The Hamilton Waterfront Trust finds itself in the media spotlight these days, not only from this publication, but now from the Hamilton Spectator and CHCH. The “small cabal of naysayers,” as one councillor dubbed those who have questioned the HWT’s business practices is growing. It’s good that the community is starting to take notice, because frankly, we are getting sick of writing about the HWT, (It’s called NEWS for a reason) but the lack of effective action by Hamilton City Council, which collectively has turned a blind eye to the many serious questions raised here and elsewhere means the story won’t go away until council takes action. Two stories in this edition of the Bay Observer underline the fact that nothing has changed with the Waterfront Trust. It appears to have an unusual access to the public purse through a series of construction management contracts with the city that have not been rigorously vetted through council. The Trust steadfastly refuses to release routine information such as board meeting minutes. In the midst of questions about the HWT’s business losses, and opaque reporting practices, a chorus of council voices in July called out “carried” and with that, the Trust was handed $15 Million worth of construction to oversee.
Our interest in the Waterfront Trust stems in part from the corrosive effect its existence has on our municipal corporate culture. A small number of staff appear to have become enablers of the HWT, either willingly or by coercion. It is difficult to talk about codes of conduct when the rules of reporting and the approvals process is being managed or manipulated to allow the HWT to receive money from the City with minimal oversight, as is currently the practice. Whether it is a 2015 management agreement that provides cover for transferring funds to the HWT without a council vote; or the simple fact that the HWT often appears as a “walk-on”—appearing directly to Council rather than going through the more rigorous and detailed examination available at the committee level— or paying HWT twice for a single Zamboni –these kinds of practices rely on some level of staff involvement and that has to end, or we risk creating the kind of loose ethical culture that has brought so much notoriety to Brampton. It’s time for members of council to face down the HWT apologists in their midst and send a message to the entire corporation that the cronyism and bad practices are coming to an end. That has to happen before senior management can take similar steps with ethically-challenged staff.