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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Info on secret council meeting

Posted on Thu, Apr 3, 2008 at 12:12 PM

Here are some documents related to my discussion in this week's "Reality Bites" about last week's secret council meeting. I'll have some comment about all this in a moment.

Here is the Transport Canada press release about the $13 million in transit money for Halifax. Note the phrasing:

Approximately $13 million will go to Halifax, and the Halifax Regional Council has endorsed a decision to use this funding for the Harbourlink water transit service project, which will complement the existing Bus Rapid Transit service.

“Endorsed a decision”? That presumably means that someone *else* actually made a decision that needed endorsing. But no one would tell me who made that decision.

Here’s the March 3 email from city solicitor Mary Ellen Donovan to councillor Sue Uteck:

Sue: Further to today's discussion, this is to confirm that the motion of council on Tuesday in relation to the use of the federal transit funds, represents a direction to staff within the meaning of s.22(3) of the MGA and therefore did not require ratification by council later that evening. Based on this "direction", staff now have a mandate to move forward with the fast ferry project which next steps will include an updated business case, detailed design, and a recommendation to council on project scope. In addition until such time as the federal government actually made their public announcement there was nothing to ratify. Because of the public interest in the project, it was clearly council's intention to put the matter forward for a public vote once the federal announcement had taken place, but that is not necessary.

With respect to whether this fits within s.22, I had forgotten that part of the presentation referenced potential provincial funding scenarios which then brings the matter within the topic of "contract negotiations".

M E Donovan Director, Legal Services & Risk Mgt.

Peter Kelly’s March 31 email to council:

Prior to last Tuesday's In-camera meeting, Council on several occasions approved in principle the HarbourLink Project, subject to two conditions: that there be an appropriate and viable business plan and that there be confirmation of external funding for the project.

A few days prior to that meeting, staff had been advised by the federal government that it planned to make an announcement regarding funds from the Transit Trust. They asked, since we had approached them on several occasions and based on the fact that this might be the only opportunity in the foreseeable future to make an announcement of this magnitude, if we wanted to include the HarbourLink Project in the news release? As a result, staff asked Council last Tuesday if they were comfortable having the HarbourLink project referenced in the federal news release. After much debate, Council endorsed the concept and indicated their support for that message.

Now, the issue has arisen whether the In-camera motion should have been ratified last Tuesday evening in open Council. Since the nature of the motion was to only give direction to staff respecting the content of the press release and not to give final approval to the use of the funds for the HarbourLink Project, my opinion, supported by advice from the Solicitor, was that it did not have to be ratified and for that reason, it was not included on the Council agenda nor does it have to be added.

The issue still remains whether to proceed with the Harbourlink Project since the approvals are in principle only. It is staff's opinion, and I agree, that Council should not make that decision until Council has the opportunity to fully analyse the details in the context of an overall Regional Transit strategy for the next five years.

To this end, Staff will be making a presentation outlining the highlights of this plan to Council tomorrow afternoon during the Capital Budget follow-up, and hope to be given the opportunity to make a more detailed presentation at a meeting of the COW on April 8th.

Therefore, my suggestion is that Council not deal with the issue of the future of the HarbourLink Project until staff makes these presentations regarding not just this project, but all of the elements of the overall future transit strategy. Dan assures me that staff have heard your message on the importance of an overall Regional Transit strategy.

Respectfully, I remain

Peter J. Kelly Mayor

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