Hold the Front Page!
The headline on yesterday’s Richmond News was “Oval land not sold to highest bidder” which I thought might make for an interesting read. Actually the headline might be more accurate if it read “Richmond Council made a sensible decision but wasn’t allowed to tell us.”
Having acquired a site on the bank of the Middle Arm for the Oval there was more space than needed, so the rest was sold off by tender. But Richmond Council did not reveal the details of the deal and an FOI was objected to by some of the bidders. The so called “highest bid” was from Concord Pacific but was based on a delayed payment schedule, a second mortgage (to be held by the City) and a break on development cost charges. With remarkable foresight the Council decided to take a better deal with all the money up front. The City was not allowed to release all the details in its response to the FOI request “due to the fact that the developers had objected”.
Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt, who has pushed for more transparency at city hall, questions why it took so long to have information that is clearly in the public’s interest to be released.
“This is the public’s business, and it needs to be done in public as much as possible,” she said.
She said she fails to see how releasing the bids made in a public tender on public land could harm the developers and questions the provision of the FOIPPA that allows third party interests to supercede the public’s right to know about information that is clearly in the public interest.
Compared to the brouhaha over the athlete’s village in Vancouver, this story has much less drama. But it does underline the same point. This is our money they are playing with – and they are elected representatives who must be held accountable. Good deal or bad deal, we are entitled to know. And the current practices of doing things in camera, and waiting for an FOI request is not good enough. It is common practice in other places to have sealed bids opened in public and read out, so everyone knows what is on the table. Secrecy does not serve us well – but it is clear from recent events that developers would rather do deals behind closed doors. With the complexities we have seen here and in the village bailout, I begin to understand why they think that way. But there is non reason at all why public policy has to be distorted to benefit developers, and the FOIPPA obviously ought to be changed. Under the developer freindly aegis of the present provincial government, that is not going to happen.