Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Monday May 15, 2006
Who’s minding the store?
Last week’s game of political dodge ball over the unionizing of city carpentry work was more evidence of a city hall malaise that should have Hamilton taxpayers incensed.
It’s not just the potential cost of this screw-up that’s troubling, though that aspect is deadly serious. The more exasperating problem is the culture of listlessness that, on too many days, seems to characterize municipal government.
In the carpentry issue, city councillors and managers failed to realize a union drive was taking place until it was too late — even though someone, somewhere at City Hall had been properly notified about it. Has anyone heard about communications protocols? How about accountability?
We now learn that the union monopoly over the city’s carpentry work, much of which was contracted out, could suck as much as $10 million a year from public coffers.
Guess whose pockets that will come from?
This debate is not about the merits of unions. It is about competency levels in a billion-dollar-a-year corporation called the City of Hamilton. Who’s running the ship, watching out for the public? The mayor? The city manager? Council? Staff? Hamiltonians should demand answers.
This debacle is the latest tile in a pattern that is unflattering.
Just last week councillors were startled to learn that a $14.5-million blue box contract with a private vendor has never been signed — after three years. There may well be good reasons for this, such as ongoing negotiations. But surely council — the corporation’s board of directors — should be kept apprised of such an important file as waste recycling.
Last month it was revealed that, for 10 years, city officials never conducted the mandatory annual performance review of Hamilton airport, a critical player in the city’s economic development, and which is contracted out to private operator TradePort.
The city of Hamilton is a big operation with thousands of employees. As with any large workplace, a certain percentage of things “fall through the cracks, ” and many dedicated people toil in thankless anonymity on tasks and projects that are well done. This spring’s rollout of the green cart program, for example, didn’t happen by accident. Many hands made it a success.
None of those facts, however, undo the expectation of accountability at both the political and staff levels. Public servants answer to the public. Government bureaucracies are often accused of lacking a sense of urgency, of being more concerned about surviving than thriving.
An unfair characterization of life down at City Hall? Given the nature and cost of the carpentry blunder, many furious Hamiltonians will think not and will want to know who is taking responsibility for this shocking disregard for public money in a city so strapped for cash. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial, A16, 5/15/2006)