On page 9 readers will see a report on the recent agreement to transfer piers 7 and 8 to city control. This is a critical first step in what will be a transformative development of the waterfront—a development that can change forever the way Hamilton is perceived by the rest of Canada. The agreement with the Port Authority to free up the land that will be used to implement the city’s Setting Sail and Waterfront recreational Master Plans will see a mix of residential, commercial and recreational development that will be worth up to half a billion dollars and will pour millions of dollars in taxes into the city coffers.
Regrettably only a couple of days before this historic agreement was announced, we saw the sad spectacle of our council allowing itself to be engineered into a dubious sole-source agreement with the Hamilton Waterfront Trust to oversee the installation of new water services for the same property. The deal was presented to council as an “extension” of an existing agreement between the Waterfront Trust and the city, until it was discovered that actually there never has been a proper written agreement between the city and the HWT. This comes as another in a string of sole-sourced deals between the city and HWT, that have never been adequately monitored to determine if the taxpayers were getting the best value for money. The latest deal is in contravention of the city’s purchasing policy, only recently updated. Over the years the city has handed roughly $10 Million in sole-sourced contracts to the HWT and has issued cheques based on invoices containing one or two sentences and no backup verification of what was actually spent. The HWT has spent the $6 Million trust fund with which it was originally endowed and has accumulated operating losses of $1.4 Million—leading some observers to question whether it really qualifies as a trust since it has no significant funds to oversee.
From the beginning the HWT has been a no-go zone for members of council and staff—other than a small clique of enablers from both groups. For 10 years the HWT was the bailiwick of Councillor Chad Collins, who retains a keen interest in the HWT affairs even after leaving its board. Collins is also a long time member and sometime chair of the city selection committee which makes appointments to the HWT Board as well as the Hamilton Conservation Authority, whose partnership with the HWT on millions of dollars worth of capital projects in Collins’ Ward 5, was referenced in an adverse opinion by the HWT’s auditors. Since Collins’ departure from the HWT, at least formally, Councillor Tom Jackson has eagerly taken up the role as chief HWT champion. He defends the sole sourcing, and the general lack of oversight of the HWT, by pointing to the beauty and popularity of the trail system, implying that such work could not have been done through normal channels—something of an insult to the city’s horticulture and works staff who have just completed some amazing work in Gage Park, for example.
With significant multi-million dollar waterfront capital projects soon to come on stream, the Bay Observer tried without success to learn exactly what would be the future extent of proposed sole-sourcing of work to the HWT. To test whether members of council who are not associated with the HWT fully understood that their unanimous vote to allow the HWT to oversee the Pier 8, was a violation of purchasing policy, we included all of council in our correspondence with Councillor Jackson.
Jackson reminded his colleagues, who were copied on his reply to the Bay Observer, that : “on any policy matter and in spite of any existing City policy, Council is SUPREME and can override its policy if it deems it necessary or appropriate or beneficial.”
A few days later the sole-souring arrangement was ratified unanimously in the now time-honoured standing recorded vote so favoured by HWT’s supporters. So there it is. Every member of this council knowingly voted without discussion to ignore their own procurement policy, opening the door to a management agreement between the city and the HWT that could serve to enshrine these opaque processes. The only two members of city council to openly challenge the HWT, current Mayor Bob Bratina and former Mayor Fred Eisenberger were slapped down with standing-recorded unanimous council expressions of fealty to the HWT– a spectacle reminiscent of the parliament of North Korea.
Back to the beginning of this editorial. Over the next three years alone the city will be spending somewhere in the area of $30 Million on waterfront projects. We need to understand what role is being contemplated for the HWT in this work. Longer term, there is a half billion dollars in potential development in the offing. It is urgent to get proper and credible independent oversight onto this policy, now. There are huge dollars at stake and we cannot allow the current pattern of slip-shod, ad-hoc, backroom deals and lack of oversight to continue. Since council appears to be paralyzed in the face of the HWT clique, it is up to the taxpayers to stiffen their resolve. If you agree, visit the City website, Hamilton.ca and click on “mayor and councillors”. There you will be taken to direct email and phone links to your elected representative. For the full exchange between the Bay Observer and council visit the Bayobserver.ca.