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Govt to push ahead on changes to corporations

The City of Hamilton could be run as a “quasi-government organisation”, with business owners voting as well as residents.

But alterations to the voting scheme, if approved by Parliament, aren’t expected before the next municipal elections in 2015.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy told a Hamilton town hall meeting he hoped to see the Municipalities Act, which governs the Corporations of Hamilton and St George, amended during the summer session of Parliament.

The QGO arrangement is currently Government’s “preferred option” for reform, Permanent Secretary Cherie-lynn Whitter told the meeting.

The QGO option would eliminate the post of alderman, but retain mayors and common councillors.

The arrangement would see the Minister given responsibility to approve property purchases, or approving developments over $1 million.

Registered ratepayers, whether as paying tenants or paying business owners, would then have the right to vote in municipal elections.

Deputy Mayor Donal Smith asked the Minister if he’d considered that the Progressive Labour Party would undo the legislation if the Opposition regained government.

“That’s for the PLP and not for me to speculate on,” Senator Fahy replied.

Asked what would happen if the amendments failed to pass in the House of Assembly, Sen Fahy said: “I wouldn’t be pleased with it. But those are bridges to cross if we get there.”

Hamilton Common Councillor Larry Scott commended the introduction ratepayer voting model, and businessman Sir John Swan told the meeting: “Taxation without representation has always been a no-no within democracies ... if you’re paying taxes, you expect to have a voice.”

Asked by Sir John what he thought of the QGO proposal, Mr Outerbridge said: “I would think rather than the quasi-governmental idea, and emasculating the process of local government, we would want to enhance it — make it stronger, independent and accountable.”

The mayor pointed out that with businesses greatly outnumbering city residents, there was a risk of “the business vote swamping the residential vote”.

Added common councillor Troy Symonds: “Businesses, I can tell you from experience, are going to have their voices heard no matter what.

“To go back to the business vote is undemocratic, and not the norm in most democratic jurisdictions.”

Sen Fahy responded: “There is no intention to roll the clock back to the way things were in the past.”

Asked if the mayor and councillors would receive pay, Sen Fahy said it wasn’t included in the current QGO model.

“But the Corporation has raised the issue, and it is being looked at and not dismissed,” he added.

Also being considered by Government is the possibility of expanding the city’s boundaries.

“That’s something to look at another day,” Sen Fahy said.

Discussion: Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outerbridge (left) and Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy at Friday's town hall meeting (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 20, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 19, 2013 at 11:08 pm)

Govt to push ahead on changes to corporations

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