It's not over till it's over
Ratepayers and city get down to the nitty-gritty

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 05/99) - What the City of Yellowknife is offering to pay isn't enough, says Yellowknife Property Owners Association spokesperson Mike Byrne.

The organization took the city to court three years ago when it became clear policy decisions at city council were being made in what came to be known as "secret meetings."

He said the association's Bill of Costs (column 5) of $30,728 is the minimum the court ordered the city to pay. Column five designates only certain expenses.

The costs came after years of bitter legal wrangling because a former city council felt they weren't contravening any laws by holding the meetings. The city's legal bills, ultimately paid by the taxpayer, are estimated to be around $150,000.

"The city of Yellowknife, prior to the lawsuit, had every opportunity to address the (issue) without any court action," the association said to Mayor Dave Lovell in a letter dated Feb. 15.

"However, it must be noted that the council of the day, particularly yourself as mayor, vociferously rejected all advice that the subject proceedings were illegal and you were adamant that 'nothing was going to change.'" Association members' fees and individual citizen donations funded the effort, which ended up costing their side more than $85,000.

As a result of their efforts, public business must be conducted in an open, democratic manner.

NWT Supreme Court Justice Howard Irving ruled in the association's favour May 26, 1998, calling the secret meetings "de facto council meetings."

Now left holding the bills, the association's letter asked council to approve an additional payment of $10,000 beyond the costs identified, which would bring the total to $40,728.

"We feel that this would be morally and politically fair and reasonable and would allow the association to clear its legal bill as well as return a small portion of the substantial funds

contributed by our members," the letter stated.

On Wednesday, Byrne told the XXXYellowknifer there are still legal fees outstanding and all they want to do is clear the bill.

"The offer on the table isn't enough to do that," he said.

Another issue gnawing at Byrne is the fact the city got legal counsel when served with the lawsuit -- then decided to fight the association. He feels the advice given the city at the time should be made public.

"The city sought out a legal opinion on the issue. That opinion wasn't made public before, or after, the trial," Byrne said.

"It's certainly not necessary for the association to see that opinion but it would shed some light on the actions of city council and put the whole issue into context."

Lovell points out they're prepared to pay what was ordered by the courts. He said he doesn't think dragging it out further serves anyone.

"We have to be pragmatic about this. The court ordered us to pay a certain amount," Lovell said.

"I have no problem if council wants to pay more but that's a council decision."

He said the meetings that started the lawsuit were not out of the ordinary at the time but given the benefit of hindsight, they may have chosen a different path.

"From my perspective, what we were doing was standard practice across Canada. The city wasn't out in left field on this," Lovell said.

"In retrospect, I wish we hadn't got into it but it was something done with full council approval."