After seven years, a plan that would let the public see who’s lobbying Hamilton councillors is finally making it to a city council vote. But it’s a version that doesn’t have as much teeth as some would like.
The city’s accountability and transparency subcommittee — formed in 2007 for the express purpose of establishing a lobbyist registry and an integrity commission — had what could be its final meeting Monday. It agreed to send a draft bylaw to the next general issues committee meeting, and eventually city council.
But it’s a lighter version of the bylaw than some wanted. Initially, the mandatory registry was supposed to include each interaction a lobbyist had with a city politician. Now it’ll just include the lobbyist, the issue and a general time frame.
That defeats the purpose of the registry, said Joanna Chapman, a citizen appointee to the subcommittee.
“It means (lobbyists) will have a completely free hand and nobody knows anything that’s happened during that period,” said Chapman, the only member to vote against the change.
“The public has no idea if I’m lobbying every councillor every day, or every councillor once a year. I think that’s very much open to abuse.”
Citizen appointee David Arbuckle proposed the change, saying the transparency is in knowing that the lobbying is occurring.
This is the farthest the long-awaited registry has ever gotten, said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster, who chairs the subcommittee. But it’s still far from over.
Now the general issues committee will vote on the registry, which would also include people lobbying the city manager and senior staff members. It could send the bylaw back to the otherwise-defunct subcommittee, or refer it to the budget process next year. The registry will cost an estimated $114,000 to $127,000 annually, with most of that being the salary and benefits of a staff member hired to maintain the registry.
Establishing an internet-based registry would involve a one-time cost of $50,000 to $100,000, the staff report said.
If it makes it through the budget process, there will be public consultation, Ferguson said. So if the public feels it lacks teeth, they can let the city know then.
Here’s the planned timeline for how the registry will progress:
- Oct. 2: vote at the general issues committee
- November to April: the budget process
- April/May 2014: invite the public to comment
- June 2014: vote at council
- June to December 2014: hire a staff member, have IT staff build a web application, train staff and council members
- January 2015: bylaw comes into effect
Ferguson said his main concern is whether the registry would deter potential investors who require confidentiality. That’s what he’ll be watching for.
“I spent 30 years in the private sector and I know how critical confidentiality is,” he said. “There are just too many other choices for these investors to go.”