Saint John council keeps details of economic development plan secret

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Cuts to fire and police services proposed in Saint John's draft budget

Cuts to fire and police services proposed in Saint John's draft budget

Saint John Council passed its long-awaited economic development strategy at an open public meeting Monday night — but kept the plan itself under wraps.

The document was deliberately withheld from the council agenda, even as it was praised by several councillors prior to their vote.

"This is a positive document, we're going to send a positive message to the citizens that this council means business on growth," said Coun. Blake Armstrong.

"I support it 100 per cent."

Much of the preamble to the vote was taken up with praise for the councillors serving on the growth committee and for the city staff who helped draft the document, which is intended to increase the city's population, economy and tax base.

The unseen document was described as having 45 "actions." 

Reporters were told at the end of the meeting that details of the strategy — which at that point was law — would be revealed at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

After the meeting, Mayor Don Darling repeated the goals of the plan while revealing very few of the details.

"The specifics are in the plan, the plan is a public document," said Darling.

"We've now, tonight endorsed the plan, it's a live document. If the citizens have any issues or challenges with it, they'll let us know. We're going to have the full briefing tomorrow."     

When pressed by reporters, Darling said Enterprise Saint John would continue to take the "lead" on job creation and that resources — a staff person — would be directed toward population growth.

Services provided by the Saint John Development Corporation, Saint John Industrial Parks, and the city's real estate department would be "aligned" to bring better results on tax base growth, he said.

Approving a key economic development strategy while keeping most of the details under wraps is a troubling move, according to Geoff Martin.

Martin teaches political science at Mount Allison University and comments regularly on municipal and regional politics.

"Council meetings belong to the people," said Martin.

He said press conferences can be choreographed and are "owned" by the politicians, city staff and media relations professionals.

"I think this is kind of undermining local municipal government," said Martin. 

"It is something we should be concerned about."

Two councillors voted against the growth strategy.

Gary Sullivan and Greg Norton wanted the package to be accompanied by a cut to the property tax rate.