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My take: Asleep at the switch on Red Hill, maybe but not complicit

My take: Asleep at the switch on Red Hill, maybe but not complicit

The community owes a debt of gratitude to the Hamilton Spectator and reporter Nicole O’Reilly for the outstanding work in bringing to light the Red Hill saga, particularly, the suppression of a 2014 report that pointed to poor friction performance on sections of the Red Hill Parkway.

Where we would respectfully differ with the editorial is to suggest that this can be lumped in with other scandals where council culpability is more readily evident. The record shows that the controversial 2014 Tradewind report that identified poor friction of the road report was only discovered by a staff member in September of 2018. Over the next two months with class action and individual lawsuits swirling around, staff huddled with lawyers to determine how to handle the new information in light of an FOI from the Spectator requesting friction information, as well as a value for money audit being conducted by the city auditor who was unaware of Tradewind. By November staff were told that they would likely have to release the report and that would mean telling council first. The first time anybody on council knew about the report was possibly December 18 when a meeting with Mayor Eisenberger was held, although no details of that meeting were provided other than it was to discuss Red Hill. According to January 7th meeting notes kept by a City communications staffer, Eisenberger definitely knew about it as of that day. The next three weeks were spent preparing the report that council and the public would see at a General Issues Committee meeting on February 6. An outside communications consultant who attended the January 7th staff meeting provided the time-honored PR advice— “when you mess up, fess up,” and there is nothing to suggest anyone was recommending otherwise at that point. In fact, Mayor Eisenberger, in a note to staff, said he wanted the information out, writing, “I think it would be helpful to have them (staff reports on Red Hill) all done at one time and then have a media strategy prepared for a public release which I sense councillors would like to make to get ahead of this contentious issue.”

Reviewing the mountain of documents, to us, the real story in this Red Hill saga is the minimal amount of council involvement that was in evidence. You see the odd email from a councillor forwarding constituent complaints about the road. And there was a council motion to investigate lighting and median barriers that staff took a year to water down to next to nothing. This Red Hill mess was pretty much a staff show from beginning to end. It is true that fear of litigation seemed to be the driving force in all the secrecy and inaction on road improvements; but it was confined to staff—there is no evidence of council involvement in the coverup. Most of them found out about the Tradewind report a just before it became public. Going forward from the inquiry, the issue the next council will have to address, is how to prevent a project from becoming a runaway freight train as did the RHVP. The documents show staff operating almost as if council did not exist. The situation calls for a thorough overhaul of oversight mechanisms.

John Best

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