Coun. Jack Miller, left, and Coun. Paul Carr study reports during Belleville city council Tuesday at City Hall. BILL GLISKY/INQUINTE.CA

Belleville council rejects lobbyist registry

Coun. Jackie Denyes and Coun. Egerton Boyce watch a presentation during Belleville city council Tuesday at City Hall. BILL GLISKY/INQUINTE.CA

Belleville council rejects lobbyist registry

  • October 11, 2017 - 12:06 PM
  • Bill Glisky
  • News, Quinte

A suggestion that Belleville begin tracking who is lobbying city council over various issues sparked a lengthy debate before ultimately being turned down by a single vote.

Coun. Paul Carr’s motion to ask staff to investigate forming a lobbyist registry to track what groups or businesses are approaching council was defeated 5-4 by city council Tuesday night at City Hall.

Carr said he raised the issue because of some incidents that had occurred and to increase the transparency about what council does.

“Residents have a right to know who and how local government is being influenced,” he said. “Some framework at the very least around lobbying issues may be a good idea.”

Carr added there have been several in camera incidents where recommendations had come forward that the city purchase certain properties “without adequate context or goal for the municipality.”

“This could suggest that the private sector may be lobbying some members of council or senior staff,” he said. “Council as a whole and most importantly the public at large has a right to know who is influencing such proposals.”

Carr also said that during an in camera meeting a private entity sought the sale of property in exchange for partially skirting normal approval process on another matter.

“This only occurred after the private entity at the very least lobbied senior staff to bring this forward,” Carr said, adding it was a “clear case of quid pro quo.”

Coun. Kelly McCaw supported Carr, saying the issue was about transparency and integrity, adding she has seen about six instances where lobbying has taken place.

Under questioning, city clerk Matt MacDonald explained lobbyist registries typically grew out of senior levels of government that faced “aggressive lobbying efforts.”

He said they were designed to protect the public as well as to protect elected officials from questions of wrongdoing.

Coun. Jack Miller questioned both the need and the practicality of the Carr’s proposal.

He noted the just defining what was and wasn’t lobbying would be “a nightmare.” Further he noted that in many cases when businesses approach a city, confidentiality is essential.

“Not because anyone is hiding anything but because of the risk of the competition finding out,” he said.

As for the in camera issue Carr brought up, Miller noted that that had worked the way it was supposed to.

“Staff was obligated to bring that to council and they did,” he said. “It’s not like anything came through the back door or under the table. Staff brought it forward and council dealt with it.

“I’m seeing a whole lot of red flags. I think it’s a slippery slope. I see it as a whole lot of red tape and a whole lot of bureaucracy and a whole lot of staff time to create another report.”

Coun. Jackie Denyes noted that of more than 444 municipalities in Ontario, only four have registries. Further those registries are secondary to the community integrity commissioner, which Belleville is currently investigating bringing in.

She said she was concerned such a registry would also inhibit the willingness of people to approach councillors directly with their concerns.

Mayor Taso Christopher, who noted that he felt some of the “arrows” were being directed at him during the conversation, said council deals with many people directly on a wide variety of issues.

He noted that since he has become mayor he has returned 502 phone calls from different people inquiring about issues in the city and had been involved in almost 19,000 emails.

“We have created an environment that we are stewards of the community and everything comes to this arena,” he said. “At the present time I think we have a very good, open and transparent system. That’s why I won’t be supporting (the motion).”

In a recorded vote, Councillors Carr, Boyce, McCaw and Panciuk supported the motion. Christopher broke the tie to defeat the motion 5-4.

Carr said after the meeting that none of his comments were directed toward the mayor in particular.

"You can never have too much transperancy," he said. "And it's OK to lead."

Read More: Today's News, News, Quinte

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