Tuesday , 30 May 2023
Home Opinion Hamilton Waterfront Trust—Beginning the long goodbye?

Hamilton Waterfront Trust—Beginning the long goodbye?

Even though the key figures in the genesis of the 23-year-old Hamilton Waterfront Trust have left the stage, the organization shows the resiliency of the Black Knight in the famous Monty Python sketch. Engaged in a sword duel with an opponent, the Black Knight is hacked down to the point of just a helmeted head jumping around, insisting, “it’s just a nick.” Similarly, the HWT, effectively insolvent for several years, without an executive director, and with its mandate largely fulfilled, still has stubborn pockets of support for its continuation on Hamilton Council and possibly with staff.

At Wednesday’s GIC meeting observers saw the spectacle of not only the current board of the HWT leaning towards dissolution of the organization, but Esther Pauls,  who was on the previous board, indicating that her board was also headed in that direction, as the Bay Observer learned last year.

Under discussion was a report by KPMG into options for the future path of the organization. The consultant offered three options:

  • Wind it up and transfer all operations and assets to the city
  • Transfer all assets and operations to a third party
  • Status Quo or a hybrid model

Somehow when staff prepared their report to council they eliminated the dissolution recommendation that was first on the KPMG list, and had been the apparent wish of the HWT Board and offered instead:

  • Status quo with possible varying the business model and governance structure
  • A joint model where the city and HWT would split operations.

Current HWT Chair Cameron Kreotsch said he did not want to see the dissolution of the Trust excessively delayed but was willing to support a motion that would allow for more study of operations.

Councillor Tom Jackson who was a past board member and strong supporter of the HWT warned his colleagues that there could be unanticipated costs to the city if it took HWT operations in-house. KPMG had listed the risk of increased labour costs if the HWT employees, most of them seasonal, fell under the city’s collective agreements. Councillor Brad Clark, however, pointed out that those potential costs could be offset by no longer paying the HWT a ten percent management feel on waterfront construction works. “Those projects could have been managed by our public works department without paying those fees,” he said. Those fees amounted to approximately $2 Million from 2016-21 with 2022 still to be reported.

The KPMG report also indicated that the retirement of Werner Plessl as Executive Director, a position he held from the inception of the organization “poses a loss of institutional knowledge and skills.”

In the end Kroetsch was able to get a motion passed that will see staff studying the two options—winding the organization down and being taken over by the city, and some form of hybrid operating model. But he also objected to an option that included the status quo given that his board was unanimous in wanting the HWT dissolved. Finance Manager Mike Zegarac, pressed for an time estimate on completion of the studies, said it could take until late this year or early next year.

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