City's meetings are still held in secret
Calls for the Corporation of Hamilton to open its doors to the public are nothing new — but for years they appear to have fallen on deaf ears.The elected body meets every other Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss the affairs of the city and how its $20 million budget should be spent. It will do so today at 12.30 p.m. in the Mayor's Parlour at City Hall.Everything from the current industrial action by Corporation workers to the decision — now on hold for six months — to evict Bermuda Society of Arts from City Hall is likely to be on the agenda.But the people who pay taxes, wharfage charges and parking fees to the Corporation and who elect the mayor, aldermen and common councillors every three years cannot attend or read later about was discussed. Minutes of the meetings are not released and the press is excluded.
The Royal Gazette, which yesterday launched its A Right to Know: Giving People Power campaign aimed at making publicly funded bodies more transparent and accountable, asked Mayor Sutherland Madeiros if he would open today's meeting to the public.He said last night he was too busy to consider it because of the industrial dispute which yesterday led to Corporation workers staging their second walkout in a week.Alderman David Dunkley refused to comment on the issue of accountability and aldermen William Black and Courtland Boyle and councillors George Grundmuller, Graeme Outerbridge and Kathryn Gibbons could not be contacted, the latter known to be off island.Councillor W. Carvel Van Putten said he was all for opening up what he described as a "very closed shop". "I have always said it should be more open, more people-friendly and more understanding to the general public," he said. "Throughout our history it's always been closed but we have to take a closer look at it. Some meetings should be held in open."Former Corporation members would also like to see the doors opened. Past deputy mayor Sonia Grant said: "I have always felt that the meetings should be open to the public. The Corporation did take the view and agreed that it would release abridged minutes for public consumption. That was agreed, if I'm correct, in 2003. It never happened."Former mayor Lawson Mapp, who served two terms in charge, said he tried to make the Corporation more accountable but met with resistance."It's not only me but other mayors had tried to see if they could start the process of having our meetings open to the general public. I couldn't do it all on my own, I'd have to have had the full support of all the Corporation members. I had my difficulties. That was one of the areas that I felt very sorry that I wasn't able to get done."The Corporation employs about 120 staff and is responsible for the administration and maintenance of the City of Hamilton, including multi-million plans for a new waterfront. Taxes on businesses and homes account for about 40 percent of its revenue, with the majority of the rest coming from wharfage fees on all goods passing through Hamilton port and parking charges and fines.The Corporation is thought to be unique in the Western hemisphere in holding its meetings privately as an elected body. It contrasts starkly with, for example, Fort Lauderdale in Florida whose City Commission's twice-monthly meetings are broadcast live on the Internet. Business writer Roger Crombie said: "This is the 21st Century. No one holds governmental deliberations in secret anymore. The suspicion you can't avoid is that they are doing something they don't want you to know about."The Corporation has a website — www.cityhall.bm — but Mr. Outerbridge, before he was a councillor, said that was not enough and nor was posting information on notice boards.Under the Municipalities Act 1923, Corporation members do not have privilege barring them for being sued for libel, as in the House of Assembly — a reason sometimes given for the secrecy. But parliament has power to amend the Act.* What do you think? Email
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