City Attorney regarding forums.

Neighborhood Councils may use public funds or Neighborhood Council resources to provide neutral and objective factual material about a ballot measure only upon request. For example, Neighborhood Councils may provide the text of the ballot measure and provide information on where and when people may vote. Neighborhood Councils may place this type of factual, content-neutral information on their website, social media accounts, or in their newsletters and other outreach material.

Neighborhood Councils may take positions on a ballot measure (City or state) after it is placed on a ballot, provided the position is taken at a regular meeting, opposing and supporting views are treated equally, and it is made clear that the Neighborhood Council is only directing its position to the City Council (although there is greater risk in doing so as court cases are unclear on this point.)

 

Ballot Measure – Don’ts

Neighborhood Councils may not spend public funds or use Neighborhood Council resources to publicize their position on the ballot measure (City or state) after it qualifies for the ballot.

Neighborhood Councils may not spend public funds or use Neighborhood Council resources to publicize their position to members of the public on a proposed ballot measure (City or state) such as: paying for ads in newspapers, posting the position on their website or social media accounts or in their newsletters, disseminating flyers, organizing rallies, etc.

Neighborhood Councils may not provide only one side of the issue when providing information about the ballot measure (City or state) at informational forums. If a representative supporting or opposing the issue is unable to attend the meeting, another meeting should be scheduled to allow the unrepresented side to be presented. No Neighborhood Council board member may participate as an advocate for or against a ballot measure at the forum.

Neighborhood Councils may not use public funds or Neighborhood Council resources to provide a slanted, biased or inaccurate description about a ballot (City or state) measure. Neighborhood Councils may not use public funds or Neighborhood Council resources to disseminate information about a ballot measure through newsletters or other mass mailing devices, or on their website or social media outlets.

Neighborhood Councils may not hold special meetings to take a position on a ballot measure (City or state) after it appears on the ballot; they should agendize the item at a regular Neighborhood Council meeting and ensure that supporting and opposing views on the measure are treated equally and should direct their position to the City Council, not the public.

 

Federal or State Legislation Do’s

Neighborhood Councils may advise the City’s decision makers regarding what position the City should take on state or federal legislation. Individual Neighborhood Council members may lobby or advocate their personal position on state or federal legislation, provided no public funds or Neighborhood Council resources are used.

 

Federal or State Legislation – Don’ts

Neighborhood Councils may not advocate their positions on state and federal legislation to non-City governmental agencies. (Only the Mayor and the City Council have power over intergovernmental relations, which include advocating the City’s position on laws that are pending with state or federal agencies or before the state legislature or federal government.)

 

Federal or State Legislation – Do’s

Neighborhood Councils may advise the City’s decision makers regarding what position the City should take on state or federal legislation. Individual Neighborhood Council members may lobby or advocate their personal position on state or federal legislation, provided no public funds or Neighborhood Council resources are used.

 

Neighborhood Council Positions – Do’s

Neighborhood Councils may advise the City’s decision makers on their actions taken and reflect those actions in their minutes.

Neighborhood Councils may encourage stakeholders to attend public meetings to gather information and provide public input on an issue coming before the City’s decision makers

Neighborhood Council board members may, in their individual capacities, and outside of Neighborhood Council meetings, advocate for or against any issue, including ballot measures.

 

Neighborhood Council Lobbying – Don’ts

Neighborhood Councils may not advocate their positions to non-City governmental agencies because Neighborhood Councils, pursuant to the Charter, are advisory to the City’s decision makers.

Neighborhood Councils may not use public funds or Neighborhood Council resources to advocate to members of the public their position taken. Accordingly, Neighborhood Councils may not use public funds or Neighborhood Council resources to urge members of the public to support the Neighborhood Council’s position, e.g., by sending flyers, emails, or newsletters asking them to support a certain position, posting “Vote No on Project X” on its websites or social media accounts, etc.

Neighborhood Council board members may not use Neighborhood Council resources or public funds to advocate, in their individual capacities, for or against any issue, including ballot measures.

 

By |2019-01-25T13:53:30-07:00January 25th, 2019|Blog, How-To|Comments Off on Lobbying Dos and Don’ts for Neighborhood Councils
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