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Elections allowed for Hamilton and St George but officeholders can serve only two years

Local consciousness: the Will Onions-designed Hamilton City Hall

The City of Hamilton and the Town of St George will be allowed to hold elections in May — provided that officeholders serve for two years instead of the usual three-year period.

The Ministry of Public Works made the announcement this afternoon, noting the legal battle over the Municipalities Amendment Act 2019, which proposed eliminating municipal elections.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, said: “Given these circumstances, we believe the equitable course of action is to allow both of our municipal bodies to proceed with their elections providing for officeholders to serve for two years instead of the customary three years, pending the Privy Council’s ruling.”

A spokesman for the ministry noted that municipal elections had been scheduled to take place last year, but were pushed back a year to “maintain the operational stability of both corporations” in the midst of the legal dispute with the City of Hamilton.

He added that the Parliamentary Registrar has been advised and will make the necessary arrangements to conduct the poll, and a Bill will be presented to the legislature to effect the change to two years.

Colonel Burch added: “This matter has since made its way to the Privy Council, Bermuda’s highest appellate court.

“While we had hoped for a determination by the court by now, we acknowledge the matter will take longer for a resolution.”

The City of Hamilton did provide a comment, but George Dowling III, the Mayor of St George, said: “I respect the democratic election process. If there is to be an election, then I will embrace the decision come what may.

“My concern centres on the expense of having an election and then going through the exercise of passing a Bill to shorten the legal term of office as laid out in the Act.

“Would it not be more financially prudent to pass a Bill to extend the current term of the existing councils?”

The legal dispute between the City and the Government was sparked by the House of Assembly’s approval of the Municipalities Amendment Act in 2019.

Under the amendments, ratepayers would lose the right to elect a city mayor and councillors.

The Government would instead appoint mayors and half the councillors, with the remaining councillors picked by the relevant minister on the recommendation of a selection committee.

The City of Hamilton argued that the change was unconstitutional as it would give the Government “overwhelming” control of the municipalities and their properties, which would amount to an unconstitutional deprivation of property.

However, in a decision released last March, the Court of Appeal found that there had been no breach of the Constitution.

The City of Hamilton has since appealed the case before London’s Privy Council in a last-ditch effort to halt the change.

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Published February 23, 2023 at 5:09 pm (Updated February 23, 2023 at 11:15 pm)

Elections allowed for Hamilton and St George but officeholders can serve only two years

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