I have to say on the whole, Squamish’s council has largely been pretty good on openness and transparency. I regularly see councilors wading into thorny issues online, bringing up agenda items that they know will stir passions, putting themselves on written record.
To be fair, pure transparency is impossible: there are laws that protect the rights of those who undertake dealings with government. Unfortunately, council has a bad habit of fumbling the communications ball where it didn’t have to.
The Squamish Oceanfront is a prime example. Pick a bad episode in its tortured history – in almost every case it comes down to communications failure opening the door to charges of incompetence or malfeasance.
This is not to suggest there is any merit to those charges; there might have been entirely good reasons, for example, to have a few former Council members appointed to the SODC board – but when you don’t take the time to explain what you’re doing before you do it, or allow debate, it’s reasonable for the public to be skeptical.
Optics matter: if you don’t appear to be being forthright on one aspect of an issue, you’re unlikely to be trusted on the rest.
And now to the Bethel-Southwest deal. Months ago we were told of a deluge of interest in the SODC lands, including large international investors. Then a few weeks ago it was announced, with little fanfare, that a local developer had been chosen. No details on what criteria were used to make that determination. No assessment of the property’s current value.
No apparent effort to address any potential concerns, like the fact that the developer was a former SODC director who had made an unsolicited offer two years previously. Council claimed it didn’t know about that, which ought to be, you know, its job.
In the Reporter, Coun. Patricia Heintzman suggested council should have mentioned the previous Bethel deal. To quote from a favorite TV show: “Ya think, DiNozzo?” Council has suggested that it shouldn’t matter – that everything was disclosed to those potential candidates, therefore no advantage was conferred. That would be comforting to taxpayers if we knew the exact process and criteria by which a candidate was selected, but we don’t.
There are of course, good reasons to choose a local developer who is already heavily invested in the community. But the idea that such a developer couldn’t possibly gain some inside advantage is nonsense, and council could have prepped the ground better by disclosing past history and more clearly demonstrating why this developer was the ideal candidate.
Saying ‘we didn’t or don’t know’ crucial details, and mea culpas after the fact, isn’t good enough.