Does the CB Post know what ‘open’ means?

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RANT & RAVE: For questionable business expenses. The Richmond County Council expense scandal, which involves charges for such goodies as airline ticket changes for a spouse, valet parking and liquor store charges, has now made its way to the Nova Scotia Ombudsman’s Office thanks to complaints issues by several area residents. The investigation is expected to take several months and while acting ombudsman Christine Delisle-Brennan won’t commit at this point to publicly revealing its findings we can only imagine the negative reaction if the report doesn’t reach the light of day. In the meantime, we applaud the efforts of local citizens, including Germaine MacDonald of St. Peter’s, who have filed Freedom of Information requests in order to check council expense claims for themselves. MacDonald is currently pouring over 3,000 pages of travel expenses filed over the past six years to determine for herself if any taxpayers’ money was used inappropriately. Too bad council just didn’t hand over the information in the first place, right? (Cape Breton Post, 28 March 2016)

RAVE: For open government. Good on Cape Breton Regional Municipality for asking the provincial ombudsman’s office for permission to make a report on the setting of terms for the sale of Archibald Wharf in North Sydney public. It did so even though the report labelled the terms as “reasonable” but also identified some deficiencies in council’s handling of the issue, one being the 30-day timeline for purchasing the property (which was a former park/playground) didn’t leave enough time for meaningful public consultation. Cynics might argue that CBRM only released the report in order to get in front of some of the deficiencies expressed by the ombudsman. Maybe so but we’ll take a government releasing information on its own any day. See Richmond County Council for the wisdom of the opposite approach. (Cape Breton Post, 28 March 2016)

Okay, I’m not saying Richmond County councillors don’t have some ‘splainin’ to do. I’ve been looking at some of the expenses detailed by residents on their Facebook page and “28 shots of liquor” and a “4 pm bucket of KFC” sounds like the answer to “Describe your perfect first date” on a backwoods version of “The Bachelor.” It doesn’t sound like expenses incurred while conducting County business.

So I, too, applaud Richmond citizens for demanding answers.

But if I were trying to find a shining example of transparency for Richmond Council to emulate, I don’t think I’d look to the CBRM.

And I don’t think releasing a report that says you rushed a land sale, failed to ensure adequate public consultation and need to draft a policy on “public participation” makes you a Poster Child for open government.

What I do think is that the Post (and by Post I mean, the editorial board) has a blind spot: our paper of record sees anything to do with the Port (like the Archibald’s Wharf sale) as progress, and any criticism of it as negativity or its close cousin, cynicism. But don’t take my word for it, read what the Post itself had to say.

In a November 2015 “rant” about CBRM Mayor Cecil Clark’s “mystery trips,” the Post admitted it had only discovered through “unofficial channels” that Clarke was going to China for 10 days and decried his lack of transparency. By the end of the paragraph, however, all was forgiven, because PORT.

“…[W]e believe all efforts related to port development are vitally important to CBRM, Cape Breton Island and the province. The potential is enormous. As such, we support, at this point, the vision for making it happen.”

So go to China without telling anyone, meet repeatedly in camera, rush the sale of a waterfront recreational property, choose a Port Corp CEO in secret, stack the Port board with elected officials, spend the $2.5 million left over from the harbor dredge, contract port marketers with no port marketing experience, pay $1.2 million for a few acres of land and some rotting wharves in Point Edward, the Post will let it slide. But woe betide anyone whose questionable behavior is not in support of the Almighty Port.

That double standard was on full display Tuesday, when the paper featured District 8 Councillor Kevin Saccary on the front page. Arms crossed, jaw set, he denounced the shenanigans at Destination Louisbourg (where organizers choosing a new executive director employed a modified version of the Dick Cheney approach to hiring—interview a number of qualified candidates, pick yourself). The denunciation, however, rang hollow from the lips of an elected official serving on the board of the “arm’s length” Port of Sydney Development Corporation.

It sounded downright ludicrous, in fact, coming from someone who swallowed Mayor Clarke’s “political” appointments (an executive assistant and a spokesperson), who accepted the behind-the-scenes secondment of Marlene Usher as CEO of the Port of Sydney Corporation, who saw no problem in awarding an exclusive marketing contract to Harbor Port Development Partners, who suggested during the Port AGM that the joint checking account he shared with his wife was a good analogy for the financial relationship between the CBRM and the Port of Sydney.

But it’s your call Cape Breton Post, so by all means, let the councillor launch the Campaign to Re-elect Kevin Saccary on your front page; heck, let him weigh in on the Destination Louisbourg hiring. But slip in a question or two about the Port of Sydney and his own conflict of interest, why don’t you? If the CBRM is as “open” as you say it is, he’ll be delighted to answer.

 

This article first appeared on goCapeBreton.com