What should happen is a process that is clean and transparent, free of concerns of impropriety and manipulation.
The first thing council needs to do is move back into the public eye. Not after a lengthy debate, and regardless of what the over cautious lawyers in HRM’s employ might say. Peter Kelly is not a staffer and elected officials have no such protection. Even staff don’t have this protection at all times and in all circumstances, ask any manager or deputy minister that has been hauled in front of the Public Accounts committee of the provincial legislature.
There is no way that these debates can be held behind closed doors and be taken seriously and with any validity by the public.
Second, Peter Kelly must be removed as presiding officer. Kelly is one of three people clearly named as having done wrong by the Auditor General. It does not matter what degree of wrong was done, removing him does not indicate the level of guilt or culpability. It is simply recognition that he stands to gain if council rules a certain way, so he cannot impartially moderate these proceedings.
Third, it must be recognized that Peter Kelly does have a conflict of interest. He may not have monetarily gained from the concerts, but he does stand to gain or lose based on these proceedings. Therefore, the results of these proceedings themselves create the conflict, as defined under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. Kelly has an “Indirect pecuniary interest,” he is a senior officer of HRM, and the Council is debating his role in the matter, so there for he has an interest in the matter in which the council is concerned, meeting the criteria in section 3 of the act.
Fourth, the Council must vote to censure the Mayor. The MacMillan Dictionary says that a vote of censure is “a voting process in which members of a parliament show that they consider the government is responsible for something bad that has happened.” The Mayor has dodged personal responsibility, simply repeating “errors have been made, they will not happen again, we are moving forward” but as Lezlie Lowe said in her column in Saturday’s Herald “the operational fail-safes to protect taxpayers were already in place when our mayor doled out that cash.”
Kelly had to know after 26 years in municipal politics that a contract that was not stamped was not approved, that changing a contract after it was stamped was not allowed, that the Charter does not allow grants to private businesses, and that the CFO always has to know when you spend money. Either he knew and did it anyway, or he didn’t know, and that speaks to an entirely different level competence. A motion of censure will make this a Provincial issue, as only the Minister has the power to remove the Mayor.
Finally, Council has to forward the file to the RCMP. The Auditor General report says the actions were “not necessarily in a malicious or illegal way” which is not a ringing endorsement or approval of the actions of the participants. It is not for council to decide what is legal or illegal, it is for the police and justice system to determine if charges should be laid.
It has never been more important for HRM Council to take leadership and demonstrate to the voting public that it can and will exercise its power to maintain the public trust.