Ombudsman issues scathing report on CoH
Rampant maladministration at the Corporation of Hamilton has “crept up at every corner in a dazzling, infinite, relentless variety and wilfulness of ways” according to an independent probe into the municipality.
And Ombudsman Arlene Brock has concluded that the controversial agreement to redevelop Hamilton’s waterfront — approved by the administration last year — should ideally be scrapped because the tendering process was littered with irregularities, while the contracts might not be legally valid.
Ms Brock launched her investigation in March after “a number of concerns had come to my attention ... about decision-making and other governance problems”.
Although initially welcoming the investigation, the Team Hamilton administration, led by Mayor Graeme Outerbridge, later refused to cooperate in the probe and launched a series of legal actions to stop the final report being made public.
In her report, tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday, the Ombudsman said she found evidence of maladministration in four areas — failure to get it right, failure to be customer/public focused, failure to be open and accountable and a failure to act fairly and proportionately.
She listed a catalogue of concerns about “arbitrary decisions made without regard for the technical advice of staff, questionable expenditures, the initial refusal of some members to sign the June 2009 Code of Conduct, potential conflicts of interest, the marked increase in retroactive and unsigned resolutions, unstructured meeting agendas, meetings held without the legal notice period, and business being conducted in secret caucus meetings”.
Focusing on the 262-year, $300 million waterfront development lease with Allied Development Partners, Ms Brock claimed that a number of procedures were breached.
“The Corporation’s decision not to follow their own tendering and quotes policy, their failure to invite the technical staff to provide input into the RFP [Request For Proposal] process as well as the absence of materials such as submission guidelines, evaluation criteria and parameters of the project, created an environment for arbitrariness, non-transparency and abuse of power,” she said.
The report also revealed that City of Hamilton ratepayers forked out $2,319 for two suits, shirts and ties purchased by Mayor Outerbridge.
And they are also picking up a retroactive tab for cell phone roaming charges incurred by councillors.
In a footnote relating to questionable expenditures, Ms Brock said: “Such as retroactive roaming charges for cell phones contrary to existing policy, the purchase of a video produced by the daughter of the Deputy Mayor of the inauguration ceremony of the new Corporation and the purchase of at least two business suits, shirts and ties for the Mayor at a cost of $2,319.”
According to Ms Brock, that last expense was justified at a restricted meeting at which it was claimed: “The suits are just like the iPads and cell phones — they are tools which are needed to carry out the job properly.”
Among other concerns, Ms Brock questioned why the Team Hamilton administration had introduced “closed caucus meeting” that were not properly minuted and which barred technical officers from attending.
“One long established standard is that senior staff relevant to issues being decided upon should attend restricted meetings,” she noted.
“Further, such meetings should be properly minuted. The inclusion of staff in meetings is not just for the purpose of obtaining technical advice. Their presence has the effect of assuring the public that governance is above board and in keeping with proper procedures.”
Ms Brock noted that relations between councillors and administrators “were poisoned early on when senior staff accused the new Corporation of conducting a ‘witch hunt’ after they asked for details about daily operations”.
“Staff reported feeling intimidated, reticent to take initiatives and threatened with discipline when they questioned or offered suggestions about instructions from members of the Corporation,” she said.
Frictions came to a head in September 2012 when councillors voted to reduce staff responsibilities and delegated powers were reduced, a move which Ms Brock claims led to the Corporation becoming “protracted and inefficient”.
“For example, senior staff used to be able to negotiate relatively small or simple leases and contracts themselves.
“Now, they act as shuttle messengers between the vendors and tenants and the Corporation.”
In her conclusion she noted: “If there were only three or four mishaps in governance or just a few technical gaps in the waterfront development process, then everyone would readily forgive normal human failings, ignorance, lapses and misconceptions.
“However, the maladministration that permeated the Outerbridge administration — especially as reflected in the waterfront development — seems to have crept up at every corner in a dazzling, infinite, relentless variety and wilfulness of ways.
“Transparency, accountability and fairness do not seem to be the Corporation’s strongest suits.”
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