HAMILTON, Bermuda, Mar 16, CMC – Mayor of Hamilton, Charles Gosling, says a legal battle will be launched to fight a Progressive Labour Party (PLP) government plan to turn the city into a quango.
Gosling signalled his intentions when he revealed that preparations were being made for a writ and he would “talk tactics” with lawyers.
He was speaking after legislators voted 22-7 in favour of the Municipalities Reform Act 2019 in the House of Assembly, bringing to an end a combined total of almost 450 years of local government in Hamilton, the island’s current capital, and St George’s, its original one.
“We’re fully aware that nothing favourable would happen for the corporation in the House of Assembly and even if this act were to be defeated in the Senate, that would only give one year’s grace, and then it would pass and then there would be just no way of being able to defeat it,” he told reporters, adding “the only way we’re going to be able to fight this thing properly is in the courts.”
Gosling said before the vote that it was a foregone conclusion “and has been one for almost a year” and described the plan as a power grab by government.
He said talks with legal advisers had taken place over several weeks and confirmed that a writ was “being prepared”.
Gosling said a writ would be filed “at the time we deem most appropriate”.
Renee Ming and Kim Swan, PLP MPs for St George’s, asked during the debate for a separate act for St George’s and Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban pledged to prepare one “once we complete this legislative process”.
Quinell Francis, the Mayor of St George’s, said the town — a World Heritage Site — had to have enough government funding and improvements to its infrastructure if a special act of parliament was passed to govern it.
“We were lobbying the government for this, but unfortunately it was not a part of the bill. St George’s can’t be governed under the same act as the City of Hamilton. If the act allows the people to still have a say, then it will be welcomed.”
However, Francis added “over the next couple of years, the people of St George’s will be watching to see if promises that are being made are coming into fruition — things like the marina and improvements in infrastructure.
“If they don’t see these things that is where I think the issues will arise.”
Leader of the opposition One Bermuda Alliance (OBA), Craig Cannonier, an east end resident, said in the House that the townspeople “do not forget” and that voters would “carry this through to the next election”.
Current elected members of the municipalities will hold office until May 13, unless they resign in writing to the minister.
Roban will then appoint a mayor and eight councillors for each of the corporations to serve from May 14.
The mayor and four councillors will be people the minister is satisfied have the skills and experience to fulfil the role. The other four councillors will be appointed by the minister on the recommendation of a selection committee.
Businessman and former government legislator, Grant Gibbons, said “I fear that the loss of the direct electoral responsibility will make whatever replaces them less accountable to those who live and work in those municipalities.”
Hamilton elected a corporation in 1795 and St George’s set up its own local authority two years later.