this blog entry has been updated
Local entrepreneur and philanthropist Chris Ecklund was in the news earlier this week after it came up in the city's accountability and transparency subcommittee that two councillors had accepted seats in Ecklund's private box to watch a Ti-Cat game.
Ecklund took the opportunity to discuss his campaign to brand Hamilton as the City of Waterfalls.
Dundas Bookseller Joanna Chapman, who you might remember from her odyssey to have former Mayor Larry Di Ianni held to account for his campaign finance violations in the 2003 municipal election, raised the issue at the subcommittee meeting.
Chapman noted, "someone with money having private access to councillors for his lobbying purposes. That bothers me. It's something that's not available to members of the general public, something councillors should very much be discouraged from accepting."
The two councillors, Scott Duvall (Ward 7) and Terry Whitehead (Ward 8), had differing responses to the issue.
Duvall ackowledged that Chapman made "a very good point" and pointed out that he has not gone since.
Whitehead, on the other hand, noted that Ecklund's businss is in serving legal notices and added that Ecklund "doesn't do any business with the city. Anything he does is philanthropic."
The question is whether Ecklund was acting in a capacity as a lobbyist, since councillors are not allowed to accept gifts from lobbyists.
Ecklund does have other business interests in addition to his process serving business. A potential conflict of interest manifests in a recent article published by Hamilton Mountain News reporting that Councillor Whitehead, inspired by Ecklund's campaign, has proposed that the city build an "iconic" waterfall design for the renovated City Hall forecourt.
According to the Spectator, Ecklund is also promoting his Waterfalls campaign with cars "wrapped in splashy photos of local waterfalls". The report notes that Councillor Whitehead and his wife have purchased one of Ecklund's cars, and that they frequently drive it to Ecklund's weekend Waterfall Walks.
Now Ecklund is so outraged at his treatment in the subcommittee and local media that he is canceling his philanthropic plans.
"At this time," he told the Spectator, "I don't know if there are any donations I can make to any city-related event or anything anymore. After what this committee said, I don't see how I could."
He sent an email to the Mayor and Council stating that he had been planning to make a multi-year funding commitment to the Hamilton Conservation Authority that would total over $1 million, but that he "sadly" can no longer do so. He will, however, continue to finance his City of Waterfalls initiative.
One thing is certain: the steady buzz about Ecklund's possible run for Mayor in 2010 is now pretty much a non-starter. Anyone with such thin skin that they pick up their toys and go home at the first sign of criticism is simply not cut out for the ruthless cut-and-thrust of municipal politics.
Update: thanks to intrepid RTH readers, we have more details on the possibility that Ecklund is a lobbyist. You can jump to the two added paragraphs, sourced in the comments for this blog entry.