Planning Commissioner, and candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives, Rebecca Gagnon has released a statement in response to the post I published yesterday morning. She makes a couple of interesting points. My response is below.
The bulk of Gagnon’s argument has to do with a distinction between procedure and the merits. She says because she was only making a procedural argument, and not an argument on the merits, it’s no big deal.
The procedural argument was the ordinance’s only hope of making it from the Planning Commission to the City Council. The procedural argument was the whole ballgame. Whatever the Planning Commission recommended, yes or no, the City Council would have been free to ignore it. The worst possible outcome for supporters of the zoning change — and what Gagnon was trying to avoid — was for the issue to be continued to the next meeting, in procedural limbo with no action taken. As I wrote yesterday, that outcome created the very real possibility the zoning change would die for good.
Rebecca Gagnon says if the Planning Commission had actually proceeded to debate the merits of the billboard zoning change “it would have been germane to have noted publicly” that her daughter is a lobbyist for Blue Ox Media.
First, I don’t buy this argument. Gagnon should have disclosed the conflict from the outset and recused herself from the entire process.
It’s also funny to imagine if Gagnon’s colleagues had responded favorably to her procedural pleading last Monday. Now imagine if Gagnon then immediately said, “Oh by the way guys, before we get to the merits, I should let you know my daughter is a lobbyist for this billboard company.”
But if you are someone who believes in Gagnon’s made-up rule that you don’t need to disclose conflicts of interest until you begin making arguments on the merits, well, she did make an argument on the merits. As quoted in my original post, Gagnon said during the meeting, “Right now there’s a monopoly on this industry. You may or may not like that. I don’t like that.” Here’s video.
Gagnon says that while her daugher is a registered lobbyist for Blue Ox Media, neither her daughter nor the lobbying firm that employs her daughter was paid to work on behalf of Blue Ox Media.
I’m skeptical of the significance of this point. Blue Ox Media isn’t a charity and neither is Hylden Advocacy. CEO Tom McCarver was ambitious enough about his new business venture that he donated $5,100 to eight city council incumbents from July 18 to October 3. Prior to this 77 day period, I can’t find evidence that McCarver ever made a donation to Minneapolis city campaigns. That’s a significant investment of money, and the timing indicates it was directly related to the billboard zoning change; I’m sure he was hoping for a nice return on that investment. I don’t believe that while McCarver was spreading all that money around, there was nothing in it for Hylden Advocacy.
In addition to Samantha Gagnon and Nancy Hylden, Jackie Cherryhomes lobbies on behalf of Blue Ox. Is Cherryhomes’ lobbying firm also working for free? Is Hylden Advocacy literally donating their services for zero consideration while others get paid? (Someone please explain to me how lobbying works.)
But I’m gonna give the final word to random bearded Twitter guy, who says it better than I could:
Pro bono doesn’t mean lack of conflict of interest. Especially in the case of lobbying. Free now, reward later. 🙄
— Chris Sullivan (@CRSullivan) December 12, 2017