Information gap should give council pause

Two weeks ago, the city announced it would entertain an offer from Ralmax Group to purchase the land in Vic West

Two weeks ago, the city announced it would entertain an offer from Ralmax Group to purchase the land in Vic West currently occupied by the Point Hope Shipyard. The decision — made at 11:30 at night in absence of any information other than a brief verbal report from city staff — drew immediate criticism from Councillors Ben Isitt and Shellie Gudgeon.

“It was premature for council to entertain this land sale in the absence of a written report,” said Isitt, stressing that a report “would provide the rationale for why this land is surplus to the city’s needs.”

On his website, Isitt lists a number of unanswered questions related to the prospect of selling the controversial properties, saying “I believe city council has inadequate information to pursue this land sale.”

At a later event focussing on the Point Hope land sale co-hosted by fellow councillor Gudgeon, around 100 citizens showed up to voice their concerns and show support for greater transparency.

This isn’t the first time that city hall has been criticized for its failure to provide complete information. In recent weeks, Councillor Gudgeon voiced concerns over being given inadequate information during a debate over pedicab licensing.

Outside of city hall, the website johnsonstreetbridge.org recently called out staff and bridge consultants MMM Group for witholding information about changes to the project’s design.

Adding fuel to the fire, earlier this year local advocate Ross Crockford criticized city staff over the delayed release of reports on the status of Fire Hall #1. Staff justified its decision by saying it preferred to release the fire hall report alongside a report on the health of the Crystal Pool facility.

Crockford responded with a letter to mayor and council asking, “What does the Crystal Pool have to do with a critical piece of public-safety infrastructure like the fire hall? And why is staff permitted to withhold such reports from council in the first place?”

The people we elect to make decisions for us are not experts. As laypersons entrusted with the responsibility of governance, politicians rely on trained professionals to provide them with  the information required to make reasonable decisions; the possiblity that Victoria council may be operating half-blind should be raising a few more eyebrows around the capital. M

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