"Third party" impedes Coast request for Common concerts documents | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

"Third party" impedes Coast request for Common concerts documents

City contracts with Power Promotional Events at issue.

Here we go again.

Readers will recall I've long argued that ALL city contracts should be a matter of public record, as a matter of course. If the city contracts for services, the contract should simply be posted on the city's website, with all the particulars spelled out---term, dollar amounts, details. Such a policy would give transparency to the tendering process and accountability to the taxpayer. Moreover, it will tend to bring city costs down, as successful bids will be public record, and future competitors for similar contracts will offer lower prices.

At the risk of rousing the CFA monster, I'll point out that all American cities routinely release contracts, to no observable negative effect.

There's some bizarre argument here that releasing contracts would put companies at competitive disadvantage as proprietary information would become public. I can't even wrap my head around that argument; it makes no sense at all. None. Contracts don't reveal workers' wages or the company tax number or email passwords; contracts merely spell out what particular service is going to be provided, at what cost over what time period---nothing truly proprietary. But that's the reason I'm repeatedly given when I'm denied city contracts.

Of course, if companies don't want certain information to be part of the public record, they have every right to decline to bid on public projects. It's as simple as that.

Anyway, this has been a burr under my saddle ever since the city refused to give me the contract with Nustadia for the four-pad arena on Hammond Plains Road.

But when the concert loan scandal materialized, I thought I had an inarguable right to get the various contracts between the city and Power Promotional Events, Harold MacKay's promotional company that hosted the Common concerts. Power Promotional Events no longer exists, I told the city, so therefore there are no proprietary issues, and no company has standing to object to the release of the contracts.

Lo and behold! The city agreed with me, and sent me a nice letter saying they were prepared to give me the contracts. But then, some anonymous (to me) "third party" objected, by filing an appeal of the city's decision with the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Office.

The folks at the FOIPOP office tell me they'll probably get all the documents together by the end of the month, and start making a determination as to whether the appeal meets the terms spelled out in Sections 20 and 21 of the Freedom of Information Act. Who knows how long this will take? It could be a 20 minute once-over, or it could take years.

As it happens, Larry Munroe, the city's auditor general, will release a report on the concert loan scandal before the end of the month. Presumably he has read the contracts, so perhaps some of that information will come out via the report.

Still, there's a greater principle at stake here. We now know that $5.6 million of secret, illegal loans were funnelled through a back-door city bank account to Power Promotional Events. The public interest demands that every aspect of those loans be put in the public record, and the best way to do that is to make the contracts public. The public interest trumps any conceivable personal information that might be in the contracts.

For The Coast's complete coverage of the Common concert financing scandal, click here.

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