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Peter Kelly 's laughable claim that he wants less secrecy 

Halifax mayor's own track record gives the lie to yesterday's press release

click to enlarge peter_kelly.jpg
Peter Kelly’s press release yesterday, which called for an “overhaul” of the way city council meets in secret, was met with a round of laughter, disbelief and ridicule.

“You know,” said Chronicle-Herald editor Dan Leger on Twitter, “I've been in this business almost 35 years, and that might be the strangest, most surreal [news release] I've ever seen.”

“Bartender, I'll have what the Mayor's having,” tweeted reporter Paul McLeod.

“I am framing that press release,” chimed in Metro reporter Alex Boutilier.

“Unbelievable. Just unbelievable,” wrote councillor Darren Fisher.

My own guffaws echoed through the office, right across the street and through the bar, for hours and hours.

Why the reaction? Where to start?

It could be the horrid prose: “Public debate is the very air that democracy breaths [sic],” writes the mayor of Halifax. “We must open our windows as wide as possible to achieve that kind of ventilation.” Kelly can't very well admit it, but that was most likely ghost-written by Kelly’s PR flack/hack/former Chronicle-Herald columnist Peter Duffy, who will forever be best known as the journalist “violated” by a ghost.

Or, the source of the laughter could be Kelly’s pathetic attempt to one-up councillors on the secrecy issue: “Mayor Peter Kelly today called on Council and HRM staff to change the way business is conducted so that in-camera meetings become the exception, rather than the rule,” writes Kelly/Duffy, as if councillors have any say whatsover on scheduling in camera meetings.

In reality, as councillor Jackie Barkhouse repeatedly points out, it is councillors themselves, who for years have been decrying the secret meetings, asking for closed meetings to be opened to the public and demanding justifications for why meetings are closed, to no avail. And, it’s Kelly himself who draws up the council agenda, who has fended off demands for more openness and who, just two weeks ago, literally cut off councillor Jennifer Watts’ mic as she was attempting to publicly apologize for council's secret meetings.

But while Duffy’s rotten prose and Kelly’s lame attempt to displace blame are laughable enough, the gut-busting, drink-spewing, pants-peeing chortling comes from the contemplating the naked audacity of Kelly’s claim to be worried about excess secrecy.

Yes, I’m told that Peter Kelly raised issues of excessive secrecy during his first campaign for mayor, back in 2000, and one of these days I’ll go back and find the press reports of that supposed concern, just to lay it out. But having observed council in detail, week in and week out, for going on five years, I can assure you: Peter Kelly has done nothing, nada, diddly squat to decrease or moderate or even slow down the increase in secrecy at City Hall.

I can not even count the number of times I’ve challenged Kelly directly on secret meetings, and not once has he said he’s fought to make something open but council over-ruled him. On the contrary, it’s councillors who repeatedly say that Kelly is the source of the secrecy.

We are, after all, talking about the same mayor who hid not only from the public, but also from city councillors, from city finance staff, from the lawyers for the city, some $5.2 million in loans he ushered to favoured concert promoter Harold MacKay, in utter violation of the city charter, council’s rules of procedure and common sense. How secretive was Peter Kelly in the concert scandal? Consider this: When his office staff got wind of a meeting to arrange another improper loan, Kelly rescheduled the meeting out of his office and into a Bedford restaurant, total Sopranos style, so that none of his workers could get a look-see at any secret documents or later be able to describe the participants of the meeting to a police sketch artist.

And yes, this very same concerned-about-excess-secrecy Peter Kelly that earlier this month botched the eviction of the Occupy Nova Scotia group by arranging the eviction be discussed in secret and not to signal the protesters so he could arrange a Remembrance Day eviction, even though the protesters had proven to be nothing but reasonable and cooperative to both the city and the veterans. It doesn’t matter what you think of the eviction---it’s the secrecy around it that caused the city to look like a brutish thug.

So what’s going on here? Why is Kelly suddenly singing a new tune on secrecy?

Probably because there’s a new public opinion survey being conducted, which asks those polled about their opinion of the mayor. Evidently, people are worked up about secrecy, and Kelly is trying to get ahead of the opinion.

I’ll have more on the polling, maybe as soon as tomorrow, but for now I’ll just say that Kelly thinks, maybe with good reason, that he can hoodwink people who aren’t paying much attention. “Oh, the mayor wants less secrecy.... good for him,” you can almost hear them saying.

I’ll give Kelly this: he’s got Teflon for skin, and seems against all reason to have his defenders, and his voters, no matter how much he screws up, no matter how much he embarrasses this city, no matter how much hypocrisy he displays. What's his secret?

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