Should BCB Directors Ink Quiet Deals with CBRM?

Danny Ellis, who has signed a deal with the CBRM to rent property on the Sydney waterfront for a seasonal food and drink establishment, is a director of Business Cape Breton — the municipality’s designated economic development “entity.”

According to his LinkedIn account, Ellis has been on the BCB board since 2010. This would be a nice place to explain how BCB board members are chosen, but since I have no idea how that happens, I’ll just have to leave it to your imaginations. Perhaps it involves pulling a sword from a stone.

That I have no idea how BCB board members are chosen tells you a lot about BCB as an organization. It’s murky, generally — entirely government funded yet unaccountable to the public — but its status as the CBRM’s economic development arm is a particularly black box.

Mayor Cecil Clarke (who, let’s not forget, was a high-paid employee of BCB’s predecessor organization, the Cape Breton County Economic Development Authority, for the year between his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking and his successful first run at the mayoralty) announced to council in June 2016 that BCB would, henceforward, be the CBRM’s designated economic development entity and a majority of councilors agreed.

No one, however, asked what that role entailed — and certainly no one asked what it meant to be a director on the board of the municipality’s economic development entity. Does it mean you are privy to otherwise confidential information? Does it mean you have access to CBRM staff? Does it make it easier for you to, say, approach the CBRM with plans for a waterfront eatery?


Conflict of interest

The situation is patently untenable: the CBRM’s economic development arm is being overseen by a board of local businesspeople, any or all of whom could, at any given time, be doing business with the CBRM.

The CBRM does have an economic development manager, John Phalen, but he and the municipality’s elected officials seem to take a back seat to BCB when it comes to economic development. Consider this January 2017 email from BCB CEO Eileen Lannon Oldford to the councilors whose districts would be implicated in the Glace Bay revitalization plan (you can click on it to enlarge it):


Lannon Oldford is kindly informing the councilors that the deal is done — BCB apparently chose the project and secured the funding. Phalen (who took up the job in November 2016) is included as an afterthought.

My cat can see the possibility of a conflict of interest in this arrangement and she can’t figure out how to use a cat door. If BCB has this kind of freedom to choose projects and pursue funding, could not a board member/businessperson with a pet project or a keen eye for a good opportunity stand to benefit?

Isn’t the perception of conflict of interest something “non-profits” like BCB are supposed to avoid at all costs? Does BCB even have a conflict of interest policy?

Does anybody care?


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