If the Red Hill Inquiry had a tip jar, and a dollar went into it every time a witness said either “I don’t remember” or “I don’t recall,” the inquiry would be well on its way to being self-sustaining. That, is, of course an exaggeration, but as the inquiry moves past 30 days of testimony, it is clear there are lawyers involved in this process that we are not seeing in the webcasts. Things hit a peak this week with testimony by Richard Andoga, a retired Hamilton Public Works Manager, and Michael Becke, who is currently a senior project manager in the City’s Public Works Department. In his testimony Mr., Andoga stated he didn’t remember or did not recall more than 90 times. The transcript for Mr. Becke’s testimony will be available next week, but he too was unable to recall many of the facts put to him by counsel.
In fairness to these gentlemen and previous witness, many of whom had similar difficulty remembering things, it could be that the questions being put to them are questions for which they legitimately have no knowledge or recollection. However, most of these questions are about meetings which the record shows the witness in question attended; or e mails– either sent by the witness, to the witness– or on which the witness was copied. Also the witnesses have been given access to relevant documents prior to their testimony to help refresh their memories, but to no apparent avail.
One of the inquiry lawyers used the phrase “siloed information” this week, to describe a recurring theme in testimony since the inquiry began its hearings in late April. Reminiscent of the comic strip, “Spy Vs Spy” in Mad Magazine, we have testimony of two different consultants conducting investigations on the highway, unaware that the other consultant was doing similar, or at least related investigation. The Consultant CIMA produced a report that among other things concluded that friction testing on the Red Hill needed to be conducted; unaware that another consultant, Golder was doing just that and had done so in the past. For years the city dismissed improving lighting on the road, relying on anecdotal word that lighting was ruled out by the environmental Assessment that was conducted as the road was being designed. Around 2018 somebody actually got hold of the EA and found that lighting was not forbidden by the EA, although it would be expensive.
Another recurring theme that has emerged is the practice of essentially managing the recommendations that consultants, who are an indispensable part of the Public Works process, make in their reports. The way the process works is that the consultant does their investigation and then submits a draft report and recommendations which in the case of the Red Hill, were often softened or removed. Documents show the consultant CIMA was engaged in 2017 to conduct a safety audit on the highway which resulted in preliminary recommendations about improving lighting and conducting skid testing on the pavement. Both suggestions were watered down from “should” to “could”, and even after the changes were made the report was not provided to council, but instead summarized by staff. It was an uncomfortable subject for the consultants who testified, because many of them continue to bid on assignments from the city.
Judging from the list of witnesses yet to be heard from, we are possibly halfway through the testimony phase of the inquiry. Most of the witnesses yet to be heard from are current or former City of Hamilton employees. In some cases witnesses are being recalled who have previously testified. Politicians on the witness list include Mayor Fred Eisenberger and present or former councillors Danko, Conley, Jackson and Merulla. Inquiry documents show the councillors’ involvement largely consisted of forwarding constituent concerns to Public Works about Red Hill safety. As we mentioned earlier, it appears that those looking for a smoking gun that points to council malfeasance will be largely disappointed. The real story here may well be the extraordinary efforts that were made to keep councillors in the dark.