Former councillor Reg Rankin, now the executive director of the Otter Lake Community Monitoring Committee. — Photo: Halifax Examiner

Reg Rankin’s getting cut off.

Halifax regional council voted on Tuesday to stop funding the former councillor’s salary as executive director of the community monitoring committee for the city dump.

The change is part of an effort on council’s part to clean up governance issues with the Otter Lake Community Monitoring Committee (CMC). The committee is a creature of the 1999 agreement between HRM and the Halifax Waste/Resource Society (HWRS), and it’s tasked with overseeing the operation of the Otter Lake Landfill. There are 15 members — nine appointed by the society and six by HRM, including the mayor and three councillors.

After being elected councillor for District 13 — Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets in 2020, Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace became a member of the committee.

“Within just a couple of months of attending meetings, I became increasingly concerned about the governance of this committee,” Lovelace told council on Tuesday.

Lovelace said she felt her duty as a member of the committee was to ask questions and demand answers to ensure proper governance, but her questions were “met with indifference and at times animosity.”

That’s why, in August 2021, Lovelace moved for a staff report reviewing the committee’s governance. The executive director, Rankin, and the chair, Scott Guthrie, declined to participate in the governance review, with Guthrie writing in a February 2022 letter to Mayor Mike Savage that the committee wants an independent review by the auditor general or another third party.

The report came to council on Tuesday, written by HRM lawyer Colin Taylor. Taylor found “several areas of concern, including:

  • Non-compliance with agreed upon quorum for meetings (resulting in the exclusion of HRM representation in decision-making)
  • Lack of clarity with respect to the role and authority of the Executive Committee and Executive Director
  • Inconsistent communications protocols
  • Deviation from agreed upon expenditure processes
  • Composition of CMC not as inclusive as it could be”

On the quorum issue, Taylor found that while the agreement between HRM and HWRS calls for 10 members to be present for meetings, the committee decided eight would be enough. And sometimes decisions are being made by an even smaller group formed as an executive committee, or just the executive director.

The executive director position is not contemplated in the original agreement, Taylor found, though there have been three since 1999. That person’s role is to provide services for the committee; they do not have a vote. According to a job description created in May 2021, the executive director oversees finances, facilitates meetings, recruits members, communicates, and acts as primary spokesperson for the committee. The executive director is paid $36,000 annually.

“There are instances where it is not clear whether a particular decision or action falls under the authority and discretion of the Executive Director, the Executive Committee, the Chair of the CMC or the CMC as a whole. There is also ambiguity about which matters require voting and which do not. This has led to several disagreements, particularly where HRM representatives on the CMC feel that they have been cut out of key decisions or important communications,” Taylor wrote.

“It is therefore recommended that HRM and the HWRS jointly develop clearer parameters, consistent with the Agreement, to define the scope of authority for the Executive Director and Executive Committee.”

Cell 7A at Otter Lake — the one currently in use — is seen in a photo in a slide deck included in a staff report to council last year. — Photo: HRM

Taylor also found that while the committee isn’t a legal entity, it’s contracting for services as if it is, including legal services in the amount of about $10,000 annually.

“If legal services are required for the CMC, such services should in theory be provided for the benefit of the entire CMC. However, some legal advice procured by the CMC has ostensibly been for the benefit of the HWRS or the HWRS members only,” Taylor wrote.

“While it is ultimately the responsibility of the lawyer to determine who their client is, (and whether they are capable of advising the CMC as a whole) there are some concerns when the legal advice relates to the relative rights and obligations of HRM and HWRS. In such instances, it may be more appropriate for HRM and the HWRS obtain independent legal advice if such advice is required.”

Taylor recommended council “request the Halifax Waste/Resource Society to work with HRM staff to develop mutually agreeable policies and protocols, and/or amendments to the 1999 Community Monitoring Agreement, to address the financial, administrative and governance concerns identified” in the report.

But Lovelace tacked on an amendment in response to Taylor’s concerns around legal services and the role of the executive director:

That Halifax regional council direct the chief administrative officer to notify the Community Monitoring Committee in writing that the municipality plans to allocate the committee $42,500 in total funding for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, rather than the requested amount of $90,000, on the basis that the municipality does not intend to fund legal expenses of the committee nor the salary of an executive director.

Rankin became the executive director of the Otter Lake Community Monitoring Committee in November 2016, fresh off his last term as councillor for District 12 — Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park-Wedgewood. Earlier that year, as councillor, he moved and voted in favour of a motion to increase the funding for the committee, and for the executive director’s salary by about $12,000, or 50%.

The motion passed, but there were concerns noted in the minutes from that meeting, “in regard to a lack of information on how the funds have been spent in the past, and that information on the Community Monitoring Committee (CMC) was difficult to find, such as meeting dates and minutes.”

“Suggestions were put forward for: more transparency and accountability from the Committee; that Council needs more clarity around the Agreement with CMC; and that the CMC should provide an annual report to Council.”

Lovelace noted on Tuesday that none of that has happened.

“I continue to see the same concerns that council had in 2016,” Lovelace said. “The funding for the executive director has not increased transparency or accountability. Meeting agendas are never posted, meeting minutes are not consistently posted, meeting reports associated with those minutes are not posted. The minutes for the executive committee are not posted. The CMC members are not even aware of when the executive committee is meeting and so on and so on.”

Coun. Patty Cuttell, who also sits on the committee as the councillor for District 11 — Spryfield-Sambro Loop, thanked Lovelace for bringing the concerns forward and agreed the issues need fixing.

“It’s very difficult on that committee to ask any questions about expenses. You’re almost shunned for doing so,” Cuttell said.

But she’s not so sure about the timing.

HRM is currently in the process of deactivating the Front End Processor (FEP) and Waste Stabilization Facility (WSF) at the landfill. The provincial government approved the municipality’s application to do so last month, despite community opposition, including from the CMC. The CMC announced on Monday it’s appealing the approval decision.

A worker operates conveyer belts in the front end processor at Otter Lake in a photo in a slide deck included in a staff report to council last year. — Photo: HRM

There are some conditions for HRM to meet, and Brad Anguish, HRM’s executive director of Transportation and Public Works, told council that would take four to six months.

“I think a move at this point to try to hobble the effectiveness of the CMC, whether that’s true or not, is going to have issues in the community,” Cuttell said.

Coun. Shawn Cleary said there shouldn’t be any delay in fixing the committee’s governance issues.

“When something is fundamentally broken, you don’t let it continue. You fix it as soon as possible. This is fundamentally broken,” Cleary said.

Lovelace’s motion passed, with Cuttell, Mayor Mike Savage, and councillors Iona Stoddard, Cathy Deagle-Gammon, David Hendbsee, and Trish Purdy voting no.

After the amendment passed, Cuttell moved to defer the whole motion for six months to allow the CMC to remain at full strength while HRM puts together its plan to satisfy the province’s conditions for approval to shut down the processors.

Stoddard, who sits on the committee as the councillor for District 12, argued in favour of the deferral, saying it won’t make any difference to HRM’s budget, or to residents, but it will to the committee.

“It’s all a matter of trust,” Stoddard said.

“If there was something going wrong in the last 23 years, why wasn’t it brought forward to council until now?”

The motion to defer failed, with Cuttell, Stoddard, Purdy voting yes.

The main motion, including Lovelace’s amendment, passed with only Stoddard voting no.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, council voted in favour of a motion from Cuttell for a staff report aimed at benefitting the community using the savings from the closure of the processing facilities.

Due to the diversion of industrial, commercial, and institutional waste and the success of HRM’s composting program, the dump is going to be in operation decades longer than originally planned, and Cuttell argues the community should be compensated. She envisions some sort of community benefit program, along with enhanced cleaning of debris coming off of trucks in the area.

“I really feel that just because you’re hosting a landfill, you shouldn’t look like you have a landfill in your community and I think extra effort should be made to keep these communities in pristine condition and to see some community benefit,” Cuttell said.

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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  1. Hmmm … one of his last acts as HRM Councillor was to increase the salary of the ED position in question.

    Next thing you know Mr. Rankin is the ED in question.

    Now it seems that the position is redundant or something.

    What is Mr. Rankin going to do now? Maybe he could get a job in the office of his son, our most recent former Premier.

  2. How did Reg Rankin get the position in the first place? Doesn’t he have an alcohol problem??