Halifax councillor Shawn Cleary

Halifax councillor Shawn Cleary’s proposal for a cooling-off period for councillors and senior officials was met with a cool reception at council.

The request for a staff report looking into the policy, which would temporarily bar politicians and some staff from taking a job dealing with the city after their terms ended, came up during the 11th hour of proceedings Tuesday night.

The motion barely made it onto the floor, with a long pause while Cleary waited for a seconder, eventually coming from Coun. Lindell Smith. It was later defeated 8-7.

Cooling-off periods aren’t unheard-of in all three levels of government across Canada, including provincially in Nova Scotia. Municipal solicitor John Traves told council there’s sort of a cooling-off period built into a municipal bylaw banning councillors from taking city jobs for six months after they leave office. He wasn’t sure whether they had any power to create more restrictions.

The reasoning for Cleary’s motion filed to the clerk’s office said cooling-off periods “reduce real and perceived conflicts of interest that may arise from the possibility that public office holders would make decisions to benefit themselves after they have left office.”

Richard Butts. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Halifax’s former chief administrative officer, Richard Butts, raised eyebrows when he left the city and immediately started a job with a major developer in 2015.

Cleary’s motion asked for a jurisdictional scan of other governments’ policies, “an analysis of potential benefits and challenges,” and a recommended length of time before a “public office holder” could accept a job dealing with the city or submit a development application.

Public office holders appeared to refer to councillors and some senior municipal staff — “elected and senior officials” in Cleary’s motion — but he told his colleagues he left the wording open to interpretation to let staff make their own recommendations.

Coun. Bill Karsten said he took offence to parts of the motion and felt there should be better definitions in the request for a report. Karsten also said councillors have been asking for too many staff reports, and said he’s been considering a proposal to ban requests for them till the election in October.

“I can’t support it and I implore council … be careful between now and October on the staff reports you ask for,” he said.

Cleary suggested the move would be the latest in a line of accountability improvements from council, like its new campaign finance rules. No councillor who spoke fully supported his motion, but several were opposed to it for various reasons.

“I find these discussions elucidating. Regardless of whether you vote for or against, one of the big benefits of course is our residents get to see what you say and how you vote,” Cleary said.

“If you don’t like cooling off periods, vote against it. If the idea of more transparency, more accountability, building confidence in our residents about our government is something you value, then vote for it.”

Karsten said that comment was uncalled for. He, along with Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn and councillors David Hendsbee, Russell Walker, Stephen Adams, Richard Zurawski, Matt Whitman, and Paul Russell voted no.

Ride-hailing regulations pass with amendments

Despite warnings from an Uber enthusiast that the city will never be able to get a Lyft, council voted Tuesday to move ahead with proposed ride-hailing regulations.

Council voted 16-1 to direct staff to start drafting bylaw amendments, with only Coun. Matt Whitman voting no. The motion came with a few amendments, asking for extra staff reports on a tiered fee system, a quasi-licensing scheme for ride-hailing drivers, and an increase in fees to pay for active transportation infrastructure, along with deleting a request to the province to allow drivers to have an easier-to-obtain licence.

Under the rules proposed by staff, ride-hailing companies would pay a $25,000 annual fee, plus a 20-cent fee per trip. Drivers would be licensed by their employers, and subject to criminal record, vulnerable sector, and child abuse registry checks. They’d also be required, like taxi drivers, to hold a Class 4 drivers’ licence — a step above the usual Class 5.

Lobbyists for Uber and Lyft have been after councillors to lessen most of those requirements, with Lyft’s representatives speaking to councillors most recently, on Tuesday morning.

Whitman told his fellow councillors that ride-hailing won’t be coming to Halifax if drivers have to have a Class 4 licence, which means medical testing and an age requirement of 18.

The bylaw amendments will come back to council for first and second reading before becoming law.

Fire station tender awarded after mix-up

A procurement snafu caused confusion at city hall Tuesday, and almost got a $4-million contract awarded to the wrong bidder.

Council voted 15-2 to award a contract for a new fire station in Williamswood to Bird Construction Group for $4.5 million. Mayor Mike Savage and Coun. Matt Whitman voted no.

The old fire station #62 in Williamswood burned down in 2015, and its firefighters moved into nearby station #63, in Sambro. That station isn’t big enough, so Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency decided to combine the two in a new station in a more central location.

The project went to tender in September, and the city received qualifying bids from Bird, Lindsay Construction Ltd. (for $4.4 million), and PCL Constructors Canada Inc (for $6.3 million).

The first report to council recommended the tender go to Lindsay.

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, municipal staff announced that the report distributed to councillors last week, posted online all weekend and printed out for visitors on Tuesday was incorrect, and the motion would have to be deferred. Coun. Stephen Adams was disappointed no one had told him before the meeting, and asked for it to come back later in the day.

The revised report came back in time for a vote before council broke for dinner.

“The reason for the change was an error in the calculation of the points awarded for the cost portion of Bird’s bid,” the new report said.

“This resulted in Lindsay appearing to be the highest scoring proponent despite Bird’s higher technical score. With the cost points recalculated properly, Bird is the highest scoring proponent overall.”

Asked if he thought the mistake would open the city up to litigation, municipal solicitor John Traves said it was fine because council didn’t actually award the contract to the wrong bidder.

South Barrington Street

A planning mess meant a developer got a big win followed by a loss on Tuesday.

Halifax regional council allowed an appeal of a design review committee decision turning down a proposal for Barrington St. near the Superstore early Tuesday afternoon.

But after 6pm, it held a public hearing on the Old South Suburb Heritage District Plan. That plan has been in the works since 2015 and governs development in the area around the end of Barrington St. to try to protect the more than 40 heritage properties in the vicinity.

That plan also creates new rules for the properties subject to the earlier appeal decision, 1144, 1148, and 1150 Barrington St. — where three old buildings have already been demolished.

With the plan already in the final stages of adoption, allowing changes to keep the Barrington proposal’s approval would mean a significant delay for the plan, which would mean a delay for multiple development projects.

Council decided to move ahead with the heritage district plan, and voted unanimously in favour after the public hearing.

The developer behind the Barrington St. proposal, George’s Investments Limited, will now have to submit a new design adhering to the new rules. The shape will have to change, but municipal staff said they’ll actually be permitted more density.

Bedford Highway affordable housing proposal

A development approved for the Bedford Highway promises affordable and accessible housing off the peninsula.

Pathos Properties Inc. wants to tear down its existing two-storey, 13-unit building at 205 Bedford Hwy., across from Flamingo Dr., and build an eight-storey, 55-unit building. Eighteen of the units in the new building would rent for less than market value, and 11 units would be barrier-free, meaning accessible.

Municipal staff recommended against the proposal, due to its proximity to the CN rail yard and traffic issues on the Bedford Highway, but council passed the motion unanimously.

The proposal now heads to community council for a development agreement and final decision.

A young white man with a dark beard, looking seriously at the viewer in a black and white photo

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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