Gazette View: The decision-making process should have been public

The Gazette’s perspective on the recent council decision regarding Whispers of Hope.

Whispers of Hope and BETHS will be remaining in their current location until March 31, at which point the building will be demolished, according to information released at the city council meeting held Monday night.

Despite Whispers being scheduled to appear as a delegation, and despite the contentious (and highly public) nature of the previous discussion on the issue, there was no debate at the council table as to whether Whispers had provided sufficient proof that they had mitigated risk. In response to questions, it was revealed that council determined the groups had complied – but this decision was made privately and without public opportunity for comment. According to the Chief Administrative Officer, city staff and councillors viewed the material (provided by Whispers via email) and staff recommended to council that the group was in compliance and had met demands.

This is deeply problematic and emphasizes the willingness of our city council to keep things private. Council wrestled, debated and argued about the issue of Whispers of Hope and BETHS for hours earlier this month, and for many more hours over the last six months. They made demands, and, not at a public meeting, determined on Monday that Whispers had met the demands. We deserve to know why.

It is bad form for the council to make decisions of this nature in private, especially when so much of the debate has been public. It may not be technically or legislatively wrong, but in an election year, the more informed the voter, the better.

Prior discussions around the eviction and the lease prompted a protest and a standing-room- only gallery at a city council meeting — that is an almost unheard of level of engagement for a city issue. Clearly, people care and people want to know.

Part of what made previous discussions important is that while they were long and, at some points, argumentative, the public got to see their councillors wrestle with the issue at hand, in the hopes of making the best possible decision. That process is valuable, full stop. Did some councillors disagree with whether the organizations have complied and mitigated risk? We don’t know, and likely never will.

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