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Home Opinion Opinion: Cone of silence around Hamilton Waterfront Trust persists, even with new, “transparent” board

Opinion: Cone of silence around Hamilton Waterfront Trust persists, even with new, “transparent” board

The future of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust continued to confound observers after last week’s meeting of its board of directors, which at the moment consists entirely of members of Hamilton city council. At a meeting that at times was lighthearted under the chairmanship of Ward Two councillor Cameron Kroetsch, cryptic allusions were made to a KPMG report, which is believed to provide advice on the future of the organization. It now appears that report will go before council sometime in March.

Ontario Ombudsman confirmed HWT wind-down

Actually confirmation that the Trust appears to be ready to turn over operations to the city was confirmed, not by its board, but by the Ontario Ombudsman in a long-awaited response to a complaint that the HWT had not held open public meetings From April 2020 to February 2021. In finding that the HWT did violate the open meetings policy. the Ombudsman noted “on September 28, 2022, council announced that it had directed staff to work with the Waterfront Trust to prepare a report on “[…] how to transfer the Waterfront Trust’s operational responsibilities and Hamilton Waterfront Trust’s assets to the City of Hamilton.” That direction happened at an in-camera meeting which followed a chaotic open session of council where complaints were made about the HWT’s lack of transparency. In that September  open session  members of council openly discussed the possibility of winding down the HWTs affairs, a matter that was supposed to be discussed in camera, to the horror of Bernie Meuller, the Board’s chair, and last citizen member, who subsequently resigned.

Whatever the future of the HWT, the board at its February 21 meeting went ahead with the election of officers, with Kroetsch continuing as Chair and Councillor Spadafora as Vice Chair. The other members are Councillors Hwang and Alex Wilson. Werner Plessl who was the executive director of the organization from its inception in 2000 until last fall has retired. At the meeting it was announced that  Mary Ann Cuthbert, who is acting Executive Director will also depart.

Let’s hope that we have seen the last of these in-camera discussions about the future of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust. Most of the key details are already out there through leaks and misadventure. Hopefully Chairman Kroetsch, who says he is a champion of transparency, and his board colleagues will lead the way by insisting that the KPMG report be discussed in public in March. While the organization did some commendable work in its early years when it had money, for all of its existence, it has operated with excessive secrecy, even refusing to share information with the city risk management staff about civil lawsuits which the city eventually had to settle. It is to be hoped that the election of a new board is a caretaker move for a body that has no longer any justification to exist as a separate entity. The organization would have been bankrupt by now had it not been for cash infusions and sole-sourced make-work construction contracts advanced by the city. The HWT has been on life support for the best part of a decade. It’s time to provide a public accounting as it prepares to exit.

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