Column: 5 Amendments, Municipal Obsession?

July 14, 2015

[Opinion column written by Jonathan Starling]

Municipal Obsessions?

Since the OBA came to power in December 2012, they’ve displayed something bordering on an obsession concerning our municipal governments.  Our municipalities have been subject to more legislative reforms than any other issue, which has led to instability and controversy.

In their first year in power, in 2013 we had the Municipalities Amendment Act 2013; in 2014 we had two Municipalities Amendment Acts, and in 2015 we’ve already had one Municipality Amendment Act, and now we see a second Municipalities Amendment Act introduced into parliament.

That’s five Municipal Amendment Acts in two and a half years.

The Nature of Reforms

Some of the amendments have been necessary housekeeping matters, such as the replacement of a two-tiered Alderman and Councillor municipal government with one of Councillors and Mayors only and the institutionalising of both a Code of Ethics and Conduct and a Municipal Meeting Guide [in the Municipal Amendment Act 2013].

However, others have been much more controversial, such as the reintroduction of the business vote which has, at least in the case of the City of Hamilton, given de facto control of the municipality to the business vote rather than balancing the interests of both residents and businesses – while workers and consumers remain without representation whatsoever.

Some of these multiple OBA amendments to the Municipal Act have been made to correct mistakes of what can only appear now to be a rushed approach to municipal reforms [which in the light of recent allegations takes on a different light], especially regarding the power to void contracts dating to the beginning of 2012.

Indeed, these multiple amendments to the Municipal Act under the OBA give an impression of a failure on the part of this Government to develop a comprehensive policy analysis and plan for the municipalities in the first place – it gives the impression almost of a Government making it up as it goes, including having to clean up a mess of its own making.

It was partly for this reason that, back in 2013 during the initial OBA Municipal Amendment Act, I called for the OBA to hold off on the amendment until the Ombudsman’s own motion investigation into governance at the Corporation of Hamilton had been completed and released.  This would have allowed for the amendment to properly consider and incorporate the recommendations of an in-depth report into municipal governance.

I also called for the Government to release the 2009/2010 report on municipal reform [which led to the Municipal Amendment Act 2010 under the PLP] prior to any such amendments.  To date, this report, costing the Government approximately $800k, remains unavailable to the public.

An Affront to Democracy

Perhaps the most troubling ‘reforms’ have been a creeping encroachment of State power over municipal affairs, with the power of the Minister – unelected and unaccountable to municipal voters, resident or business – increasingly having powers that render the municipal governments impotent to the point of irrelevance.

This is particularly the case with the second Municipal Amendment Act 2015, currently before parliament.  In fact, this second Municipal Amendment of the year not only allows for the Minister to take direct control of municipalities, but allows this direct rule to be delegated to a ‘public officer’.

This option of direct rule, especially without substantial objective definitions of what situations would allow for the suspension of municipal self-government, leads the process open to subjective and arbitrary abuse by the Minister.  In effect, it renders the entire point of an elected municipal government pointless and an exercise in impotence.

If the Government wanted to introduce greater accountability into the municipal governments, it might want to consider using them as a testing ground for some of the political reforms they promised in their 2012 election campaign, particularly the right of recall [of which there’s been no momentum by the OBA].

A Reform Too Far

This Government has failed to provide a comprehensive and cohesive approach to municipal reform and has had to continuously introduce more and more municipal amendments partly to clean up their piecemeal and rushed amendments in the first place.

This fifth municipal amendment since 2013 adds to the instability of municipal governance and effectively renders the municipalities, as self-governing entities accountable to their electorate, irrelevant.

It goes too far.

Inappropriate Timing

In addition to fundamentally undermining municipal democracy, this current amendment is being introduced amidst an active police investigation into allegations involving the Minister [among other OBA Ministers and MPs] concerning matters relating to the City of Hamilton, including allegations involving municipal reform itself.

These are serious allegations which go to the heart of people’s concerns about whether their political leaders are trustworthy and are transparent.  They warrant a major formal public inquiry – a royal commission – to establish the facts and clear up any suspicions in order to restore both voters and investor’s confidence in the Government and its handling of municipal reform.

Until this is done the Government should ‘rise and report progress’ on this Municipal Amendment Act 2015 [no.2] – it is wholly inappropriate to engage in further municipal reforms until there is clarity regarding these allegations and the active police investigation is concluded.

Additionally, any further municipal reforms should only occur after the full public release of the 2009/2010 report on municipal reform, along with a commitment to a joint-select committee approach – in full consultation with the municipal governments – to ensure a sustainable, comprehensive and cohesive approach to municipal reform rather than continued ad hoc reforms.

- Jonathan Starling

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Comments (18)

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  1. Well you know de Front Street boys have to have control.
    Remember what Jim Woolridge stated.

    • hmmm says:

      Who are these mythical front street boys?

    • Terry says:

      What garbage Onion.
      Front Street boys.

      When it is empty what will you say then.

  2. aceboy says:

    However, others have been much more controversial, such as the reintroduction of the business vote which has, at least in the case of the City of Hamilton, given de facto control of the municipality to the business vote rather than balancing the interests of both residents and businesses – while workers and consumers remain without representation whatsoever.

    OMG. You didn’t just write that surely?

    The residents went ahead and voted in Team Hamilton. Do you think that worked out well? Team Hamilton handed a 262 year lease to a totally inappropriate contractor who is now embroiled in a controversy which sees a Mexican finance company owning Par-La-Ville car park as a result of payment defaults and a potential %$90 million lawsuit the government will need to defend. They also handed money to a woman who anyone with half a brain could see would rip them off….and she did. They insisted on being paid, when the positions held were not paying jobs…a fact they absolutely knew and were aware of, yet they ran for office anyway, clearly with a view to being financially rewarded.

    Do you think it responsible of the OBA to allow that kind of thing to happen again?

    The businesses pay the majority of the tax and thus provide the most support for the City of Hamilton. For them to NOT have a vote is a complete farce and equates to taxation without representation. The residents still have the ability to vote but somehow they should also control in your mind….why?

    • Sad says:

      And don’t forget that Mr. Starling conveniently omits the crucial fact that the new voting/representing structure includes guaranteed seats for both resident and business councillors. So his claim about non-resident reps is a lie.

      I also find it strange that he did not demand earlier the release of the $800k PLP commissioned corporation review that was paid to a foreign firm. No continuous articles or sit ins over that lack of transparency.

      Seems that he is a tad obsessed by the OBA given his double standards for each Party.

    • PBanks says:

      I think what’s overlooked is his statement regarding people who work in the city having no representation, he appears to suggest that those who work in the city should also have a say in who runs it. Personally I think that is a non-starter.

  3. Mumbojumbo says:

    A city town possessing a corporate existence usually with it’s own local govt….

  4. hmmm says:

    A commercial centre reintroducing a business vote is NOT controversial !!

    What was controversial was taking away a business vote from a commercial centre.

  5. Unbelievable says:

    Johnny Starling has become so biased against the OBA his columns are not even worth reading anymore. Yet he failed to criticise his alma mater, the PLP, at every turn through out their 14 years of mismanagement.

  6. Terry says:

    Once again I’ll state:- What else do you expect from Comrade Starling.
    Self confessed Communist Marxist Lenonist.

    You be the judge.
    Shalom.

  7. cs says:

    If the $18million that the Corp is now on the hook for was Mr. Starlings money he’d be singing a different tune. As a taxpayer who prior to May this year had no vote, I am glad the Govt has seen fit to institute controls so another 18mil can’t disappear.

  8. Chris Famous says:

    Who signed for the $18 million from the COH?

    • Terry says:

      And your point is what.
      Was it done in good faith et al.
      Enlighten us.

      Signing something means jack s***

    • Sad says:

      Whose personal account was the $18mn wired to before it disappeared along with the parking lot?

    • Terry says:

      Once again I state; tell us why and whom Mr. Famous

  9. Truth and Nothing but the Truth says:

    STARLING,,, I`M SORRY………….. WHAT???

  10. steve says:

    Hey Mr Starling, you forgot to make a vague reference to some mistake by the PLP in order to appear even handed. Tell me , does Dunkley’s f-bomb aimed in your direction still burn? -you work on that, And i will work on why i waste time reading and commenting on this type of piece…

  11. Jurist says:

    What is the commie/socialist saying?