Saturday, June 30, 2012

Not Swinging at Curve Balls

In response to the topic Bridge Over Troubled Water, the following is Clr. Jackson's reply, posted verbatim. We thank the Clr. for clarifying the comment made in the email to him from Mr. Plessel. At the end of the comment, you will see our reply to Clr. Jackson:

From the Clr:

DEAR THE HAMILTONIAN.....Happy to explain on behalf of our HWT Executive Director. Because GM Rossini, former HWT Chairman Councillor Collins, HWT current Chairman Charters, Werner Plessl and myself had all responded in some fashion or form to the B.O.'s allegations via your email queries, Werner had assumed that in spite of the renewed email of the original questions you sent us, that our collective responses were sufficient. I decided to send the final email to you with my last comments. Hope this helps and bye for now, Councillor Jackson....P.S....Hamiltonian.....Why are many of your responders "anonymous"?? I think Andrew Dreschel's column in today's Spectator makes an excellent point. I've always found that disturbing, disappointing and demonstrate a lack of courage to put one's name to an opinion. I truly understand the need for anonymity with "police" matters or personal family matters for example, but to allow what the Hamiltonian does regularily is unfortunate......Just a thought.....

The Hamiltonian's policy on anonymous blogging has been in place since its inception. We allow only respectful exchanges, even if they are spirited at times. We don't allow name-calling or other unprofessional behavior, and we encourage people to use their names where possible. Clr. Jackson did not appear to have a problem with our policy during his re-election campaign, as demonstrated by his participation here  http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2010/10/11-for-6_5655.html 

But let's not get side-tracked.  We won't swing at the curve balls. 

We asked 10 questions. Despite references to Mr. Rossini, Mr. Plessel etc. those questions remain unanswered. 

We have made no judgments. they are simply questions that allow for an unfettered response that will be published in whole. It does not get much fairer than that. 

The Hamiltonian regrets the escalation of this topic. Our preference is for open and transparent discussion and exchange of information that Hamiltonians are entitled to. That escalation could have been and still can be  avoided, by providing answers to the questions. 

Back to you Clr. Jackson. Will you provide direction to the HWT to answer the questions? They have not been answered. 

The Hamiltonian

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak - Roseto Catering - Just like Mama makes…

Roseto Catering - Just like Mama makes…

I had noticed the small sign for Roseto Catering and Culinary Services on the heritage building at 22 Mill St. South in Waterdown and kept meaning to stop to investigate; but each time I passed it before I knew it, heading down the curve into Smokey Hollow. When I did finally manage to drop in to pick up some items for supper (they are next door to the American House and have plenty of parking), I was warmly greeted by owners Anna Hansen and her mother Elizabeth Vespa.

While waiting for my order, I was particularly taken by an orange toffee biscuit on offer. “As with many things that are so fabulously delicious they’re really simple to make.” Anna said. Ingredients are butter, brown sugar, toffee pieces and a bit of sea salt to balance out the sweetness of the caramel. “Adding orange gives such a nice essence to the cookie” she added. She and Mama also sell cannoli made from scratch stuffed with a subtle white chocolate filling or, alternatively, chocolate, lemon, strawberry and peach.

I went home that day with some lovely Eggplant Parmigiana and Arancini di Riso for our family supper as

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

It seemed like a comment of little consequence at first, until we realized its potential meaning. In fact, at first read, we almost missed it.

In an email shared with The Hamiltonian, which on June 28th 2012, was sent from Mr. Plessel to Clr. Tom Jackson, with reference to the 10 questions on the HWT that we asked that still remain unanswered, Mr. Plessel stated "I assume we are not responding to the following”. The following being our 10 questions.

Could Mr. Plessel's assumption be based on the possibility of a common practice not to respond to questions, and he was simply reaffirming that policy? Seems unlikely.

Could Mr. Plessel's assumption be based on the nature of the questions and a hesitancy of the HWT to answer to them?

Or could it simply be something else? 

We don't know and so we emailed Mr. Plessel this morning, as well as Clrs Jackson and Farr, Bob Charters, James Cimba, and Willem de Ruijter, and asked Mr. Plessel to explain that statement to us. We'll post his reply verbatim once received.

As an aside, we have also emailed some questions to Clr. Merulla, Partridge and Ferguson. We will post their answers verbatim once received.

In the interim, with the Hamilton Waterfront Trust recording a  $474,000.00 loss  for 2011, on the heels of predicting a surplus for 2011 as late as November, the HWT may be well advised to begin building a bridge over this troubled water. We suggest that clear and straight-forward answers to our outstanding questions, would be a good start. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Waterfront Trust Posts $474,000.00 Loss for 2011

As reported in The Bay Observer. Click here. 

Questions About Hamilton Waterfront Trust Still Unanswered

Clr. Tom Jackson
You will recall that Clr. Tom Jackson asked that we resend our questions re: the Hamilton Waterfront Trust. We thus did so, and asked for a clear response to each question, with the necessary detail. Today we asked the Clr. for an ETA. His response is found verbatim, toward the end of this post.

In response to the Councillor's inference that perhaps The Hamiltonian is not interested in a balanced picture of the HWT and has not been working on its own, please note:

The Hamiltonian asked a series of questions that we believe Hamiltonians are entitled answers to. Clear answers to these questions affords a sense of the balance that the Clr. refers to. As is our practice, we publish responses verbatim, thus allowing for all sides to provide necessary clarity and context, unfettered. Thus The Hamiltonian has already shown an interest in a balanced picture of the HWT.

 We suggest that the  act of asking questions, and allowing for unfettered responses, is, in fact achieving fairness and balance. What is required , is responses to the questions- which to date has not been forthcoming. We continue to invite Clr. Jackson to give direction to the HWT to answer the questions.

In terms of The Bay Observer article, it was referenced in the same way that we  do other articles from other media sources such as The Spectator etc. Clr Jackson's inference that perhaps we are not operating "on our own", is invalid. To date, The Hamiltonian has not had a direct discussion/exchange in any form whatsoever with Mr. Best or anyone from The Bay Observer on how we will cover their article. To suggest that we are not operating on our own, save for our normal practice of often times referencing articles from other sources, is a misconception. 

It is very simple. We asked 10 questions.  Here they are, followed by the most recent response we received. We'll let our readership decide whether the Clrs. response is appropriate:

Questions we asked

1. The Bay Observer published an article recently (which can be found here http://bayobserver.ca/2012/06/15/waterfront-trust-bookkeeping-raises-eyebrows/, which presents some disturbing assertions with respect to the manner in which the Hamilton Waterfront Trust is being run financially and otherwise. Our first question to you is a general one, which allows you room to say whatever you believe is pertinent, Upon review of this article, what are your observations/response to it? (please note- this general question is understood not to take the place of replies requested to the balance of the questions below)
2. Have all construction contracts been awarded through a tendering process? If not, can you identify the contracts and the value of those contracts?
3. Are staff positions on the Trust posted for recruitment? Can you describe the process by which staff positions are recruited? Have there been any exceptions and , if so, why?
4. Are members of the Trust provided with company vehicles that are subsidized in any way, in whole or in part, including the cost of gasoline or fuel, through taxpayer dollars? If so, how many vehicles and what is the value of the subsidy?
5. Are expense accounts allowed to anyone on the Trust, If so, what is the yearly allotment of those accounts and are they audited?
6. What, if any, spot audits are done by your accountants on transactions which generate cash?
7. A washroom that's price has been allegedly inflated by $400,000.00 to allegedly offset a cost overrun. True or untrue? Please explain.
8. Do you believe the Trust’s finances would withstand a forensic audit and given the Bay Observer’s article , will you call for one to, at the very minimum, clear the air and assure taxpayers that their dollars are well spent?
9. Would you be willing to provide copies of the minutes of all board meetings for publication on The Hamiltonian?
10. Is there anything else you would like Hamiltonians to know about the Hamilton Waterfront Trust?

Clr. Jackson's reply:

DEAR THE HAMILTONIAN....Because your questions are based on the B.O.'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, I will stand by the earlier responses to you that were conveyed by myself, Werner Plessl, GM Rob Rossini of the City's finance department and HWT Chairman Bob Charters. All the dollars are being well spent in my opinion. They are adding social, recreational and economic value to those areas of our City and it's renewed image overall. The 2011 Auditor's report by Deloitte should be made public this week, as the HWT Board approved them this past Monday. You will soon see two new restaurants at the HWT Centre this year, providing more opportunites for our citizens and visitors alike to enjoy Hamilton's Waterfront, both at the West Harbour and along the Beach Trail. We are a "not-for-profit" organization. Did you know, except for the "Quad Pad Arena" in my Ward, all other City-owned facilities like ice pads, libraries, recreation centres, parks, playgrounds require taxpayer money for operating expenses every year?? By the way, there were 300 people recently out to the outdoor rink at the HWT last Friday roller skating. I am and will continue to be a strong booster of the transformative work being done at the HWT with the UNANIMOUS support by this term of City Council. If the Hamiltonian itself on its own is interested in a "balanced" picture of the HWT, that is something I may consider further. Hope you understand. Thanks and bye for now, Councillor Jackson....

 Are you satisfied with the Clrs's reply? 

Media Release


Thursday, June 28, 2012 - HAMILTON: In this week's Laircast would-be community builder and lawyer Jasper Kujavsky gives an honest assessment of his failed past attempts at major community projects and lessons learned on how to get things done in Hamilton. Informative and engaging, Jasper also comments on how the city is the exception to the rule in terms of meeting its potential.

There is also a surprise appearance from "Chretien". To listen to the unedited interview: http://bit.ly/jasper12

Chats from the Lair is a weekly not-for-profit podcast featuring no-holds-barred interviews with interesting people on the local and national level from a secret location (The Lair) downtown Hamilton. CFTL is
available on MP3, iTunes, YouTube and <http://www.laircast.com/www.laircast.com. It is also promoted through Twitter and Facebook.

For info, blogs, archives, and to join the chat visit <http://www.laircast.com/> www.laircast.com - Chats from the Lair: Where interesting people you may know tell you things you didn't.

Laura Babcock

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Clr. Jackson and Werner Plessel - on Threshold School Of Building and HWT

Clr. Jackson
Today, we received the following correspondence from Clr. Jackson and Werner Plessel of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust, with respect to our question about the engagement of Threshold School of Building, in the expansion project at Williams.

Their responses are posted verbatim and in their entirety:

From Clr. Jackson:

DEAR THE HAMILTONIAN......After I referred your request to the

A 2 +2 = 5 moment?

Sometimes when one encounters a 2 + 2 = 5 moment, it's best to name it. The following email was sent to council, the city manager and the HWT today:

Clrs. Jackson and Farr, the balance of councillors, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Murray, Mr. Plessel and Mr. Charters:

The Hamiltonian is appreciative of the replies received from Clr. Collins and Clr. Farr, in an effort to respond to questions being asked with respect to The Hamilton Waterfront Trust. Recently, the Trust Executive indicated a reliance on the replies received from Clrs. Collins and Farr, as the response from the Trust, to the questions we asked.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Did We Reach this Threshold?

"Ready to Work participants are working hard on a new project on Hamilton’s Pier 8. Hamilton Waterfront Trust is expanding their offices on Discovery Drive and Threshold School of Building is part of the construction crew."  That's a quote found on the Threshold School of Building's website, as it describes the work it is doing on the expansion of the Waterfront Trust's offices.

The sign you see , is at the actual site. While The Hamiltonian certainly understands the need to provide work to students learning trades, the presence of the sign, and the many questions we posed that continue to remain unanswered with respect to The Waterfront Trust, prompted us to wonder whether this particular expansion project was tendered.

We asked Gerry Davis, GM of Public works, the following: . Does the City of Hamilton have any set policies that govern procurement for construction contracts? We are assuming this city does. If so, do all vendors have to go through a standard RFP process in which they bid against competitors and, if so, what is the threshold that must be met to trigger a RFP? ?Also, do we have a Fair Wage Policy and Fair Wage Schedule which ensures that contractors and subcontractors pay wages at least equal or greater than the wages set out in the schedule , applicable to all construction contracts over $100,000? Do the policies mentioned above, apply to The Hamilton Waterfront Trust?

Mr. Davis was kind enough to have his staff respond promptly with the following information:

Plessl and Charters on The Waterfront Trust

Bob Charters
Bob Charters, Chairman and citizen representative of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust, has sent us the following reply to our queries

Here is our email, which was directed to Mr. Plessl and copied to city council and the city manager, followed by Mr. Plessel and Mr. Charters' reply:

Dear Mr. Plessl:

On June 20th, Mr. Charters agreed to answer questions concerning the Hamilton Waterfront Trust, for The Hamiltonian. On June 21st, we sent the questions to him and copied you as well. On June 22, Mr. Charters advised that he is referring this matter to you to respond to. We had asked for an estimated time of arrival for the return of the responses to the questions. To date, we have not received any communication from you directly on this matter. The Hamiltonian takes no pleasure in escalating this matter and our default position is always to invite respectful dialogue and exchange of information, allowing each side of an issue to express their views.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Something Fishy on The Water Front...?

Update: We have once again asked for Mr. Plessel to reply and we also brought the lack of acknowledgement or reply to the attention of city council.  It seems to us that  parceling work to a third party, be it an arm’s length party, an agency, board or commission, or any other entity, does not absolve that entity from being open, transparent and accountable to the taxpayers of Hamilton. We delivered this message to Mr. Plessel, Mr. Charters, the City Manager and City Council. We are hoping they see it the same way. We'll provide updates. 

It seems that the Hamilton Waterfront Trust is making a big splash these days on the heels of The Bay Observer's article that alleges several irregularities with how the Trust has been run financially and otherwise.

We at The Hamiltonian, have not made any conclusions. We are attempting to get the necessary clarity to facilitate a healthy exchange of information.  Is there something fishy going on? We don't know and we make no judgement. However, the first step is to receive answers to legitimate questions. Here is a list of questions we have asked (click here). We have yet to receive an ETA from Mr. Plessl as to when he will submit responses, nor have we heard from Mr. Plessl directly. We'll keep after this in an attempt to clear the waters. 

Finance Chief Roberto Rossini on The Hamilton Waterfront Trust's Financials

In light of the interest in the Waterfront Trust's financials and concerns raised around record keeping, we asked Roberto Rossini the following question, which is followed by his reply:

1. Some may say that an expenditure in the amount of $681,000 would ordinarily merit an understanding of and details of the financial decomposition of its underlying components, to ensure the integrity of the spend. Is the blanket approach typical of the business practice, or was this allowed by exception? Would you not see an audit vulnerability with blanket amounts that do not have the rigor/decomposition to monitor the underlying spend?

Yes, this is very typical as construction contracts are bundled all the time for efficiency. Everyone must keep in mind that there was never a separate "washroom" project. What Council approved was a $2.13 million budget for the Waterfront Trail Extension Project. The project had many elements and features including this particular washroom (I think there may have been even more than one built along the trail).

Friday, June 22, 2012

John Best on CHML

To hear John Best on CHML. talking to Bill Kelly about the Waterfront Trust issues, click here

With thanks to our friends at CHML

Clr. Farr Shares Email from Finance Chief Roberto Rossini on Waterfront Trust and Bay Observer Article

One of our readers made the following suggestion to Clr. Jason Farr on The Hamiltonian: 

Clr Farr, Respectfully, you do need to give the residents of Hamilton the date and time of this board meeting you have mentioned, and whether this is a per-scheduled meeting or an extraordinary board meeting to discuss this situation. Also, pending this meeting, given the gravity of the claims, the board members and its chair do have access to phones, emails and skype to communicate with each other in order to generate a proper and prompt response. Clr. Chad's response is simply not acceptable by any stretch of imagination. Hamilton's residents (your employers), do not have to be kept waiting and guessing, until you'll get around to meeting up.

The Hamiltonian asked Clr. Farr if he could respond to the the request posted above. Clr, Farr responded as follows (His email and the email he forwarded from Mr. Rossini, is posted in its entirety)

On The Waterfront- Trust

We reported a few days ago that Bob Charters had agreed to field questions on the topic of the Waterfront Trust, and on the heels of this article by The Bay Observer. Mr. Charters asked that he be given adequate time to respond. We were agreeable to that. 

The Hamiltonian subsequently sent the questions to both Mr. Charters and Werner Plessl.  Upon receipt of the questions, Mr. Charters advised us that he will leave it to Mr. Plessl to respond, as we had sent the questions to Mr. Plessl as well. We have yet to hear directly from Mr. Pessl but we trust that he will be responding to our questions. 

Due to the many suggestions we have been receiving in one form or another as to what questions to ask, we thought we'd share the questions we have sent. Here they are:

1. The Bay Observer published an article recently (which can be found here http://bayobserver.ca/2012/06/15/waterfront-trust-bookkeeping-raises-eyebrows/, which presents some disturbing assertions with respect to the manner in which the Hamilton Waterfront Trust is being run financially and otherwise. Our first question to you is a general one, which allows you room to say whatever you believe is pertinent, Upon review of this article, what are your observations/response to it? (please note- this general question is understood not to take the place of replies requested to the balance of the questions below)

2. Have all construction contracts been awarded through a tendering process? If not, can you identify the contracts and the value of those contracts?

3. Are staff positions on the Trust posted for recruitment? Can you describe the process by which staff positions are recruited? Have there been any exceptions and , if so, why?

4. Are members of the Trust provided with company vehicles that are subsidized in any way, in whole or in part, including the cost of gasoline or fuel, through taxpayer dollars? If so, how many vehicles and what is the value of the subsidy?

5. Are expense accounts allowed to anyone on the Trust, If so, what is the yearly allotment of those accounts and are they audited?

6. What, if any, spot audits are done by your accountants on transactions which generate cash?

7. A washroom that's price has been allegedly inflated by $400,000.00 to allegedly offset a cost overrun. True or untrue? Please explain.

8. Do you believe the Trust’s finances would withstand a forensic audit and given the Bay Observer’s article , will you call for one to, at the very minimum, clear the air and assure taxpayers that their dollars are well spent?

9. Would you be willing to provide copies of the minutes of all board meetings for publication on The Hamiltonian?

10. Is there anything else you would like Hamiltonians to know about the Hamilton Waterfront Trust?

The Hamiltonian will post the responses verbatim, once received. 

Clr. Farr: On Waterfront Trust Issue

Further to this article in the Bay Observer (see it here), we asked Clr. Farr the following:

Q.  In light of this article http://bayobserver.ca/2012/06/15/waterfront-trust-bookkeeping-raises-eyebrows/ and the ensueing discussion and concerns as expressed here


, will you support the call for an audit of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust? If such an audit found irregularities, would you support the need for a forensic audit? Please explain your answer.

Clr. Farr replied as follows:

As a WT board member, I look forward to our upcoming meeting to discuss, as a board, how we will go forward with respect to communicating our side to the recent article.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak - The Pasta Man Can

Vinnie and his pastas
The Pasta Man, can

To take a liberty with the words of the famous song that became Sammy Davis Jr.’s signature tune:

“Who can take a sunrise and sprinkle it with cheese

cover it in sauces and a herb or two

The Pasta Man

Oh the Pasta Man can

The Pasta Man can

'Cause he mixes it with love

And makes the world taste good”

Last week I ended up my piece on Odessy Olive Oils and Vinegars asking what a perfect complement might

Stay tuned.....

The Hamiltonian has sent Bob Charters and Werner Plessl a list of questions, after having been told by Mr. Charters that he will participate in an interview, provided he has enough time to respond. We will post the interview verbatim. The Hamiltonian is making no assumptions on this issue. We simply want to faciliate a dialogue and hopefully, an exchange of information.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Price is.......

Any resemblance to Mr. Sarc, whoever he may be ,
 is coincidental 

Our readership will know that recently, we posted a topic loosely referred to as "The Price is Right" (see it here). In a light-hearted way, the goal was to guess the cost of Earl Basse's (our Integrity Commissioner for Hamilton) investigation into the Brian Hatch complaint against mayor Bratina.

The city has advised that the total hours invoiced were 57 hours at $150/hr for a total of $8,550. "Mr. Sarc" is our winner who came closest without going over, with his guess of $7,500.00. Marvin Ryder gets an honourable mention for guessing $9000.00, but going over by a mere $450.00.

And while we are on the topic of winners, The Hamiltonian won an "O" award on the O Show for new media that has made an impact. While we are not really new, we are grateful for the award and thank our friends Laura Babcock and Lauren Lieberman , as well as the O Show, for the award!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Clr. Collins Responds

Pursuant to a recent article by The Bay Observer, referenced here, we asked Clr. Collins to respond to 6 questions we posed to him. The Clr's response is posted verbatim. Note: As the responses did not strictly follow the numbered questions, we chose to list the 6 questions, followed by the Clr's response.

Questions we posed:

1. The Bay Observer published an article recently (which can be found here http://bayobserver.ca/2012/06/15/waterfront-trust-bookkeeping-raises-eyebrows/, which presents some disturbing assertions with respect to the manner in which the Hamilton Waterfront Trust is being run financially and otherwise. Our first question to you is a general one, which allows you room to say whatever you believe is pertinent, Upon review of this article, what are your observations/response to it? (please note- this general question is understood not to take the place of replies requested to the balance of the questions below)

2. At any time were you or any members of council (to your knowledge) aware of any situation where a board member may have also been providing services for a fee, thereby creating a conflict of interest situation. Additionally, at any time where you or any members of council (to your knowledge) in violation of the code of conduct inadvertently or otherwise with respect to any matter whatsoever pertaining to the Waterfront Trust ? Can you elaborate in your answer.

3. Why were monies approved for the 1.3 million dollar grant to the Hamilton Waterfront Trust's expansion of its Williams Coffee House headquarters, in light of the fact that the construction had already been underway for months? How do you respond to those that suggest that this is indicative of a privileged relationship that is being afforded?

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Matter of Trust?

Allegations of altered invoices, questionable accounting practices, conflict of interest scenarios, improper processing of HST claims, inflated pricing and chaotic bookkeeping practices that garnered the irk of an auditor, are all issues that have been raised in a recent Bay Observer article, with respect to the Waterfront Trust.

Other issues include city council approving a 1.3 million dollar grant to the Hamilton Waterfront Trust's expansion of its Williams Coffee House headquarters, although the construction had already been underway for months. Starting the project before the funds were approved is purported to be presumptuous and perhaps indicative of a privileged status that the Waterfront Trust may have.

The Bay Observer reports "At the time the Lakeland project was announced by the Hamilton Conservation Authority, three of HCA’s board members were also key figures on the Waterfront Trust. Werner Plessl, the Waterfront Trust general manager, was at the same time, a board member at HCA, as was HWT Chair Councillor Chad Collins, in whose ward the Lakeland project was built. In addition, Chris Firth-Eagland served as HCA board chair while he was a provider of contract services to the Waterfront Trust. Interestingly, although the Conservation Authority was supposedly the initiator of the project, the agreement called for the Waterfront Trust to pay a project management fee to HCA, begging the question of whose project this really was. "

Other assertions in the Bay Observer article is that The Waterfront Trust repurposed $400,000.00 from a project that came in $400,000.00 under budget to offset a cost overrun on the Lakeland project. The vehicle alleged to be  used to do this, was to inflate the cost of washroom that was built, from its actual cost of $258,000.00 to $681,000.00. The cost per square foot for this washroom, using the inflated costs of $681,000.00, comes in at a stunning $750.00 per square foot.

In 2007, an external accounting firm wrote a letter to the Hamilton Waterfront Trust trustees, with reference to a review of the 2005 books. In that letter they state "Due to an absence of adequate internal controls we are unable to satisfy ourselves that all revenues and expenditures of the organization had been recorded, nor were we able to satisfy ourselves that the recorded transactions were proper."

It is interesting to note that the Mayor came under considerable criticism from members of his council when he asked for the Trust's financials. Around that time, The Hamiltonian asked Bob Charters for an interview. He initially agreed but failed to respond to our follow ups with him. 

Note: The Hamiltonian has emailed Clr. Chad Collins with a request to field a few questions on this issue. We will let you know the result of that. 

The Bay Observer article is worth a read. It can be found here. After reading this material, are you fine with the way things have been proceeding, or do you think it is time to call in a forensic auditor?

With special thanks to our friends at The Bay Observer. 

Mayor Bob Bratina, Hero or Villain?

Photo credit: Mississauga Business Times
Certainly Mayor Bratina has had his share a of being immersed in controversy during the span of his term thus far.  And certainly he brought some of it upon himself by seeking to shift the blame for a decision to give his Chief of Staff a substantial raise, to the Human Resources Department. It presented as an unnecessary error (see our write up here), that culminated in a reprimand doled out by Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse.  Still, Mr. Basse's conclusion and action, seemed proportional to the error Bratina made, given that the error did not, in Mr. Basse's opinion, warrant any additional form of reprimand, other than naming it as such. 

On the other hand, Mayor Bratina asked to see the financials for the Hamilton Waterfront Trust and, at that

Friday, June 15, 2012

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak

Rob Lalla holding
 a stainless steel "Fusti"
Odessy: a voyage into oils and vinegars.

There is nothing more frustrating than finding a wonderful source for a go-to staple of my pantry has disappeared. So I was delighted to find Odessy Olive Oils and Vinegars still in place when I visited the Hamilton market to shop for a friend’s birthday dinner. (Many happy returns again Kim!)

In truth, I had wondered, since it seemed such a specialised niche when it opened just after the Market renovation, and really, just how much balsamic can one cook go through? A fair bit as it turns out.

When I asked owner Rob Lalla how it had been going, he said “Since the renovation, numbers at the Market have been down a bit, but week by week it’s picking up… As time goes on, and as more vendors come with different product offerings, it makes the market a more exciting place to shop.”

For his own business he adds, “People are spreading the word that we’ve got all kinds of different olive oils and balsamics, and they can incorporate that into their everyday cooking.” Born in Hamilton of Italian parents, Rob worked many years in retail before deciding to start his own business. He looked at what would complement the selection of products already at the Market and decided on olive oils and vinegars.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Good, The Bad and The Neutral

Brian Hatch, who launched the complaint against Mayor Bratina to the Integrity Commissioner and whose reaction to Mr. Basse's investigation report can be found here, has submitted another piece that reflects upon what has been learned. Enjoy this piece that The Hamiltonian, as inspired by Brian's writing,  has entitled "The Good, The Bad and the Neutral"

Time To Move On But Not Forget Re: The Integrity Complaint

The integrity report from Commissioner Basse was accepted Wednesday’s Council meeting bringing closure to a process that has taken an amazing 178 days. The most often asked question is: “Was it worth it?” Notwithstanding the actual cost to the taxpayer the answer is that like most things in the real world this process produced some positive, neutral and negative results.

Some of the negatives were: The process took a ridiculous amount of time (and probably too many dollars)


Update: Good article in today's Spec. re: sick day stats and council's reaction. See it here or buy the print version. 

On the Bill Kelly show the other day, city manager Chris Murray was on air to discuss absenteeism rates for city employees and what is being done to combat it. Bill estimated that approximately 11 million dollars of taxpayer dollars are lost annually due to sick days being consumed by city employees. Bill further added that when someone calls in sick and the nature of that person's work cannot go unattended, overtime is a means to bridge the absence, thereby further driving up costs.

Chris stated that 70% of people in the city take very few sicks days annually (we think he may have said 1-2 days, but don't hold us to it). He added that there are a minority of employees whose usage of sick days should be closely monitored, based on suspicions of possible abuse. Chris was also careful to add that noone will begrudge sick days to those who truly need them and that the majority of city employees respect the policy.

Chris added that he plans to task the city managers (moreso presumably) with this matter and will hold managers accountable to drive down levels of absenteeism. He also stated that there is a common understanding throughout the organization, from union leaders that the city has spoken to, to others, that sick time, when abused, must be taken seriously and abusers must be held to account. He added that certain patterns may be indicative of sick days abuse (for example, taking a sick day just before or after a long weekend). It was also acknowledged that the nature of some types of work, are more prone to risk of injury, thus causing sick days to be needed. Chris also said that compared to other municipalities in southern Ontario, Hamilton is not the best nor the worst when it comes to absenteeism rates. Chris said that we fall in the middle.

The Hamiltonian had a recollection that in roughly in January 2010, the city hired two employees at roughly a cost of $206,000.00 to grapple with absenteeism. We're not sure what results have been had so we decided to direct a question to the city manager. Mr. Murray kindly had Helen Hale Tomasik Executive Director, Human Resources reply to the question. Here it is:

 Q. We (The Hamiltonian) have a recollection that roughly in January 2010, the city hired two employees at roughly a cost of $206,000.00 to grapple with absenteeism. Are these workers still doing this role and do you have a sense of what results have been achieved by virtue of these positions? 

A. Council did approve the addition of two Human Resources positions in 2010 to help ensure that employee absences are dealt with appropriately and effectively to lessen the amount of time an employee is away from work.

The Return to Work Services Assistant position was filled in September 2010. The position of Occupational Health Nurse was filled at the end of November 2010. The Occupational Health Nurse position is temporary for 3 years at which time it will be evaluated with respect to the impact on absenteeism and other measures.

The support from the two positions has allowed Human Resources to spend more time managing employee occupational and non-occupational illnesses and injuries and providing training, information and assistance to individual departments. The Occupational Health Nurse position also provides new, important expertise that is directed to both managing absences and enhancing our occupational health programming.

It is still fairly early to try and judge the impact of the two positions on our overall efforts to reduce the amount of time employees are off work. Certainly, a little over a year in, they have made an impact in the day to day management of employee absences and have allowed us to begin providing much needed support and training on disability management to our supervisors and managers. We have also been able to introduce occupational health services including in-house influenza immunization, health screening, infection control and occupational health exposure surveillance which all contribute to the health and well-being of our employees.

These additional staff are integral to the actions outlined in the Management Action Plan to reduce absenteeism by no less than 10% by the end of 2014.

Helen Hale Tomasik

Executive Director, Human Resources.

Thanks Helen and Chris for the information.

Your thoughts and comments? Do you believe that this rate of absenteeism is to be expected of a municipality this large and are you comforted by the fact that we are not the best but not the worst either, and that the matter is being managed appropriately? Or do you believe that the absenteeism rate is unacceptable and more needs to be done? 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Interview with Paul Johnson, Director of Neighbourhood Strategies

Please enjoy our chat with Paul Johnson, Director, Neighbourhood Development Strategies 

1. Can you tell us about your role as Director, Neighbourhood Development Strategies. What is the purpose and mandate of the role, and how will you know whether you have been successful in it? What outcomes would you look for against what time frame? 

The City of Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Development Strategy is focused on helping neighbourhoods to be great places to live, work, play and learn. To do that, the City of Hamilton is working with community partners, neighbourhood groups and residents to develop action plans to build healthier communities.

Externally my work has been focussed on enhancing the level of community development in neighbourhoods

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hatch Says Basse's Report is "a Disgrace"

Integrity Report Is A Disgrace June 11, 2012  by Brian Hatch

The long awaited Integrity Report regarding the conduct of Mayor Bratina was received on Friday June 6, 2012. Before elaborating on why the eight page report that had a gestation period of 172 days is disgraceful, three facts need to be remembered. 

First, at no time in the four allegations contained in my affidavit do I mention the mayor’s Chief of Staff Peggy Chapman’s former rate of pay. At no time in the allegations do I mention the magnitude of the raise or the percentage of the increase. At no time do I mention Ms. Chapman’s current rate of pay.

Bratina's Reprimand Clarified

Integrity Commissioner
 Earl Basse
The Integrity Commissioner has confirmed for us this morning that Mayor Bratina's reprimand will take the sole form as being mentioned in the report itself. It appears as though there will be no other forms the reprimand will take.

Thanks to Mr. Basse for the clarification. 

Integrity Commissioner's Report on Complaint Against Mayor Bob Bratina

With special thanks to our friends at The Hamilton Spectator, here is a link to Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse's investigation report on the complaint filed against Mayor Bob Bratina, by Brian Hatch. Click here. 

In a nutshell, 3 out of the 4 allegations made by Mr. Hatch were unsubstantiated. In other words, Mr. Basse did not find evidence to substantiate 3 of the 4 allegations. While 3 of the 4 allegations effectively failed to be proven, Mr. Hatch's complaint was not deemed to be vexatious. 

Mayor Bratina was found to have violated section 3(2) b of the code of conduct by "providing erroneous information to the Spectator Editorial Board which had the potential of injuring the professional or ethical reputation of the City of Hamilton Human Resources staff had it not been for council's pursuit of the matter and the trust and confidence they expressed in the City of Hamilton Human Resources Staff"

Basse however also stated that he did not find that the Mayor did so maliciously or with a deliberate attempt to mislead the editorial board or to discredit the professional or ethical reputation of the City of Hamilton Human Resources staff. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Visit to Mizener's Antique and Flea Market

Teresa and Danya
Today, I spent a charming afternoon with Danya Scime at Mizener's Antique and Flea Market. (click here for details on Mizener's).

These pictures (click here), are only a minuscule sample of the offerings at Mizener's. In a beautiful country setting, only a stone's throw from the core, it is well worth a visit. I am looking forward to featuring Danya and some of the wonderful ideas she is working on. 

Teresa DiFalco

Friday, June 8, 2012

Clr. Merulla on Investigation Results

We asked Clr. Sam Merulla, who initiated the council censure against Mayor Bratina, the following about the investigation results:

Q. Are you satisfied with Integrity Commissioner Basse’s report on the complaint against Mayor Bratina? Do you think a reprimand was an appropriate outcome, in light of the allegation that was substantiated?

A. There are times in public life when you have to make tough decisions. Having initiated the censure against Bob and now having an independent investigation finding Bob guilty is an endorsement of Council's censure and decision to do the right thing.

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Sips and Bites June 2012

Sips and Bites - June 2012

The festival season is upon us! No, I don’t mean music, comedy, theatre or the ever present marathons! This week I’m alerting you to some upcoming culinary events.

If you don’t yet have plans this weekend (June 9-10), you could go "Graze the Bench" between 12-5 pm each day. $25 gets you in to all activities at seven wineries in the Beamsville area. The pass also gets you tasty treat from one of the participating restaurants and a glass of wine poured in a premium Schott-Zwiesel crystal wine glass that’s

yours to keep. You can get a refill and additional food pairings for another $7 each.

Among the wineries is Angels Gate, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. It’s a lovely location from which you can see all the way across to Toronto on a clear day. Also participating is the wonderfully named Organized Crime Winery. There’s a great story about the name told on the bottle labels and also in animated text on the website.

Still on this weekend (June 9th and 10th) but a bit further down the QEW in Niagara on the Lake, my “home winery” Strewn is releasing their 2011 white wines. From 11am to 5pm each day, you’ll be able to taste seven different wines from their ultra-premium (and delicious) Terroir series.

Along with the five whites from 2011 and one from 2010, they’re serving a 2011 Cabernet Rosé, their first rosé in a couple of years. I’m looking forward to tasting that one! Best of all there is no charge for the event, but they do ask you to call at 905-468-1229 or email info@strewnwinery.com to confirm your attendance. For more information on this and their other June – August happenings see their events page.

A lot is also going on June 23rd, including my dear friends’ 25th anniversary. As he’s one of my cooking buddies and a gourmand, the food promises to be very fine. Sadly, I won’t make that or the other two events below as I’m going fishing. (All the best Tom and Liz, I’ll raise a glass to you from the river.)

For those of you without such obligations you could start your day at Puddicombe Farms, which is hosting the Ontario Festival of Cider I mentioned in my last column. Then you could go on to a fun-sounding event beginning at 6:30 p.m. at 13th Street Winery near St. Catharine’s. They are organizing something called Street Fight 2012: the Smackdown in Grapetown.

Beer goes head to head (so to speak) with Wine. The Mill Street Brewmaster is pitted against the winery’s Sommelier, and Indian food will go three rounds against Thai. Music and Door Prizes round out the mix. If you go to this one, please let me know how it goes! It sounds fabulous.

On the Canada Day weekend (June 29 – July 2) check out the Oh Canada Ribfest at Memorial Park in Waterdown. Organized by friends from the Rotary Club of Waterdown and Rotary Club of Flamborough AM, this four-day community-driven event is getting better every year.

This third edition features 7 ribbers, Nickel Brook Beer, and has some great entertainment for adults and kids alike. Brian Melo as well as the 905 Band are among the musical headliners, while a movie night and all sorts of fun activities await the young ‘uns. All capped with an excellent fireworks display.

Incidentally, the organizers are always ready to welcome additional sponsors, and very importantly, volunteers to take on shifts. My wife and I spent a few hours slinging beer during the inaugural event and it was a lot of fun. To sign up visit the website.

Finally, for anyone interested in charcoal grilling, mark your calendars now for the Niagara Eggfest on August 19th. I attended last year, and will be talking more about it (and my Big Green Egg) in a future column.

If I’ve missed your event or something else you think might tickle the palate, please email me with information and/or invitations, or add a comment below. I’m always glad to hear from other foodies! My address is below. Have a great weekend!

Alex (Alex can be reached at fft@thehamiltonian.info )

Food for Thought logo, designed and kindly donated by Ninka Bielak. Ninka can be reached at ninka.bielak@gmail.com.

The Apples/Oranges Thing

In today's Hamilton Spectator, Andrew Dreschel essentially makes the argument that Mayor Bratina should put his surplus savings ( by virtue of under spending his office budget), to good use by using that money to help fund the  student nutrition program. (see it here or buy the print version) Dreschel acknowledges that the mayor's surplus funds had been re-purposed into other pockets of reserve funds, and that the nutrition program is one of many that could potentially benefit from re-purposing of the mayor's office surplus. He also allows that this tactic may be unsustainable if a new mayor were in place with different ideas on how to spend his/her budget.

At the same time, Mayor Bratina has been on the receiving end of terse criticism for not hiring up and rather,  running his office with what some believe are too little staff and support. Clr. Clark, for example, was recently very critical of the mayor  in that regard. 

What would be interesting is a comparative analysis of how Hamilton's staffing levels in the Mayor's office compare to the staffing levels of other Mayor's offices in other municipalities, relative to population served. Such a comparison would give us a sense of how we are faring, understanding that there will always be a degree of variation between issues facing particular municipalities and the relative staff strength required to manage. Moreover, it would give us a comparator, not as a substitution for what people's experiences have been on the ground, but as a useful reference point by which to inform judgments.

The situation is worse than the proverbial "apples and oranges" syndrome, as there is no reference point to latch  to. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Cost of Radial $eparation?

It seems that Clr. Clark is not short on meting out terse criticism as of late. On the Charlton Hall matter and council's decision to spend $250,000.00 towards renovations rather than allow its residents to move to a new location that would have not cost the city anything, the Clr. said : “I find it incredibly frustrating that we’re now going to be paying $250,000 to fix up a facility where, had we gotten out of the way, they would have been moved by now,” “It’s wrong. Council should be waking up and stepping away from this.”  See full Spec coverage here or purchase today's print copy. 

Do you agree with Clr. Clark. Are we spending $250,000.00 needlessly?

Note: The Hamiltonian has done extensive coverage on the radial separation policy. Some of this coverage can be found on these links:  Here  here   here  here     

A Not So Healthy Exchange

The Mayor's blog post on this topic is here. 

“It was pathetically embarrassing,” I would simply state that it’s symptomatic of a dysfunctional office where you only have three people.” “No one from the mayor’s office came to talk to the councillors,” . “In fact, we haven’t seen the mayor on our side of City Hall for nine months.”

Those are strong words from Clr. Brad Clark, as quoted in this piece in The Spec, as the Clr. let loose on the Mayor for , according to the Clr, attempting to create a task force on healthy breakfasts that duplicates work already being done by city staff and the community. Further Clark went on to criticize Bratina for what he perceives as an absence from necessary conversations on such issues.

The matter has been referred to staff to report back on what the city's role should be. Clr. Merulla went as far as deeming the sub-committee idea redundant.

Bratina elected not to counter Clark's comments directly and rather, focused on support for the principle behind the idea. In an email cited in The Spectator, the Mayor wrote "I’m pleased that the general interest committee today supported the motion, which is part of the strategic plan approved by council earlier this year, “I look forward to staff coming back as directed with options to take the program forward. My thanks to members of council and staff who assisted in bringing it to this point.”

Clr. Merulla summed up his thoughts in the following way: “I think Mayor Bratina’s intent was good. It’s noble. But his strategy and implementation is questionable. I think it would have been communicated better,” At the end of the day, Bob’s Bob. And it’s just another day in Bob’s world.”

Note: As per our moderation policy, only respectful comments will be published. This does not mean your comment cannot be spirited or critical- but it must be respectful. If your post does not appear, please reconsider the way you are delivering your message and resubmit it .

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Bratina Blog

Mayor Bratina's new entry into his personal blog talks about "Support Our Troops Month". To see it, click here. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Street Prostitution

Update: Return email to Gary from Paul Johnson, as copied to The Hamiltonian:


Thanks for your email. As you know, the questions you raise are not easily answered but are important starting points for learning and action. I have learned a lot from experts like Leanne and others who have direct experience providing services and supports to the women (predominantly) described in the continuum you discussed below.

I do know that where progress is being made those communities are using a "four pillar" approach which

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ontario's Integrity Commissioner - On Lobbyist Registration Systems

Please enjoy our interview with Ontario's Integrity Commissioner, Lynn Morrison

1. Ontario has an Ontario Lobbyist Registration system. Why is it important for Ontario to have such a system. What does it accomplish from a public interest perspective and would you recommend such a system to other levels of government?

It is important, first, to make it clear that lobbying is a legal activity, an integral part of our democratic system. All groups have the right to share their views with public office holders and in fact public officer holders need to hear from the public. I am a firm believer in robust lobbyists registration systems because they help members of the public understand who is lobbying whom in government, and about what. A registry brings transparency to the system, ensuring that all parties are accountable to the public for their actions.

Ontario’s registry was created through the enactment of the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998, and has been

Friday, June 1, 2012

Double Vision - Opinion

Fill my eyes, with that double vision
No disguise for that double vision

That's an excerpt from the Foreigner hit "Double Vision" and it could also be symbolic of the seeming disconnect that has recently been confirmed concerning the vision Hamilton professes to follow, and the interpretation, or lack thereof, of that very vision by our municipal council.

For some who may have missed this piece, The Hamiltonian asked our Perspectives Virtual Panel, and our Mayor and each individual city councillor, for their view on what we can do to accelerate the attainment of our vision to be , amongst other things, The Best Place to Raise a Child. The Virtual Panel stepped up and provided thoughts on what we should start doing, stop doing and continue doing to accelerate our progress. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, only Mayor Bratina, and Clrs. Merulla and McHattie chose to share their views. 

An organization's vision statement identifies a desired end state that the organization aspires to- ordinarily in

Food For Thought with Alex Bielak- Hamilton's Wineries

Lindsay Puddicombe
Hamilton’s Wineries

Who knew? All this time I’ve been under the impression I had to get to Beamsville, or beyond, to be in wine country.

In a conversation with Mayor Bob Bratina a few weeks ago, he stated categorically that Hamilton had at least one winery within its city limits, if not two. To make the point he ducked back into his office, emerging with a bottle of 2004 Merlot Reserve from Puddicombe Estate Farms and Winery.

I called Murray Puddicombe, President of the Winery (clearly a family run enterprise) who confirmed their #8 highway location in Winona is indeed part of the City of Hamilton. He also volunteered that Ridge Road Estate Winery, just up the hill from Puddicombe,

Clr. Farr- On Board of Ed's Decision

Note: Clr. McHattie has responded and has advised that upon review of Clr. Farr's comments, he is in full agreement with them. 

The Hamiltonian:  In what seemed to be a surprise to some, a joint task force that was to assess the possibility of a downtown location for the board of education’s new headquarters, was sun setted early, thereby eliminating any possibility of a downtown location . Do you believe that the board’s decision to sun set this committee early was warranted and notwithstanding, do you believe that the board had enough information to properly assess the downtown option prior to sun setting the committee and going with the Crestwood option?

Clr. Farr: Obviously, the objective from our side (City) was to encourage the HWDSB to stay downtown. Sun setting early, on-time, or late, would not have been viewed by myself as a positive (or warranted) result to this very important initiative.

I believe the HWDSB had a tremendous amount of information. Certainly there was enough good work done by our top staff, the HRCC and a well regarded downtown architect to warrant taking this thing the distance rather than laying down before the bell.

In terms of how I felt coming out the presentation to Trustees on Monday; it was more slam-dunk then fade-away jumper from the arc. You cannot imagine my disappointment the next morning.

Mayor Bratina's Blog

Yes it's true that Mayor Bratina has launched his own blog. And it is also true that The Hamiltonian, Raise the Hammer and Joey Coleman were consulted as the Mayor's blog was being developed. His blog can be accessed here.

It has been explained to us that due to legal advice, the Mayor's blog will not receive comments.

The Hamiltonian welcomes The Mayor's efforts to reach out to Hamiltonians through his own blog.


Thanks to our friends at The Hamilton Spectator who, in today's print and e-copy, mentioned some great blogs and community sites around Hamilton, and how they will be leveraging information from those sites. The article is here.