City officials spent ratepayer money on PLP banquet tickets
City bosses seek to change rules on cheque signing
City Hall’s elected officials want the authority to write Corporation cheques without getting them countersigned by senior administrators.
And the controversial proposal has been described as “unbelievable” by one former Hamilton Mayor who said it would “bypass and negate” current checks and balances that guard against corruption.
Currently any cheque that the Corporation of Hamilton makes out to pay for expenses is only valid if it carries two signatures. One of those has to be that of the Mayor or Deputy Mayor, while the second signature must come from senior managers.
But Mayor Graeme Outerbridge’s administration is now proposing that a cheque can be cashed as long as it carries the signatures of two senior elected representatives only — avoiding the need for any spending to be vetted by administrators.
The Royal Gazette has seen a draft copy of the proposal, which splits the signatories into two pools. Pool A signatories are listed as the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and two Aldermen. The Corporation’s Secretary, Treasurer and Deputy Treasurer are listed in Pool B.
Under the proposal, payments from Corporation funds can be made providing cheques are signed by either two names from Pool A or one name from Pool A and one name from Pool B.
Yesterday The Royal Gazette asked the Corporation why it felt the change was necessary. A spokesman for the municipality did not respond by press time last night.
But former Mayor Charles Gosling said he found the proposal “unbelievable”.
“The system that is currently in place is there for a very good reason,” he said.
“Not only does it protect the ratepayer’s funds from potential abuse, it also protects any elected official from any allegations of misconduct. This will bypass and negate those checks and balances. Unbelievable.”
Last night a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said: “It should be noted that the Ministry has concerns about any changes that reduce the financial accountability of the Corporation or internal controls over spending.”
Hamilton Corporation officials spent ratepayer funds on tickets to attend last week’s Progressive Labour Party banquet, documents reveal.
And the purchase could be in breach of municipality regulations if officials classify it as a donation to a political organisation.
At a special meeting of the Corporation Board last Friday, Deputy Mayor Donal Smith proposed that the Corporation pay out $1,250 to reserve a table for ten guests at the Opposition’s annual banquet, which was held at the Hamilton Princess Hotel the following evening.
According to minutes of the meeting, the proposal was seconded by Councillor Keith Davis and approved by a unanimous vote.
The minutes state “that the Board approve the purchase of tickets (1 table) in the amount of $1250 for the PLP Annual Banquet Saturday 26 October 2013”.
It is not known which, if any, members of the Corporation attended the function, but five elected representatives were at Friday afternoon’s meeting — Mr Smith and Mr Davis, Mayor Graeme Outerbridge, Alderman Carlton Simmons and Councillor George Scott. Three other officials — Alderman Gwyneth Rawlins and councillors Larry Scott and RoseAnn Edwards were not at the meeting.
PLP leader Marc Bean was the keynote speaker at last week’s banquet and he used the occasion to rally the party faithful, claiming that the party had become stronger and more united since its defeat at last December’s general election.
The One Bermuda Alliance held its banquet a week earlier at the Fairmont Southampton Princess. The Royal Gazette understands that the Corporation was not represented at that event.
One lawyer has now questioned if it was legal for the Corporation to spend ratepayer money on a banquet.
“Although I am not aware of any laws governing the municipality with respect to political donations, I would be very surprised if there was anything in law that gave the Corporation either express or implied power to spend funds on something like that,” the lawyer, who asked not to be named, said.
“An argument could be put forward that, as elected officials, they wanted to maintain good relations with the political parties, but if that was the case, they should have attended the One Bermuda Alliance’s banquet as well. And if they only had the funds to attend one banquet, they shouldn’t have gone to either.”
Yesterday The Royal Gazette contacted a Corporation spokeswoman to ask questions about the purchase. This newspaper was advised to e-mail questions to the spokesman, but no response to that e-mail was received by press time last night.
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