Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mr. Howie remains firmly at the helm

Personnel issues seemed to become the hot item of debate at City Council this week as the Mayor and his councillors discussed and debated the terms of contract extension for City Manager Gord Howie.

When all was said and done, Mr. Howie was rewarded with a two year extension to his contract, leaving him as one of the top earners over on Third Avenue West and of course once again found himself as the centre of public consideration, destined we suspect to be the most tracked civic administrator in recent Prince Rupert history and will be until the 2011 expiry date.

Even before his arrival back in 2006 to the post he once held , his name has been a lightning rod for discussion, from day one with the promise of an extra 24,000 dollars on the payroll "the best man for the job" has proven to be the focus of much attention among city residents. The most recent point of interest the employment prospects with the City of Prince Rupert for his significant other.

As the terms of contract renewal were being drawn up, but not released (leaving us to wonder if his remuneration has increased significantly from those 2006 numbers or if the terms of the position have changed), the debate over the process became a flash point issue for council.

Councillor Anna Ashley introduced a motion in council chambers to outline how the members of council voted on the contract extension, a move that seemed to provide for no shortage of harrumphs as the prospect of transparent and accountable voting seemed to send shudders through Council.

Unsuccessful in finding a seconding voice among the remaining five councillors, she again mentioned her quest in public forum of council, for which she received Mayor Jack Mussallem’s stern handy recitation of municipal ethics and the sanctity of the in camera session.

While there is no doubt a need for confidential dealings in some matters of personnel matters, we’re a little unclear as to how simply revealing the voting patterns of our six councillors and Mayor constitute a crisis in confidence. There was no request of any details of the personnel file, nor was there a desire for discussion of the expectations and remuneration of the top civic official in the city.

All it would appear Councillor Ashley was asking for was a simple tally of the votes, who thought it was a good idea to retain Mr. Howie and provide him with a generous income and who maybe might have had questions over it

Instead, she gets dressed down and the taxpayers remain in the dark (well I guess we all have our ideas) as to who voted which way.

There were no personnel details set to be outlined in council, no smoking guns, instead a request for a simple accounting of the vote.

It is baffling as to why council would not want to stand by their vote in public forum, it begs the question of why they would want to serve in a forum where there is no need for accountability and where the closed door, in camera sessions become a form of government to itself.

The debate has been an ongoing form of entertainment over at hackingthemainframe, the local information portal.

A quick scan of the board provides a snapshot of a community that seems split on the concept of transparency, some suggesting the Mayor (and five councillors) were correct in their interpretation of events, while others suggest that Councillor Ashley was simply reflecting the wishes of the electorate and residents in a more accountable ledger as far as conducting city business.

It will be worth watching to see if Council picks up on the thread that we really do want to know how they vote on all issues, the in camera session as used fairly often by council certainly won’t provide much in the way of reassurance that open government is part of the local process.

Secrecy proved to be the dark cloud over the last council, one wonders if those dark clouds aren't starting to gather again over City Hall for this latest group of Council and if they will heed the warnings that they bring.

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