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Rally call to oppose changes to municipalities

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Charles Gosling (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Mayor of Hamilton is considering staging a public rally to highlight public opposition to government’s proposed municipalities reform.

Charles Gosling, who along with Quinell Francis, Mayor of St George’s, has decried the lack of public consultation over the matter, said the Corporation of Hamilton is also working on newspaper and radio advertisements.

A government forum and St George’s poll have indicated barely any support among respondents for reform.

Mr Gosling told The Royal Gazette: “The purpose of any rally on our part would be to harness the public support [for the Corporation of Hamilton] exhibited by the Government’s consultation forum, in a more public way.

“We would engage other stakeholders to speak to the necessity for strong, local government, to explain our position and give examples of the city’s accomplishments. We would allow other community leaders to voice their support.

“The focus of the ads is to reach a broader section of the community and to garner more support from the public. Online web banners ads will link directly to more information where the public can be better informed about the government’s intentions and why local Government should remain.

“Government asked for public consultation, provided the forum, Bermuda has spoken but will government listen?”

The Progressive Labour Party is proposing to either dissolve the corporations of St George’s and Hamilton integrating their functions into a government administrative structure, or change them into quangos giving the Government increased oversight.

A poll issued by Ms Francis for St George’s revealed that out of 188 responses, 179 were in support of the Corporation of St George’s remaining as it is [153 were residents or businesses of St George’s]. There were five in favour of a quango and two in favour of a takeover.

Meanwhile, the government’s own online forum showed 164 against reform, four in favour of the quango option and four in support of a take over.

“You can’t deny those results,” Mr Gosling said. “The added voice from the poll in St George’s also speaks volumes to the fact that government oversight is not welcome in the town.”

The Royal Gazette asked Walter Roban, Minister of Home Affairs, for his views on the outcomes and whether they would impact government’s decision.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said: “The consultative process includes many forms beyond the online forum. It includes meetings with individuals and key stakeholders in the community.

“Over the past year we have been diligently listening and that feedback, alongside the government online forum, will shape how we move forward.”

The Corporation of Hamilton’s Resident’s Committee is to conduct a door-to-door residential survey.

Mr Gosling said that the government has “minimised” the public’s ability to make an informed decision over the future of Bermuda’s municipalities.

Government held two town hall meetings in Hamilton and one in St George’s in the summer and spring of last year and carried out a public survey last September.

Mr Gosling said: “The turnout was abysmal — they were lucky if they had 20 people at both Hamilton meetings.

“The recent consultation process was announced by a two page document and was shared with the media at the end of the first day of consultation.

“There has been no supporting advertising at all. Government made a choice in not engaging in an awareness programme giving the public a minuscule time limit. It now needs to honour the public’s response without resorting to additional, non-disclosed, potentially opaque meetings.”

Ms Francis told The Royal Gazette she believed the public had not been fully informed about the options being presented by Government.

She added: “The major concern among persons in the town is the removal of elected officials, with many identifying that they would like the Corporation of St George’s to remain as is.”

Mr Gosling highlighted a residential satisfaction survey the corporation issued last year that averaged 4.2 out of five for satisfaction levels with five being excellent.

The survey revealed that a lack of police officers on the beat in North Hamilton was cited as “a major concern”.

“Issues like safety need to be a joint effort with local and national Government to be effective,” Mr Gosling said.

He described a “gross” lack of traffic wardens to enforce parking fines as a “thorn for many” adding: “Parking can and needs to be resolved but legislation needs to be passed to enforce and that’s where Government has our hands tied. We have been trying since 2011.”

Government will host two post-consultation meetings, one on March 5 from 6:30pm at East End Primary School and one on March 7 from 5:30pm at the New Testament Church of God: Heritage Worship Centre.

Mr Roban has said government wishes to enhance the two cities with the creation of a “thriving residential centre and entertainment hub” in Hamilton and a mega-yacht port and marina for St George’s, among other developments.

Mr Roban said: “Unfortunately, neither corporation has the financial means to make the necessary investment needed to make this vision a reality.”

He said following the completion of the consultation, government will release the results of the consultation and a timeline for the proposed changes to the corporations.

Quinell Francis (Photograph by Akil Simmons)