FREDERICTON - Not thirty seconds after outgoing councillor Tony Whalen banged the gavel on the vote to award York House to engineering firm ADI for residential development today, the City communications officer, Wayne Knorr, was handing out press releases to the media about the decision to give ADI the nod.
This fast work by Knorr caused some in attendance to raise an eyebrow, wondering if the City had already made a backroom deal prior to today, with the vote being a mere formality.
Mayoral candidate Matthew Hayes expressed frustration with not just the quick filing of the press release, but of the vote today in general, citing the hastiness with which the meeting was scheduled without adequate public notice and before an election. (See video below)
But according to Knorr, having press releases on standby that inform the public on actions taken by the City is standard operating procedure for his department. When the final decision comes down by council, the press release is quickly reconfigured to reflect the City's position. (See video below)
However in looking at today's press release, there is a quote from Mayor Woodside that gives the impression the vote to award the property to ADI was a foregone conclusion.
"It is great that another use has been identified for this historic building and I am pleased that a company with the reputation of ADI is involved in the development."
Woodside wasn't present at the vote today due to illness. But it seems he must've known which way the vote was going to go if he gave a prefabricated quote for a press release written up before the City took action, as communications policy dictates.
ADI President John McDonald was present for the City's vote today and spoke to council about his company's desire to do the project.
From McDonald's point of view, the decision to award his company the property wasn't hasty, saying the concerns of councillors opposed to making the decision today unfounded. He was also asked by this publication whether he knew anything about the vote beforehand.
Regardless the optics of the situation tell another story because the press release goes on to state:
"A public meeting concerning the York House repurposing was held in December 2011, along with an online consultation web page. The deadline for input was set for the end of January 2012. The offer from ADI resulted from the exercise. Council instructed the staff to review the proposal further and an agreement was negotiated."
This publication asks how an agreement could've been negotiated to award the property to ADI beforehand when the vote whether or not to do so wasn't until today?