Many years ago, somewhere in or around 1996, the Human Rights Commission, during one of its sensitivity training sessions for the commissioners, employed two highly reputable psychologists to conduct the sessions. During one such session, they asked the commissioners to each to imagine a scenario and present it to the group.
I will spare all the details but, suffice to say, my import was about what I thought of doing with the Corporation of Hamilton. Essentially, having owned city property and been very active with some of the committees and “back of town” groups, there were things I thought would bring greater focus, representation and broader accountability to the role of the CoH.
I presented the idea of splitting the CoH into boroughs or two municipal districts with their own borough chiefs. I thought of making the city north of Victoria Street a distinct borough from that of properties south of Victoria Street. The needs of both were entirely different but both essential to the wellbeing of the city and the island.
We in the north had grown tired of years of neglect and what we observed as disproportionate treatment. We had hell getting their attention for Christmas lights or even the poles attended to during that festive season.
Of course, that conversation in the HRC session back in 1996 raised a few eyebrows and was then full of seeming gall. Yet our concerns in North Hamilton were real and the neglect we experienced was palpable. Notwithstanding that, there was the general question of what to do with discrimination? How do you treat it?
The more radical thought would be to recognise its historical legacy of bigotry and decide to destroy it or uproot it — ie, by dismantling it. The perhaps gentler approach would be to transform it by assimilating into its ranks through a political process and attempting to give the CoH a new heart and soul.
This is perhaps the rationale that the infamous “dream team” administration came in with. Unfortunately, they did not have the unanimous purity or selflessness of all its members or the control required to improve on a legacy of self-dealing.
Understandably, there are political scores to settle and there is a legacy that needs to be addressed. Again, the need for purity of heart and intent is the uppermost requirement.
In that regard, it would be a fair discussion on how to make a municipality, which has an impact on the entire island, more accountable to all the citizens — not only to a township. That’s a fair discussion, but not an excuse to exercise political power to declare the CoH void.
Perhaps there are many areas that show a difference in property rights between the main island and the city. For example, the laws of the city are far more convenient for commercial purposes and even residential development. So in that regard, are owners of city property a preferred breed? They can derive more benefit from city property than basic residential, so how does the rest of the island benefit from the disproportion in benefit? I am not tabling solutions, I am just highlighting discussion points.
This is where a clear vision and having a plan for the country helps to bring everyone on board and create the environment for solutions to emerge that both heal past inadequacies and bring a better mutual future for everyone.
Within the art of leadership must be the art of diplomacy. It takes a pure heart to embark on such a vast discussion as to what to do to make the old and ancient CoH compatible with contemporary Bermuda.
If persons among leadership have an agenda, it spoils the approach and nothing that results will end peacefully. So my advice would be to turn the present discussion in the House of Assembly into a “take note” and have a full discussion instead of an action, which may have significant legal repercussions.