Govt turns to courts on CoH back payments
Corporation of Hamilton councillors will receive more than $120,000 in back payments for attending committee meetings — just days after an independent inquiry into the municipality found evidence of widespread maladministration.
But the decision to go ahead with the payments could put the controversy-hit municipality on a collision course with Government, which yesterday filed an injunction to stop the monies being paid.
And one of the nine elected officials set to receive the bumper Christmas payout has also questioned the legality of the “stipend” and accused some of her council colleagues of riding roughshod through the law.
Previously, positions on the nine-man executive council have always been voluntary. However, in October, Government agreed to pay councillors $50 for each monthly council board meeting they attend.
That move was described as “disrespectful” by some councillors, who voted to pay themselves $375 for every board meeting and an additional $175 for every committee meeting they attended.
They also agreed that the payments should be retroactive, dating back to when they were elected in May 2012.
That resolution was passed by a majority of five elected officials at a special board meeting on October 8, but it has taken more than two months to be enforced.
The Royal Gazette understands that administrators initially questioned the payments, and as a result the Corporation’s treasurer was threatened with dismissal by one Alderman for failing to write out cheques.
A second resolution that Corporation Secretary Edward Benevides be suspended for possible misconduct was also not enforced, and the apparent lack of action led Alderman Carlton Simmons to publicly criticise Mayor Graeme Outerbridge for failing to “man up and be a leader”.
“Those resolutions were passed legally and lawfully but it would seem the Mayor thinks he has a right to implement resolutions when he sees fit,” Alderman Simmons told this newspaper on December 3.
The Royal Gazette has now obtained a copy of an e-mail written by Mr Benevides nine days after Mr Simmons’ outburst, informing officials that the payments will be made.
“As approved and directed by council we are processing the retroactive payments to members from May 2012 to October 15, 2013 under the resolution passed by the council,” Mr Benevides said in his e-mail of last Thursday, December 12.
“The stipend will be paid on attendance at both monthly/special council meetings at $375 per meeting and committee meetings at $175 per meeting.”
Government sources last night said that Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy had filed a request for an immediate injunction to block the payments. However, the judge ruled that he will not hold a hearing into the matter until Friday, by which time it is expected that the monies will have been paid.
The decision to pay councillors was also met with concern from Alderman Gwyneth Rawlins — one of four members who did not support the payout.
Ms Rawlins e-mailed an immediate response to Mr Benevides, claiming that the payments were illegal.
“I do not support your course of action from a standpoint of what is allowed and within the law,” Ms Rawlins said.
“Even though the council, through a majority vote rather than a unanimous vote, passed a resolution to pay themselves a stipend based on meeting attendance, this action is ultra vires [beyond the authority of the Corporation] and I am certain that some of my colleagues are blatantly ignoring this fact.
“The council has until very recently functioned under the Municipalities Act, 1923 which does not include any provision by which members could be paid, whether it be per meeting attendance or through receiving a salary.
“Once the principal Act was amended by the Municipalities Amendment Act 2013, passed by the Legislature on October 9, 2013, provision was made for members to receive a stipend of $50 per meeting and $100 per meeting for the chairman [the Mayor] up to an annual maximum of 50 meetings per financial year, which is in line with the Government Authorities (Fees) Act 1971.
“To move ahead with a resolution to do anything outside of this provision is outside of the law and we do so at our peril. I strongly suggest that we halt all action in this regard.
“I am duty bound to question why, having had this brought to the attention of the council on numerous occasions, are we still forging ahead with processing illegal payments to the members. For the sake of openness and transparency, I am copying in all the members.”
Ms Rawlins yesterday said she was unable to confirm if any payments had cleared councillor bank accounts, adding: “Unfortunately, I do not know what the consequences will be if they proceed with helping themselves to tax payers funds for this purpose. Perhaps that is a question for the Minister.”
The Royal Gazette yesterday e-mailed Mayor Outerbridge and Mr Benevides asking why the payments were now being made, how much they would cost the taxpayer, and if the Corporation was confident that they were legal. Mr Outerbridge said that his lawyers would respond to the questions at a later date.
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