Observations on the Council Meeting of Monday, Feb. 27, 2012

Ron Bolin:  Feb 28, 2012

The meeting opened with 10 Late Items that the public would most likely not be aware of and thus be unable to respond.  I have written before that in all but the most urgent cases, this lack of respect for the public is uncalled for and should not be countenanced.  One of these items was to correct a typographical error in the Council Minutes;  four were from citizens wishing to express their concern on the topic of the Linley Valley; one was a report from the Mayor on the City’s Strategic Plan noting that on March 1 the City will introduce a  blog for interacting with the public concerning the Plan; three deleted bylaw infractions which had apparently been cleared prior to the meeting; and finally it was noted that the Revitalization Tax Exemption Bylaw was up for final adoption.  This was not shown in the agenda available over the weekend.

This latter item, coming forward without even the minimal notice usually provided by the publication of Council meeting agendas on the Thursday afternoon preceding the relevant meeting, provides another example of Staff and Council’s apparent contempt for the opinion of the public in their expenditure of public money.  We may lament that our public seems apathetic.  They can be no other if they are also kept ignorant.  I do not believe that this bylaw is so urgent that it must be shown in a last minute stealth addition to Council’s agenda.  This item is a fundamental shift in city taxation methods and should be, not only open to public scrutiny and discussion but critical votes at Council should be advertised and available well in advance of those votes.

The Linley Valley West park proponents made several good presentations concerning the possibility of acquiring land for the park.  Included was discussion of the cost to the city of land acquisition and whether recent Council action to bring these lands inside the urban containment boundary should serve to elevate the value of the land for a park.  It is Council, with its zoning and development decisions which creates the biggest part of land values and the question of Council’s ability to remove the value which they have created, particularly when no additional value to the land has been added, is of great importance.  The Linley Valley West proponents have received an opinion that suggests that such is within Council’s power and they requested that Council meet with the lawyer from the U VIC Law Department to discuss Council’s legal rights in this matter.  This was acceded to in a motion requesting a more complete report on the matter from Staff than was offered at this meeting.  During Question period it was further requested that the presentation from the law professor, due to broader public interests, also be open to the public.  It strikes me that the selection of our next major park, should any large public expenditures be required, must be examined in the light of the alternatives which include, at least, Newcastle Island and Cable Bay where the city now owns extensive waterfront property in pawn.

For reasons of accessibility, Council voted to hold FPCOW Council meetings in the Shaw Auditorium at the Convention Centre where regular Council meetings are currently held.  In question period they were asked whether these meetings could be, if not televised, at least captured on video as FPCOW meetings currently deal with a broad spectrum of budget and related matters.  Council’s response to this question should be watched.  It would be a significant addition to public transparency.

Council abandoned a previous amendment to the Zoning Bylaw which amended the height restrictions within the Single Dwelling Residential zones.  This could use further examination.

Council rescinded third reading of the Financial Plan Bylaw and then passed a new third reading as amended.  All were informed that the amendments were minor, but the precise nature of these amendments was only summarized.   This could use some more examination.

The Revitalization Tax Exemption Bylaw was adopted.  Council is now free to grant tax exemptions to hotel and motel owners.  Nothing has, as yet, been dedicated in the budget to these exemptions.

 

during Question period, in response to a question regarding the legitimacy of Council passing a budget related item, in this case the addition of $140,000 to the budget for a Communications Manager, it was stated that Council could do as they wished, even without suitable public notice.  It was further noted that Council could still debate and change this element of the budget.  One would note however that it is much harder to take the candy out of the baby’s mouth than it is to simply not give the candy in the first place.  Do our Councillors have what it takes to take the candy away?  I doubt it.  This is another reiteration of the theme that Council can do as it wishes despite the public, i.e. that they are kings during their tenancy.  It’s good to be the King.

Delegations and Question period are becoming more interesting as more members of the public are participating.  You are invited to watch the video of this and other Council meetings on the City’s web site at:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/CouncilMeetings/VideoArchive.aspx?clip=C120227V

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