Edmonton City Council should have lobbyist registry, city ethics counselor says

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Edmonton should have a registry of lobbyists, the city’s ethics counselor says, suggesting councilors review a policy rejected by the previous council.

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Brent Rathgeber, in an annual update with the Integrity Commissioner on Tuesday, said he encouraged the council to want such a registry. These are common to other levels of government and allow the public to see who is spending time meeting with elected officials with the aim of influencing them.

Rathgeber also said the social media conduct policy should be updated.

“I think those are two very important tools to promote good conduct and ethics among elected officials,” he said.

“I look forward to that advice – if that’s your will – that we work on these initiatives to make our ethics system even better.”

Councilors voted unanimously to reinitiate a committee to review the Councilor Code of Conduct following the presentation.

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The idea of ​​a lobbyist registry in Edmonton is not new. Former mayor Don Iveson voluntarily launched an online registry in 2018 to release the names of anyone who met him about a financial interest or a policy change.

In 2019, councilors rejected the idea of ​​creating something similar for themselves, saying it might be too restrictive on residents’ rights and involve too many gray areas. This register would have required anyone meeting councilors or their staff to complete a registration form in advance.

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But the con. Michael Janz started a petition on his website last week following a council vote on whether to sell city-owned parcels of greenfield or corporate land. Janz said advisers, including himself, were strongly put pressure by industry groups prior to this debate.

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This experience underscored why, in addition to election-time financial disclosures, it’s important to publicly disclose who meets with elected officials — and senior city administrative staff — he said.

“I think the taxpayer and the neighbor, the citizen, have a right to know what those relationships (with lobbyists) are,” he told Postmedia on Tuesday. “Citizens have the right to know what impact these meetings have on public policy. »

Janz said he did not realize the extent of the number of private meetings with special interest groups until his election. He receives invitations to private meetings almost every week, he said.

That’s important, Janz said, especially since there are millions of dollars at stake with some council issues, like development projects.

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“Perhaps there is nothing bad going on. The best way to ensure this is to have the ability to have a public list of commercial interests behind decisions where they have a pecuniary interest,” he said.

“If you have personal financial gain in his decision to come to town hall, if you are lobbying administrators or councilors, the public should have a right to know that.”

For example, the mayor and councilors were invited to lunch on Jan. 18 with several development industry groups to learn more about “how we can work together to foster a supportive regulatory environment,” according to an invitation seen by Postmedia.

Groups that participated included the Edmonton Commercial Real Estate Development Association NAIOPBuilding Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Canadian Home Builders Association of Edmonton Area (CHBA-ER), REALTORS Association of Edmonton and Urban Development Institute of Edmonton Area (UDI-ER).

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An email obtained by Postmedia also shows that NAIOP Executive Director Anand Pye wrote to councilors after the event to thank them for the meeting on behalf of the real estate industry.

Pye, summarizing the topics of the meeting, wrote about how a “commitment to working together on policy” aimed at making Edmonton a better place to invest, do business and live, was discussed.

“Working together more collaboratively” by sharing market insights and presenting the board directly to companies and people in the industry was also discussed, the email said.

Neither Pye nor any other NAOIP member responded to a request for comment by the press deadline.

Advisors were also invited to a close rewardst by the Urban Development Institute — Edmonton Region in November and offered free tickets.

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

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