Transparency: What a Concept

 

Confidential TOP SECRET

“[Cecil] Clarke is calling for greater transparency on the port development file by making all reports, documents and other correspondence on port issues, in particular the marketing of the municipally owned greenfield site, public at the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Civic Centre and posted to the CBRM’s website,” Cape Breton Post, September 20, 2012

Do you remember that guy? Candidate Cecil Clarke?

He was so into transparency, he even claimed it applied to the activities of New Jersey port consultants Ed Zimny and Gordon Forsyth, then under contract to the CBRM:

“We have to find out who they’ve talked to, where they’ve gone, what have they’ve done, and make that public,” Clarke said. “If there’s matters that are proprietary or commercial sensitivity you can accommodate that, there are structures for that.”

You’re probably standing and cheering now, right? Transparency, hoorah! Access to information forms all round!

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Civic Centre: Candidate Clarke lost all interest in transparency—particularly as it applies to port consultants (or, to be more precise, to Savannah historians and medical conference organizers turned purveyors of online Mahjong turned promoters of high-end Chinese cemeteries turned miners of copper and/or gold in Mongolia and/or Arizona turned port developers). Now that Barry Sheehy and Albert Barbusci are at the helm, the public suddenly has no need to know what they’re up to.

In fact, Mayor Clarke doesn’t even think the public needs to know when council is meeting or what it is discussing—between January 2014 and October 2015, the CBRM council held 31 secret meetings, according to a Chronicle Herald report by Tom Ayers.

Thirty-one in camera meetings in 22 months—is this a municipal council or a Little Orphan Annie Secret Society? What exactly are they doing, praying? Practising their rendition of “O Canada?” (Although, having seen the hang-dog version sung to recorded accompaniment prior to council meetings, I could actually get behind that agenda item.)

We know they are spending some of their time discussing the port because District 6 Councillor Ray Paruch told Ayers as much:

“We’re hiding. There are circumstances where in camera meetings have to be held, especially in the area of personnel. But we’re having meetings on the port and this kind of stuff, and I don’t agree with that.”

But that is really all we know. I asked the Municipal Clerk (nicely) for a list of dates of the in camera meetings and the “topics” discussed. I’ll post it here. But all you really need to know is that these meetings were brought to you by the number “22” and the letters “a, c, d, e, f, g and h.”

That is, section 22 of Nova Scotia’s Municipal Government Act which states that council meetings may be closed to the public to discuss matters related to:

(a) acquisition, sale, lease and security of municipal property

(b) setting a minimum price to be accepted by the municipality at a tax sale;

(c) personnel matters;

(d) labour relations;

(e) contract negotiations;

(f) litigation or potential litigation;

(g) legal advice eligible for solicitor-client privilege;

(h) public security

Our council has used up almost all the available letters. I find myself almost wishing they could have one more secret session to discuss “b,” just to complete the set.

But what I really wish is that Candidate Clarke would come back and knock some transparency into our municipal proceedings. I know exactly where he could start—Sheehy and Barbusci, who have they talked to? Where have they gone? What have they done? Make that public.

 

This article first appeared on goCapeBreton.com