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Life behind the veil at HBRC

Life behind the veil at HBRC

Tue, Feb 04 2014


As councillors get into gear for the coming year, it’s clear that secrecy will be the preferred modus operandi of the HB Regional Council.

At our first meeting on 29 January, the precedent has already been set.

At that meeting, we deliberated two agenda items in ‘public-excluded’ session.

The outcome of the first item has now been announced to the public. In that matter, we commissioned two independent reports that will be critical to evaluating the financial and economic viability of the proposed dam. One study, to be completed by Deloitte, will examine the financial/economic case for the dam and the risks involved in a HBRC (i.e., ratepayer) investment (if any) of $80 million in it. A second study, to be completed by Nimmo-Bell, will identify and evaluate alternative investments of scale that could be made to advance the strategic goals of the Regional Council.

There is absolutely no reason why the terms of reference for these studies could not have been released to the public in advance, and councillors’ interrogation of the candidate firms be witnessed. Indeed, public observation of the process would have been reassuring to skeptics of the proposed scheme. Financial terms and councillors’ deliberations over the candidates could have readily been kept private.

I’m comfortable with the assignments that have been awarded. However, I am not comfortable with the extremely short window the consultants have been given — essentially one month — to complete their assignments. This is just another example of the groundless determination of HBRC/HBRIC to hurry, hurry, hurry. Here’s where ‘hurry’ takes you …

Even the Board of Inquiry has asked for additional time to complete its deliberations … and that time has been granted. If the BOI needs more time after seven months to do its job well, surely so do these consultants need more than four weeks.

The second item considered in public excluded was publicly titled: “HBRIC Ltd Staff Remuneration Request”.

I can say nothing about the content of that item at this time. However, a number of councillors, myself included, are challenging the Council’s handling of the matter. We will fight to make public the decision taken, its documentation, and the votes cast. Watch this space.

The penchant for secrecy didn’t end there on the 29th.

Once the public excluded portion of the meeting was declared ended, thereby ending the official Council meeting (of course with media and the public long since gone), Chairman Fenton Wilson offered councillors the ‘opportunity’ to receive an update briefing on the dam from HBRIC Chairman Andy Pearce, who had been on hand for the second public excluded agenda item, and was still present.

Pearce began a presentation, but it was quickly noted that the ground rules were murky as to whether this briefing was to be considered public or confidential. Indeed, what was the official status of the ‘meeting’ at that point?

You’ll recall that Councillors Barker, Beaven, Graham and myself have been asking for a full public de-brief on the scheme ever since we were elected … a request that was re-issued days before the 29 January meeting and to which Chairman Pearce acceded. But, we were told, the briefing couldn’t be accommodated on that day.

After a bit of posturing by various councillors, it became clear that I was the party regarded with suspicion. [Councillor Barker had left immediately at the close of the official meeting to catch a plane.] The question on the table: If other councillors wished to proceed with an informal confidential briefing, would I pledge to report nothing of it?

I declined to participate in a rump private meeting. I gave my view that it’s past time for the public to have a wide-open look at the total scheme, with all its aspects and assumptions on the table. It’s time to take off the veil.

So I left the ‘meeting’ — or whatever it was — and the briefing commenced.

For me, the principle of transparency is paramount. I made that as clear as I possibly could during my election campaign and voters responded positively.

My intention is to press the HBRC towards transparency — the only basis of public accountability — at every opportunity. I intend to press the boundaries … vigorously. Anything less and I would be failing to keep faith with my constituency.

Tom Belford

ends

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