Let’s pretend you are an all-star NBA basketball player making so much money through salary and commercial endorsements, there is no way you can keep track of all the cash by yourself.
So you hire your Uncle Bill as a financial advisor to manage your money and provide you with a handsome living allowance.
And in order to keep Uncle Bill honest, you hire three members of your entourage to sit on a board of directors to oversee the management of your finances.
Unfortunately, your fame and fortune goes to your head and you are faced with a few legal problems — paternity suit, steroid-use allegations, along with a DUI and illegal weapons charges.
In other words, you need a good lawyer.
It just so happens that Uncle Bill knows a good lawyer — one of the best in the business for helping out troubled basketball players.
But as the legal issues drag on and expenses mount, Uncle Bill advises that your living allowance has been cut and suggests you sell one or two of your luxury sports cars.
Out of curiosity you ask to see the lawyer’s bills.
“No, that’s not possible,” says Uncle Bill, citing lawyer-client privilege.
“But, I’m paying the bills,” you remind Uncle Bill.
“Sorry, no can do,” he replies. “My hands are tied by the lawyer.”
In frustration, you turn to your three entourage members and ask them about the lawyer’s fee.
“We don’t know,” they respond in unison. “We don’t trouble ourselves with small details like that. All you have to know is that your money is in good hands.”
As absurd as that scenario sounds, it’s happening in real life to Hamilton taxpayers, both at city council and the public school board.
Despite the fact Hamilton property taxpayers are footing the bill, city council will not reveal its ongoing legal costs for a $75-million lawsuit against the federal government for allegedly conspiring to stop construction of the Red Hill Valley parkway.
As of September 2007, the city had spent about $243,000. In March 2008, council removed the spending cap of $450,000. Then in 2009, council decided to cease “all public reporting of the ongoing costs until such time as the action has been completed.”
Likewise, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board won’t reveal how much it paid for a legal opinion on whether it could rightfully exclude two buildings from the Mountain high school closure review.
The school board also refuses to reveal its legal bill for the investigation of ethics breach allegations against trustee Laura Peddle.
On behalf of its readers, the Hamilton Community News group of newspapers has filed Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) to learn the costs of these legal battles and investigations.
Unfortunately, trying to arrive at this information through Freedom of Information requests is a long and frustrating process.
In the case of the Red Hill Valley Parkway legal bills, the Stoney Creek News was denied its original FOI request, and has appealed that decision. Our appeal cited a decision earlier this year by the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario ordering the City of Waterloo to release legal fees it paid in lawsuits.
In the case of the school board, in response to its FOI requests, the Hamilton Mountain News has received heavily redacted information about the board’s legal bills.
Although we can tell you how much the school board has spent on its legal bills, it has required some deduction to determine how much was spent in each case. And we are unable to determine how much the lawyer was paid by the hour.
We have asked the school board to confirm or deny our findings, but it has not responded. If our deductions are incomplete or inaccurate, we would appreciate the correct figures, but the board has not been forthcoming on this matter.
However, we remain undeterred by these roadblocks. We will continue to pursue this information because we firmly believe our readers (the taxpayers of Hamilton) have a right to know how their elected officials are spending their tax money and whether they are spending it wisely.
We don’t believe in blind trust and neither should you when it comes to your tax money.
Hamilton Community News Managing Editor Rod Jerred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HCN_editor.