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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 15, 201312:00 PM EST

City works with UNF to develop lobbyist registration software

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Easier access for all is the reason the City has partnered with the University of North Florida to develop lobbyist registration software.

It is scheduled to be completed by the end of summer and will possibly be in use by the start of next year.

The City's Ethics Code requires lobbyists to register each of their clients with the City Council secretary.

Currently, the process involves a lobbyist filling out a three-page form and submitting it. The form is then entered into the computer system by one of the secretary's staff, with the original also being stored.

"The new software will make the process so much easier for everyone. It will be more accessible for lobbyists, it won't require as much work from staff, we will be able to search and retrieve information more efficiently and, most importantly, it will be easier for the public to search through the information," said Cheryl Brown, Council secretary.

The City's registered lobbyist list April 8 contained 87 lobbyists.

"We can pull the information now, it just takes longer to do. The software will greatly speed up the process," said Brown.

UNF graduate student Will Carle talked about the information-gathering abilities of the software at an April 1 meeting of the Ethics Commission.

"In the end someone can say, 'I want to see all issues being lobbied for a particular client' and that information can be collected," said Carle.

Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight Director Carla Miller originally contacted UNF about working on the project.

The software also will send Miller's office an email each time a lobbyist registers for a client or a particular issue. It also will be able to comment on the registration or issue if more information is needed in the application.

UNF College of Computing, Engineering & Construction Professor Robert Roggio guides a team of graduate students including Carle, Dalila Castilla, Jeff Gouge and Doaa Gamal on the project.

"It's been a great experience. Most assignments you get a grade, and then that's it. This is actually going to help people, so it's great to contribute to something that has a purpose," said Carle.

Both Brown and Miller said they are grateful for UNF's contribution, as the software will be donated to the City.

"We've had estimates that this would have cost the City in excess of $100,000 to put this together, so this is a huge benefit and gift from the University of North Florida," Miller said.

Brown said she has tried to avoid purchasing tools that might help her office but require ongoing fees for maintenance.

"We try to develop software and programs in-house rather than sign on for a product that will have us paying each time there is a change or an upgrade," said Brown.

Miller told the ethics commission that once the software is completed, UNF will provide it to the City at no cost.

"This partnership is one we value and a relationship we look forward to continuing well into the future. I want to thank Dr. Roggio and all the team members for all their hard work," said Brown.

Another team from UNF also is working on similar software for the City's Value Adjustment Board.

The software is being designed to allow citizens to file online complaints about their property tax assessment.

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