Broader conversation on municipalities needed
I recall many years ago working with Eva Robinson and W.E. Rudolph Joell, who ran several times unsuccessfully for mayor. We had a "back of town" committee back in the Seventies. Of course, the issues then were what was deemed as unequal treatment of ratepayers.
We were paying the rates, but no Christmas lights were hung in our areas and the service was poor. During those days, I was thinking we needed to have two boroughs so as to have specific representation within the Corporation of Hamilton. But that was a different matter: it wasn't about demolishing the CoH; it was about making the CoH more responsive to the demands of the entire municipality.
This recent matter, if it were about how to make the CoH better, given the principal argument is that the franchise for the municipality is too small, perhaps the attention should be put on how to extend the franchise and what would be the most practical way of doing so. The other argument about the CoH having the power in light of the $18 million fiasco to have the mandate to be able to fully engage in its own right, for matters of commerce and redefining what is considered as limits of its interest, can also be developed as an item. These, while significant, don't need a wrecking ball to remedy.
It may be indeed a new resolve to fix the issue of a city and country, which for all intents is everyone's city. The City cannot function without the people and vice versa; it's symbiotic. There is merit in reconciling an old disparity of an “us and them” as far as country and city is concerned. I would propose that the country through the electorate select the mayors and, to add balance, allow the ratepayers to select the councillors. That would be a progressive step.
Why must we always have a choice between standing still, holding on to an archaic past that no longer serves the greater good, and a change to something that will be less democratic and authoritarian such as the proposed structural change.
Having ministers who are appointed by the Premier appoint the mayor, then the mayor select three councillors and a select committee, which is also appointed by the Premier, puts the entire CoH under the Premier's control. In such a case, one should just go straight to the core and let the Premier appoint everyone because there is only a thin veneer as a cosmetic difference.
Here is where the people should make their voices heard. Under an alternative construct, where the electorate selects the mayor, the whole issue of power can also be addressed. The mayor becomes the leader of the municipality as a full-time job and is fully accountable to the municipality and the country. Under this construct, there would be an arm’s distance between the elected government and the municipality, and both the country and the City get specific focus needed and leadership. There would also be greater continuity and critical scrutiny, which should help to evolve the CoH as an accountable tool in the hands of all the people, rather than at the behest of ministers or governments, both of which can be changed — in particular, the ministers who could be changed overnight. That aside, the councillors should not have to bear political allegiance as a municipal adviser. Under the present proposal by the Government, when any party wins such as the Progressive Labour Party, the entire CoH would be PLP. When they lose, another party comes in and everybody must clean their desk.
The municipality needs specific focus and a taskforce approach, drawn from any sector. At present, while municipal elections are political, they are not necessarily partisan. This move will decidedly make the CoH a direct party vehicle. I am not convinced the electorate is in favour of that and this may be something worth being tried by a referendum.
Further, this puts Bermuda one step closer to a totalitarian, absolute rule, when you have the leader of a party with near complete control. If you have complete control over the ministries, then add control of the municipalities, that’s more power over the country than is held by the President of the United States.
I heard it said we want greater democracy, and I would hope that means democracy everywhere. There is no better test to demonstrate the country’s resolve on what it means to be democratic than this CoH municipality issue. Political life doesn't have to be so predictable: you could have forecasted the PLP would propose demolishing the CoH as a vestige of the oligarchy and White privilege, and that the One Bermuda Alliance would respond by saying that it’s a money grab. But the response is to do nothing.
I know both parties are deadly serious, but can either take the issue seriously as needing thought? Can we just say it's time for a debate about what to do about an organisation that perhaps needs reform and how best to address all the issues? Does it always need to be East versus West? Does it always need to be diametric opposites? Are there not 360 degrees in a circle as opposed to two points across the diameter? Unfortunately, when the issue is power and control on both ends, that's what we get. We need a fuller national debate or referendum; not a court case that will cost the taxpayer millions of dollars.