Council's Olympic Village discussion must come out of the shadows

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

11 comments


GlobalTV continues its excellent reports on the troubled Olympic Village

The “summer from hell” for Gregor Robertson quickly appears to be turning into the fall from grace for his worship. The sun has barely made it passed the equator on its journey south when Robertson and his Vision gang began shooting themselves in the foot – yet again. This week their misery stems from the leak of information out of their secret meeting held on Tuesday to discuss the Olympic Village development.

When Global TV broke the story on Wednesday, there were initially half-hearted denials that went something like “in-camera meeting, what in-camera meeting about the Athlete’s Village?” When that didn't cut the mustard, they moved onto a new message track which had them saying “yes, sure we held a meeting, but it was just a backroom briefing. No decisions were made.” By late Friday they had switched gears and finally began blurting out what had heretofore only been discussed behind closed doors. Yes, Vision finally admitted there was in fact a secret meeting about the Olympic Village development, but it was only to “confirm” the City Manager’s authority.

Pardon me? Do Vision really want people to believe they added the Olympic Village to their in-camera discussion merely to validate the City Manager’s authority? There were more lawyers in the room than can be found down at the BC Supreme Court building. Penny Ballem, known for producing lengthy powerpoint presentations, crafted a doozy on Tuesday night. Despite the half-hearted denials, the meeting was long, detailed and it mapped out a future course of action for the Village.

As for simply meeting to "confirm" the City Manager's authority, just who are Mayor Robertson and his caucus colleagues trying to kid? Have you ever heard of something so silly as holding a backroom secret in-camera meeting to discuss the City’s largest development project merely to “confirm” the authority of the City Manager? Unfortunately, this was the best spin they could come up with on short notice, given that almost all the details regarding their four-part motion had now entered into the public domain.

Let me repeat again, was it not Mayor Gregor Robertson that won an election campaign with a key promise of opening up the Olympic Village development for more public scrutiny? Therefore, if this was just a simple “briefing” session, as is being portrayed by Vision, why did it need to be held behind closed doors? Why couldn’t the City Manager put this on the agenda for an open council meeting and allow taxpayers the opportunity to hear what council was hearing regarding a “briefing” on the Olympic Village?

The reason council likely didn’t hold their meeting in public was because real decisions were made about the future of the Olympic Village. This was no simple briefing as councillor Meggs would like to portray it, rather, it was a lengthy discussion of the city’s $700 million stake in the success of the Athlete’s Village.

Mayor Robertson and City Manager Penny Ballem are also insisting that Millennium is not in default of their loan. They claim that no correspondence has been sent to the developer in that regard and that everything is smooth sailing. Although it's likely that luxury condo sales will continue to remain sluggish in the coming months.

If so, then why is the Globe and Mail reporting that "so far, Millennium Developments has paid nearly all of the first $200-million that was due by the end of the summer as part of the loan agreement with the city"? If they have paid “nearly all” of the loan, does this mean there remains an outstanding balance? Or have they in fact paid in full what they owe to the City as Ballem and Robertson claim?

Needless to say, there remains a lot more questions this week than answers when it comes to the Olympic Village. Here is what Webster Award-winning columnist Gary Mason wrote in Saturday’s Globe and Mail:

Given the dimension of the financial bath the city is likely to take, Mayor Gregor Robertson needs to address this matter publicly. The time for petty recriminations and blaming this mess on a previous city council has long since passed. While the mayor may have been dealt a bad hand here, the problem is now his. He must own it and own up to the massive scope of this debacle.

...the mayor needs to come clean with Vancouver taxpayers, his shareholders. They have the right to know exactly what is happening to their money. 

As the Mayor stated after taking office, "We know we've been dealt a very tough hand, but I believe we can meet our obligations." It's time for Gregor Robertson to meet his obligation of complete, unfettered openness on the Olympic Village file and take the decision-making out of the shadows.

+++

For more background, read my colleague Mike Klassen's feature series of articles on the Olympic Village:

On a related note, I believe the Mayor and his council should come out very quickly and denounce the tent city being planned for the Olympic Village. Robertson needs to make a very clear public statement that he will not support this protest which only serves to further jeopardize the financial success of the Athlete's Village development. Only time will tell if he is prepared to take on the social housing protestors who have been for the most part in his camp over the last two years.

- post by Daniel

11 Comments

For JR and all the other VV apparatchiks who say "Voters knew what they were getting" when they elected Robertson and his gang of Keystone Crops let me suggest that the Vancouver voters experience has been more like this "Springbreak Mistake".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVPa46W3uMY

Gerry,
now that was funny....

So much for Robertson's promise of openness and transparency and no more backroom meetings on the olympic village.

"The mayor [Gregor Robertson] said in-camera discussions about the project are ongoing, with council considering what to do if Millennium’s incentive program seems to be failing in advance of the repayment deadline."

That quote is from this morning's province newspaper. What a big hypocrite. In-camera meetings are "ongoing"?

Daniel, as you and I discussed on Christy Clark's Show, I believe there is a place for 'in camera' or 'secret meetings' as the Mayor referred to them during the last election campaign. The fact is, the Mayor was demonstrating utter naiveté when he proclaimed that he would not hold such meetings. He is now being extremely hypocritical by not acknowledging he was wrong, and that there are certain commercial matters that must be discussed behind closed doors.

That being said, you are absolutely right that the city must take a stand opposing the proposed 'tent city protest'. I think that real estate experts would agree that the protesters at the initial Sales Program Opening in May seriously damaged the Marketing Teams efforts to re-launch the project in a positive way, and the sales program has never fully recovered.

Council must be allowed to make significant decisions on financial matters 'in camera', but the Mayor and the City Administration must be more open and forthright in letting the public and potential buyers know what is really going on.

The city must also try better to help the marketing program in any way it can, including an agreement that it will stop towing cars parked on city property in front of Millennium's Sales Centre until the last units are sold!
http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/civiclee/archive/2010/09/24/12-ideas-for-how-to-sell-the-troubled-olympic-village.aspx

Unless Vision is working with CSIS and national security is involved, there is absolutely no valid reason to have any secret meetings.

Why exactly do these "commercial matters" need to be hidden from the public?

What would the allegedly devastating ramifications be if citizens knew how their tax money was being spent?

Please, could someone come up with just one decent argument as to why municipal governments should have any right to secrecy when making financial decisions? The only explanation I keep hearing is 'they need secret meetings because they need secret meetings'.

"The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings." -JFK

Wow, Michael Geller the Dev(i)loper's Advocate has spoken! The Mayor was a naive little guy, and the units are not selling because of the May opening protests.
Tell you, why they are not selling. Too expensive, only to start with, then let's see: small, crowded, low quality craftsmanship. Who would pay the money your friends are asking for these pieces of crap, unless they were rich American inheritors, Chinese apparatchik in need of hiding some money, or maybe some Hell's Angels members in the witness protection program. Geller, the NPA material! Yeah, if they want to lose again.

Wanda, I entirely agree that the main reason the apartments have not been selling is that the prices are too high. Other concerns include the fact that as a result of all the negative publicity over the past three years, the project is tainted. There is also uncertainty regarding who is going to live in the social housing units, and the site currently feels a bit like a ghost town. People are reluctant to make a buying decision for these and other reasons.

Now,to those who question whether Council should make any decisions 'In-Camera' I would ask you to think about the conversations that often take place between someone wanting to sell their apartment or house and their realtor.

Vendor: "We really want to get at least $400,000 for our apartment"

Realtor: "Well, we have two options these days. We can price it at $429,000 and consider offers, or we can price it at $385,000 and hope we can create a bidding war."

Vendor: "Well, I guess if someone did offer $385,000 we'd sell it for that"......and so on.

None of us would like this conversation to be shared with potential purchasers, and that is why the City Council must be allowed to have conversations with staff regarding City strategies 'In-Camera'; especially since in this case we're not talking about $15,000. We are talking about significantly more.

That's why I suggested that the Mayor was being naive when he said he would not have 'In-Camera' discussions. There have to be 'In-Camera' discussions to run any business or government.

Finally, I am disgusted with the person who leaked the contents of this 'In-Camera' meeting to the media, and am surprised that others have not expressed the same sentiments. Sure, it makes for great blogging and newspaper stories, but it is dishonest, and potentially very damaging.

All staff members and councillors have a legal and moral obligation to respect the confidentiality of In-Camera meetings, and anyone violating this oath should be reprimanded. This is especially true in a situation such as this when the leak could result in serious financial consequences for the city.

Hi Michael:

I understand what you are saying, but I think the problems with the secrecy of 'in-camera' meetings is directly related to a general distrust of this current Mayor and Council.

The lack of public consultation on just about every major project pushed through as well as the frivolous spending of tax payer dollars has painted this Mayor and Council as irresponsible.

And personally, I don't trust their judgment.

(Where is Raymond Louie when you need him?)

Michael I think it is naive of you to think the mayor was naive in asking for incamera meetings about the village to be open to public scrutiny. This was pure politics and Robertson knew exactly what he was doing. Don't assume he was naive. He was being coached by Magee and Meggs and they ain't no dummies. Robertson said all that just to get elected but knew darn well he too would be holding backroom meetings on his project.

It wasn't the Mayor or Michael Geller who were naive, it was the voters. And that's just plain sad.

Michael, your arguments are valid, rational & prudent. They reflect normal good private & public business practices & as you point out are necessary to protect the interests of the shareholders [my categorization], in this case Vancouver taxpayers.

IMO the BIG MISTAKE was not that Gregor said his administration would work in-camera, it is the fact that the in-camera discussions were leaked in the 1st place for VV's short term political gain.

This was &, is ethically repugnant & illegal [he/she hasn't been caught ....yet] & in the long run politically disastrous for VV. They created the problem & they are wearing it. One can imagine the person[s] who hatched & executed this misguided stunt are looking in the mirror & not enjoying the view.

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