More than ever, Hall must resign

In January, a Citizen editorial called for Mayor Lyn Hall's resignation after it was revealed that the new downtown parkade cost $22 million more than it was supposed to and additional cost overruns may have been approved without city council oversight.

It simply doesn't matter if he knew what was going on or not. 

If he didn’t know, he was asleep at the wheel and failed in his duties as the only full-time city council employee, warranting his resignation.

And if he did know and didn’t take action, starting by informing the rest of city council, he failed his fellow councillors and local taxpayers, also cause for resignation.

Later in January, emails obtained by The Citizen through a Freedom of Information request showed Hall was informed of problems with the parkade budget in an email on July 4, 2018.

"Heads-up. We'll keep you informed as we learn more," then city manager Kathleen Soltis wrote in her email to Hall. 

A day earlier, A&T Development had contacted the city with concerns and provided a more detailed budget analysis the following day showing the true cost of the parkade would be about $20 million, not the $12 million originally budgeted.

Normally quick to return calls from reporters, it took Hall a week to respond to the email revelation. When he did speak, it was to say he didn't receive any further followup from Soltis, despite what her email suggested, and that he had been in the dark as much as the rest of city council about the parkade cost overruns until the whopping final price tag of $34 million came to light in December 2020.

Hall also announced an internal investigation into the matter.

Now emails obtained by The Citizen in a second Freedom of Information request suggest Hall not only knew about the parkade cost overruns but may have attended a meeting between A&T Development's Frank Quinn and then general manager of planning and development, and currently acting deputy city manager, Ian Wells.

"How did things go with A&T on Friday?" Soltis asked Wells in an email on July 9, 2018.

"It went very well," Wells replied via email, 33 minutes later. "We indicated that they need to continue to get the best prices, and that City could not change the partnering agreement without Council Approval. Frank thought (email redacted)."

Later than day, Soltis replied: "Thanks, Ian. I talked with Lyn last night and he generally mentioned Frank's advice to me."

Three red flags pop up in that email exchange.

First, who is the "we" Wells is referring to in his response to Soltis?

Second, it now looks like the agreement with A&T was changed without council approval.

Third, and most damning for Hall, Soltis informs Wells that she spoke to the mayor the night before and he was the one who told her what "Frank" said in the meeting.

The city sent a less redacted version of this email exchange late Monday afternoon, along with the mayor's calendar from July 6, 2018. The response from Wells went on to say: "Frank thought that Lyn needed to show some leadership regarding our salaries. Frank sent him a text offering to help."

City spokesperson Michael Kellett (still waiting to hear from the mayor himself) also told The Citizen that this email exchange between Soltis and Wells was actually about "management salaries, not parkade costing - despite the subject heading" and the city "needed time today to obtain necessary consents to disclose the redacted information."

Well, that just poses more questions.

If the Frank in question is not Frank Quinn of A&T but actually Coun. Frank Everitt (or some other mystery Frank), why didn’t Kellett just say so in his response? 

And why would Wells abruptly switch to talking about Everitt when answering a question about how the meeting with A&T went?

And if Wells still means Frank Quinn, why is a Kamloops developer giving Hall advice on how to deal with a controversy over senior management salaries at the City of Prince George?

And why was the information redacted in the first place?

And why wasn't the email included with the first FOI request, considering both the subject heading and the question in the original Soltis email is clearly about the parkade, with no mention of management salaries whatsoever?

All of this sounds like Who's On First?, the classic Abbott and Costello comedy routine.

But clear away the fog and it appears more than ever that as early as July 2018, Hall knew the parkade would cost far more than $12 million. That's more than three months before the last municipal election and nearly two-and-a-half years before the rest of city council and Prince George taxpayers would learn the truth.

If that isn't enough to motivate the mayor to tender his resignation, here are two more reasons.

First, this second batch of emails released to The Citizen clearly show multiple staff members in several city departments knew the parkade budget would cost far more than $12 million. It simply defies belief that the mayor was in the dark for years in his corner office on the fifth floor of City Hall about a fact that seems to have been internal common knowledge.

Second, the email exchange between Soltis and Wells about how the meeting with A&T Project Development went was only released in the second Freedom of Information request, even though it had the same subject heading - "Fw: Parkade Prince George Costing" - as emails released through the first FOI request. 

In other words, someone at City Hall either accidentally or intentionally didn't include the Soltis/Wells emails in the first FOI request.

And just like January, a mayor who previously loved chatting to reporters suddenly isn't returning phone calls requesting an interview.

If this is all some sort of misunderstanding or reporting that is missing key information, the Citizen has given Mayor Hall every opportunity to set the record straight.

He has not.

So, once again, Mayor Hall must resign.