Butts kicks some

In his first major public act as the city’s new Chief Administrative Officer, Richard Butts stared down concert promoter Harold MacKay—and won. Sort of.


Last year, the mayor and former CAO fronted MacKay $400,000 toward the costs of two concerts on the Common. It was a sweet deal that allowed MacKay to walk away from repaying the money if he didn’t sell enough tickets to his events. He didn’t. And he did.

The deal violated the city charter and led to the resignation of the then-CAO and demands the mayor do “the honorable thing” too, but the deal itself was legal and binding. Score one for Harold.

Flash forward to this spring. MacKay’s original promotions business is out of business. But he’s back, Lazurus-like, under a new name. His wife is now the promoter. And she/he is plumping a soon-to-be-sold-out Metallica concert for mid July.

The new/old promoter isn’t looking for cash from the city this time—a non-starter after last year—but she/he wants the city to provide, at cost, the usual municipal services for such events.

Why not? Old forgivable loan forgiven. New company, new name. New day… Not so fast, says the new CAO.

We don’t know the details—transparency is not the Halifax way—but we can surmise Butts squeezed MacKay. Pay back last year’s grant or no services—and no concert.

It wasn’t pretty. And it may not have been entirely legal. But Butts had MacKay by the same short hairs MacKay employed in reverse to such great effect last year—the threat to cancel the concert, but this time if MacKay didn’t come up with cash.

In the end, he did. Not much. Probably about $40,000 of the $350,000 the city shelled out to him last year.

Some councillors fretted publicly that Butts’ legally questionable maneuvre could further sully our already sullied reputation as a how-much-do-you-want, can-we-give-you-more concert venue for mega-acts that don’t draw mega-audiences but cost mega-bucks.

So be it.

Richard Butts didn’t create concertgate. But he has now sent a signal to all concerned that someone new and different is now in charge of administration at City Hall. And that can’t be a bad thing.


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