Fullerton Elects First Lobbyist-Mayor




It's like the designer of the City Seal KNEW this was coming!

It’s like the designer of the City Seal KNEW that this was coming!

Well, to be more correct, Fullerton is about to elect its first lobbyist mayor.  And to be completely truthful, the mayor won’t be an official lobbyist — just a lobbyist’s Vice President.  In both cases, perhaps a distinction without a difference, but perhaps not.

This evening, the Fullerton City Council will nominate and confirm Jennifer Fitzgerald as its new mayor.  It will do so after stating that Ms. Fitzgerald is a pillar of the service community who is unquestionably trustworthy.

This post is not about Jennifer Fitzgerald.  I believe I’ve had exactly one five minute conversation with her and she seems perfectly pleasant and trustworthy to me.  It’s also not about her employer, Curt Pringle and Associates — a firm that she joined after being elected in 2012.  It’s simply about process.  While I have my own personal biases concerning Ms. Fitzgerald’s public policy decisions and well as those of her employer, what I offer below would apply to anyone.

This is, yet again, a post about Fullerton confusing what it can do with what it should do.

A healthy democratic government does not serve two masters.  It does not multitask, it does not moonlight, and it does not wear multiple hats.

A healthy democratic government serves the people.  It does no more; it does no less.

Fullerton elects five representatives to serve as its delegates to enact and enforce local laws.  Each representative serves a term of four years.  Each year, Fullerton appoints a Mayor from its council to serve a one year term.  While the Mayor’s duties are largely ceremonial, the Mayor wields several public policy tools– such as setting agendas and chairing council meetings– and also represents the city in both official and ceremonial capacities.  These are additional responsibilities above and beyond a councilperson’s part time job, but full time duty.

Naturally, requiring our local elected officials to undertake a part-time position with full-time responsibilities  creates tension.  This position requires our councilpersons to maintain full time employment, to be retired, or to be independently wealthy.  While Fullerton has its share of independently wealthy residents, historically its council either composes itself of fully employed residents or retirees.  While it’s understandably difficult to balance the responsibilities of life and being an elected official, it is the job these folks signed up for.  When balancing creates conflict, we require our elected officials to honor their duty to their constituents first.  Their duty to themselves and their families, well, to be frank– we don’t care.  Don’t like it?  Don’t run for office.

So, our elected officials start their council meetings at the end of the work day.  That requires sacrifice.  Sacrifice from family, from professional opportunity, and from investments.  We don’t allow elected officials to use their station to personally enrich themselves.  Own a trash hauling business?  Sorry, you can’t award yourself a contract.  Own shares in a trash hauling business?  Sorry, you can’t award yourself a contract.  Work for a trash hauling business?  Sorry, you still can’t award your boss a contract.

But what if you could?

What if, instead of public service being a sacrifice, it were actually a boon?  What if instead of spending time away from your family and your career, you could instead spend your time as part of your career?

What if you could get paid to do your job, while doing another job?  What if while you were running around town delivering speeches, meeting people, and advocating for the needs and rights of the Fullerton taxpayer, you could also represent the needs and wants of . . . someone else?

Would that be legal?  Yes.  It absolutely would.  It’s called being a lobbyist and it’s perfectly legal, so long as  you’re not doing while being a state or federal official.  There’s no prohibition at the local level.

From Curt Pringle and Associates, my emphasis added of course:

Curt Pringle & Associates has a competitive advantage in serving clients who seek to do business with state or local governments. The firm has the knowledge, expertise and experience in how government works and brings those skills and abilities to bear to provide an unparalleled level of service. Each member of our team possesses and maintains extensive contacts with elected and appointed officials and government staff throughout the region to effectively communicate client objectives.

Our local government affairs efforts have provided a variety of private companies the opportunity to learn more about local government, communicate their messages to key local government leaders, and expand their opportunities with these entities.

What’s the Mayor of Fullerton’s job?

1) To represent Fullerton with other local governments?  Yes.

2) To maintain extensive contacts with elected and appointed officials and government staff throughout the region?  Absolutely.

3) To communicate Fullerton’s legislative platform to key local government leaders? You betcha.

4) To expand Fullerton’s opportunities with these entities?  Of course.

Again, from Curt Pringle and Associates, my emphasis added:

Jennifer was elected to the Fullerton City Council in November 2012.  In her first two years in office, Jennifer played a key role in several significant accomplishments, including a retroactive refund of water rate overcharges, public safety reform, and an aggressive plan to repair the cities’ aging roads and water infrastructure.

Ms. Fitzgerald represents the City of Fullerton on the Board of Directors for the Association of California Cities-Orange County Chapter and she is a Member of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Taxpayers Association. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Pringle is advertising that he can get things done because of Ms. Fitzgerald’s connections.  I have absolutely no problem with an elected official putting their accomplishments on behalf of the people on their CV.  In fact, I encourage it . . . but I think that advertising that the Mayor of Fullerton’s connections are up for sale or rent is an absolute recipe for disaster.

We all have to balance needs and wants in life.  I want to lease a new BMW, but I also want to send my kids to college.  One openly conflicts with the other.  Trying to do both inevitably results in disaster.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Fullerton can’t afford a Lobbyist who moonlights as Mayor.  Tonight, though, that’s exactly what we’re going to get.

About Ryan Cantor

Our conservative columnist, raised in North Orange County, works as an auditor.