Mondays with Albert: Barbusci Updates Council

Remember when Harbor Port Development Partners (HPDP) changed its name to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) and pressured CBRM council into extending its contract with the municipality for five years?

It was last December, seven months ago, when the port file was so hot, what with terminal operator Ports America coming on board, it was sizzling. And the partners — Albert Barbusci of Montreal and Barry Sheehy of Savannah by way of Gabarus — needed to be able to reassure everyone that they would, indeed, be involved in the project “going forward,” as the businessmen say.

So what’s been happening since?

Funny you should ask — on Monday, Barbusci briefed the CBRM council on latest developments on the port file.


Under pressure

It’s something he’s apparently been doing semi-regularly over the past seven months to allay the concerns of the councilors who were unhappy with the pressure exerted on them to extend the contract in December. (You’ll recall they were herded into rooms in the Civic Centre — or City Hall, I don’t know what to call it anymore — where they were visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future…no, sorry, by a succession of local business people, each of whom had some personal stake in the project, all of whom encouraged the councilors to extend the SHIP contract.)

As a sop to their concerns, the Mayor or Barbusci or Jim Gogan or Michael Merritt (remember him? I wonder how he’s doing these days?) or whoever is in charge of this operation agreed that Barbusci would provide regular updates to council on the port file.

A starry-eyed idealist would have imagined those meetings happening in public, during council meetings — which happen conveniently once a month and have these things called “agendas” to which a presentation from a port developer could be easily appended. Barbusci, though, likes to keep a low profile, and his subject matter is generally accepted to be too sensitive for public consumption, so when he appears before council he does so in secret.

But is that really cool?


In camera

Albert Barbusci (via Novaporte website)

Albert Barbusci (via Novaporte website)

I first heard about Barbusci’s planned appearance last Friday, so contacted Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell to ask if there was a special council meeting — public or in camera — scheduled for Monday.

She assured me there was not and certainly, none was announced.

But on Tuesday, I was told by District 6 Councilor Ray Paruch that a meeting had, in fact, taken place — although he himself did not attend.

And District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall confirmed for me that it had happened and that she had attended but was not free to discuss Barbusci’s presentation, which was confidential.

This got me to thinking: shouldn’t such meetings at least be announced? According to the Municipal Government Act (MGA):

19(2) In addition to regular meetings, the council may hold such other meetings as may be necessary or expedient for the dispatch of business at such time and place as the council determines, if each council member is notified at least three days in advance and the clerk gives at least two days public notice of the meeting.

Council can meet in closed session to discuss certain matters, and I guess Barbusci’s update could fall under one or more of these categories (contract negotiations or the acquisition, sale, lease and security of municipal property).

But — and this is a big but:

19(4) A record which is open to the public shall be made, noting the fact that council met in private, the type of matter than was discussed, as set out in subsection (2) and the date, but no other information.

McDougall said she would reach out to the NS Department of Municipal Affairs and the CBRM CAO to inquire about the rules governing such meetings.


Up front

I also reached out to the Department of Municipal Affairs however, I did it on short notice so I will have to update this story when I receive a response.

But I also asked Michael Coyle, an experienced municipal government lawyer in Nova Scotia, what the legalities of such a meeting would be. He said the situation presents a dilemma for council because they don’t want a contractor (like Barbusci) to have to reveal potentially sensitive information in public but if they add him to the agenda of a regular council meeting, reception of his report might not constitute a reason to go in camera.

Councilors should, however:

…be up front about the fact that they have met informally and hopefully they would be able to give at least a general explanation for why they met as a group outside of an official meeting…

If we accept the need for Barbusci to report in private (which I’m not sure I do, but will leave that battle for another day) it seems we could at least expect to be told that he is reporting.

Surely that’s not too much to ask.


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