Council to discuss missing concert money

Councillors should demand an open meeting, and refuse to allow Peter Kelly to preside.

Trade Centre Limited presented the city of Halifax with a bill for $359,550 related to concerts on the Halifax Common on September 30, 2010---that was 20 months ago---but still the issue hasn't been resolved. Some of that delay related to former acting CAO Wayne Anstey and mayor Peter Kelly keeping the bill secret from anyone who could do anything about it, but they eventually brought it to then-finance director Cathie O'Toole, who immediately alerted the city auditor general and council's audit committee, opening up publicly what we now refer to as the "concert scandal."

Last month, Halifax council adopted the 2012/13 annual budget, but made no provision for paying the $359,550 bill or for fighting it. For what it's worth, it's my opinion that the city should refuse to pay it, and tell Trade Centre to pound sand. TCL president Scott Ferguson knew damn well the advance-on-ticket-sales scheme was improper---he had been specifically warned by a TCL auditor not to engage in such schemes--and yet he recommended that the city be the conduit for the exact same arrangement to fund Common concerts promoter Harold MacKay.

But this coming Tuesday, Halifax council is scheduled to address the outstanding bill (see item 14.1). Problem is, the matter is scheduled to be debated in secret.

The secrecy is unwarranted. There is simply too much public interest in the concert fiasco for council to come to some resolution behind closed doors. Beyond that, the scandal exists precisely because Kelly thought he could do the public's business without letting the public know what was going on. This matter, more than most, demands open and public resolution. Councillors should demand that the issue be discussed publicly, and in front of the TV cameras.

Moreover, council should refuse to allow mayor Peter Kelly to preside over the conversation. Despite his claims to be an innocent bystander, documents prove that Kelly was involved in every stage of the improper loans---from receiving Ferguson's recommendations, to signing onto the loan documents themselves, to his office not sending the loans to the finance office for approval, to going so far as to arrange hush-hush meetings at the Sunnyside Restaurant in Bedford instead of at City Hall, where city staff would know about them. It would be simply outrageous to allow Kelly to preside over any discussion or vote about resolving the unpaid bill.

Councillors should hold the conversation in public, and refuse to let Kelly preside. Anything else is counter to the public interest.

Read Tim Bousquet's detailed investigation of the concert scandal here. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Bousquet.

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