Councillor calls on city to request Flames agreement to more consultations on arena

Councillor Evan Woolley in council chambers. Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia

Coun. Evan Woolley is urging the city to make a formal request to the owners of the Flames to allow more time for public consultations before council votes on a deal for an arena to replace the Saddledome.

In a letter dated July 25 and addressed to city manager Glenda Cole, Woolley asks for an engagement period that is “fair and appropriate” and will “allow citizens and council the adequate time to review and consider the terms and conditions.”

“One week is insufficient time for me to do my own due diligence and to answer the questions that Calgarians and my constituents have asked of me,” Woolley said Thursday evening. “To date, I have been given no rationale, other than ‘momentum,’ as to (why) we cannot have more than one week.”

Woolley said he would like the city manager to ask Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corp. to agree to an extension and report their answer at Tuesday’s council meeting. The letter, which copies the chair of council’s Event Centre Assessment Committee and members of the city’s negotiation team, requests that a detailed public engagement plan be presented in the fall ahead of a final vote Sept. 30.

Woolley said it’s a departure from the norm for the city to conduct engagement in the “dog days of summer” while many Calgarians are out of town or on holidays.

“We engage Calgarians more broadly and deeply on public toilets than we have on a $275-million investment,” said Woolley.

Coun. Jeromy Farkas, whose ward encompasses Victoria Park where the new arena would be located, agrees with Woolley and quickly issued a letter of his own Thursday in support.

Calling the current scenario “rushed,” Farkas pointed out that council had previously approved a resolution in March directing city administration and the Event Centre Assessment Committee to come up with a public engagement plan.

Both Woolley and Farkas were appointed to a subcommittee of the assessment group in March, but following their appointments the committee did not meet again for four months.

“Council directed our administration to work with the Event Centre Assessment Committee to bring forward an engagement plan on how we would talk to Calgarians,” said Woolley, “and for some reason that direction was ignored.”

Woolley, Farkas and Coun. Druh Farrell have all said they did not agree to allotting just a week to public consultations on the arena.

Event centre committee vice-chair Ward Sutherland said Thursday that all of his colleagues should have known that there would be “a very short period” between a tentative agreement being reached and council’s vote to ratify.

“They already knew. To say they’re not prepared or they didn’t understand is really disingenuous,” said Sutherland. “You choose not to understand or you choose not to listen during the meetings, because I’m baffled how anybody could say they didn’t know what was going on.”

Earlier Thursday, before Woolley’s letter was released, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the truncated consultation period was the recommendation of the Event Centre Assessment Committee.

“I am agnostic on this because ultimately you do consultation if you think that there are changes that are possible and you want to hear about those changes,” said Nenshi. “Or you do it if, as a politician, you genuinely have not made up your mind and you need to hear from the public — and I am not convinced that either of those criteria are in place here, so I’m not sure what dragging the decision out will do.”

Nenshi said, however, that he wouldn’t object to more consultations if council voted for an extension.

“If they can promise to be truly open-minded while they listen to the results of that engagement, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that.”

A request for comment to the city manager’s office was not immediately returned.

mpotkins@postmedia.com
Twitter: @mpotkins

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