Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Partners in flow, but how much do we know?

An interesting recommendation was reintroduced to Prince Rupert City Council on Monday night, as council was asked to consider putting the city into a form of partnership with Hecate Strait Employment Society, a partnership which would allow the society to access funding for programs which it hopes to operate.

As we outlined a few weeks ago on this portal, the original discussion was to take place at the January 12 session, but the agenda item was withdrawn by the Mayor (page three of the minutes), sending it back to staff for further discussion and advice.

The two weeks of study apparently provided the answers to whatever questions that the Mayor may have had about the issue, as it was once again placed on the agenda for the January 26th meeting (pages 37 and 38), this time however without reference to the request from Hecate Strait, worded more as a generic request for consideration.

Perhaps the caution on the issue by the city was just a case of the city being mindful of the fact that the Executive Director of Hecate Strait is city councillor Kathy Bedard, who in effect is asking council to help her organization to access money for her operations.

As Ms. Bedard outlined in a letter back on December 5, 2008 (found on pages 27 and 28 of the January 12 agenda)these are monies that apparently cannot be accessed by Hecate Strait on its own as it is not a charitable organization, but if partnered with the city can be requested and if granted would thus flow through the city of Prince Rupert.

In their second briefing on the issue on the January 26 edition of the agenda, the city outlines in generic terms how the process would work, advising that we have done this in the past, (all be it not for a sitting councilor we assume) however it’s been on an ad hoc basis with no particular policy in place as to who may or may not qualify.

While the council was asked to look over a new policy initiative on the issue, there hasn't been much information made public about the terms of this arrangement, how it will work, or what the monies will be used for. We look forward to subsequent news coverage and information from the city about the process involved and how it will be implemented in an open and accountable way.

As it reads on the policy page of the agenda item, once the city receives the money they deposit it to a city account, write a cheque and or income tax receipt, then turn things over to the organization who are expected to complete the paper work and spend their money as planned. However there is little background on the process involved, what the city must contribute to the flow through, if there are any costs involved and if any take place how they may be recovered.

This is where things may get sticky for the council and the city, if Hecate Strait which has self identified itself as non charitable, should be successful in its bid for funding for whatever project they are hoping to implement. We could imagine that there must be more than a few organizations or groups along the lines of Hecate Strait, which might wish to avail themselves of such an arrangement.
What happens if and when such a group in the city applies for the same accommodation from the city and should be refused?
There could be more than one person in the city that might suggest an original conflict of interest, and if another organization is denied their request then one wonders how long it would take for them to claim a sense of favouritism wafting through council chambers.
Others will no doubt be watchful of the articles of the community charter for BC municipalities, ensuring that the city maintains the spirit of that guidance in all occasions.

Such are the things that hornet’s nests are made of, a move that if not outlined clearly and in a very transparent way, may come back and haunt them for the duration of their three year term.

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