Ron Bolin: April 25, 2012
In a column for the Daily News on Friday, April 20, I wrote about the covenants that were to be placed on the possible sale of the old City Hall Annex and their implications:
In a subsequent comment on it I wrote that,” I understand that the office building next to the New Annex on Dunsmuir which has some 70,000 square feet has just been sold for $5.3 million, has about twice the space and sold for 1/3 the price of our new City Hall Annex. It should also be noted that the demolition of the civic Arena with fewer square feet than the old annex cost tax payers some $567,678 dollars to demolish. This is about the same as the land assessment of the old annex. Those tales about selling it for $1 may well be true. And at that it would be much more than the nothing we got for demolishing the civic arena except, of course, one less ice sheet.”
In response someone with the nom de plume KNOW IT ALL responded that, “Get your facts straight Ron Bolin. Property next door sold for $6.75 million and it also requires seismic upgrades. The City did look at it. These covenants are yet another example of how some councillors are out of touch with how real estate transacts. Ulimately a great condo site, but it won’t happen in 2 years…more like 10 when multi family market dynamics recover. The highest value of that site today is as a parking lot”
My response was, “@ Know it All. If the information I received was incorrect, I apologize. I guess a lot of this distrust could easily have been avoided had we had a public process with bids and all that attendant stuff. Why is it that so much in this City is undertaken under the table?”
And this is what is important here: why is so much of our business transacted behind closed doors? Even with the advent of video recordings of Council, and soon to be those of the Finance and Policy Committee of the Whole at least for a brief period, the ever more frequent use of In-Camera meetings to make decisions which a) under section 90(1) of the Community Charter could be made public, and b) because of the reflexive nature of In-Camera practices provide a perfect example of Catch 22, whereby the openness needed to prove that secrecy is required by the clause would have to be broken to prove that it was justified.
We have heard a great deal about the coming of a bylaw which would allow In-Camera matters to be revealed when secrecy is no longer required. This would at least provide a window into the practice. Where is it? Council’s need to develop better trust and rapport with Nanaimoites is evident in responses to the recent survey taken in conjunction with the City’s Strategic Plan. Among some of the highest response rates to the questions asked, covered such factors as:
- consultation and communication (61% selected either 6 or 7);
- effective governance (2nd highest ranking);
- progressive, collaborative governance and public service (55%);
- improve City Hall performance – governance, decision-making, communications/consultation, streamlining, efficiency (57%).
For more on the results of the Survey, see:
“bylaw which would allow In-Camera matters to be revealed when secrecy is no longer required.” Moot point if it is determined secrecy should be in the realm of years.
The Province needs to overhaul the Community Charter to put some teeth into the ‘Open Meeting’ requirement. The so-called ‘land, labour and litigation’ avenue to an in-camera meeting is too vague and allows situations to occur where the public interest is compromised simply because Council fears a negative backlash to a decision or they wish to fast track a controversial issue. The public interest must be the prime directive of Council even when it means some protracted and difficult interaction with the public.