Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has introduced a package of ethics reforms that would strengthen gift reporting requirements, impose stronger penalties for violations and create a website so the public has better access to ethics disclosures.
Thomas Cook, the mayor's chief of staff, told The Indianapolis Star that the city has had a lobbying ordinance for six years, but no enforcement actions have ever been taken.
"Either everyone was being completely lawful and ethical, or the system wasn't working," Cook said.
Cook said one of the problems with the existing law is specificity, because a lobbyist has to report certain gifts, such as food and travel expenses, but they can omit things that don't fall into specific categories.
"As long as you weren't getting a car, a boat or very specific things, you could say, 'well, it's not on the list,'" Cook said. "Well, we're specifically now saying, anything of value you give to a public official, it needs to be reported." That regulation applies to gifts valued at $25 or more.
He said another problem is inconsistency in penalties for lobbyists and contractors who break the rules.
Hogsett's proposal also calls for the creation of a web portal, called "Disclose Indy," that would provide a slew of information, including ethics disclosures and other documents that are already available to the public but scattered across an aging city website. The city would be required to post audits, campaign finance reports, contracts, crime statistics, public expenditures and other information.
Other changes in the proposal include establishing one-year cooling-off periods that would temporarily ban former city employees from working for a contractor they used to oversee, and from lobbying city agencies they used to work for. Also, existing employees who have another job couldn't do contract work with the city agency they work for.
The Rules and Public Policy Committee will be briefed Tuesday on the proposal.