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Neil Godbout: Lack of transparency a fixture of Hall’s time as mayor

Hall did not pay a price politically for his lack of transparency for the Marriott, nor for the big raises for Kathleen Soltis and her senior managers.
Mayor Lyn Hall.

If transparency, accountability, and oversight are the metrics of Lyn Hall’s two terms as the mayor of Prince George, his eight years leading local government were a dismal failure.

After serving just one term as a city councillor, the former School District 57 board chair defeated Don Zurowski in 2014 to become mayor. Hall succeeded the deeply unpopular Shari Green as mayor and sought a different tone from the beginning, quickly firing the previous city manager and promoting Kathleen Soltis from within.

After hosting the 2015 Canada Winter Games with an embarrassing hole of concrete and exposed rebar right next door to Canada Games Plaza, Hall revived the hotel project and the Marriott was finally completed. An award-winning Citizen investigation later revealed the City of Prince George plowed millions of dollars provided from the Northern Development Initiatives Trust for downtown enhancements into that one project. A chain of emails from a Freedom of Information request showed Hall was demanding updates and action from senior city staff on an almost daily basis to get the deal done and the long-dormant construction site busy again.

Unfortunately, the emails also revealed that Soltis didn’t want to publicly reveal the city’s subsidization of the project and Hall deferred to her, establishing a pattern of hiding public spending that would come to a head years later with the George Street parkade fiasco and the eventual departure of Soltis as city manager.

Hall did not pay a price politically for his lack of transparency for the Marriott, nor for the big raises for Soltis and her senior managers. The Citizen revealed in the summer of 2018 that Soltis and her leadership team had been given several lucrative pay hikes far more than the increases given unionized staff, while they also collected tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay during the 2017 wildfire evacuation crisis.

Hall had to speak to the pay raises and the overtime pay during his 2018 reelection campaign but the only opposition he received was from political rookie Willy Ens, allowing an easy path to a second term.

The seeds for Hall’s disastrous second term were being sown in the summer of 2018 at the same time the senior staff pay scandal went public. Soltis sent an email to Hall in early July giving him a “heads up” about possible budget problems with the parkade, under construction to accompany the first phase of the Park House condo project. Hall never replied to the email.

In late 2020, after Coun. Brian Skakun spent months demanding a full financial accounting of the parkade, Soltis and her senior administrators publicly admitted the parkade had cost $10 million more than budgeted, with the out-of-control spending hidden with clever accounting and extra spending authority Hall and council had bestowed on Soltis years earlier.

A subsequent Citizen investigation showed senior administration working on the problem from the very beginning but there were no emails showing Hall knew what was going on. As the two Citizen editorials calling for Hall’s resignation in early 2021 argued, he either knew all along what was happening with the parkade but had covered his tracks or he was blind, intentionally or otherwise, to the financial disaster happening under his nose.

With Hall announcing at the city council meeting that he wouldn’t be seeking a third term, he steps aside the same day news outlets in Prince George were invited to a mayoral candidate announcement on Wednesday morning.

Whomever succeeds Hall as mayor will hopefully take transparency and administrative oversight far more seriously than he did.

Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout