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New diversity budget item proposed to City Hall

Diversity and freedom of information hot topics at today's municpal council meeting

3 min read
caption Councillor Lindell Smith. Taken from the website.
caption Councillor Lindell Smith. Taken from the website.

Halifax’s District 8 councillor Lindell Smith surprised municipal council today with his amendment proposal during the budget presentation by the chief administrative office.

He suggested there be $60,000 added to the CAO’s budget for the promotion of diversity. The proposed money would go towards “community engagement,” he said.

The proposal created some debate and confusion, with councillors unsure if it was targeting a specific group or diversity in general. African-Nova Scotians and First Nations were two groups that came up as part of the proposal.

Mayor Mike Savage gave his support to the amendment, but said the surprise method of proposing it was “awkward.”

Nonetheless, the proposal was cleared by the council, but will face further discussion in the days leading up to the next council meeting.

Another topic of heavy debate was the proposal to hire more people to handle freedom of information requests in HRM. Currently the responsibility is held by only two people.

Councillor Steve Streatch initially took issue with the lack of fees associated with these requests, noting that there is nothing they can do if the public chooses to flood the office with requests. He suggested there be higher fees to prevent unnecessary applications being filed.

It costs a flat rate of $5 to make one of these requests, which he said can result in “thousands” of pages in response.

Councillor Shawn Cleary said he recognized the costs, but also said how important free access to information is to a democracy. He called it a necessary expense of democracy, comparing it to the cost of elections. Councillors Richard Zurawski and Lisa Blackburn echoed these statements.

“Transparency shouldn’t have a price tag,” Blackburn said, also citing how the important the system has been for small journalism outlets.

Another notable item was the approval of the new library budget. It includes an additional $800,000 in expenses for improving collection quality and computers. Councillors discussed the way the role of the library is shifting in modern days, and praised HRM’s libraries for their involvement in community development.

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