Council Won’t Rush Library Location Deliberation

If you’ve been missing the Cecil Clarke-style of government — characterized by council being asked to make big decisions on short notice with little time to digest background information — then you no doubt enjoyed District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald’s last-minute attempt to slip approval of the waterfront location for a new Central Library onto last night’s agenda.

The item didn’t appear on the agenda that was posted on Friday because MacDonald, as he explained to council last night, had emailed the clerk only “late” that afternoon about it:

MacDonald motion re: Central Library CBRM 2021.03.09

MacDonald didn’t get much opportunity to speak to this motion before District 12 Councilor Lorne Green proposed moving it to a future meeting, but in the short time he had, MacDonald said it needed to be discussed because the “current developers had an 18-month period” in which to make some progress on the library (or, presumably, any other element of their proposed waterfront development scheme) and last year “we were in an election year and COVID.”

For the record, I had predicted that Martin Chernin’s Harbour Royale Development Ltd, the “current developers,” would plead COVID, although I thought it would be to ask for another 18-month extension to their agreement (which, for no good reason, includes the public library in a private development).

If I had to guess, I would say Chernin et al want to get the waterfront site approved ASAP because they’re afraid they won’t get another extension. That’s a reasonable fear, because they almost didn’t get the last one, which passed by a vote of 6-4 (three councilors were missing from the meeting). Three of those four dissenters (District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin, District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger and then-District 8 Councilor now Mayor Amanda McDougall) remain on council.

Vote: HRDL 18-month extension 10.12.2019

Vote: HRDL 18-month extension 10.12.2019

In fact, MacMullin almost succeeded in reducing HRDL’s extension to six months — the vote on her motion was tied 5-5 which meant it was considered lost. (Mayor Clarke voted for both the six-month extension and the 18-month extension.)

Vote: 6 month extension HRDL

The vote on the six-month extension of HRDL’s agreement, 10 December 2019.

Add to this the fact that new councilors have no particular attachment to an agreement they had no say in making, and you can understand why HRDL might be antsy to secure approval of the waterfront location — which would lock the library, once and for all, into its waterfront plan — before June, when its agreement expires.

But are the “COVID” and “election year” cards really that persuasive?

Work on the Marconi and the various hospital projects has continued despite COVID.

And HRDL didn’t mention anything about the upcoming election year in 2019, when it was awarded that 18-month extension, so bringing it up now seems a tad disingenuous.

We’ll just have to wait and see what council has to say, because it was decided last night that instead of rubber-stamping the waterfront location, council would hold a special session to discuss the new library, giving new councilors time to get up to speed on the file and inviting everyone involved — the developers, Senator Dan Christmas, library staff — to participate.

In 2019, council almost wrested control of the public library back from the private developer — could 2021 see it finish the job?