Merulla reaches into his bag of tricks

No-non­sense ap­proach to twin prob­lems of Al­bion Falls and ‘Hamil­ton’ sign at City Hall

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - AN­DREW DRESCHEL

If there was such a thing as a bull-by-the­horns award, Coun. Sam Merulla de­serves it for his no-non­sense ap­proach to a cou­ple of hot back-to-back city is­sues.

Faced with grow­ing con­cerns over dan­ger­ous be­hav­iour at Al­bion Falls and some un­der­ly­ing dis­com­fort with the pri­vately funded “HAMIL­TON” sign at city hall, Merulla swiftly cut through the noise with some de­ci­sive mo­tions. First Al­bion Falls. Rather than sim­ply post­ing “No Tres­pass­ing” signs at the pop­u­lar 19-me­tre high wa­ter­fall where nose dives and rope res­cues have al­most be­come the norm, Merulla ar­gued for crack­ing down on peo­ple who ig­nore warn­ing signs through “ag­gres­sive proac­tive en­force­ment.”

By that he means po­lice and by­law of­fi­cers reg­u­larly pa­trolling the area and lay­ing charges as soon as the new “No Tres­pass­ing” signs are posted.

Ar­gu­ing that there’s no point in hav­ing laws on the book if they’re not en­forced, Merulla called for an en­force­ment blitz to de­ter trans­gres­sors who’re act­ing ir­re­spon­si­bly and putting them­selves in dan­ger.

Coun­cil­lors en­dorsed his get-tough strat­egy but not be­fore Merulla and li­cens­ing di­rec­tor Ken Leen­dertse had a, shall we say, philo­soph­i­cal dis­agree­ment.

Leen­dertse, a for­mer deputy po­lice chief, cau­tioned that ag­gres­sive tick­et­ing may cause tres­passers to flee, which could be dan­ger­ous around Al­bion Falls.

“If you proac­tively en­force, the last thing you want is peo­ple run­ning away from you. There’s been oc­ca­sions in oth­ers parks that have led to some very se­ri­ous in­ci­dents.”

Leen­dertse sug­gested the “per­fect op­por­tu­nity” to lay a charge is when some­one who’s had a fall is be­ing res­cued by fire­fight­ers.

Merulla, whose an­i­mated fa­cial ex­pres­sions tend to make him an open book, was openly scorn­ful of Leen­dertse’s sug­ges­tion. He branded it “non­sense” and rhetor­i­cally asked “where do you draw the line” if you’re go­ing to take that hands-off ap­proach to en­forc­ing the law.

“I’m try­ing to proac­tively en­force a by­law to pre­vent some­one from fall­ing; he’s sug­gest­ing wait­ing for some­one to fall and then charge them, which is non­sen­si­cal,” Merulla said.

Merulla was also on the mus­cle, al­beit more diplo­mat­i­cally, over the sign is­sue.

Mayor Fred Eisen­berger, through in­ter­me­di­aries in the busi­ness com­mu­nity, is rais­ing up to $300,000 from the pri­vate sec­tor to build and in­stall a large il­lu­mi­nated “HAMIL­TON” sign in front of City Hall for the Canada 150 cel­e­bra­tions.

Though most coun­cil­lors pro­fess to love the idea, con­cerns have been raised that the project didn’t un­dergo the usual com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion and com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process.

Eisen­berger coun­ters a pub­lic process would have bogged the project down and pre­vented the in­stal­la­tion from tak­ing place in the sesqui­cen­ten­nial year.

The sign got a unan­i­mous green light from the pub­lic works com­mit­tee, but so did Merulla’s pro­posal for staff to draft a pol­icy on how to deal with sim­i­lar pri­vately funded do­na­tions in or­der to head off fu­ture wran­gling.

When the mat­ter went be­fore coun­cil, Donna Skelly raised con­cerns over the lack of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment while Matthew Green as­serted the city needs a “eyes-wideopen” pol­icy to vet pri­vate donors in sit­u­a­tions like this in case they have awk­ward links to to­bacco, al­co­hol or adult en­train­ment com­pa­nies,

“It could be a very well-in­ten­tioned, wellmean­ing project and turn into an ab­so­lute PR night­mare,” Green said.

Merulla cut through the anx­i­ety by propos­ing the city’s in­tegrity com­mis­sioner vet both the sign process and po­ten­tial con­flicts aris­ing from the pri­vate donors, who have yet to be pub­licly iden­ti­fied.

Lloyd Fer­gu­son was the only coun­cil­lor to op­pose the mo­tion.

He con­tended the role of the in­tegrity watchdog is to over­see coun­cil’s code of con­duct not poli­cies and pro­cesses.

Re­gard­less, if it’s true that the best cure for most prob­lems is tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tion, Merulla clearly had the right po­tions to hand in his big bag of tricks.

An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­ 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

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