Hamilton’s one step closer to a “Lobbyist Registry”.
That’s what City Council’s “Accountability and Transparency” committee is calling it’s proposal to City Council for a list of lobbyists at Hamilton City Hall.
Lobbying is narrowly defined in this new registry and excludes lobbying of all but seven city staff members and City Councillors other than the Mayor or the Councillor where you live.
Six Years of Delay
The committee, chaired the past three years by Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, has delayed making a decision about a lobbyist registry for the past six years. It was stuck on how to define lobbying until today when it passed a new bylaw that defines lobbying in a seven page document full of loopholes that enable lobbying to occur without public knowledge for a wide range of reasons.
Lobbying is a healthy part of the democratic process and best done in public to ensure public confidence in the decisions of governing bodies.
Six years after starting it’s task, the committee now recommending a limited lobbyist registry be implemented in Hamilton in early 2015.
Declare Lobbyist, Not Lobbying
Lobbyists will only have to register if they are lobbying one of the seven staff members listed or a member of Council who they cannot vote for. A company can use multiple lobbyists and provided they only lobby members of Council they can vote for, the company will not need to register its lobbying activities. The owner or operator of a business does not need to declare when lobbying the Mayor or a City Councillor of a Ward where the business has a location.
If the company is looking to invest or expand in Hamilton, the lobbyists will not need to register under the exception that their lobbying could lead to a permit application or that it meets with the City’s strategic version of facilitating economic growth.
Lobbyists will not need to list their lobbying activities or provide details of their goals beyond basic information. They will only need to register on an infrequent basis.
Use Freedom of Information – Whitehead
Citizen Member of the Committee Joanna Chapman, best known for his dogged pursuit of Mayor Larry Di Ianni’s election finance violations, was the only vote against watering down the registry today.
She warned the exceptions effectively made the registry useless.
“There is a problem with developers getting their way behind the scenes,” said Chapman. She said citizens will have no way of knowing when or with whom lobbyists are meeting.
Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead said citizens will be able to use Freedom of Information to narrow the activities based upon the disclosures from the registry. Chapman retorted she’s used Freedom of Information with the City and that the City fails to meet FOI timelines.
Scaring Away Business
Ferguson expressed concern that the registry will harm Hamilton’s economic development.
“I don’t want to do anything that would encourage a potential investor to go to Kitchener,” and listed off nearby cities without registry.
The committee consistently brought the conversation to concerns that a lobbyist registry would have sunk the Maple Leaf Foods deal in the Red Hill Business Park by removing the secrecy that company felt it needed to make the deal.
Ferguson expressed concerns that, without the exceptions, businesses will not want to locate in Hamilton as their competitors could use a lobbyist registry to know their business plans.
Lack of Funds to Implement a Full Registry
Councillors are concerned about the cost of a lobbyist registry.
Staff expect the start-up costs of a full registry to be approximately $100,000 and $127,000 annual cost of operating the registry.
Council is focused on a tax-freeze for the 2014 election year and hesitate to approve any new spending.
Is Seven Years Too Long To Implement Registry?
Two members of the committee expressed frustration at the latest in a long series of delays. Provided there are no delays from this point forward, the lobbyist registry will not be implemented until January 25, 2015.
This is years later than Council originally promised in 2007.
“I personally don’t think we’ve done a very good job of this, this term of Council,” Flamborough Councillor Judi Partridge said. “I’m concerned were going into another election without this complete … in terms of implementation.”
“I didn’t think it was humanly possible to drag something out this long,” said Joanna Chapman
Accountability and Transparency Committee’s Work Complete and Disbanded
At the end of the meeting committee chair Ferguson declared that with a lobbyist registry bylaw sent to Council, the Accountability and Transparency committee has completed it’s work.
“This committee’s work is now finished,” he stated. “This may very well be our last meeting.”
With that, we’re one step closer to the 2014 election in which Ferguson has declared an interest in running for Mayor.