The city is moving ahead with a plan to decide whether to implement a mandatory lobbyist registry, with the aim of bringing the matter to council by the end of 2013.
The city's accountability and transparency subcommittee — which met on Tuesday for the first time since May — established the target after several members, including both citizens and councillors, expressed frustration about how little progress had been made.
"I remember having a conversation with the [previous Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger], talking about getting this thing done within six months," said David Bloom, a citizen who sits on the subcommittee.
"Here we are six years later and we're still at this."
'If you don't have a mandatory registry to capture these guys, you're not going to know what's going on.' —Mark-Alan Whittle, semi-retired lobbyist
Echoing Bloom's sentiment, Ward 15 councillor Judi Partridge told the group she had "real concerns about when we're going to focus on what we're doing."
She later said she would hate to see the current term of council expire without the subcommittee "being able to move the yardsticks" on the issue of transparency at city hall.
At the same meeting, which Mayor Bob Bratina attended, members asked city staff to evaluate lobbyist registries in three other jurisdictions — Toronto, Ottawa and the province of Ontario.
Staff will report back on how those governments define who is a lobbyist, how the registries are managed and how much each would cost if it were adopted in Hamilton, said Ward 12 councillor Lloyd Ferguson.
"It's important that this committee does its research, gets its facts right and sends a recommendation back to council that they can get comfortable with — because if they're not comfortable, they'll simply return it back."
Ferguson hopes the information will be available for the subcommittee's next meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for the first week of March.
Hamilton has voluntary registry
In 2007, Toronto became the first Canadian municipality to establish this type of registry, which requires city officials to publicly disclose every time they meet with a lobbyist.
Ottawa's city council followed suit, voting in July 2012 to create its own lobbyist registry.
In 2004, Hamilton set up a program that allows lobbyists to register with the city on a voluntary basis.
As of Tuesday, the list contained only three names.
Mark-Alan Whittle is one of names. He's a semi-retired lobbyist who advocated for the voluntary list and is pushing the city to adopt a mandatory registry.
He said lobbyists, including those representing developers and also anti-poverty groups, have a "way too cozy relationship" with officials at city hall.
"If you don't have a mandatory registry to capture these guys, you're not going to know what's going on."
However, he's doubtful that city councillors will champion the cause because they're worried about the public learning about their close ties to lobbyists, he said. "They know once this is mandatory there'll be a lot of red faces around the council chamber and among city staff."