Skelly and Whitehead are politicizing a formal communications process, obstructing a Council-approved project and undermining public confidence in city staff.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published September 22, 2016
According to news reports from CBC Hamilton and the Hamilton Spectator, Ward 7 Councillor Donna Skelly and Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead took over a public meeting organized by City and Metrolinx staff to explain the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project and solicit feedback.
The CBC's Adam Carter writes:
City LRT guru Paul Johnson faced an onslaught of questions about the project at Wednesday night's public information session on the Mountain - except this time, many of them were from two city councillors.
For most of the other sessions across the city, councillors took a more hands off approach, leaving staff members to answer questions about the LRT project and gather input from residents one on one.
But at Wednesday night's session at the Sackville Hill Senior's Recreation Centre, Ward 7 Coun. Donna Skelly and Ward 8 Coun. Terry Whitehead were a focal point.
The Spectator's Teviah Moro quotes Councillor Skelly saying, "It smacks to me of a way to quash any dissension and to present a very positive, rosy picture" of the LRT plan.
Paul Johnson is too professional to complain about these Councillors politicizing what is supposed to be a staff-led information session, but what they did is completely unacceptable.
Skelly and Whitehead deliberately staged a takeover of a public meeting to push their anti-LRT political agenda.
It's pretty hard for the public to get a straightforward view of the project when their elected councillors pop up trying to play gotcha with staff. In addition, Skelly and Whitehead apparently dominated the conversation instead of letting residents speak directly with staff.
These councillors have ample opportunity to ask staff questions and to communicate with their constituents: they don't need to monopolize a public meeting and attack staff. If they continue like this, the information meetings will turn into circuses, which is likely their real goal.
In particular, Skelly's comment is calculated to undermine public confidence in LRT planning staff by suggesting the process has been rigged.
This abusive behaviour violates Council's Code of Conduct, which requires Councillors to "be respectful of the role of City employees to advise based on political neutrality and objectivity and without undue influence from any individual member or faction of Council" and to "show respect for the professional capacities of City employees."
It is a shame that Skelly is following Whitehead's lead in attacking the integrity of staff and disrupting the normal process in order to score political points.
These councillors are not just undermining city staff and manipulating what is supposed to be a public information session: they are actually going against Council's will, expressed consistently through literally dozens of votes since 2006.
And the current term of Council has continued to vote consistently in support of LRT, including responding to the Provincial approval and funding announcement with motions to establish, staff and fund a City LRT office, establish an LRT Sub-Committee, set up Interim Control By-Laws for development lands along the LRT corridor, and sign a Memorandum of Agreement [PDF] with Metrolinx committing the City to cooperate on implementing the LRT.
When Skelly won the Ward 7 by-election this past March, she vowed to respect decisions Council had already made, like the city's LRT plan, which Council had consistently supported over many years.
Initially, Skelly said she was personally opposed to LRT but would support Council's decision, which is an honourable and normal position. Now she is actively interfering with the efforts of City and Metrolinx staff to implement a project Council has voted to support. So much for her promise.
Imagine if Councillors started doing this for other Council decisions they disagreed with: it would be chaos and the working lives of staff would be hell.
Is Councillor Whitehead going to show up at the Stelco tower and try to stop Hamilton Health Sciences employees from moving their offices?
It is no surprise staff morale is so low at City Hall!
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