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Lobbying at City Hall 

By Gilbert Garcia

Two weeks ago, when attorney Ted Lee publicly confronted District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian over her role in the City's zoning process, one of his big assertions was that Cibrian has an overly chummy relationship with lobbyist Bill Kaufman.

The Current, which looked into Cibrian's front-end role in the zoning process last month `"Boundary Issues," February 4, 2009`, recently filed an open-records request with the City to look at email communications between Cibrian and Kaufman in the two years since she became a member of Council.

While the emails do not provide any examples of Kaufman explicitly bending Cibrian's thinking to suit his lobbying agenda, they do indicate that a mutual-admiration society exists between the lobbyist and the Councilmember.

Before Cibrian addressed the North Chamber of Commerce in November, 2007, she sent Kaufman this email request for advice: "Hi Bil, I am speaking for 20 minutes. Any tips?" He responded like a diligent City Hall staffer: "Pro economic development, improving Development Services, having City Staff be responsive to businesses, bring reasonableness to zoning cases (you are personally involved) â?? you know, your normal speech. You want to help small business grow in a regulated environment. You may, or may not, want to address term limits."

That same week, Cibrian sent Kaufman the following email: "I would like to visit with you about how we can make the zoning process better at City Council meetings. After you left, I had a difficult time." Kaufman quickly responded: "You bet. When do you have time available?"

Beyond the cryptic "after you left, I had a difficult time" comment from Cibrian, it's a legitimate question why an elected official should feel compelled to have summits with lobbyists to make the zoning process flow more smoothly.

We also get the occasional "you are great" and "you made my day" notes from Kaufman to Cibrian, and one effusive testimonial from the Councilwoman in response to a critical letter from neighborhood activist Cynthia Nemcik about Kaufman. Nemcik opposed the commercial development of two acres of residential property at Green Glen and Oak Grove, a project for which Kaufman lobbied.

Cibrian reassures an aggravated Kaufman this way: "I have always found you to be highly professional, ethical, and honest. I was quite surprised by the email Ms. Nemcick sent to me. Please disregard her letter as i have found much of the information she provides to be highly inaccurate and unfortunate. You have worked very hard with my office and the neighborhood to come to a positive resolution on this case. As a result, you have my full support."

Probably the pithiest exchange between Cibrian and Kaufman occurred on November 29, 2007. Cibrian sent Kaufman an email with the subject line: "Your being bashed at Council," and wrote: "You should consider listening...". He shot back: "On what issue?" She responded: "Zoning over aquifer for VIA intermodal."

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