OPENFILE: St Pat’s decision reveals ethics deficit at HRM

Tuesday, HRM Council voted in a 13 to 9 vote to once again confirm the sale of the St Patrick’s Alexandra school property to the Jono developments.

Staff had prepared a report, as requested, outlining options regarding, both in this case and the last decade of surplus school disposals, HRM’s failure to follow the policy it had enacted in 2000. Tim Bousquet at the Coast called foul on the staff report, stating that the either or choice staff presented council (take the money from a sale and run, or rent it at a probably loss to the community groups) is a false choice.

There are two major issues at play here. One is the lack of ethics, accountability, and common sense at HRM, and the other is the positioning of HRM as a property service agency with no social service agenda.

On the first, let’s be clear. Council broke its own rules today by voting to sell the property despite the fact that the policy, ignored though it has been, is still in force.

Council voted to sell a multi-million dollar property knowing it was breaking its own rules. The plan is to retroactively change the policy next week, and then say that every thing is okay.

Let us reflect for a moment that this is the same council and staff that not too long ago authorized a police action the forcibly evict peaceful protestors because they were violating a no camping by-law.

There is a tremendous and horrible irony here.

The protestors were violating a by-law but law and order is so darn important, so steps had to be taken.

Council however seems to feel that the ends justify the means when disposing of a property, valued in the millions, rules be damned.

The second issue was clearly illuminated when, during the St Pat’s debate, CAO Richard Butts was quoted in local media stating that HRM had no role in the delivery of social services.

In Nova Scotia, municipalities deal with property services, paid for by property taxes, and the province provides social services, paid for by the general tax revenue. It has been this way since the Hayward Report lead to municipal reform under the Savage government.

On some level this makes sense, because many of the municipal units are simply too small. Imagine Bridgetown or Springhill, or any struggling small town with a small staff of a few people making a meaningful and positive and cost neutral contribution to Health or Community Services.

But what is a social service, and what is a property service?

Police are social service providers, doing far more than merely protecting property. From community policing, crime prevention, youth at risk diversion, and much more, policing addresses and responds to more than the deed of breaking the law.

Rec centres are social service centres, providing programming and health promotion opportunities that are often targeted toward those most in need, though HRM struggles with this, as its cost recovery model often keeps those most in need from being able to afford its services.

Libraries are social service centres, playing a key role in education and social development. One of our most ambitious and exciting capital projects in the region is the new central library.

In fact much of the municipalities job is about planning and building working, healthy, safe, and functioning communities.

HRMs senior staff seem intent on focusing the goals of government very narrowly.

If this is the case, projects like Bloomfield, the Khyber, the Legacy Centre, any meaningful investment in the arts are at risk. It explains the ongoing and endless delays on all these projects.

Any future support through renovation or construction of buildings to house needful, rent paying and adequately funded not for profit community groups is at risk. It explains the rush to sell this school as fast as possible.

So the question is, what do you think HRM’s role in supporting this kind of social service should be, and as importantly, who gets to decide?

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