Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mayor and Council to seek out more information on Regional District Spending

They're putting up a new name on the Wanted Poster at City Hall, with Mayor Mussallem ready to introduce a bit of oversight on Regional District Spending to the Agenda of Council discussions.

Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District officials are going to find that they are in some good company when it comes to the steely gaze of the Mayor and some of his Council members.

Previously Council had suggested that some of the financial troubles in the community rest at the doors of the Prince Rupert Port Authority and the Province of British Columbia.

As we have highlighted through the last few years, past Council discussions during the budget process have pointed towards a number of issues that the City has with the Port and the Province.

Last week Regional District was added to the list of the Mayor and Council, another entry among those that are making life difficult for the city when it comes to its financial decision making.

You can review the Mayor's thoughts on the Regional District issue from the City's Video Archive for the April 28th session, he introduces the topic as part of his Mayor's Report at the one hour twenty eight minute mark.

Still, we imagine that staff and officials of SQCRD may be taking the Mayor's concerns with more than a grain of salt.

No doubt aware that the quest for more transparency might be something that Prince Rupert City Council might find a little closer to home.

While many no doubt share some of the Mayor's concerns when it comes to spending at Regional District, it is a bit ironic to note that the Mayor is expressing his thoughts on the nature of spending there, while keeping pretty close to the vest some of the financial issues that have been noted within the City of late.

So far in this current Council year,  the City has yet to provide a full explanation on the current Watson Island situation, which the last we heard was heading once again to the courts.

In January, the City hired on a Recreation Consultant, a position that did not appear in any job posting that was made public, nor was the need for the hiring ever discussed in any meaningful fashion in a public session.

The Recreation Consultant then took on extra duties earlier this year, when the City's Recreation Coordinator was dismissed from his duties, again the topic of change at the Civic Centre didn't receive much more of a short discussion at the time, with Council suggesting that things were getting better.

Though they haven't really provided much in the way of explanation as to how the change has provided for the results that they believe they have received.

No doubt looking to be helpful to their new manager, Council  did recently provide the new Recreation Manager and his department a bit of reprieve from tough financial decisions, a bit of a break that should help to meet their expectations for success for the new direction, though most likely making it hard to compare between the results in the future, from those of the previous manager.

On the topic of staffing decisions, should the folks at Regional District be inclined to offer some push back at the Mayor's new cause for accountability. When it comes to the theme of municipal spending and allocations, they may wish to remind the Mayor and his Council that last year,  they did put together a last second financial plan with members of CUPE.

A financial plan which has never been discussed in public, nor did Council ever offer up any of the background the nature of what was involved in that financial revision.

As though to highlight the rather secretive nature when it comes to any form of negotiation, at their April 16th Special Budget session, Council  retreated to another closed session.

One where the subject of current discussions on matters of  municipal services took place, discussions which as the Mayor stated, could harm the interests of the municipality if held in public.

And while no one expects negotiations to take place in public, there should be some kind of guideline available for the public, outlining some of the background on the discussions taking place and a much more open presentation at the end of those negotiations.

That reliance on closed sessions seems to be a default thing for this Council. Over the course of the last few years, almost every regular public session now is preceded by a closed door session.

With council members starting to trot out the transparency and accountability mantra ahead of this fall's election cycle (Councillor Cunningham the first this year to pick up the beat on that drum), perhaps they could offer up a review and provide much more background regarding the growing list of those closed sessions of Council that the Mayor and this Council have embarked on in the last two years.

On the Mayor's new theme of the week, the prospect of better accountability from Regional District will be a welcome thing, in fact a full review of what it provides to the City of Prince Rupert might be a valuable contribution to the overall debate of government on the North Coast.

However, before the Mayor and council start wagging their fingers at the folks at SQCRD, perhaps they could take care of a few of their own transparency and accountability issues.

You can review more of our items of note on developments at Prince Rupert City Council from our archive page.

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