What price democracy?

News Aug 20, 2009 Ancaster News

It has not escaped unnoticed that the two individuals who championed the hardest to create an integrity commissioner for Hamilton became the first to be subjected to investigations themselves.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger last year was cleared after an independent investigation conducted by Toronto lawyer George Rust D’Eye. Then Mr. Rust D’Eye, as the city’s interim integrity commissioner under the new 2008 bylaw, investigated Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark for his involvement in releasing a taped conversation between Mr. Eisenberger and a Hamilton Spectator journalist. The commissioner concluded Mr. Clark released the tape for political reasons and not to benefit the public.

The messy scenario, the subsequent investigations, and now the chaotic aftermath prove yet again that Hamilton does need some democratic checks and balances on its politicians. But those checks and balances also need to be fixed if they are to be fair and transparent to the public and politicians.

Mr. Eisenberger and Mr. Clark rode into office in 2006 trumpeting the creation of an integrity commissioner, along with building a lobbyist registry and installing an ombudsman. These new positions were going to restore the faith of residents in their government.

The incidents involving Councillor Bernie Morelli in 2007 with a city employee, and Glanbrook councillor Dave Mitchell with a severance application, only heightened the need to create an integrity commissioner.

With the investigation involving Mr. Clark complete, the process has been revealed not surprisingly, to have fallen short of its intended goals.

The bylaw takes the onus of an investigation out of the hands of council, a crucial step in the process, and places it into the hands of an independent body.

Yet there remains a concern about the complaint process. The commissioner has the authority to decide whether a complaint is “vexatious” or “frivolous.” The possibility is there for special interest groups to continually attack specific councillors for their views and actions. Any investigation against a politician is prompted by a complaint, raising a further question about what happens when an apparent abuse of a council conduct isn’t investigated. Case in point is how an apparent confidential cost for the integrity commissioner’s investigation can be leaked to the media without a complaint. It is a clear violation of solicitor-client privilege.

The bylaw, as Mr. Clark pointed out, also doesn’t allow for a more thorough investigation by the commissioner, forcing the politician to sit back and face any scurrilous allegation without comment, prompting possible legal consequences.

There still remains some confusion among staff and councillors over how to make a commissioner’s report public. The Municipal Act requires the report to be publicly released. But the act sets no timeline. Should councillors see the report behind closed doors first, and possibly remove sensitive information to avoid legal problems?

And then there is the cost to taxpayers for all of these democratic checks against government.

Early in the Accountability and Transparency committee’s debate in creating the commissioner’ position, Mr. Clark, the committee’s former chair, said the cost –at that stage it was suggested $100,000 for a full-time position – was almost irrelevant to its goal.

“I don’t know how we can’t afford it,” he said.

For the two investigations Mr. Rust D’Eye conducted, the total cost was $128,000. Was it worth it? Both investigations proved valuable to maintaining Hamilton’s political process, revealing the interplay between media and politicians, and among politicians themselves. Despite the intense scrutiny, the expectant headaches and eye-popping costs, the creation of an integrity commissioner, a revised council code of conduct, and a new lobbyist registry, means politics is not just for politicians anymore.

What price democracy?

News Aug 20, 2009 Ancaster News

It has not escaped unnoticed that the two individuals who championed the hardest to create an integrity commissioner for Hamilton became the first to be subjected to investigations themselves.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger last year was cleared after an independent investigation conducted by Toronto lawyer George Rust D’Eye. Then Mr. Rust D’Eye, as the city’s interim integrity commissioner under the new 2008 bylaw, investigated Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark for his involvement in releasing a taped conversation between Mr. Eisenberger and a Hamilton Spectator journalist. The commissioner concluded Mr. Clark released the tape for political reasons and not to benefit the public.

The messy scenario, the subsequent investigations, and now the chaotic aftermath prove yet again that Hamilton does need some democratic checks and balances on its politicians. But those checks and balances also need to be fixed if they are to be fair and transparent to the public and politicians.

Mr. Eisenberger and Mr. Clark rode into office in 2006 trumpeting the creation of an integrity commissioner, along with building a lobbyist registry and installing an ombudsman. These new positions were going to restore the faith of residents in their government.

The incidents involving Councillor Bernie Morelli in 2007 with a city employee, and Glanbrook councillor Dave Mitchell with a severance application, only heightened the need to create an integrity commissioner.

With the investigation involving Mr. Clark complete, the process has been revealed not surprisingly, to have fallen short of its intended goals.

The bylaw takes the onus of an investigation out of the hands of council, a crucial step in the process, and places it into the hands of an independent body.

Yet there remains a concern about the complaint process. The commissioner has the authority to decide whether a complaint is “vexatious” or “frivolous.” The possibility is there for special interest groups to continually attack specific councillors for their views and actions. Any investigation against a politician is prompted by a complaint, raising a further question about what happens when an apparent abuse of a council conduct isn’t investigated. Case in point is how an apparent confidential cost for the integrity commissioner’s investigation can be leaked to the media without a complaint. It is a clear violation of solicitor-client privilege.

The bylaw, as Mr. Clark pointed out, also doesn’t allow for a more thorough investigation by the commissioner, forcing the politician to sit back and face any scurrilous allegation without comment, prompting possible legal consequences.

There still remains some confusion among staff and councillors over how to make a commissioner’s report public. The Municipal Act requires the report to be publicly released. But the act sets no timeline. Should councillors see the report behind closed doors first, and possibly remove sensitive information to avoid legal problems?

And then there is the cost to taxpayers for all of these democratic checks against government.

Early in the Accountability and Transparency committee’s debate in creating the commissioner’ position, Mr. Clark, the committee’s former chair, said the cost –at that stage it was suggested $100,000 for a full-time position – was almost irrelevant to its goal.

“I don’t know how we can’t afford it,” he said.

For the two investigations Mr. Rust D’Eye conducted, the total cost was $128,000. Was it worth it? Both investigations proved valuable to maintaining Hamilton’s political process, revealing the interplay between media and politicians, and among politicians themselves. Despite the intense scrutiny, the expectant headaches and eye-popping costs, the creation of an integrity commissioner, a revised council code of conduct, and a new lobbyist registry, means politics is not just for politicians anymore.

What price democracy?

News Aug 20, 2009 Ancaster News

It has not escaped unnoticed that the two individuals who championed the hardest to create an integrity commissioner for Hamilton became the first to be subjected to investigations themselves.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger last year was cleared after an independent investigation conducted by Toronto lawyer George Rust D’Eye. Then Mr. Rust D’Eye, as the city’s interim integrity commissioner under the new 2008 bylaw, investigated Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark for his involvement in releasing a taped conversation between Mr. Eisenberger and a Hamilton Spectator journalist. The commissioner concluded Mr. Clark released the tape for political reasons and not to benefit the public.

The messy scenario, the subsequent investigations, and now the chaotic aftermath prove yet again that Hamilton does need some democratic checks and balances on its politicians. But those checks and balances also need to be fixed if they are to be fair and transparent to the public and politicians.

Mr. Eisenberger and Mr. Clark rode into office in 2006 trumpeting the creation of an integrity commissioner, along with building a lobbyist registry and installing an ombudsman. These new positions were going to restore the faith of residents in their government.

The incidents involving Councillor Bernie Morelli in 2007 with a city employee, and Glanbrook councillor Dave Mitchell with a severance application, only heightened the need to create an integrity commissioner.

With the investigation involving Mr. Clark complete, the process has been revealed not surprisingly, to have fallen short of its intended goals.

The bylaw takes the onus of an investigation out of the hands of council, a crucial step in the process, and places it into the hands of an independent body.

Yet there remains a concern about the complaint process. The commissioner has the authority to decide whether a complaint is “vexatious” or “frivolous.” The possibility is there for special interest groups to continually attack specific councillors for their views and actions. Any investigation against a politician is prompted by a complaint, raising a further question about what happens when an apparent abuse of a council conduct isn’t investigated. Case in point is how an apparent confidential cost for the integrity commissioner’s investigation can be leaked to the media without a complaint. It is a clear violation of solicitor-client privilege.

The bylaw, as Mr. Clark pointed out, also doesn’t allow for a more thorough investigation by the commissioner, forcing the politician to sit back and face any scurrilous allegation without comment, prompting possible legal consequences.

There still remains some confusion among staff and councillors over how to make a commissioner’s report public. The Municipal Act requires the report to be publicly released. But the act sets no timeline. Should councillors see the report behind closed doors first, and possibly remove sensitive information to avoid legal problems?

And then there is the cost to taxpayers for all of these democratic checks against government.

Early in the Accountability and Transparency committee’s debate in creating the commissioner’ position, Mr. Clark, the committee’s former chair, said the cost –at that stage it was suggested $100,000 for a full-time position – was almost irrelevant to its goal.

“I don’t know how we can’t afford it,” he said.

For the two investigations Mr. Rust D’Eye conducted, the total cost was $128,000. Was it worth it? Both investigations proved valuable to maintaining Hamilton’s political process, revealing the interplay between media and politicians, and among politicians themselves. Despite the intense scrutiny, the expectant headaches and eye-popping costs, the creation of an integrity commissioner, a revised council code of conduct, and a new lobbyist registry, means politics is not just for politicians anymore.