Incredible opportunity but read the fine print

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON December 31, 2010 –  Keep these three phrases at your finger tips: transparency, Shape Burlington and legal advice.  Transparency – not hiding information; being open and direct.  Shape Burlington – that was the report that former Mayor Cam Jackson commissioned and which was accepted unanimously by Council. Legal counsel’s advice.  Listening to what your lawyer tells you to do.   Can you see where I am going with this?

A couple of businessmen who own a football team ask for a meeting with the Mayor at 4:22 pm Christmas Eve.  Must be serious, eh! The Mayor agrees and takes a council member with him along with an advisor.  The meeting goes fairly well.  The football guys explain that they want to move to Burlington, have financial players lined up and a piece of property with the zoning they need is available.  Will the city talk to them?  Is the Pope Catholic?

Nothing all that specific – just an “are you at all interested, and the Mayor says he is and they part ways with an agreement to keep in touch while Hamilton, the current home town for the football club decides if it is going to be able to build a stadium that meets the needs of the football team.

The Burlington Mayor immediately calls all his council members and briefs them on what took place.  That’s transparency, good transparency.  Phone calls are made, the media picks up on it and a council member who is: 1) new to the job and 2) has some difficulty playing on a team heads for the TV cameras to explain that it will not work, cannot work and is “financial lunacy”.  Thirty peer reviewed reports get mentioned but we don’t get to see the contents of those reports or who published them.  Reference is made to a conversation the council member initiated with a “representative of the football team – but we never learn the name of this representative.  That is not transparency.

Shape Burlington in its report to the community on what the problems were said there was a lack of trust between the council and the community; people didn’t know what was happening and they didn’t have enough input.

Legal advice: The city is embroiled in a very messy, expensive dispute with the contractor hired to build the Pier.  Numbers get thrown around, rumours abound and the city is seen as having no credibility.  They continually say – they can’t talk because the lawyers have advised them that doing so will damage any claim they have against the contractor.  And heaven knows, if the lawyer says don’t open your mouth – then even if you look really dumb, you dummy up and say nothing.  Burlington is in this unfortunate situation with the Pier – they are listening to the lawyers.

But with this proposed sports complex – there are no lawyers and there is a very clear set of recommendations that this council is now required to work within.  The old Council voted for the report and two of the newer council members were in involved in preparing the report.  And just in case there is any doubt as to what each council member said about public trust and transparency  click here for their words – read the comments each member of council made on trust and transparency.

Here is a heaven sent opportunity for the city to show that they know what transparency is by holding a public meeting, just the way Councillors John Taylor and Blair Lancaster did with the proposed Mid Peninsula highway.

The Mayor could explain what the football team wants to do, set out what they have in the way of facts and figures and fully inform the community and promise to continually inform them.

The event could be covered live by Cogeco – they could even arrange for people at home to call in with their questions.  Heck – set up a cash bar and have a food concession.  Make it an event that covers it’s costs.  Collect names and email addresses and promise to keep people informed.  It is what they all ran for election on – remember?

This is an occasion to be wide, wide open and not get caught and tied up in someone else’s agenda.  Our Mayor is a decent, honest open person and is still in his honeymoon stage with the electorate.  He needs to be open and deliver answers to the questions that will be asked. This could be citizen participation at its best – it certainly worked for Councillors Taylor and Lancaster.  And it is what Marianne Meed Ward has been talking about since the day she formed Save our Waterfront – time to walk the talk missy.

The Mayor needs to get in front of this parade and not let individual council members head for the TV cameras with information that is partially true but woefully incomplete. 

The Mayor can hold a public meeting (but please, don’t wear the orange shirt this time). He has the budget and he can compel the various players in the game to attend and explain what the plans are and lay out the facts and figures.

The stadium is part of a planned complex – it was never intended as a stand alone thing in the middle of a field.  There is to be a hotel, a small office building and an arena that could be expanded to house an NHL team. A four story parking garage added to the GO site is part of the thinking. There would be at least one medium to high end restaurant on the site and you know there would be a Tim Horton’s in there somewhere.

This is a great opportunity for Burlington but only IF the numbers are right.  Walk the talk people.

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