Snowbirds fly but council stays under radar

Here’s some news, which I might add the Northern View hasn’t gotten around to reporting. The Snowbirds will be coming to town in August after all.

The story comes from the local blog North Coast Review < … ealth.html >.

On January 14 a request to the council from the event organizers for a $15,000 contribution was turned down due to budgetary concerns, with only councillors Garon and Kinney voting in favour.

Near the end of the February 12 meeting the following information was released from a Closed Session of the council:

“Council wants to release information, that they are issuing a Grant for 7,000 dollars to the 2013 Snowbirds Organizing committee and also that the Council has directed staff to issue issue tax receipts for people who make cash donations in support of the 2013 Snowbirds event.”

Before I go on, a hearty round of applause is due to the anonymous donors who came up with $8000.

While the news will no doubt lift the spirits of many, why the decision was made in Closed Session and released in sombre monotone at the public meeting with no further details raises some concerns about how spending decisions are made. Grants to community groups are thrashed out in public with presentations being made by various local groups - library, arts centre, golf club etc - which is usually followed by questions and comments by the councillors. The final decisions are made in public. The views and voting records of individual council members are no doubt of interest, especially to the volunteers who made the presentations.

So why was this spending decision made in Closed Session without the public being present?

The Community Charter (section 90(1)(b)) allows a council to exclude the public when the subject matter relates to “(b) personal information about an identifiable individual … who has offered to provide a gift to the municipality on condition of anonymity;”. That’s all fair enough. The privacy of anonymous donors should be respected.

Once that information is received in private, though, why not refer the decision to the public meeting so that those who spoke or voted for or against or changed their minds is known? in the end, the decision is no longer about who donated what, but about how public funds will be spent. Money that is granted to one community group is money that could have been granted to another. Those issues really should be discussed in public.

Perhaps the Northern View and its outspoken publisher will wade in on the topic in due course. Transparency around spending decisions would seem to be a good topic for editorial comment.

I see, by the way, that on Wednesday they got around to writing about the investigation of former MLA Bill Belsey’s lobbying activities, a topic that was reported on North Coast Review on January 30 and on this site on February 2. Maybe in due course they’ll let us know that the Snowbirds will be coming to town as well, and how that came about.

There’s a very good editorial in the Northern View on this topic by editor Shaun Thomas, under the title “Open the doors, council”.

Yes, the councillors are all nice people, dedicated and so on, but sometimes their reticence leaves people wondering. Perhaps they would get more credit for what they do if they literally opened the doors more often and let the public in on what they do and the reasoning behind it.

Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

"In a public meeting, broadcast to the community and the world, the City of Prince Rupert said it didn’t have the money and couldn’t justify such an expense given other priorities for the City. During an in-camera meeting, open only to members of council and free of scrutiny from the public, members of council decided they could give the group $7,000 after all.

Why did council change their minds? What was the discussion that took place? Why could $7,000 be found now, but not during the initial meeting?

We may never know due to the rules of the Community Charter. The only problem is, I don’t see how a discussion about funding a community event falls under any of the criteria outlined in the Community Charter.

Under the Community Charter, closed meetings are designed to deal with a person who is being considered for or holds a position with the municipality, labour relations, acquisition or disposition of land, legal situations and municipal objectives. Where in there is approving $7,000 for an event that was previously turned down?

If the City can’t tell us why they changed their mind about something as simple as providing funds for the Snowbirds when the request was shot down before, it really makes one question what else is being decided behind closed doors and free of any scrutiny.

I’ve said before that council needs to be more open with the electorate, and this is just another example of that. Making decisions behind closed doors that could and should be made in the open will not win you the confidence of the people."

[quote=“BTravenn”]I’ve said before that council needs to be more open with the electorate, and this is just another example of that. Making decisions behind closed doors that could and should be made in the open will not win you the confidence of the people."[/quote]

Isn’t this what sheriff Ashley was voted in for?


Isn’t this what sheriff Ashley was voted in for?[/quote]

They were all voted in to ensure that spending decisions are made in public meetings. Sometimes that may mean referring a closed meeting discussion to a public meeting for a decision.