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St. John’s Sports and Entertainment under microscope

Mile One Centre will see the arrival of professional basketball in November.
Mile One Centre will see the arrival of professional basketball in November.

Whether in terms of public discussion, operational review or ongoing audit, St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE) was a hot topic at Monday night’s city council meeting.

Coun. Jonathan Galgay was true to a news release issued late last week, standing to say he will seek approval for a detailed operational review of Mile One Centre and the St. John’s Convention Centre, including the structure and reporting of SJSE.

The idea would be to find “operational efficiencies,” he said, increase transparency and evaluate governance.

“I believe, personally speaking, that council must take steps to reduce administrative costs and to provide improved accountability in its operations,” Galgay said.

He also tabled an email received Friday from SJSE chair Robert Verge. It refers to a piece written by The Telegram’s sports editor, Robin Short, about Mile One operations, calling the piece one-sided and Short “a mouthpiece.” It also made reference to Galgay’s publicly stated concerns.

“If you have concerns about SJSE, I invite you and other members of council to meet with the SJSE board to express them and get a response,” Verge wrote. “In my opinion, your initiative is very unfortunate and ill-informed. What you propose to do will not only be counterproductive but it will create a significant cost for the city that will serve no useful purpose.”

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Galgay said he had the right to raise concerns of public interest, while also reminding Verge of his position as an appointed official.

The proposed review is to be discussed further at the next city finance committee meeting. The committee can then refer it back to council for a decision on whether or not the city will spend for the independent review.

Coun. Sandy Hickman, who spent a year and a half as council’s board representative, spoke to Galgay’s proposed review during the council meeting. He noted SJSE was reviewed last year during the city’s larger operational review, looking for potential cost savings. He said Galgay was aware the long-standing service contract, whereby the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre provides services to the Convention Centre, is about to be revisited.

Hickman acknowledged the lack of an anchor tenant at Mile One for the coming year, but noted the competition the city is facing with other facilities in Halifax and generally in the region is tough, with council set on at least a break-even deal.

As for SJSE governance and reporting to the city, he said, council has already asked the city manager to review the structure, along with that of city committees.

“I just want to note that I am supportive and I thought, I think, this council is supportive of the work of staff, the work they’re doing there and I don’t know how they took this, but I think they were certainly wondering where this came from,” Hickman said. “So we’ll talk about it at finance.”

The finance meeting will be in July, edging even closer to the coming election campaigns, as Hickman noted.

Neither Hickman nor Galgay mentioned the ongoing review of SJSE books by the city’s internal auditor, as reported by The Telegram.

In the audience for the meeting, former mayor Andy Wells told reporters he believes the review proposed by Galgay would be a waste of money. He accused the current council of doing too much behind closed doors, making true accountability a thing of the past.

The former mayor would not say if he plans to try to return to council in the fall.

 

* This article has been corrected.

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