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Deconstructing the in-camera meeting minutes for the Olympic village

January 17th, 2009 · 12 Comments

My pal Jeff Lee over at the Sun had an interesting story in Friday’s Vancouver Sun with details about the in-camera meeting back in June 2007 where the Non-Partisan Association majority voted in favour of the $193-million loan guarantee and completion guarantee for Fortress, so that Millennium could get its financing for the Olympic village.

Jeff has the full documents, which he’s provided pdfs of on his blog. I can only presume that this is all courtesy of Daniel Fontaine, Mayor Sam Sullivan’s chief of staff, who started shopping the story earlier this week that Raymond Louie had actually moved the motion recommending the completion guarantee, presumably with the goal of “proving” that the Vision councillors had dirty hands in all this.

** Additional note: Daniel just called me to clarify that he is absolutely not the person who gave in-camera documents and Jeff Lee has posted on his blog that it is not Daniel and you can read his post here. Contrary to what Jeff thinks, I was not trying to “smoke” anyone out, nor was I trying to blacken Daniel’s reputation. It was a logical guess, given that Daniel had hinted on Bill Good and his blog that a Vision councillor had moved the motion, waving a red flag for people to follow. Jeff seems to indicate the in-camera docs came in a brown envelope (he says if anyone wants to send him “another” brown envelope, here’s his address), although maybe I’ve misinterpreted that, but it’s pretty clear that it’s someone on the NPA side who has, as they say, the motivation and the means to leak those documents from the June 2007 meeting. Just as I would guess that it’s someone on the Vision side who had the motivation and the means to leak the documents from the October 2008 meeting that Jeff quotes from today in his interesting story on the back, which has Jody Andrews’ ill-fated assessment of the Millennium project. (This would help counter the negative backlash they are likely getting over the resignation of Mr. Andrews, who was very well liked at city hall.) And just as I would guess that it’s an ally of Estelle Lo’s who has been leaking some stuff to Gary Mason at the Globe.  Geez, people, these leaks have to be coming from somewhere and, as history tells us (Watergate et al), the people who leak them usually have a mix of motives, one of which is self-interest.

Okay, back to continuing with my original post.

The motion stuff is a bit of a red herring, since the Vision and COPE councillors really did vote against this motion in the end. Yes, Raymond moved it in one of his too-clever-for-himself manoeuvres, where he was moving it so he could amend the guarantee down to $50 million instead of the staff-recommended $193 million, knowing that the NPA would never vote in favour of it anyway, but wanting to make the point that he was more fiscally prudent than they were. He’s not the first councillor in the world who’s moved a motion that’s really the other side’s, but with amendments to try to modify it. But he might have thought about how it would all look when it was leaked. Wouldn’t you?

No, what’s really interesting about this story is two other things.

One is how much discussion is reported about the warnings that there is a lot of risk involved in this deal. There seem to be a number of quotes from former city manager Judy Rogers about this. (That seems to be different from the perception that she was telling everyone that things were just dandy.)

As well, this story doesn’t contain an interesting nugget that Raymond told me as he was discussing the whole in-camera, who-moved-the-motion thing. He said he hadn’t been that concerned about the completion guarantee at the time because he was told that there was only a $150-million difference between what the city was already committed to by the bid book and what it was now committing itself to with the Fortress completion guarantee.

While $150 million isn’t peanuts, it’s not $500 million or whatever number planted itself in people’s brains when Mayor Gregor Robertson said the Fortress guarantee committed the city to having to finish a way more expensive athlete’s village than the bid-book guarantee did.

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  • Thanks for the attribution, Frances, but you know better than that. You won’t smoke out my sources like that. But I will tell you categorically that it wasn’t Fontaine, who I’ve been playing telephone tag with and still has not had more than a 1-minute conversation with me. Neither he nor anyone over at CityCaucus.com have helped me. Yet.
    I should also note that I inadvertently omitted pages 2,4,6,8 of the June, 2007 report when scanning it and that astute people who have downloaded it have noticed the error. I’ll be posting the full document later this weekend when I get a chance.
    But look at it this way: read the doc as if it was complete and you can probably come to the same conclusion your electeds did. No harm, no foul . . .

  • Sophocles

    I think in the immortal words of Tina Fey, the Vision folks are in the midst of receiving the biggest “You can suck it!” in the history of civic politics. It is a huge relief to me that finally some of the truth about the Village is finally coming to the surface. Jody Andrews is smarter more adept, and ethical than the entire Vision caucus put together. His departure is a huge loss to the City and indicative of how badly the present regime is handling things.

  • Let me see if I’ve got this straight….

    City staff recommended a motion….

    Mr. Louie moved an amended motion, which included a significant change that, if it had passed, would have saved us a whack of money….

    That amended motion was not passed…..

    Instead, another motion, which was essentially the same one originally recommended by staff, was passed….

    Passed by Mr. Fontaine’s boss and his councillors.

    And, somehow, that staff-recommended motion that was eventually passed is now Mr. Louie’s, VV and COPE’s fault?

    Red herring, indeed.

    ____
    Then again, Mr. Fontaine had a pretty good run hooking compliant proMedia fish in the local oceans, particularly the ‘lectric version, when he had the audacity to blame Mr. Robertson for snow a few weeks back.

    ____
    And if Mr. Fontaine did actually ‘leak’ said documents as was suggested by Ms. Bula in her post, should there not, perhaps, be an investigation? Or, at the very least, shouldn’t somebody call up the local constabulatory and send them over to Spamalot’s current webadress to sniff around a little?

    .

  • Sophocles

    Your point is well taken that the motions are a bit of a red hearing. The more critical point here being that perhaps if all the politicians involved in this deal had not messed around as much as they have, we would all be better off. The new regime has decided to take things out on the staff who were tasked with trying to undue the mess created by all the political manouvreing. Instead of proceeding calmly and taking the City’s corporate interests to heart, they have further politicized the issue by espousing dooms day spin and trying to mitigate risk with further debt which is what got us here in the first place thanks to Geoff Meggs decision for the City to hold onto the land. Like I said in my earlier blog, this has taken a very Orwellian tone since election day. No question the farmers were problematic, but the pigs are worse!

  • Sophocles

    Apologies, please replace hearing with herring! Yikes! 🙂

  • spartikus

    If anyone is interested, this is the lease agreement between the City and Millennium.

  • Sopho–

    You say hearing, I say herring…

    Points taken regardlesss.

    _____
    Frances, given your update re: Mr. Fontaine’s statement to you that he, specifically, was not the leaker (b/w Mr. Lee’s comment at the top of the thread), please feel free to edit and/or remove my earlier comment. Thanks.

    .

    .

  • T W

    I cannot speak for others, but I, for one, am becoming quite irritated by the pious posturing for the historical record being waged by both sides of this fiasco.

    The simple brutal truth is that the elected representatives from both sides of the equation failed in their duty of care to ask for and ensure they had independent advice not streamed through the prism of senior staff. And the most egregious error was made by Sullivan in not ensuring the provision of independent third party advice for our elected representatives in what is probably Vancouver’s most significant financial decision.

    We will all have a stiff price to pay for this.

  • Mark A

    The documents Jeff posted were fascinating reading, even if not quite up to Airport Novel standards of page-turnability.

    A couple of things I took away from it…

    #1 In June ’07, it was the opinion of the City Manager that the completion guarantee did not commit the city to any more than it had already committed to VanOC. It’s there in black & white at the top of page 6 of the report. So were they right or wrong about that?

    #2 At the time, the city keeping ownership of the land probably seemed like a smart way to be able to guarantee the village would be completed but in hindsight it seems to have been the cause of most of the problems. Essentially the whole mess since is due to lender worries about securing their investment, and the “protection agreement” the City originally created to mitigate this was clearly not nearly enough.

    #3 As of October ’08, City staff still believed the project would make money (just about.)

    #4 In October ’08 it seems that staff recommended the “protective advance” approach that council voted for on the basis that this injection of equity into the project would bring Fortress’ loan back into “balance” which in turn would require Fortress to resume advancing funds – in addition to closing the funding gap for the 10% overrun (p10 of the 10/08 report.) So if they were right about that, there should be no crisis, and everyone should live happily ever after, right? Doesn’t seem to have worked out that way – so why not?

  • tommi

    What Mark A’s excellent post above proves is that there is still not enough information out there about this deal and few have a clue about the reality of things. Because Gregor Meggs have chosen to selectively release (or leak) details while politicizing everything, we will never get to the truth. And that’s the whole point, because Vision/COPE shares just as much responsibility for their own decisions over the years, and they want to distract everyone from that fact.

    So much for openness, transparency and leadership that we were promised.

  • Sophocles

    My gut says that Vision has gone one step further than simple distraction in that when the Oct. 14 incamera report “disappeared” and the informatin leaked to the media, the City was put in a very very serious predicament. Their bottom line was revealed to the lender and I suspect the lender lost confidence in the political climate at City Hall. I think Vision “pissed them off” and things got ugly, with City staff frantically trying to put things right. Then the City Manager is fired…more nervousness on the part of the lender. The new City Manager is brought in “to put things right” ( which may have already been sorted out, who knows). Low and behold they sideline the project manager, position themselves to dump the lender, and put the whole thing on the Premier’s doorstep. Seriously, I was never one for conspiroucy theories, but my word this is straight out of the handbook on how to politicize the public service.

  • Sophocles

    Apologies once again, conspiroucy, thats really bad…s/b conspiracy. I hope there isn’t any sort of ostracizing that happens if you make too many typos!