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Gosling: Municipalities reforms finish what Dr Brown started

Former Hamilton Mayor Charles Gosling takes a dim view of the latest municipalities reforms — charging that it hands Government the power to dispense with the Corporations “once and for all”.

And he accused the current administration of Hamilton, under Mayor Graeme Outerbridge, as having undermined the credibility of the Corporation.

“This bill completes what [former Premier] Dr Ewart Brown started,” Mr Gosling said — referring to the Municipalities Amendment Bill, approved by MPs in the last session of Parliament.

The bill, which grants Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy extensive powers over the municipalities, also reversed voting amendments introduced under Dr Brown's leadership, in which businesses and property owners had lost their right to vote in city elections.

Mr Gosling — who lost in last year's elections to Mr Outerbridge's group Team Hamilton — told The Royal Gazette that the new reforms threatened the continued existence of the Corporations.

Mr Gosling said: “I would believe Minister Fahy if his response to my comments would be, ‘That is not my intent'. Unfortunately I experienced three years in an adversarial relationship with a government who would have taken this act and quickly booted me and my team out of office, and fired the executive en masse.”

He added: “There were two times I was threatened by the Minister appointed to oversee the municipalities, and once by another Minister, that unless we cooperated to their demands, they had the legislation to get rid of us once and for all. Well, now they do.”

Mr Gosling was sceptical that the Minister's temporary right to take over Corporation operations would indeed be temporary.

“Every time I go to the airport, I go over a temporary bridge,” he said. “My expectation of seeing that bridge disappear during my lifetime stopped growing many years ago — and yet we still call it temporary. So is the temporary power of the Minister.”

The ex-Mayor conceded Government “needed to curtail the operations of the current Corporation with some immediate action”.

He said that Mr Outerbridge's administration had “thrown away its credence — whether it was with the clothing allowance, the iPads and iPhones or the $800,000-plus set aside for the Members in this year's budget, the $100,000 wasted on a trip to Colombia to whip up business for Hamilton, the undisclosed amount for the US Stock Exchange visit, or the 262-year lease on the Waterfront.

“The people of Bermuda have lost faith and feel that the fate of the Corporation is one well deserved,” he said.

Mr Gosling added that the Hamilton waterfront lease hadn't been ratified by a properly constituted meeting.

“If there is no resolution, then those who signed the lease have not lived up to their Members' obligations as set out in law, and are liable for their actions.

“The members do not have the same protection as a Member of Parliament. Taking away the Corporation's rights of ownership opens a Constitutional debate that has to be addressed, if this bill becomes law, in the courts. If these rights can be taken away so easily from what is one of the largest landowners in Bermuda, what will stop similar laws being applied in the future to less similar corporate entities?”

While the law requires the Corporations to report on their actions, Mr Gosling said it had left no requirement for the Minister to respond.

“This bill puts all of the requirements on one party without trying to create any balance in accountability, obligation or creating a champion within Government for either municipality.”

Mr Gosling criticised the new Code of Ethics and Conduct as having “no teeth”, saying it would serve no purpose other than “to publicly embarrass those who have already shown themselves to be encased in Teflon”.

He commended the return to the Corporations of their right to reap the wharfage fees for the use of ports — calling the amendments that had taken wharfage away from the Corporations “vindictive”.

And Mr Gosling said the restoration of a ratepayers' vote allowed for “as broad a franchise as possible” under the new legislation.

“Given that the current Corporation was elected by less than 16 percent of the registered voters, with at least 25 percent of that registered in emergency housing, the needs of the city cannot be met by allowing apathy and corruption to control the city's future,” he said.

Opposition MPs attacked the Municipalities Amendment Act 2013 for giving business owners the vote — which the former mayor branded “hypocrisy”.

“When they were in power, they did not start by espousing the concept of one man, one vote,” he said.

Quoting from the Progressive Labour Party Government's 2010 Request for Proposal on municipalities reform, Mr Gosling continued: “They proposed that ‘Cabinet determined that the most practical, efficient and effective reform would be to repeal the Municipalities Act 1923 and transition the operations of the Municipalities into the relevant Government departments'.

“In other words, remove, destroy the two municipalities,” he said.

“The dramatic change from what was originally agreed upon by Cabinet, and the bill presented a year later, was due to the fight made by the Corporation of Hamilton at that time and the support we had throughout the community.”

Mr Gosling said good legislation would take into consideration “the intentions of good government, as well as predict the actions of the bad”.

Charles Gosling: Reforms could be terminal for municipalities

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Published October 04, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 04, 2013 at 1:04 am)

Gosling: Municipalities reforms finish what Dr Brown started

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