[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he City of Hamilton wasted no time vowing to keep a sharp eye on city money being paid to professional organizations like, Spectrum/Live Nation and Carmen’s who will soon take over operation of HECFI. Yet at the same time this administration has been wilfully negligent in its coddling of a clearly out-of-its-depth Hamilton Waterfront Trust . On top of all the other monies that have been thrown at HWT, the city in the past three years wrote the Waterfront Trust cheques for $4.2 Million to build a skating rink and additions to the Williams Coffee Pub without a detailed budget and apparently without a written agreement setting out the details of the sole-sourced construction project. When asked about this, city staff say it’s the same paper trail process that they use with public works projects—a one line budget number is supplied and then, in theory at least, payments are made based on the submission of progress reports with backup invoices. But in the case of Public Works, particularly the Water and Wastewater Division it was precisely that lack of oversight that resulted in a highly critical internal audit a couple of years ago. The audit revealed significant cost overruns on many projects, a phenomenon called “mission creep” resulting in unexpected costs, and a lack of accountability to keep individual projects on budget. Instead funds were diverted from projects that came in under budget to those that were overspent. “ Keeping it simple, stupid” may be good enough for a council who chronically demonstrate a lack of curiosity about the HWT’s serial financial missteps; but the practice leaves the general public, who are footing the bill out in the cold. In Hamilton there are probably hundreds of professional engineers, construction executives, accountants and the like who wouldn’t actually mind seeing a detailed budget in advance of a project’s commencement, and might even have helpful suggestions to offer. Any councillor who does not find it disgraceful that $4.2 Million of taxpayer funds would be put out with such negligible safeguards, is frankly not fit to serve as guardian of the public trust. When Gary Santucci, a local taxpayer dared to ask for detailed answers about the waterfront trust financial dealings at a General Issues Committee meeting in September, he was mocked and belittled by councillors Jackson, Merulla and Clark. Councillor Partridge, as chair of the meeting, demonstrated a complete lack of professionalism by her grotesque cheerleading of the stage-managed Council response to Santucci’s questions. Imagine how much taxpayer –paid time was spent rehearsing this public farce, rather than simply digging out the answers to a citizen’s questions. We’ve come to a sorry state when a citizen is forced to submit to indignity by asking questions that our elected representatives are too scared to ask.
As we have indicated previously the issue here goes way beyond whether the HWT should continue to operate as a stand alone agency—it should not;– rather, the existence of the HWT and its control by a clique of council is a symptom of a deep culture of secrecy, intimidation and sleaze that has existed at Hamilton City Hall for decades. These are strong words , but when otherwise good people stand by silently and watch their council colleagues habitually violate the code of conduct, they have been corrupted by the system. The same applies when professional staff are tricked or coerced into being accomplices to cover-ups. It is clear the City of Hamilton, on the cusp of greatness, has outgrown this backroom kind of council. Luckily there is time between now and 2014 for some serious citizen engagement and organization; but make no mistake if voters expect to see improvement; they have to upgrade the gene pool from which candidates are drawn. That means business, professional and community leadership have to put themselves forward. It’s time to get serious about how our community is managed.