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Councillors propose policy on former staff, councillors lobbying

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

How long should former Hamilton employees or even former politicians wait before they can conduct business with the city on behalf of a client?

Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla wants to put that question to the test.

He has asked city staff to examine if Hamilton can adopt a corporate policy that establishes a “cooling off” period for city employees and councillors before they can contact staff. In the motion, approved by politicians at their April 23 council meeting, it states the policy should “limit the ability of former senior level staff from working for organizations in dealings with the city.”

“It’s important to have such a policy,” said Merulla.

The veteran councillor said the motion doesn’t mean something “nefarious” has occurred in the past with former employees. But he feels Hamilton should have a similar policy as the federal and provincial governments have adopted.

“It’s a check and balance,” he said. “It would provide an environment of openness and transparency.”

In recent history, former city finance general manager and city manager Joe Rinaldo was hired by Hamilton staff as a consultant. And former mayor Larry Di Ianni, and former Hamilton alderman Henry Merling represented developers at planning meetings.

The federal government established a five-year ban on all MPs, senators, and senior staff from lobbying. It prohibits them from contracting out, serving on boards of directors or working for any entity that had dealings with the department the person was employed. Ontariohas a similar ban on senior staff.

Stoney Creek councillor Brenda Johnson suggested councillors be included in the review. Merulla said initially he was examining “faceless bureaucrats” who wouldn’t be recognized if they one day worked for the city, then for whatever reason became associated with another company.

Councillors, on the other hand, would be identified quickly if they started to lobby city staff, he said.

“We are scrutinized,” he said.

Still, he welcomed politicians be included in the review.

Some councillors wondered if any such policy had any legal merit. Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson said when he first saw the motion he was skeptical.

“People have the right to make a living,” he said.

But Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead, who also had some misgivings, still supported the motion, arguing the city should “do its due diligence.”

City staff will report back on the issue to the audit and administrative committee.

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