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Government to lift stewardship of Hamilton

City Hall: the home of the Corporation of Hamilton

The Corporation of Hamilton will reclaim control of its own affairs today as the Ministry of Home Affairs lifts a stewardship order.

Announcing the move yesterday, Senator Michael Fahy, the Minister of Home Affairs, pointed to a new-found confidence in the City’s management since Charles Gosling returned as mayor in May.

Mr Gosling said it brings an end to a turbulent period for the corporation, which was embroiled in a string of controversies under the leadership of his predecessor, Graeme Outerbridge.

However, he warned there is some way to go before the troubled organisation is completely back on track.

Sen Fahy, who will formally lift the stewardship notice at 5pm, said in a statement: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the new Mayor of Hamilton, Charles Gosling, his new council and the secretary for the corporation, Ed Benevides, for bringing about a swift and refreshing approach to operating the Corporation of Hamilton and I look forward to our ongoing dialogue as you take the corporation forward to the betterment of Bermuda.”

Mr Gosling said the announcement was a step back towards normalcy for the municipality, which has been under stewardship since January 26.

“I think the removal of the stewardship order is a positive step, taking the minister away from the day-to-day management of the corporation, bringing it back to a more general oversight,” he said.

“This is the first of several steps which are needed to get the corporation back to some semblance of what it once was.

“We hope that the orchestra leader will pick up the pace a bit because we have much we still have to accomplish.”

He said that as soon as he and his council were elected in May, they met with Sen Fahy to discuss the challenges facing the corporation, including the stewardship notice.

“He advised us of the current situation, both in terms of its financial issues and the many issues he had,” Mr Gosling said.

“I think we proved from the get-go that we want to work with Government. There is a significant difference between local government and national government and we want to perform our role in whatever way will be best for the City.”

Mr Outerbridge described news of the handover as “excellent”. He said: “The more important business now is to get on with doing the Local Government Act that everybody has input into so that we can cease this interference by national government into local government affairs.”

Sen Fahy first claimed stewardship of the Corporation in December 2013 after allegations of good governance violations by the council that was in place at the time. Financial controls were largely returned in March 2014, but stewardship was returned this January, shortly after five members called on Mr Outerbridge to resign over his handling of the $18 million loan for the Par-la-Ville hotel development.

Under the notice, Mr Benevides had been tasked with the day-to-day operations of the corporation, while significant financial or operational decisions were overseen by the ministry.

The council subsequently launched a legal action against the minister over the constitutionality of the notice but complications, including questions about who was legally representing the corporation in court, led to the matter being pushed back.

Last month, it was revealed that the corporation’s net debt was more than $30 million, including the $18 million loan, and was 50 per cent greater than its $20 million statutory limit.