The recent announcement that the Hamilton Waterfront Trust lost $474,000 in 2011 after predicting a surplus; is reason enough to get an independent set of eyes looking at its books. The $474,000 loss followed a loss a year earlier of over $800,000—a loss that was described at the time as a one-time aberration. On the basis of that assurance a relieved city council unanimously voiced its support for the HWT, even though additional information requested by at least one councillor who dared to venture a question was promised but never delivered. From the outset, Council has shown a singular lack of curiosity about the HWT, a sign of their unwavering deference to Councillor Chad Collins, who headed the trust from its inception until 2010 when the trust was running out of money– and the trail system, which was HWTs original mandate, was largely complete. Only Councillor Judi Partridge has been bold enough to suggest that council could use a fuller explanation.
The losses are only part of a number of disturbing issues that the Bay Observer has come across in its reporting on the Trust. Whatever the true story is on the now-infamous $681,000 washroom that was reported here last month; the fact remains that somebody made a decision either to classify legitimate costs as “Canal Washroom” – bizarre in itself–or, in the absence of any backup to the contrary; to overcharge the city and other funding partners for the project. Taxpayers have a right to expect that if a project comes in under budget that the benefit goes to the taxpayer and is not transferred to cover an overrun on another project. The city’s water and wastewater department was criticized for doing the same thing. You can’t have financial accountability if you don’t have accurate costing information on a project-by-project basis.
The trails and parks are beautiful—why should people care? They should care because the HWT is only the most egregious example of a pattern of a corrosive influence exerted by some councillors on professional relations between staff and council, and on the management structure of staff. We hire professional staff and expect them to give us their best advice. Councillors are supposed to direct their advocacy through the staff chain of command which starts with the City Manager and the senior management team. Individual staffers should not be running errands or interference for individual councillors or factions of council…period. The HWT has been thumbing its nose at established command structures at the City since its inception. A full, external audit of both the finances of HWT but also an operational review from a governance standpoint is urgently required. The entire process should be supervised by the integrity commissioner. It’s up to council to step up to the plate. If they don’t have the stomach for such a showdown, they need to be held accountable. Many people think terms limits for councillors are the answer. We don’t. We already have a term limit remedy that can be exercised at regular intervals—the ballot box.