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Mayor: Vote will be referendum on control of corporations

Charles Gosling (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The City of Hamilton hopes to make an upcoming municipal election a “referendum” on the future of the City as Government seeks to take control of the municipalities.

Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, said: “This referendum will be an opportunity for the ratepayers – residents and Hamilton based businesses – to declare loud and clear that they demand the continuance of a municipal government they elect, and where the national Government of the day has reasonable oversight of their activities.

“Now is the opportunity for the electorate to insist of each candidate and their campaign if they are for a freely elected Mayor and Council, free of external interference and whose loyalty is to the municipality, or if they are in favour of appointed members, whose commitment is to the individual who appointed them?

“As the candidate chooses their answer, so should you. A referendum creates a poll free of multiple voting, robotic interference, a clear directive.

“This referendum will be a clear instruction to our legislators how this group of electors wants our capital city to continue to exemplify all that makes Bermuda great.”

Mr Gosling added that while he had previously said he would not run for re-election again, he and the councillors in office at the City had decided they would run again as a team.

“Every single member is willing to run, and is willing to run as a team supporting each other,” he said.

“Some of them had originally sought office under the prior administration, and back then we actually ran against each other, but we are all fully committed and fully supportive of each other and having a Corporation that will continue in existence as an elected body.”

Municipal elections were set to take place last year in both the City of Hamilton and the Town of St George, but they were pushed back until this May over an ongoing legal dispute over the Municipalities Amendment Act 2019.

The legislation, approved by the House of Assembly, would end municipal elections with the Government instead appointing mayors and half of the councillors.

The remaining councillors would be 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.

While the City has lost its case in the Bermuda courts, it has since appealed to London’s Privy Council in a last-ditch effort to halt the change.

Update on Privy Council case

Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, said he expects the legal dispute over the future of the municipality to go before London’s Privy Council late this year.

Mr Gosling said that while no date had been set, he expected for it to proceed sometime in the late fall or early winter.

As of yesterday, the case was still not listed on the Privy Council website.

He added that the total legal costs for the Corporation’s side of the legal fight could reach $500,000.

“If you get to Privy Council, you are probably talking anywhere up to half a million dollars,” he said. “It doesn’t come cheap.”

Last week, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, announced that municipal elections would go ahead this May, but with those elected to serve a two-year term instead of the normal three-year term.

Mr Gosling yesterday thanked Colonel Burch and the legislature for their decision to delay last year’s election, but said they were “somewhat surprised” by the decision to hold an election this year as the case rolled on.

He said the Corporation had contacted the Government several months ago about the elections, and at that time they were asked if they would be willing to continue to serve for another two years should the election be further delayed so the court matter could finish.

“As far as Hamilton was concerned we all agreed to see this out and serve the extra two years,” he said. “Last week we were somewhat surprised to be informed that there would be an election rather than one delayed.

“We were further surprised to read that the tenure of office would be restricted to a two rather than a three-year term, as required by the legislation. If our Minister and Cabinet had simply announced an ordinary municipal election, it would be a simple decision on our part on whether or not to seek re-election.

“The expectation, which is an unreasonable one, seems to be that we or the electorate would or should settle for a shortened term of office, creating concerns which we think make it prudent for us to seek legal advice.”

Mr Gosling said the Corporation was unsure if the proposed election would be unconstitutional in the circumstances and if agreeing to it could negatively impact its Privy Council case.

“As the Mayor and Councillors of the Corporation of Hamilton, it would be wrong of us to accept something which on our own argument contravenes the constitutional rights of the electorate,” he said.

“We hope to have an answer to our concerns before our next Council Meeting.

“If our lawyers advise us that this truncated election will be unlawful, or unconstitutional or in some way have negative implications for our legal case, we will seek a court ruling.”

He urged residents of the municipalities to make sure they are registered to vote so that if the election does go ahead, their voices can be heard.

“If you are not registered, you cannot vote,” Mr Gosling said. “Be sure you are registered and let us hear your voice. It’s that simple.”

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Published February 27, 2023 at 8:09 am (Updated February 27, 2023 at 8:16 am)

Mayor: Vote will be referendum on control of corporations

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