It’s rare for Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan to issue a press release of importance. In the newsrooms, he’s known as “Spam” Sullivan because of his fondness for non-news. Late today, the Mayor issued an open letter about the Olympic Village scandal. The story became a major issue last Friday. It made the covers of all the local newspapers. It’s worth pointing out readers of Condohype knew about it on October 8 when I picked up on a report by Gary Mason.
The challenge with the scandal is that there’s very little we actually know. (Is it a loan? Is the city exposed? Did Oprah buy the penthouse?) As of now, all details are hidden from the public. The Mayor’s letter tries to clear the air by stating his confidence in city staff and the overall planning and management of the Olympic Village project. After four paragraphs of hype, the Mayor makes the following statement:
City Councillors and staff are legally bound to keep all property transactions confidential. That is the law. Taxpayers are not well served by politicizing these sensitive discussions or conducting negotiations by headline. As Mayor, you have my word that the moment our legal team and negotiators signal that this information can legally be released, it will be without any delay.
By saying he’s committed to disclosure even though he believes taxpayers “are not well served” by the release of information, Mayor Sullivan is telling you he doesn’t care about the public interest.
Is it not within the Mayor’s ability to encourage the parties to prioritize disclosure of information? Has the Mayor even set a timeline for the details to be released? What leverage does the developer have to assert secrecy over the information? While the specifics of the negotiation may be confidential, nothing prevents the city and the developer from agreeing to share some information. Furthermore, if the city is the only entity coming forward to provide a loan, how can the developer have any power to object to disclosure as a condition of the deal?
If taxpayers are to trust that city managers are acting in our best interest, we must be able to know about the decisions being made. Without disclosure, there can be no confidence.