Media

Merulla Tells The Hamiltonian: Show Me Your Press Credentials

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 30, 2012

this blog entry has been updated

Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla has refused to respond to a query from The Hamiltonian about the Waterfront Trust, stating that the site organizers to not have "media credentials" and should request a citizen delegation to the General Issues Committee if they want to pursue the issue.

On June 29 at 8:29 PM, The Hamiltonian emailed Councillor Merulla to ask if he would be answering the questions they had earlier sent to him regarding the Waterford Trust.

In an email response at 8:36 PM, Merulla wrote:

I've informed you that I would more than willing to champion your cause as a delegation at GIC thereby ensuring I represent my constituents openly and transparently. Please forward me a request so to appear as a delegation so I can formally get to the bottom of your questions.

The Hamiltonian replied at 9:09 PM:

Respectfully - we will not engage in game playing. It is an inappropriate request. Do you ask the spec to form a delegation each time they have a question.

Merulla wrote back at 9:15 PM, copying local media:

The Spec has national press credentials. Please forward your media credentials to me and I will consult with my residents.

The Hamiltonian replied directly to Merulla at 9:23 PM and wrote:

If you rethink this and would like to answer the question, let us know.

Merulla, in turn, replied to that comment at 9:25 PM and again copied the wider news media:

I've included the national media as well as local. Hence if you rethink your position please let me know!

Half an hour later at 10:02 PM, Merulla replied again:

The Country is waiting on the Hamiltonian! What's it going to be folks!

At 10:14 PM, Merulla sent yet another reply:

Let me tell you what it is going to be! Stop breaking our balls until you have media credentials to request what you are requesting. Until then please feel free to ask council for permission to be a delegation to present your case so we can conscientiously serve our constituents globally.

Finally, at 11:30 PM, Merulla sent out yet another reply:

I look forward to your delegation at GIC considering you do not have media credentials. Having said this I strongly encourage you to come forward as a delegation so council can champion the defeat of your real and or imagined demons thereby ensuring I and all of council are conscientiously serving our constituency.

The replies forwarded by Merulla to the news media excludes some of the emails sent between The Hamiltonian and Merulla. The Hamiltonian has published the full exchange.

In short, Merulla has told The Hamiltonian that he does not regard them as a legitimate news media organization and that as such, he has no obligation to respond to their request for comment.

Background

Last October, Mayor Bob Bratina caused a stir at his first State of the City address when he said that the financial difficulties of Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Incorporated (HECFI) were "not dissimilar to other agencies, like the waterfront trust and the conservation authority. As a council, we have to confront that."

Council had voted to take direct control of HECFI earlier last year, after the arms-length corporation reported millions of dollars in annual losses that had to be covered with municipal tax revenue.

After the State of the City address, Bratina continued to criticize the Waterfront Trust, noting that the Trust was overdue to submit its 2010 financial statements to the City and suggesting that the Trust was losing money and that the Trust and Port Authority might need to be taken over by an "overarching" agency.

Trust chair Bob Charters said Bratina, a former Trust board member, was "absolutely wrong, and I’m not sure that he knows what he’s talking about," noting that the Trust was not receiving annual subsidies from the City.

Councillor Tom Jackson, a member of the Trust board, argued that the 2010 financial statement had already been submitted to Revenue Canada, and that it would be presented to Council as part of a broader overview of its operations that Council had requested.

The November 14, 2011 presentation to Council reported that the Trust had a $890,000 deficit for 2010 due to one-time costs, and that the original $6 million trust fund had been reduced to $500,000 after the Trust had managed $15 million in projects since 2000.

In the face of Bratina's suggestion of mismanagement, Council unanimously voiced its continued confidence in the Trust. Councillor Merulla apologized for Bratina's "offensive" comments, and Councillor Jackson said the criticism was "unfair" and came from "a small, consistent cabal of people".

The matter seemed to be at rest until June of this year, when the Bay Observer published a report accusing the Trust of "questionable accounting practices" including "Instances of altered invoices for projects undertaken, apparent conflicts of interest, ineligible HST claims, and a strongly-worded letter by an auditor pointing out numerous areas of concern, including chaotic bookkeeping."

In particular, the article, written by Bay Observer editor John Best, called out the Trust for spending $681,000 on a beach canal washroom in order to cover cost overruns in another project, which had come in $1.3 million over its $2.3 million budget.

The Hamiltonian jumped on the story and sent out a list of ten questions to the Trust and Council. They published responses from Councillors Chad Collins and Jason Farr, as well as City finance chief Rob Rossini, who responded to two questions.

Trust chair Charters referred the questions to Waterfront Trust general manager Werner Plessl. Then Charters and Plessl both deferred to Rossini's response, declining to comment further.

Councillor Jackson subsequently responded referring back to Rossini's response and saying The Hamiltonian's questions were "based on the [Bay Observer]'s unfortunate, in some circumstances, regurgitated allegations and that the B.O's story seems to be sourced from the same, small cabal of HWT critiques, who possibly, for whatever reason(s), loath the work of the HWT."

Meanwhile, the Bay Observer published a follow-up article reporting that the Trust posted a $474,000 loss for 2011.

Political Interests

Politically, this story has a lot of moving parts and a complex web of overlapping political interests.

A finding of financial and procedural impropriety in the Trust would validate Mayor Bratina's criticism last year and cast Council's vote of confidence in a troubling light - especially Council members of the Trust board who have defended its operations.

On the other hand are suggestions that the attacks on the Trust come from a small "cabal" of opponents with a political agenda. Bratina's chief of staff, Peggy Chapman, was formerly a writer for the Bay Observer and the magazine has tended to defend the Mayor against criticisms from other news media, particularly the Hamilton Spectator.

Councillor Merulla has been among the most vociferous critics of Bratina on Council and was behind the historic vote, earlier this year, to Censure the mayor over his conduct with respect to a pay raise granted to his chief of staff. Recall that in November, Merulla made a point of apologizing to the Trust for Bratina's words.

Dangerous Precedent

The Hamiltonian has been barking up this particular tree steadily for the past couple of weeks. I don't know whether there's a cat up there or not: whether the accusations of impropriety and mismanagement have merit - though there does seem to be enough uncertainty to warrant an audit to clear the air one way or the other.

However, the apparent stonewalling of The Hamiltonian's questions does nothing to instill confidence. Even if you feel, as Charters, Plessl and some councillors surely do, that the line of questioning lacks merit, it should not be difficult to lay these concerns to rest with some straight answers.

There are a lot of competing agendas at play, and it would be easy to dismiss it all as a lot of drama - except that Merulla's excuse for not responding to The Hamiltonian sets a dangerous precedent in how city politicians deal with independent community media.

City Media Relations Policy

The City's Media Relations Policy, reviewed last year and updated in March 2012, states the guiding principles of the City's media relations:

The City of Hamilton recognizes the vital role media has in City communications and the need to respond to media requests with promptness, courtesy, honesty, and respect. We welcome the opportunity to communicate accurately and clearly about City programs, services, and issues.

The City maintains positive working relationships with all forms of media (i.e. print, broadcast and electronic) that reach national, regional, local, neighbourhood, community, and ethnic audiences.

The City produces and distributes information to the media that has news value, and is timely, clear, accurate, and accessible.

The City maintains an open, transparent communications process that enables media to have access to City decision-makers and knowledgeable staff.

The City’s media relations activities comply with municipal legislation, corporate policies and council directives.

The policy states the City's definition of "media":

The City of Hamilton defines media as any print, radio, television or online media outlet. This includes national, regional, local, neighbourhood, community and ethnic media outlets, Online media refers to websites that publish news, investigative reports, analysis, commentary, events and/or general information.

The summary of the media policy that was presented to council states:

Extensive consultation took place with internal and external stakeholders; this included local media, institutions and other municipalities. The Media Relations Policy affirms the City’s intent to continue to move toward being an open and accountable organization, in addition to on-going improvments to its relationships with the media (including all print and broadcast media, online and social media outlets). The policy also sets out clear expectations and a set process for the dissemination of information to the public.

(Disclosure: I was consulted by the City as part of their review of the Media Relations Policy.)

Of course, the Media Relations Policy applies to City staff, not Councillors. However, Council approved this policy and Councillors would be wise to behave in a manner consistent with the staff policy they adopted.

In May 2011, several members of Hamilton's community media - including Raise the Hammer and The Hamiltonian - spoke out against a proposal by Peggy Chapman to bring in a Queen's Park-style press gallery that would be open to journalists "if you have a boss".

A Joint Statement signed by several local media organizations and citizens responded:

We, the undersigned, call on the City of Hamilton and the Mayor's Office to adopt a policy of openness and transparency that recognizes the right of ordinary Hamiltonians to access information and speak to local officials, in the spirit of democracy and civic engagement that is one of the hallmarks of this city.

The revised Media Relations Policy was, in part, a response to the uncertainty over what constitutes the media, as City Manager Chris Murray explained in his response to the Joint Statement.

The new policy was carefully worded to allay the fear that City Hall would attempt to freeze out the alternative media - but now Merulla has re-opened that can of worms.

Update: Updated to include a link to The Hamiltonian's published account of the emails exchanged with Merulla. You can jump to the added paragraph.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his essays have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. Ryan also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on twitter.

75 Comments

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[ - ]

By really now (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2012 at 21:17:01

With the level of corruption that exists in all levels of government, this exchange from merulla's speaks of many things that need to change.

Since when is the Spec called a n appropriate media source, since all of those who have worked in the community, know the spec does nothing or very little to expose things.

It appears that Merulla seems bugged for some reason. All should be vigilante in all matters of governemnt because we are all being sold up the river of austerity.

Things should be solved by issues, too bad politidal parties play a role in the mess we all face.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 01, 2012 at 20:38:44 in reply to Comment 79041

Actually, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that The Spec relaly impressed me recently:

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/columns/a...

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By LOL (registered) | Posted June 30, 2012 at 22:17:12

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 30, 2012 at 22:30:33 in reply to Comment 79042

you may want to check the stats on whether 'blogging sites' (we prefer the term 'blogsite' around here) or 'real media outlets' are gaining viewers and market share these days. If you'd like, I'll save you the hassle....wait another decade and the only media sources breaking a profit will be online.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 11:46:58 in reply to Comment 79045

whether or not bogging sites can and do make a profit was not the point. Though for every one that makes a profit there must be 10,000 that do not. If RTH makes a profit I would be dumbstruck. If The Hamiltonian makes a profit I would be thoroughly amazed. I don't know if The Spec makes a profit or not, lord knows many newspapers have folded because they cannot make a dime. What that has to do with whether or not they are a media outlet. The crap that is written on The Hamiltonian, RTH and a million other blogging sites might be news, might be rumour, might be opinion, might be bias, might be a lot of things but to take almost anything one reads at a blogging sit at face value is pure folly, because media outlets they are not. Even when reading something from a legitimate media outlet care must be taken because sometimes nonsense gets by the double checks and balances. A site like The Hamiltonian probably does not have any checks or balances just like the million other blogging sites on line. Just like RTH.

I do not trust or believe at face value almost anything as "news" or "fact" that I read at this site, The Hamiltonian or any other site. All of these sites have an agenda and post pieces to promote that agenda if you really believe any different then you are a fool. If you do indeed believe different then we should meet because I have some prime waterfront real estate in Florida that you would be interested in.

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By Zephyr (registered) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 18:49:11 in reply to Comment 79093

With writing skills so dull that you have to resort to the old cliche "I have some prime waterfront real estate", you might not be the best critic of the veracity or validity of media sources.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 09:55:25 in reply to Comment 79119

Wow am I impressed now. After all that the best you had was to attack my use of cliche. I guess I am better than I thought I was.

By the way, never said I was a great writer, not here not anywhere. But when my "dull writing skills" get such a response it confirms that I am onto something.

Sad really.

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By Rim Shot (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 10:01:26 in reply to Comment 79045

Aggregators FTW!

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2012 at 22:34:29

Merulla is trying to deflect criticism of the Water Front Trust. He has always contributed to all types of media and actually criticized the Mayor's office and lectured Bratina on how it was his duty to deal with all community media.

I've read the Bay Observer article. There are serious allegations in it and according to the Observer, a councillor has confirmed the Trust lost $472,000 in 2011. There lack of response to these allegations and to the Hamiltonian's questions lead me to believe a forensic audit is needed.

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By Thomas (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2012 at 23:21:33

No class Sammy is making a fool of himself. He was at the stadium and it sounds like he put down a few. A forensic audit would be wonderful but the people will have to bound together. You can't expect RTH , TH or BO to do it. Why doesn'ty someone start a petition.

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2012 at 23:46:37

Wow Bobserver, which Ward do you represent?

Good attempt in trying to deflect the real story, the Waterfront Trust.

It's going to come out Bobserver. One way or the other.

Remember you get into the trouble for the coverup, not the actual event.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 01, 2012 at 09:05:04

Sam. Sam. Sam. What are you doing? This kind of communication, although not unknown to come from you in the past, is embarrassing on a whole bunch of levels. You seem pissed in more ways than one.

This strategy of distraction (Sam and Tom Jackson) is just an old-fashioned, ham-fisted attempt by veteran politicians to avoid dealing with the issue before them. An issue, I might add, that grows more intense with every attempt to deflect attention away from it. This is the kind of media-focused clumsiness I've come to expect from Bratina. I guess it's contagious.

Sam, please apologize. Get some thorough answers to some very legitimate questions. Move on.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 09:41:55

The next General Issues Committee is scheduled for July 9th. Individuals and or groups of individuals may make a request to appear before the GIC to ask the unanswered questions posed here and on The Hamiltonian. This next meeting is to get on the list for the following GIC assuming that the members of Council approve your delegation status. The request form can be obtained from the City Clerk's office.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 10:02:39

I can understand wanting to defend the waterfront trust, but freezing out a local media outlet that is read by numerous people (including numerous RTHers) and the hard work that they put into their articles is reprehensible.

Sam, they're trying to get the truth out there, whatever it is. Right now all we have is the Bay Observer's accusations. The Bay Observer doesn't seem to have bothered to consult you - this was your chance to get the truth out, and instead you've chosen to remain silent and alienate part of the media. Now all we're still primarily left with the Bay Observer's accusations...

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 10:13:20

Robert D

The Bay Observer sent questions to the HWT and it's Board Members since January and asked for their response to no avail.

It then asked city staff for their response and it was their response that lead to the $681,000 washroom claim. They put that total on a line item but later tried to back track.

Council has been aware of this story from the beginning and have done nothing about it.

Now there going after the credientals angle.

According the Bay Observer there is more to come.

If these is all bunk on the Observer's part, then answer the questions!!!!

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 11:23:39

I tend to agree with H+H. Councillor Merulla’s snub of The Hamiltonian is reminiscent of the way Mayor Bratina routinely snubs The Hamilton Spectator. This is disappointing in both instances. Elected municipal office holders should not snub questions from the local media about municipal matters.

Although Councillor Jackson does not directly answer the ten questions asked by The Hamiltonian, his reply does contain some new information. Part of Councillor Jackson’s reply to The Hamiltonian on Thursday, June 28, 2012 states that “The 2011 Auditor’s report by Deloitte should be made public this week, as the HWT board approved them this past Monday.” My reading of “this past Monday” is Monday, June 25, 2012.

It therefore seems that the public release of the Auditor’s report of 2011 HWT financial statements is imminent if it has not already been publicly released. The local media and the Hamilton taxpayers will be able to view the report and comment on the pro and cons of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust expenditures.

If it turns out that the allegations in the June 15, 2012 article in The Bay Observer are accurate, another serious question emerges: Who leaked details of the Auditor’s report on the 2011 HWT financial statements to The Bay Observer ten days before the HWT board itself reviewed and approved the report?

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2012-07-01 11:26:21

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 11:34:26

RenaissanceWatcher

It was Tom Jackson who revealed the audit information.(It is in the article)

He claims the 2011 audit was "clean". The first article of the Observer claimed that in previous years audits failed with very serious allegations attached.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted July 01, 2012 at 12:36:52

On Developing a 'Appropriate Usage Policy" for City Issued Blackberrys/Smart Phones To Councillors for Conducting Official City Work:

Was an official city issued phone/smart-phone/blackberry used by Sam in his belligerent email exchange with theHamiltonian.net?

If so, are such abusive emails by an elected councillor in violation of the city's --appropriate use-- of tax-payer funded, official communication devices which are given to councillors to conduct official business of the city.

If there is no such use policy in place, then the staff should include this in the "City Media Relations Policy":

  • No councillors shall make use of tax-payer funded communication devices to send single/multiple abusive emails/text messages during or after work hours.

  • The usage/cost of such tax payer funded communication devices by all councillors during day and by evening/night should be made public on a monthly basis.

Does anyone know whether this city issued communication device is being used by Sam to post family pictures on facebook or make silly or personal comments online, or as now, even back-pedal on this issue on twitter?

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 16:45:16

Sam has already achieved redirecting the attention from Clr Collins, who was elbow and knee deep in the HWT for years. It was his pet project. Hopefully the heat stays hot and let's not lose sight of Clr Collins role in the issue.

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 16:50:59

Steve

Your bang on!

I guarantee you there is more to come

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted July 01, 2012 at 19:38:21

Bloggers Now Eligible For Press Passes In NYC, by Wendy Davis, Mar 2, 2010

In a nod to the growing influence of online journalists, New York City said Tuesday that bloggers and others who publish on the Web will now be eligible for press credentials.

The move comes as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2008 by three Web journalists who were denied press passes. In New York, journalists with press passes are typically allowed to cross police barricades at public events.

Under the new proposed policy, the New York Police Department would be able to issue press passes good for two years to any journalist who has personally attended and reported on at least six qualified events in the city in the preceding two years, regardless of whether the reports were published online, in print newspapers, magazines, books or other media. Events that will qualify include city-sponsored activity -- like a press conference or parade -- as well as emergencies where the city has set up do-not-cross lines. The proposal also allows inexperienced journalists to obtain single-use press passes.

Longtime civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, who represented the journalists who sued, says the city will now decide who a journalist is by looking at the type of work they do, and not the organization they write for. "This addresses one of the major issues with regard to a online journalists," he says. "Bloggers should be treated equally to television, print and radio journalists."

David Wallis, one of the writers who sued, adds that the proposed new policy is less arbitrary than existing standards. "We believe that we have created a fairer system for online and offline journalists both to cover news in the greatest media city," says Wallis, CEO of the syndication company Featurewell...

Read more at: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/ar...

SHOW ME YOUR PRESS PASS MAAM:

http://www.insightoutnews.org/insights/h...

INTNL. PRESS CARD PROVIDERS:

http://www.ia-pp.com/en/benefits-of-the-...

http://www.ep-fed.org/C14pa_info.html

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[ - ]

By Real Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 19:41:11

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-07-02 19:14:40

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 18:15:43 in reply to Comment 79072

Nothing to do with HWT, or Merulla's rude lack of professionalism.

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By Sandy (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 22:22:56

From what I've gathered Merulla offered to champion the issue and doesn't sit on the Waterfront Trust.This begs the question, why are people upset with the Councillor who responds and offers to help. Is Merulla the only person on Council? The issue isn't the fact Merulla responded, it should be about those that haven't responded. I would have taken his offer to champion the issue because, by not doing so displays a hidden agenda that suggests The Hamiltonian is not looking for a solution.

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 18:20:05 in reply to Comment 79075

He responded rudely and The Hamiltonian isn't looking for a solution, they are trying to report. Their role is not to offer solutions, that's what we pay our councillors to do. Unfortunately, we over pay and they under deliver.

Also, Merulla's comment about appearing as a delegation is to bury this until it can "blow over" during summer vacation. Where there's smoke there's fire and you can almost smell the fear with the councillors on this issue. It makes me think it's just a tip of the iceberg or this issue is the bottom card in the house of cards. Where does it lead? I for one, am interested to know.

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By John Bowen (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2012 at 22:47:00

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-07-02 19:14:28

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 18:24:56 in reply to Comment 79076

I haven't written Bratina off, why do you think "the rest of the City" has? How did you form that opinion. In the absence of a viable mayoral candidate I think the continued bashing he's taken from The Spec has made him appealing. At least he has to me.

And lets put Peggy's raise in perspective. $30,000 to pay someone "market rate" which Bratina handled poorly. Okay, I'm over it what's the issue?

Now back to the HWT which is what started all this hullabaloo.

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[ - ]

By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 00:04:18

Wow, deflect, deflect, deflect

The Hamiltonian is crap, so is the Bay Observer, there is "monkey business" in the Mayor's office.

Any other irrelevant rouses out there? Who cares?

The Issue is the Waterfront Trust. It failed audits in the past, it lost it's charitable status in the past due to bad accounting, there are serious questions on conflict of interest and some people are trying to get us off topic.

This kind of crap is why we get 30% voter turnout. Let's clean this city up and not bury our heads in the sand.

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[ - ]

By Rob (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 02:09:48

I wish I could receive the service Merulla's residents receive. I can't get my councillor to respond during work hours never mind on a Friday evening to boot. That is impressive.

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 09:12:14

Is this why we elect Councillors, to be customer service reps? Why do we spend almost 80% of the City's budget on salaries and employee compensation? What are they supposed to be doing? Do we not need leaders to guide the City's future and spend their time developing the policies and vision to modernize our city and be accountable for our tax dollars. The rabble from the coliseum is in full force here echoing the sexist remarks of their leader.

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By Rob (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 09:47:54

@Annymous. Actually Merulla has led on more issues then anyone on Council the Shadow Mayor reference proves it. He's a triple threat and that is why he got 90 percent of the vote.Love him or hate he is good and that is why some hate him. The Hater complex is so prominate in our society today so sad and pathetic.

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 11:15:04 in reply to Comment 79086

Chad Collins is the invisible mayor.

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 10:15:15

@Rob Anonymous

Could you please list those accomplishments and any others by Collins, Jackson and anybody else on council that fit the category of vision, City building etc?

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 10:40:44

City building? Which city?

Again people, this story is about the Water Trust and it's possible mismanagement.

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 11:19:41 in reply to Comment 79089

Agreed, the first post mis-directors have been sent out to "un-focus" the issue. Re-focus, Merulla showed his true rudeness and to steal from Bill Clinton, It's the HWT stupid!

Back to the story, HWT.

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By Rob (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 11:30:59

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Home > News > Local > Is Merulla Hamilton’s shadow mayor?

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Andrew Dreschel Fri May 18 2012 2 10 Recommend
Is Merulla Hamilton’s shadow mayor?


MERULLA In the absence of strong political leadership from Mayor Bob Bratina, Andrew Dreschel writes, it looks as if Sam Merulla may be fulfilling the role of shadow mayor.
Hamilton Spectator file photo
On the previous city council, it was Tom Jackson who stepped up to compensate for Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s ceremonial and directional deficiencies, particularly during his unsteady early days.

This time around, in the absence of strong political leadership from Mayor Bob Bratina, it looks as if Sam Merulla may be fulfilling the role of shadow mayor.

While Bratina is consistently missing in action on the council floor, Merulla is increasingly taking a leading part in setting the agenda with motions, proposals, and initiatives.

To be sure, council as a whole is co-operating like never before in order to fill the vacuum left by Bratina, whose shaky ability to move the yardsticks was further undermined by the Peggygate scandal.

But it’s doubtful whether any other councillor can rival Merulla’s rushing record.

From the HECFI audit and privatization option to censuring Bratina for his nose-stretching comments on the controversial pay hike to his chief of staff, it was Merulla who led the damn-the-torpedoes attack.

This week he came out swinging against provincial cuts to Ontario Works benefits, a followup foray to his motion calling on the premier to impose a moratorium on the plan.

Last week he won support for an air quality task force to probe pollution in industrial neighbourhoods.

His successful push to expropriate the crime-ridden City Motor Hotel came on the heels of his drive for a hotel/motel licensing bylaw.

And he’s taken a leading role in support of more open and transparent government.

It was Merulla’s motion to make public the cost of the Red Hill Valley Parkway lawsuit.

It was Merulla who picked up on the suggestion from the Ontario ombudsman to record in camera meetings to simplify potential investigations.

The downloading weight, the infrastructure millstone. His fight card goes on and on.

Make no mistake, the Ward 4 east end councillor hasn’t suddenly turned into a statesman.

Approaching his 12th year on the job, Merulla is as brash, showy and, arguably, unruly as ever. At times he even seems manic. By his own admission, his emotions sometimes “get the best” of him.

But the weaker the mayor, the greater the scope for individual councillors to have an impact.

Personally, Merulla doesn’t think he’s doing anything differently than in the past.

“I’ve always struck my neck out on any issue I believe in, regardless of what the repercussions might be.”

He does, however, think it’s easier to advance social causes these days because of a swing to the left on council and in the community — at least in the inner city where the provincial and federal New Democrats reign supreme.

Still, there’s no question that in the face of Bratina’s bunkered and controlling style, the 24/7 media savvy Merulla has become the go-to spokesperson on almost any city issue.

Legislatively, he isn’t permitted to speak on behalf of the city, but he’s always willing to speak his mind.

Frankly, it’s an open question whether Bratina would have been censured if Merulla hadn’t come out so strong and fast against the mayor’s duplicity.

As one reader said to me, “He’s the only one who had the balls.”

Bratina may have little sway on council, but he can intimidate some. Merulla isn’t one of them. He’s never afraid to mix it up. He can’t be buffaloed and he’s always ready to ramp it to the next level.

So, is taking on Bratina for the mayor’s chair in his cards?

People have suggested he should run, but the problem is he doesn’t want the job. “It’s simply not in me.”

Probably wise. His name recognition may be second to none, but Merulla is a quintessential inner city councillor who’d gain little traction in the affluent enclaves of Ancaster and Flamborough.

Besides, he clearly doesn’t need to run against Bratina to overshadow him politically.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 11:53:59

Oh Sam, whoops I mean Rob.

What does this have to do with The Waterfront Trust?

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By Rob (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 11:59:05

I admire Sam and live in his Ward. I have even worked for him at election time so I am flattered that you called me Sam. Thanks

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 21:12:25 in reply to Comment 79095

I'm pleased you've come out about your biased position. Very important to understand when considering posts.

For those considering my posts, I think it's important to know for the record, I don't live in Ward 4 so can't vote for Merulla. Nor have I worked for him or any of his competitors.

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By Stevge (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 18:07:21 in reply to Comment 79095

From Dreschel - "Merulla has become the go-to spokesperson on almost any city issue."

Except HWT...

Just because Andrew Dreschel has an opinion doesn't mean it's the case. HWT is the focus and by virtue of his use of "our" means he's playing for a team, but arguing as an individual he doesn't sit on the committee so can't comment... More HWT will be coming, guaranteed.

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 12:08:52

@Rob Anonymous

It would seem that Merulla's fight for openness in government stops short of the Waterfront Trust.

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 12:14:13

Ok Rob

Tell me what this has to do with Trust and Media Credentials?

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By Rob (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 12:25:43

Someone asked me about why I said Sam was the Shadow Mayor and I answered. I think it was you. Why dont you listen to Sam and go to council like he said so he can help you?

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By LIBERAL 1 (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 12:34:42

Give it up guys Merulla has a cult following and they a programmed and cannot be cured. Trust me we tried. There must be something in the water.

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 07:06:52 in reply to Comment 79099

Two Saturday's ago I met Bernie Morelli for the first time and I introduced myself as Sam Merulla's constituent. His response was, "you have a great councilor and you can tell him I said that." Then we talked a bit about the Gage Park Community Garden, the Hamilton Waterfront Trust was not even mentioned.

I already know the world is full of corruption at all levels of government, in every corporation, foundation and even non-profit organizations. What else is new? This situation! I don't appreciate people bad mouthing Sam, he is a good man and we should listen to him - Form a GIC delegation and he said he will be our champion. So quit complaining and let's see some action!

You may enlist me as well if you like and I'll zip to City Hall on my bike; Shazzam!!!!

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By Rob (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 13:02:23

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By John The Battista (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 14:10:46

Moral of the story; NEVER ASK A QUESTION OF A HAMILTON POLITICIAN! NEVER QUESTION THEIR ACTIONS! NEVER EXPECT THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA (so called) to in the words of Spectator Editor-in-chief Paul Berton " ..People rely on us to ask the questions others can’t, to recognize injustice, corruption, inequity, misinformation … " (oh really) In 2010 we had an election not a coup d'etat.(maybe I'm mistaken)

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By terry francoeur (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 15:50:44

Maybe we can solicit the Hamiltonian to change there name to Hamiltionian Inquiry,and hire some paparazzi.

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By terry francoeur (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 15:52:12

Ohh wait they are already....nevermind

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By Stev (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 18:28:27

Can't wait Doug. When will soon come?

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By Douglas (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 13:17:12

If a look at the HWT ends up absolving them, the Hamiltonian is going to take a big credibility hit for joining the Bay Observer's witch hunt. I don't trust the B.O... never have. It's Peggy Chapman's former employer after all, and it sure didn't take her long to get Bratina on the witch hunt. What a joke.

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 16:23:42 in reply to Comment 79131

On the flipside, if a look at HWT ends up with a signs of mismanagement and a bunch of resignations result a la HECFI, then I guess the Bay Observer and The Hamiltonian are leaders and should be given the respect afforded to leaders in their field.

Time will tell, but when dealing with arms length government agencies I'd put my money on the mismanagement and questionable dealings.

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By Frederick (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 14:23:48

Douglas has hit the nail on the proverbial head. Peggy Chapman worked for John Best. John Best gave Bob Bratina mentoring and tutoring in media relations. Rumour has it Chad Collins is thinking about a run for mayor, and this has Bratina angry and nervous. He is looking for something that will stick to his longtime nemesis Collins come campaign time.
Before joining the the DiFalcos on their bandwagon, read the Bay Observer stuff. It is full of major holes, speculation and innuendo plus some serious errors. And Best never gave the Trust an opportunity to respond -- said there was not time although he only publishes monthly.
Merulla was foolish in his comments. But he's not wrong about the lack of checks and balances in social media. It works here largely because of Ryan's profile and journalistic ability. The BO has none of that, and the Hamiltonian is showing itself to be another case of the same thing.

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 16:32:46 in reply to Comment 79132

Collins for Mayor. That's truly laughable. He had an almost 24% decline in support in the 2010 election over the 2006 election.

He'd get clobbered on the citywide stage and he knows it. There's a reason very few councillors try for mayor. Look at the longtimers - Jackson, Morelli, Merulla and Whitehead - all career councillors. Collins too.

They don't have the guts to face loosing.

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 15:22:38 in reply to Comment 79132

Frederick can you give us examples of the following;

Major holes

Speculation

Innuendo

Serious errors

... So that we may pose the questions to the Bay Observer
and The Hamiltonian and hold them to the same standard.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 14:47:22

The City of Hamilton defines media as any print, radio, television or online media outlet.

Read carefully, they just defined media as media.

What if they don't consider you media???

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By kendall (registered) - website | Posted July 03, 2012 at 19:35:28

The likes of RTH, The Hamiltonian and other blogs are a great source for the masses to express their narrow scope of opinion. A credible source for in depth reporting from experienced reporters, expensive fact checking and a general level of expertise are something that blog writers can never achieve. I wish blog owners would stop acting like children and accept their roles in the chain of news gathering and delivering. They are a springboard for ideas to be nurtured and developed, sometimes this picked up by "credited" news services and fleshed out, as plenty of the aft mentioned blogs posts have been.

Every time a blog reporter is refused an interview with a Hamilton dignitary, they stomp their feet and act like a two year old. "I think there for I am" is not a mantra that applies here, just because we all have opinions and some can write to some some form of comprehension does not make us worthy of the press gallery. Get over it.

Blogs are here to stay, but get off the pot if you think they will replace traditional media. In closing, blogs have brought down corrupt governments, here in Hamilton bloggers and their peons grab their torches and go witch hunting if they get told to shut up.

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 20:05:46 in reply to Comment 79138

Hey Kendall just visited your blob. Don't worry you will never replace traditional media and you will never achieve a general level of expertise on anything. By the way when Sam Merulla sends out a mass email he really isn't talking directly to you

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By kendall (registered) - website | Posted July 03, 2012 at 20:35:34 in reply to Comment 79139

Please, RTH staff teach your readers some literacy skills, if you can't remove this type of "Anonymous" pointless attack. The "blob" he refers to is an email directed to HSR employees, I received in error and made light of it. It didn't talk to me and neither does this person.

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By literacy skills (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:30:39 in reply to Comment 79142

It's spelled "therefore" not "there for".

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted July 03, 2012 at 20:50:53

Here's my question, if Merulla is so caught up on press credentials, why hasn't CHCH, CBC Hamilton, The Spec or say one of our community news papers with actual press credentials stepped up to the plate?

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-07-03 20:51:17

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 07:19:31 in reply to Comment 79144

...why hasn't CHCH, CBC Hamilton, The Spec or say one of our community news papers with actual press credentials stepped up to the plate?

That's easy, they're mainstream, they're repeaters not reporters and they're waiting for their pinch hitter. Compare these two stories and you'll see one is a repeater and the other is a reporter of news that really matters.

IT ain't rocket science -Hammer-. Per this example, if controlling (national) interests were to be jeopardized by the whole story, we're given shorter stories or outright fairy tales. More often, we're distracted from the real issues by that which is trivial.

There is power in alternative media when used properly yet this article is a prime example of weak notoriety. The rating for this article and subsequent comments stands at -1% (-2 votes out of 188 cast) whereas this article carries a rating of 89% (33 votes out of 37 cast). If anyone disagrees, that this polling apparatus does not in fact reflect the quality of the article and subsequent discussion, please provide a contrary example should you have one.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2012-07-04 07:36:06

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By Helen (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 07:09:28

The Hamiltonian acted like cyber bullies. Good on Sam for having the courage to stand up to the bully.

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 07:52:53 in reply to Comment 79145

Good on Sam for having the courage to stand up to the bully.

Three Cheers for Honest Sam!!! Oops, right ideals, wrong Sam.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2012-07-04 08:21:03

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By The Spec (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 08:12:43

Actually the Spec is doing a full story on the misrepresentation of the facts. Stay tuned

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By Ward 2 (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:01:12

The emails speak for themselves. I think Merulla over-reacted big time. He said he was only trying to help, but how does trying to humiliate the hamiltonian before national media help anyone? If this is what happens when questions are asked, we need new councilors who respect people who ask questions. this is terrible.

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:03:56

The Spec? Facts?

Sorry those words shouldn't go in the same sentence. (no matter what side your on in this particular issue)

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:10:14 in reply to Comment 79152

In an interview in the Spectator talking about the Waterfront Trust's Roller Rink Councillor Farr states;

“But when you see hundreds of people going around in circles, you know we have a good thing going,”

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By Fact 101 (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:43:55

The emails do speak for themselves. Merulla wanted to champion the issue Thank you from the blob would have been appropriate had they sent a delegation which apparently will be happening as a result of Merulla cc'ing the media. Ultimately everyone will receive the answer thanks to his efforts Hamiltonian acting as if they have some sort of entitlement is actually funny. Also them pretending to be a professional media forum is hilarious Who are these people?

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By Steve (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 12:12:08 in reply to Comment 79178

I guess we'll see who'll champion it at the upcoming GIC.

Will it be Sam, will it be Judi or will a councillor step out of the shadows as the ultimate champion.

Tune in next week As Hamilton City Hall Turns.....

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By Danny 83 (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:52:28

Give Sam credit. This type of discussion is long overdue about the regulated media vs non regulated media. Leave it to Merulla push an issue forward that we will all appreciate due to developing maturity on the issue following this and hopefully more discussions on this issue.

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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 15:09:46

Whether or not Merulla has a point in defending the Waterfront trust, or enforcing standing at committee meetings, this is just tone-deaf politics. These days, what defines "media credentials" isn't some permission-slip, it's how many people are going to read about it through whatever channel. By being a dick about it, Sam has guaranteed thousands more people are going to pay attention to the Hamiltonian's story than if he had just provided a short statement and been done with it.

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 15:39:05

I'm sorry I'm new to this.

I see both sides here against each other concerning this story.

I read the original article.

The story claims that the HWT failed on audit in the past. Is this true?

It claims that an auditor asked some serious questions about accouting transactions. Is this true?

Another story claims the Trust will lose money again this year. Is this true?

It sounds like many questions went unanswered by the parties involved. Is this true?

I am not trying to be flippant. Are these accusations false?

I really don't care, who was rude to who, what motive somebody had for doing what. All I care about is what is the truth.


Please someone just answer yes or no.

Simple

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By Let's Move Forward (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 15:52:58

EDNESDAY, JULY 4, 2012

Delegation Formed on The Hamilton Waterfront Trust

Gary Santucci has issued the following notice to the media:


In response to the advice of Councillors Merulla and Partridge as posted on the Hamiltonian.net, I will be filing a GIC Delegation Request Form by Friday noon of this week on behalf of a number of concerned citizens with regards to questions raised by the Bay Observer and subsequently the Hamiltonian pertaining to alleged operational and financial issues of The Waterfront Trust as outlined by both sources. You will find the process outlined in a email exchange with the City Clerk's Office as well as the potential dates for our presentation (5 minutes). Any citizen wishing to participate is urged to contact us at the following email gicdelegation@gmail.com. Media enquiries may also be directed to this email.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 15:49:56

I have just filed the GIC Delegation Request with Caroline Biggs of the City Clerk's Office. The text of the request is as follows;

"In response to the advice of Councillors Merulla and Partridge as posted on the Hamiltonian.net, I am filing a GIC Delegation request on behalf of a number of concerned citizens with regards to questions raised by the Bay Observer and subsequently the Hamiltonian pertaining to alleged operational and financial issues of The Waterfront Trust as outlined by both sources. Our intention is to make a formal presentation to the GIC committee and to call for an external forensic audit as the means to restore confidence in the publicly funded Waterfront Trust."

Those wishing to endorse this request that will go before the committee on August 13,can do so by gathering signatures on a prepared petition-like form. Simply email us at gicdelegation@gmail.com and we will email the form to you with instructions.

Gary Santucci & Brian Bonham

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