City will hire outside lawyers to fight ward boundary appeal
Council will hire outside lawyers to fight a citizen appeal of proposed new ward boundaries in Hamilton — and against the opinion of its own consultants.
Earlier this year, the city adopted a councillor-suggested plan to tweak existing Hamilton ward boundaries instead of changes recommended in a $260,000 consulting review.
The decision was made despite warnings from the city’s own consultants the plan fails to address concerns that kick-started the review in the first place — growing ward population disparities.
Consultant Robert Williams told councillors he couldn’t support the councillor-suggested plan if it were appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Councillors discussed a pending citizen appeal behind closed doors Wednesday and emerged to vote to hire outside lawyers to defend the city plan.
Coun. Matthew Green made a point of stating his opposition to the city’s decision to defend against the appeal, calling it “a giant waste of money.” He suggested the city was destined to lose and have a 16th ward imposed.
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, by contrast, said the city’s current plan “respects the importance of rural Hamilton” in decision-making.
The city’s consultants suggested two overhaul options for Hamilton’s political boundaries, including adding a 16th ward on the Mountain or redrawing the existing 15 wards to better reflect current and future population trends.
They said the council-inspired plan “straightened out some lines” on the ward map but didn’t address fundamental and growing representation disparities.
For example, the city’s most populous ward by 2026 would still be Ward 7, with around 70,000 people represented by one councillor. The same number of residents would live in Wards 10, 13 and 14 combined, yet be represented by three councillors.
It wasn’t known Wednesday when the case would be heard, but councillors said there are two appellants.
One, Ward 9 resident Mark Richardson, wrote in The Spectator he was appealing the current plan because of council’s “reckless display of self-interest and disregard of fairness” in ignoring the advice of its own hired experts.
He also suggested some councillors simply want to delay the process until it is too late to change ward boundaries in time for the 2018 election.