City council stumbles… again, always


The lesson from last week’s reversal of council’s decision to sell the former St. Patrick’s-Alexandra school to a private developer? Even when our councillors finally, belatedly get it right, they bungle the process so badly everyone walks away more than slightly soiled and embarrassed by the whole exercise.

In December, over angry objections of north-end residents—who already believed they were being squeezed out of their own community by urban redevelopment and gentrification—council voted to peddle a local community school site to a private developer.

The problem—as quickly became apparent and should have been clear before the vote—was that council hadn’t followed city policy for disposing of surplus property. They were supposed to consult the community first.

Not that it mattered. City staff had stacked the evaluation process to make it virtually impossible for proposals from non-profit community groups to compete with those from private developers.

There were rallies. Hundreds protested. There was a petition. Close to a thousand people signed.

Last week, the issue made its way back to council. After four-and-a-half hours of “other business”—before a packed gallery present only for the school issue—councillors finally got around to debating a motion to rescind.

Coun. Jennifer Watts had barely moved her motion when city manager Richard Butts advised councillors to go into secret session to talk the motion over with city legal staff. Another secret meeting to discuss public business? Where was this city manager when Occupy Nova Scotia protestors got turfed? Oh, right. He was home in Toronto.

Council voted down the secret meeting, then voted down a motion to adjourn, then met in secret anyway, then—it’s now closing in on one in the morning—finally voted 17-5 to rescind their original decision. And they asked city staff, who, of course, had devised the flawed process in the first place, to report back on whether the process had been correctly followed.

As usual, nothing is settled.

Once again, Council has managed to alienate the community, the developers who submitted bids in good faith and average citizens who expect better.

Let’s hope there’s a lesson in that too.

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