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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Richard Butts joins the old boy network

Halifax CAO awards stadium contract one day before council reconsiders it.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM

click to enlarge Richard Butts
  • Richard Butts
Richard Butts, the top bureaucrat at Halifax City Hall, previously worked for the city of Toronto. When Halifax council hired him in March, it was widely hoped that his outsider perspective and big city professionalism would help cut through the traditional old boy network that so corrupts local politics, but just six months later Butts has proven that he’s more than willing to play by the old rules.

At issue the proposed stadium for Halifax. Earlier this year, council paid a consultant $93,000 to produce “Phase 1” stadium study, which basically interviewed a bunch of people who had already said they wanted a stadium and concluded that, yep, they still want a stadium. In August, council decided to follow up that study by putting out a tender for a consultant to conduct a “Phase 2” study, estimated to cost $275,000, which would find a location for a stadium and suggest how it would be paid for.

The August 9 council vote was premised on the idea that the province would provide significant funding for a new stadium. but the very next day, August 10, premier Darrell Dexter said there was no chance that the province would provide funding. So at the next council meeting, August 16, councillor Reg Rankin gave notice that we would put forward a “motion of rescission” at the next meeting, that is, after council’s three-week vacation, or this past Tuesday, September 13. If passed, Rankin’s motion would overturn the vote of August 9, meaning the Phase 2 study would not move forward.

But even though Rankin’s motion has been public knowledge for three weeks, and a vote was scheduled Tuesday, on Monday Butts awarded the contract on Monday, effectively pulling the rug out from under Rankin’s motion. Butts only had the power to award the contract because council was on vacation; normally, council itself would have to approve the contract. As of press time, city staff doesn’t know which firm was awarded the contract.

Clearly, there were behind-the-scenes politicking going on, recalling the city’s old boy network we’ve all grown to hate. Councillor Tim Outhit called it an “absolute farce,” and when other councillors questioned Butts directly, mayor Peter Kelly intervened, denying them the right to question staff.

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