Even though we're on different sides of some issues, most notably the proposed convention centre, Smith and I have developed a close relationship over the years, meeting occasionally for coffee in the Smiling Goat, a now-flourishing business that Smith likes to think he helped along by holding his business meetings in. That he would meet with me at the drop of a hat indicates just how much of a gentleman he is---he had to carry the load for two.
I've been interested in Smith because of his history. He was the finance director for the former city of Halifax, and was "pushed out"---his term---when the Halifax Regional Municipality was created in 1996. "They said they wanted younger blood," he says, still bitter. "The books were closing March 31, and the last council meeting for Halifax was March 28, I think. Well, I had an audited set of books complete to as close of a date as I could get---March 15. I didn't want anyone to come back at a later date and say, 'Halifax left us a deficit,' so we closed out the books, no debt, except for a couple of bond issues. We had a surplus, more assets than debt."
After amalgamation, Smith became a private consultant and then was hired as the deputy minister for finance with the province. With this extensive record of public service, he certainly knows where the bones are buried, where the scandals lay, the untold stories await, but try as I might, I haven't yet been able to pry the information out of him. He's openly critical of HRM's crazily inept early years, when debt ballooned and budgets were created and busted on the fly, but he happily concedes that in recent years the budget is under control and HRM council has drawn down debt responsibly.
With the Spring Garden Road association, Smith has underscored the importance of dealing with street people in a humane manner. "It doesn't do them any good to be living like this," he says of the panhandlers on the street. "And it doesn't do the merchants any good, either, because of the perception."
Smith stresses that few, if any, of the panhandlers are actually dangerous. He knows most of them personally, and when someone new shows up on the street the "Navigator," a social worker hired to help people navigate into social support programs, quickly assesses their position in life. The program has helped some street people get stabilized into housing, others get addiction treatment, and a handful get gainful employment. It's evident that Smith truly cares about these folks.
Smith is openly toying with running for mayor---an idea that talkshow host Rick Howe keeps dropping---but I have no idea how serious Smith is; probably, he's mostly just tweaking Peter Kelly, as a means to get some political discussion going.
In the meanwhile, Smith plans to continue his consulting business, and possibly to attempt to get involved in another fashion---but he swears me to secrecy on the latter.
His contract with Spring Garden ended Monday, but he plans to stay around through the Christmas season to assist Tissington.