BLOG #717: Surprisingly, the five members of city council’s finance and administrative services committee have voted, unanimously, to get on with engaging an integrity commissioner, put in place a written conflict of interest disclosure, and establish a lobbyist registry.
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012
Well now, here’s a surprise. It turns out what city council actually did back there in 2009 was approve the hiring of a part-time integrity commission, not just provide funding for the job.
Another surprise, city council’s finance and administrative services committee voted, unanimously, on Tuesday to ask the civic administration to proceed with an installation plan for the integrity commissioner’s role as quickly as possible.
And another surprise, the committee voted, unanimously, to ask council to approve a voluntary written disclosure of potential conflict of interest holdings.
And yet one more surprise, the committee also voted, unanimously, to ask council to approve a lobbyist registry.
Oh yes, none of this happened without the usual foot shuffling ossification from Mayor Joe Fontana that often accompanies big change he’s not in charge of. But as he was forced to acknowledge, in an era of voter demands for more transparency and accountability from their elected officials, who was going to vote against this stuff.
The mayor did smirk that perhaps council will have some more questions. As they undoubtedly will when the recommendations from the Finance Five go to the full gang of 15 next gathers Sept. 18.
But, at the urging of clerk Linda Rowe and the encouragement of the mayor, the committee sidestepped a procedural move that would have given council an opportunity debate once again the 2009 decision to hire the integrity commissioner.
Instead, that part is decided and done – although someone is sure to argue the point when council meets.
What goes to council is a request that the civic administration get to work on figuring out how to get this position up and running. This was supposed to have been done in 2010. The new city manager, Art Zuidema, reported Tuesday nothing has been done; in fact, nothing ever got started.
The integrity commissioner will investigate complaints a council member has breached the Code of Conduct. First job for the new hire – it most likely will be someone on a retainer and fees basis – will be to revise and update the existing code based on best practices in other cities.
Joni Baechler, the councillor for Ward 5, gets the credit for pushing all three initiatives recommended Tuesday and, in particular, for having done the research that deflected the concerns raised by Mayor Fontana and to a lesser extent Denise Brown.
On voluntary disclosure the mayor worried this would make money the focus of election campaigns, tainting those with it and tarring those without.
“Who is to determine who is going to do it or not?” he wondered. “Should we look at whoever is running for office too? The more you drill down the more difficult this gets.”
But, countered Ms. Baechler, “there is nothing here that is outside the Ontario Municipal Act’s conflict of interest rules. We are just acknowledging it up front.”
The mayor’s concern about the lobbyist registry was “who is the lobbyist in London?” He agreed, though, “rules are important for council as they are for the administration. In principle I have absolutely no problem with this.”
However, Nancy Branscombe, councillor for Ward 6, narrowed the scope. “The buck stops with us (council),” she said. “It’s more important to have a lobby registry for us. There’s a big difference between someone chatting with staff members and someone talking to council members.”
And speaking of lobbying, you now have less than two weeks to lobby your council member to vote yes when these three recommendations are on the only agenda that counts.