Thursday, November 9, 2006

Did a local councillor in Hamilton take bribes? Did anyone else?

There has been the whiff of political scandal in Hamilton the last few days, just before the municipal elections. A local bar owner, who's been at war with city officials for years over the seemingly minor issue of getting a variance so he could serve liquor on his restaurant's patio, is now accusing a local city councillor of taking a bribe.

Sam Merulla, who represents Ward 4 (which takes in much of the industrial section of Hamilton as well as the residences south of them to the Escarpment) denies any improprieties. He is a rather wacky character in local politics, but he is a man of integrity and I lean towards believing his side of the story. What's maddening about this, however, is that the OPP got a court order sealing the warrant and wanted it to stay under wraps until after the election. It was only because of another court order that part of the warrant was unsealed yesterday allowing the publication of Merulla's name. As late as yesterday morning, he publicly pondered if he was the one under investigation.

A fair number of people have voted at advance polls already and they can't take their votes back now, especially if they think Merulla has a lot to answer for. What's even more bizzare is the police supposedly not wanting to influence the election. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that line. If there is even a slight hint something might be wrong it will persuade the voters to otherwise change their direction. An informed public has the right to as much information as possible to make their choices, and while a person must always be presumed innocent until proven guilty people must also ask if they want to vote for someone who might remain under a cloud of suspicion after the vote -- so as to avoid a costly by-election down the road in case something illegal did happen.

There are only four days before Monday's vote. We need some answers before the weekend, or the whole election across the whole city will come off as being tainted. If one councillor has been named, who else might be being investigated? Does the probe also include some of the candidates for mayor?

Frankly, I'd like to know, because the answers we're getting so far are not answers. This can be done without jeopardizing the investigation; or the witnesses who might be under protection right now.

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