Members of the public have raised concerns with the Ombudsman over the Corporation of Hamilton’s handling of the redevelopment of the city’s waterfront, Ombudsman Arlene Brock said yesterday.

And she said she had already received submissions over the controversial plans after she announced, earlier this week, that she was launching a probe into a “lack of transparency” at City Hall.

The news came as City Hall hit back with a blistering statement yesterday, suggesting the Ombudsman might be straying outside of her remit while also urging her to delve into previous City Hall administrations. 

Deputy Mayor Donal Smith said: “It is clear that the Ombudsman is proceeding on prior purloined documentation and information spirited away from the Corporation of Hamilton by some malcontent.”

He added that the probe should also include to look at previous city councils, especially a trust and land assets “which, amongst other matters, held taxpayer funds for the questionable purposes of defending itself legally against the previous government initiative to amend the Municipalities Act 1923.”

Ms Brock said earlier: “We have heard expressions of concern — I think that’s about all I can say and we have started to receive submissions.”

The Ombudsman, however, declined to discuss how many people had contacted her since the probe was announced on Wednesday.

A statement from the Ombudsman’s office said then: “Allegations brought to her office include lack of transparency, inadequate governance and lack of public consultation generally.”

The statement singled out operational decisions made beyond the remit of the board and “particularly” the waterfront proposals.

Ms Brock added that the current administration, which took power after ousting then-Mayor Charles Gosling and his team last year — had said the waterfront development would have “full transparency and be inclusive for all to participate at every step of the way”.

But the statement said: “However, there are concerns that this promise is not being kept.”

Ms Brock added: “Twenty-first century transparency must demonstrate evidence-based decision-making, adequate disclosure and public consultation on major developments.

“The continuing controversy and apparent growing loss of confidence in the Corporation, in addition to the centrality of the City of Hamilton’s role in Bermuda give me reasonable grounds to launch a systemic investigation in the public interest.

“Shedding light on governance at the Corporation can only be of benefit to the City of Hamilton and to Bermuda as a whole.”

The statement said Ms Brock had launched the probe “on her own motion in the public interest”.

But Mr Smith said yesterday: “We do have some very serious concerns about the conduct of the current investigation and the manner in which the Ombudsman has publicized it to date.

“We are concerned that the Ombudsman may be acting outside the parameters of her remit and to that end we have retained legal counsel to address those concerns.

“Though the investigation must go on, it must not do so if its intent or by-product is to undermine the authority of this Mayor and council or impugn or malign, inadvertently or otherwise, the character or professional competencies of same. This council will not tolerate such action.”

A row erupted between Government and the city administration after Mr Outerbridge signalled an announcement on the waterfront was imminent.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy, who is also responsible for municipalities, said it would be “highly premature” to make any announcement when the Government, which is expected to be a major partner in the project had “not been properly or suitably briefed about the development initiative”.

Mr Fahy said Government had asked the Corporation not to make any announcement until the plans had been fully discussed.

He added: “One, we have absolutely no knowledge of the project in terms of its scope or design and two, we have not been provided any opportunity to conduct any due diligence with respect to the proposed financiers or developers.”

Mayor Graeme Outerbridge is understood to be off the island and not available for comment. 



Full statement from Deputy Mayor Donal Smith

Deputy Mayor Donal Smith this afternoon issued the following statement on behalf the City of Hamilton Council.

“We the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Council and members, of course, welcome the long overdue investigation of the Corporation of Hamilton.

“However, we urge the Ombudsman to, in her purported systemic investigation, reach as far back to at least the last two recent administrations in order to get some perspective on where things are today. Of particular interest to her in the inquiry of the last administration should be the existence of a trust by the name of the Democratic Trust and all land assets which, amongst other matters, held taxpayer funds for the questionable purposes of defending itself legally against the previous government initiative to amend the Municipalities Act, 1923.

“The past Mayor should be extremely helpful in this regard in the interests of transparency and clarification. These anomalies and others have engaged the bulk of this present elected Mayor and Council’s time in its own efforts to right the maladministration and unaccountability of the past and to put in line-management structures and best business practices that it found wanting upon its arrival some eight months ago.”

Deputy Mayor Smith added, “There is a clear distinction between the overall policy and supervisory functions of the Mayor and Council and the day-to-day administration and management of the Corporation of Hamilton. it is in the latter department that we suggest that the Ombudsman “shine her lamp of scrutiny”. It is clear that the Ombudsman is proceeding on prior purloined documentation and information spirited away from the Corporation of Hamilton by some malcontent.

 “In closing, let us say that we do have some very serious concerns about the conduct of the current investigation and the manner in which the Ombudsman has publicized it to date. We are concerned that the Ombudsman may be acting outside of the parameters of her remit and to that end we have retained legal counsel to address those concerns. Though the investigation must go on, it must not do so if its intent or by-product is to undermine the authority of this Mayor and Council or impugn or malign, inadvertently or otherwise, the character or professional competencies of same. This Council will not tolerate such action.

“Lastly, we the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and/or Council members will not, during the course of this investigation, entertain any questions nor make any comments in respect thereof. Please direct same to our legal representatives. We have a city to administer.”