Council lets city manager release amount paid lawyers for pier defence – but nothing more than that.

By Pepper Parr

January 28, 2014


Whenever the Mayor adjourns a meeting of Council he closes by saying this Council is adjourned until the next scheduled meeting or at the call of the Mayor.

Mayor Rick Goldring as Mayor can call a Special meeting of council at very short notice.

Late Monday evening (yesterday) council decided it would have the city manager hold a press conference and tell the public the whole story about the pier.  That was voted on – unanimously.

Later that evening Councillor Marianne Meed Ward realized that Council had not waived its privilege, by which we mean, information Council had been given in confidence (in Closed sessions) and not passed along to the public could not be discussed in public by the city manager.

Meed Ward talked to people at Legal and got the wording she needed to take to the Mayor and ask that he hold a Special meeting of Council – which took place at 1:00 pm Tuesday the 28th of January.

City Clerk Angela Morgan fails to ensure media alerted to Special Council meeting. Her communications people dropped the ball as well.

Unfortunately, the city Clerk who handles the paper work for things like this, did not ensure that media was advised.  The city’s manager of communications either failed to advise media or didn’t know the meeting was being called.  The communications manager reports to the Clerk.

The communications manager commented to us in an email that: We have not advised media directly of Council meetings in the past but it sounds like this would be something we should do going forward.

Mayor Goldring’s Chief Of Staff didn’t think it was her job to advise media that the Mayor had called a Special meeting of council.

Given that the decision to call a special meeting of Council is one that only the Mayor can make his chief of Staff should have ensured that media was advised.  In a short, testy conversation with the Chief of Staff she commented that was not her job.  One wonders if she really knows what her job is.

Having said all that – the meeting took place and had one purpose.  For Council to waive its privileges and authorize the city manager to tell the public how much the city has spent on legal fees related to the Brant Street Pier.

The city manager was not authorized to say any more than that.  He is limited to talking about what is already on the public record.

One of the reasons the city has gone public with the matter of legal fees is the result of pressure created by the Post’s application to the Commissioner for Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy.

Meed Ward had to remind both her council colleagues, the city manager and the Clerk’s office that it wasn’t that simple.

In her comments at the Special Council meeting Meed Ward said the following:

I want to thank mayor and city manager for honouring to my request for a special council meeting to vote on this matter.

This vote is important for two reasons:

1- It  follows our own process;  only council, though a public vote, has the authority to release confidential information. We can’t download that responsibility to the city manager.

2-More important it is about accountability – we are elected representative of the people and as such we are directly accountable to the public for the decisions we make, including release of the pier legal fees and any other pier related information. We have a duty to the public we serve to have that discussion and vote in public, so the public know where their representatives stand.  We can’t assign that public responsibility to the city manager.

I fully support the release of the legal fees; I have never believed releasing the total amount would compromise our legal position, and recent decisions from the Information and Privacy Commissioner in similar cases have also made that case, and have ordered the release of this information. We have been aware of those decisions for several years, because those decisions were on the public record.

I want to commend the Post for filing the FOI and keeping our feet to the fire on this. That is true public service journalism. It shouldn’t have taken that request for us to the do the right thing, but here we are and I thank the Post for pursuing this in the public interest.

The bigger issue here is the total cost to the taxpayer of the pier including the legal fees.

The public deserves to know all the costs and options that were considered to complete the project, including multiple offers from the contractor to complete the pier. That story has yet to be told, but it will be.

Residents will make their own judgments about whether we have been good stewards of the money and decisions you entrust to us.

We have an opportunity to learn from this experience in the life of our city, and use those learnings to make the best decisions for residents in the future.

The motion Meed Ward brought to Council read:

That Council waive solicitor client privilege over the total aggregate external legal fees paid by the City of Burlington to McLauchlin & Associates since 2008 to present in respect of the Brant Street Pier matter.  The privilege is waived solely to allow the City Manager to disclose the legal fees to the public at a press conference to be held by the City Manager on January 30, 2014.   Solicitor-client privilege is waived for this expressed purpose only, and the privilege continues in effect with respect to all other aspects relating to the matter.     

It is so cold that the city decided to tell you how much it has paid lawyers to defend some of the decisions they made. That will add some heat to things.

That doesn’t leave much room for the city manager to tell us anything but media conferences are funny things – the right question asked often reveals details that just sort of pop out.

Meed Ward asked for a recorded vote on her motion –  it went 6-1 with Councilor Dennison voting against the waiving of privilege.

Back in March of 2013 the city manager asked Council to allocate $10,000 to pay media specialists – hopefully some of that money is left – it’s going to be needed to get through the media conference. 


What can a spin doctor do for you at a media event?

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4 comments to Council lets city manager release amount paid lawyers for pier defence – but nothing more than that.

  • Patrick Isada

    Most stories have at least two perspectives unless you have an agenda or vendetta. May I suggest a mature, balanced approach with a little less bullying and flogging and with a dollop of fairness and validation? Let’s not act as judges, juries, and executioners (unless you are, then fill your boots, men).

    But then again, perhaps I am wrong and unfair and I am dealing with the perfect.

    And while we are at it, let’s use our real names, shall we?

    Peace Gentlemen,

    Patrick Isada
    Chief of Staff’s Husband, Definitely Inferior Half, & Sidekick

  • marie

    Except for Marianne Meed Ward…the rest better hang on to their seat belts as election 2014 will be a rough ride!!!!!

  • Mr. Wonderful

    Hey, just back from vacation….thinking about running in the next election, so stuff like this never happens again. Just not sure if this city needs me or somebody more wonderful. Let me think about it, and will get back to you. In the meantime, let’s see what happens next. The Chief of Staff has to go; no excuse for her behaviour and performance. This city demands better that that type of embarrassing communication. This city is not a private company, and the mayor’s office has to change its attitude in that regard. I hope others recognize this mismanagement and lack of transparency hurts the confidence and trust of the people who deserve more respect. Always here to help. Gotta go, back soon though. Good night and pray for Fielding to be forthcoming and truthful in his new role as deputy mayor, chief of staff, and dishwasher.