A very modest plan to increase transparency of backroom influences on councillors has ended in naught after seven years of dithering and delay. It died without even a recorded vote and those present at its execution then neglected to even inform one of its parents of its demise when he came before them later to advocate for its speedy adoption.
The 2014 budget does NOT include the lobbyist registry drafted and approved last year by the Accountability and Transparency subcommittee. The budget addition required to implement the registry was quietly dropped in early February, nearly two weeks before citizens – including subcommittee members – had their only opportunity to speak to council about budget priorities.
The February 13 meeting of the general issues committee received a staff presentation on fourteen additions to the budget including the registry. It was introduced with the stated intention that “possible approval of the enhancements will take place during budget deliberations scheduled to commence February 27”. Instead, councillors endorsed some immediately, and referred some others for consideration at a later budget meeting.
However half of the items were not discussed, including the lobbyist registry, and that meant they were dropped from consideration. The minutes provide a list of the seven items, preceded by the statement that “it was understood by the committee that any items listed … which were not discussed will not be considered during the budget deliberations.”
Unaware of this ‘decision’, David Arbuckle registered to speak to council on the day designated to hear citizen input on the budget twelve days later. The citizen volunteer had spent over three years on the Accountability and Transparency subcommittee.
He began by thanking councillors for giving him that opportunity: “It really did give me a good opportunity to make a contribution to the community, so thank you for that opportunity.” He briefly argued for final approval of the registry as “a reasonable cost–effective made–in–Hamilton solution” arrived at after considerable effort and pared down to make it financially acceptable as well.
“Councillors and outside influence makers operate in an environment right now that currently has very few rules, and that poses a potential threat to the reputation of the city and to senior staff and to city councillors,” he noted. “Instituting a lobbyist registry for the city of Hamilton would not only create more transparency at the municipal level but it would also create a new stakeholder environment that is more clearly understood by those that are part of the system and also those looking to access the system.”
His councillor, Judi Partridge, reminded him that Flamborough faces higher taxes because of the gradual phase out of some aspects of area rating and asked him about delaying the registry “to the next council”. Arbuckle responded he’d be “disappointed”, that it has already been “far too long” and that now “is an appropriate time to deal with it”.
Partridge asked staff about the cost and was told it is $114,000 to establish the registry. Neither she nor anyone else told Arbuckle the decision had already been made.
Brian McHattie also sought clarity on the costs and told Arbuckle and his council colleagues that “we’ll have the opportunity to deliberate on that separately as an enhancement, as we will with all the enhancements we have listed in the budget.”
The minutes of the February 13 meeting show McHattie was absent – along with Scott Duvall and Russ Powers. That suggests he was just as much in the dark as Arbuckle two weeks later. All other councillors are listed as present for the meeting but three missed the only recorded vote during the session. V