By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 6, 2020.
CHAIRMAN, LETHBRIDGE TRANSPARENCY COUNCIL
Do not the reasons for a decision matter as much as the decision itself? Perhaps not for Lethbridge’s city council.
On April 20 the council withdrew two contracts from the ARCHES organization together worth as much as $885,000 over the next nine months, awarding them to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) instead. ARCHES was not named in the council’s agenda. The City’s Community and Social Development manager made a written request for the change, which offered this cryptic rationale: “In light of additional information provided to the City of Lethbridge we are recommending a change in service providers.”
Coun. Crowson introduced the motion to make the change. Unusually, she read not one word of the written request into the record of the day. Instead, the councillor spoke to the motion in these words: “This is really an administrative correction.” I leave it to the reader to determine the rate of spin in that statement, given the written request for decision.
One does not “administratively correct” a party out of a contract, not without either their consent or a reason for terminating it. Contrast this proceeding to that of Dec. 11, 2017 – the day ARCHES first won the agreement (it was a single contract then). The service had been provided by CMHA, but they had taken to subcontracting the work to ARCHES. CMHA agreed to the change (in fact they were said to have sought it), and all of this rationale was put openly and transparently before the council before they approved it.
In the one minute and 50 seconds it took the council to transact the “administrative correction,” only Coun. Mauro asked any questions, inquiring why this change was being made and the identity of the current service provider. He received no answer at all to the former question; once he heard “ARCHES” was the answer to the latter, he seemed disinclined to press the matter. I’ve asked for the reason (and the unspecified information). The official response has been dead silence.
Let us be blunt. The most recent extension of this contract was approved by council on March 23. Anyone with an attention span knows that a team of Alberta Health Services auditors descended upon ARCHES on March 4. If something out of the audit has caused this change, a reasonable inference in the circumstances, then that should be said. And the council ought to disabuse anyone of that notion if there is a completely different explanation. The reasons matter.
Reasons should be kept secret only where there is a compelling public-interest reason for secrecy. Just by way of example, and to be helpful, avoiding embarrassment is never a compelling public-interest reason for secrecy.
The people of Lethbridge deserve some truth and transparency here. They’re entitled to it; they can handle it. In this, and in all things touching on local government, it is the mandate of the Lethbridge Transparency Council to seek it.