Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Coast Magazine says something useful?

Imagine my surprise when I was reading the Coast Magazine tonight and I read not one, but TWO articles relating to animals - one article talks about the opening of the Three Dog Bakery over in Dartmouth Crossing, but the other article talks about the NS SPCA's contract with the HRM for animal sheltering - that is VERY interesting.

I say it's interesting because I read the Chronicle Herald article on Wednesday morning that talked about the fact that cats had made it BACK INTO the cat bylaw, and that the bylaw had been talked about at the previous days Regional Council meeting (which I hadn't watched on tv) - so I made sure I taped it when it was on again at 12 noon on Wednesday - and watched the whole thing - all 3 1/2 hours of it - it was on the agenda - 6.1 "“To reconsider the motion passed on February 26, 2008 that Halifax Regional Council remove the provisions relating to cat legislation from By-Law A-300 and maintain the status quo in regards to a contracted sheltering service with the NSSPCA or other service provider at the end of the contract.”

But in 3 1/2 hours - it wasn't mentioned once. And I guess I now know why - it was done in an earlier session where cameras weren't allowed. I keep emailing my HRM Councillor and asking him about the bylaw with questions about the bylaw, and one of my questions always is - how can you extend the SPCA's Animal Shelter contract without going out to tender? And my Councillor always skips over that question. I don't know why. But I guess maybe I'm not the only one with that question - here's the article from the Coast that I found so intriguing:

City keeps secrets

A couple of months ago, Halifax council was considering entering into a contract with a vendor to provide some service or another---I forget the particulars. But one of the councillors wanted to discuss it, a request that threw top bureaucrat Dan English into a logical conundrum.

"This is a contractual matter, which should be discussed in camera," said English, referring to the no-public-allowed sessions council holds before each meeting. "Only one company bid on the contract, so there's no reason we need to go to closed session, but that's the way we've always done it."

The default position, you see, is secrecy---whether it's necessary or not. So, from time to time I'll use this space to point out the obsessive, and undemocratic, desire for secrecy in government.

Let's consider this week's bit of ridiculousness: once again, council was considering an issue that involved only one contractor---the SPCA, which would provide expanded shelter services to handle the thousands and thousands of felines that will be caught up in the new cat bylaw.

(To underscore the foolishness of the whole situation, I normally use Pig Latin when I write about the cat bylaw. However, I'm not here talking about the bylaw itself, but rather the secrecy that surrounds it---the stupidity on top of the foolishness, if you will. The Pig Latin will return, no doubt, after the March 18 council meeting.)

Anyway, because council decided to deal with the issue in secret, rather than out in public like grownup, democratic people, the entire subject blew up on them again.

It came out later that the SPCA had handed the city a bill for nearly a half-million dollars a year to process delinquent cats. According to several councillors I spoke with, staff thought the SPCA had overstepped the scope of the tender by adding in services the city already takes care of itself, as well as services no one asked for in the first place. The contract could likely be scaled back to something more affordable, but since the issue was discussed in closed session, they couldn't get into it all without scheduling another public meeting.

Council is now in an even more absurd situation: they will hold a vote to "reconsider"---i.e., scrap---the cat bylaw on March 18. If that passes, they'll need to hold a future public hearing. With all the notification requirements, there's no way that can happen until at least the first week of May. In the meanwhile, the cat bylaw itself will become the law of the land on (appropriately) April 1.

One councillor correctly pointed out the issue is making them a "laughingstock" across the nation.

But it's not the cats that are making council look ridiculous---the cat bylaw would have been history months ago had council not twisted itself into bureaucratic conniption-fits to deal with it. And at the very heart of that twisted process is an undemocratic and elitist belief that the public shouldn't be part of the conversation.

They have only themselves to blame.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:22 AM

    A very thought-provoking article. It's not just the cats who are shitting on us. The sheer ignorance of some of these Councillors regarding the concept of good governance is simply breathtaking.