Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, September 09, 2005

Council Agenda Peeve

It's Friday morning, September 9, at 7:50AM when I start to write this note. I had wanted to know what is on the Council agenda for the next session to decide if there is anything of interest. If there is something that is vital, I have to register as a delegation before noon today or I cannot speak at Council without leave of Council, which is NOT automatic

When I go to the City's website, what did I see---not the agenda for September 12 but the agenda for the last meeting, September 6. Unless I happened to see the link at the top of the page "Next Week's Council Agenda," I am out of luck until the new one is posted.

Is it too much to ask that the Agenda Page be kept current? After all, some of the Agenda is already online for heaven's sake! The page has been kept up-to-date in the past.

In the same way, I have had to complain that key documents referred to in Agenda items were not put on line as attachments.

Is it merely error, or incompetence, or laziness, or not enough staff that helps explain this contempt for citizens? OR is there another reason why it is not done?

12:21 pm, after the noon delegation registration time limit. Still no posting of the September 12 agenda on the main page and no listing of delegations for the meeting.

OMERS: Our Actuarial Surplus of $10 Billlion Is Disappearing More Quickly Than Snow In July.

It's coming up to that time of the year again. I heard that Councillors are going to be setting aside Saturdays for budget review. Last year, committees of Council worked hard to try to keep our taxes low. They did not succeed as much as they had hoped. Here is part of the speech I gave to Council at the start of its budget deliberations that helps explain why they were not as successful as they had hoped:

There is a "taxing" authority in the Province that can download its costs to municipalities, and that can throw your budget deliberations out the window with the stroke of a pen---as it did in Windsor and in many other cities and towns throughout Ontario last year.

Its power is supreme and exclusive. You must deal with it. You have no appeal from its decisions. You must pay if it says so and in whatever amount it determines and however it determines it. That body is Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). It is a huge and powerful Pension Plan that serves and supports over 355,000 members, employer groups and retirees throughout the province.

And that remark in the headline, it's not my language but that of Frederick Biro, OMERS' Chair.

And here is what OMERS has said about the contributions that it requires for 2006:

  • The OMERS Board has asked the Ontario government to approve a plan contribution increase for both employers and employees that will come into effect the first full pay in January 2006.

    The contribution rate will be increased by an average of 0.6% of a member’s annual earnings, which works out to an increase of about 9% in the actual dollar amounts a member and employer would contribute. In other words, a member contributing $100 per pay today would pay about $109 per pay in 2006.

Under the OMERS Act:
9. (1) An employer shall not make a contribution for the provision of a pension to an employee unless the contribution is made,
under this Act
11. The contributions of the employers who participate in the System shall be such an amount as is required, in addition to the contributions of the members and the interest earned by the Fund, to provide for the payment of the benefits and the expenses under the regulations.

We know of OMERS in Windsor since we are in the position of helping to fund DRTP. (as one Councillor stated: "it is galling that the city’s contributions to OMERS are being used against us and causing us to duke it out with the free-spending DRTP.") But I am not here to debate the value of DRTP. Rather I am here to suggest that I believe that Council and its Unions must consider alternatives to OMERS for the benefit of workers and taxpayers in the City. After all, it is taxpayers who fund the contributions directly and also indirectly through the payment of wages to workers.

And the amounts are considerable. Over $30 million is taken out of the Windsor economy by OMERS in contributions by the City and its employees each year!

As you know, when I was General Counsel of STOPDRTP, we wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance demanding an inquiry into OMERS after they had a pension loss of $2.2 billion in 2002 and reported that for 2003 it was writing down $600 million in assets. Its Chair said its $10 billion surplus was reducing rapidly as well. As at December 31, 2004, they have an actuarial funding deficit of $963 million. As OMERS amortizes the losses and gains of investment returns over five years (known as actuarial smoothing), the deficit is expected to be about $2.5 billion by year-end 2005.

I have a concern about OMERS as was set out in our complaint to the Minister. And my concern increases as they may well have a new governance model that Association of Municipalities of Ontario President Roger Anderson warned may mean higher costs for municipalities, municipal employees and property tax payers

I believe that now that the union contracts are ratified, the City and its unions as well as taxpayers need a better approach to retirement financing. I am trying to develop such an approach. I hope to be able to address the appropriate group within the City once my work is completed.

The object is to give certainty in budgetting and contribution amounts while at the same time enhancing the benefits for workers and giving them more control over their money.

The pension system we have now demands a fresh approach. While I am certain that what I will propose may be considered controversial and will require a change in established thinking, I am also confident that people will see the advantages in it.

NOTE: Eddie must have listened. Here is what the Star reported on his remarks at the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario:

"One example of downloading on Francis's mind is the potential devolution of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), which handles the pensions of municipal workers. In June, Queen's Park announced a bill that would shift responsibility for the OMERS plan from the provincial government to a stakeholder-based sponsors corporation.

"Let me tell you, this OMERS issue, as was characterized in the conference, is a sleeping giant. It will have a significant impact on all municipalities," Francis said.

Francis estimated that in Windsor alone the bill could cost the city $6.5 million annually. "That's $6.5 million that we would have to find, that would otherwise be put to services to properties. (That's) $6.5 million less we will have available to deliver services to our residents."

Francis said he and the mayors of other urban centres will reconvene in September to prepare a case for returning to the province some of the services that have been downloaded thus far, and to brace for debate on the OMERS bill.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The End of Council Close-up

I feel like Matt Drudge (Drudge Report ) with a scoop today!

Some people are breathing easier at City Hall. No more Council Close-up to kick them around, or to educate citizens of Windsor about what is happening at City Hall.

I was watching cable TV on Cogeco 11 at 5:30 PM Tuesday expecting to see the smiling faces of Joe McParland and Bill Marra after the summer holidays just before the Council meeting. Well, I was not really expecting to see Bill after what he said after the last show before the summer break.


Was Cogeco pressured to take off the program? Were the ratings that bad? What are the real facts? I have a call into the Show’s producer to try and find out.

Oh, I had heard the stories about some being upset at what Bill had to say about Council on some of the issues that were before them, especially if he differed. Frankly, I wrote to him several times telling him he was "too soft" on Council!

And there was all of that free publicity Bill got by being on TV. (although being on cable doesn’t guarantee an election win). After all, his name has been mentioned in rumours as running for almost every political office there is in Windsor. I have heard that he might run for MP against Joe Comartin, or MPP in Sandra’s seat. The biggest rumour is that he would run for Council in Ward 4 (watch out Ken Jr and David C. one of you might not be back if he does). But in his heart of hearts, I am sure that he really wants to challenge Eddie again for Mayor.

Contrary to the suggestions of invincibility being spread around, Eddie only received 53% of the votes when he won his "landslide." But for a few dumb campaign mistakes, Bill might be Mayor today. If an election were held today, I think that Bill would have a great shot at the job! Heck, Ernie Lamont would get a ton of votes as a "protest" as the way this City is NOT being run.

But the real losers are the citizens of Windsor. Where do we get an opportunity to understand the issues of the day from the perspective of someone who understands the working of City Hall. Just reading a news story in the Star or watching or listening on TV or radio is not enough. We need the background if we are to understand what is going on in our City. That is what Council Close-up is all about.

And as for Councillors, they should not be so smug either. Where else would they get 15 minutes of fame every few weeks, as Joe M interviewed them on camera? They should be upset that their role is being diminished even more by the lack of media attention.

With no opportunity for review and criticism, I guess there is a need for this Blog after all! By the way, I have had one note from a fellow who said that he found this Blog helpful since he has wanted to run for Council.

Part II--The Ambassador Bridge Is Falling Down...

The Plan! The Plan! is unfolding.

Proposed federal legislation, Bill C-44, effectively puts the Ambassador Bridge out of business. It really is the basis of Eddie’s border Plan (see Blog dated September 6, 2005). It allows for:
  • regulation of the use that may be made of international bridges or tunnels by different types of vehicles;
  • regulation of the tolls, fees and other charges and
  • its expropriation since the Government can acquire, hold, dispose of and otherwise deal with shares of a corporation that owns or operates an international bridge or tunnel.

By a remarkable co-incidence, Gridlock Sam in his Report suggested that there be re-routing of trucks, setting aside the profit-motive for the greatest good for the greatest number and even revenue sharing among participants.

However, didn’t we just see a few days ago that Bill C-44 will not likely become law for another year or ever since there is no doubt but that the Bridge Company would litigate the "expropriation" of its business.

That kills Eddie’s PLAN doesn’t it. No control over the border means the Tunnel’s business suffers and a third crossing would never get financed or would go bankrupt because of low tolls or lack of traffic (perhaps like a parking garage that the City could then scoop up at fire-sale prices?)

Never fear. The strategists have been working overtime. Rumour has it that our Mayor will be speaking to the PM again shortly. Obviously he will bring up the border situation. Why would the PM do anything different now? The Star's Schwartz story about possible bridge problems and Henderson’s Bridge Co. secrecy column are the reasons.

Obviously the Ambassador Bridge is a structural risk as Sam and Gord have told us this week, never mind a terrorist risk as Senator Kenny has stated. And we must have the power to look into the Bridge Co’s affairs. [I wonder why Sam and Gord did not ask also for a complete opening of the books at the Windsor/Detroit Tunnel while they were at it since it is 50% owned by the City. After all, the Mayor is the head of the Windsor Tunnel Commission so information should be freely forth-coming. Taxpayers need no more surprises like the huge extra costs for the ventilation building!]

I got it! Now I understand why we had the front-page Sam Schwartz story about the shape of the Bridge. Now I understand why we read about the Ambassador Bridge secrecy in Henderson’s column today. Now I understand Henderson's plea: "we need quick passage of federal legislation Bill C-44."

Eddie must have Bill C-44 passed if The Plan! The Plan! is to have any chance of moving forward. Sam's and Gord's comments and the discussion at another in camera Council border session a few days ago will be used to try to pressure the PM.

Who knows, perhaps the PM during their next discussion will beg Eddie to run for the Liberals in the soon-to-be-announced federal election and become a Cabinet Minister too so that the border has a chance of moving forward.

I told you those strategists were working overtime. Their Real Plan! Their Real Plan! is unfolding.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Dropping The Ball: MFP Revisited

I kept hearing last night at Council that "City Hall dropped the ball" in relation to the failure by the City to send out a tax assessment to WESNET for a 5 year period. An advisory committee which included City financial officials apparently did not object to monies set aside for taxes being used to pay down their mortgage over that period. The result was a $400,000+ waiver of taxes.

Do you remember the remarks Mayor Francis made in relation to the MFP case:

  • Francis said the city's demand that "any settlement cannot include confidentiality" should assure the public, as should the "significant amount of changes that have taken place at city hall to avoid this from happening again."
  • While policies and procedures may have been in place, but ignored, at the time of the original MFP contract signing, Francis said "extra due diligence" should now prevent any similar leasing fiasco.

Accordingly, I was interested last night in listening to Council‘s deliberations on forgiving back taxes to WENSNET. Onorio Colucci, the Acting City Treasurer confirmed what everyone knows. Even with the best intentions in the world and with financial controls in place, not every financial disaster can be averted. (Just check on the blogs relating to Agenda Item #5 to know that is true!). One cannot criticize him for his honesty. One can only do the best that one can do.

I was reminded of some reading that I had undertaken one nice, warm weekend earlier in the summer. I was interested in learning more about the MFP fiasco and so read the KPMG forensic accounting report. That was an eye opener.

So it got me thinking. We have a settlement with MFP now and according to the Star, it will cost taxpayers an extra $68 million. Instead of receiving the "favourable" rates we thought we were getting, we are now paying "conventional" ones. We can have a long debate over about $400,000 in back taxes but I don’t recall hearing how we can recover some of that $68 million!

As a litigation lawyer, and as one who has handled professional negligence cases, there are some obvious areas that should be investigated and pursued depending on the facts:

  1. In a Court of Appeal decision, that Court forced the City to release the KPMG Forensic Accounting Report since the Court decided that the City lost its "legal privilege" in relation to that report. The release of the KPMG Report caused major problems in resolving the lawsuit since the other side was given the City's facts on a silver platter. MFP became aware of all of the City's short-comings without doing any work! No wonder Windsor had to settle!

    How did that report really get out? The Mayor has not yet told us. Why not?

    In the Court of Appeal, the following was stated: "On his cross-examination, Gregg testified that on many occasions the appellants' solicitors had directed him and others about the importance of maintaining confidentiality and that he did not believe that he had made the decision to send the report to Stewart on his own. Although he could not recall the details, the decision to send the report to Stewart "would have been made...with other members of the County team or other members of legal counsel."

    If the Report was given out and the proper steps to maintain privilege were not taken, then why isn’t the City considering taking action against those parties responsible for the loss to recover some of the $68 million . Clearly, the release of the Report weakened the City’s legal position dramatically.

  2. In reading the KPMG Report, it seemed that financial matters at least in respect to leasing in the City were out of control with few financial procedures in place, or if there were controls, no one was bothering with them. The Mayor’s comment above confirms what I read.

    I would suggest that you read the KPMG Report in detail to see what I mean. (I think it will cost you $25 dollars to buy the Report or you will have to sit at City Hall to read it at no charge since the City did not put the Report on its website so citizens could read it for free at home in their leisure. "Open and transparent Government but at a price!)

    Did the City retain outside auditors to look over its financial statements? I read in one of the City’s Financial Reports the following statement: "As required by the Municipal Act, the Corporation retains a licensed accounting firm to express an independent opinion on management’s financial statements."

    Who were the auditors? What was their job? Was it part of their function to review the procedures and controls in place to see if there were any, if they were adequate and if they were being followed? Did they do so and to whom did they report? If not, why not?

    Did the auditors ever make a review of the City’s leases and the MFP deals in particular because of the size of the deals? Did they do so and to whom did they report? If not, why not?

I am sure that the Mayor and Councillors assisted by outside Counsel are in the best position to answer these questions and deal with them.

If there were negligent parties, then why aren’t they paying for some of the excess $68 million it cost the City to settle the case? Otherwise, the City loses out as our taxes will have to be increased to cover the extra costs for the settlement.

But then again, it's only taxpayer money. Why ask the questions and keep the file open any longer, right. I wonder if a certain Councillor can tell us how much that is per household per year!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Ambassador Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down..."

Another Windsor Star story, a front-page one too today, to scare us about the structural condition of the Ambassador Bridge. How tedious already.

It is clear now that the Ambassador Bridge condition and the fees of David Estrin will be used as the justification for Council's "public" meeting. The Mayor and Council needed to have some excuse tonight at their "in camera" session before the Council meeting. The Star story makes another good reason doesn't it to get people worked up for another crossing! Heck, both Sam Schwartz and Brian Masse MP are quoted so it must be a big deal.

Is that the best that can be done? We've had the "terrorist" stories already from Senator Kenny, the Mayor's idea for Nexus subsidies to get Americans through the massive tie-ups at the Tunnel and again, the Bridge being at risk. What a way to get tourists over here and new investment!

I wonder if the Mayor can convince Sam to take a contract to inspect the bridge via his new Windsor office. After all, "Schwartz is recognized as an expert on suspension bridges based on his tenure as traffic engineer in New York."

If C-44 also is not going to be law soon as the Star story suggests, then the underpinning of what the Mayor may want to do on the border has been lost. No public authority to control the borders. Even the Feds have realized that a Bill focused on the Ambassador Bridge Company will not stand up legally and will result in a massive lawsuit!

Here is a letter I sent to Sam Schwartz back in June when he delivered a speech in Windsor commenting on the Bridge:

  • "Sam,

    I heard your speech today and was disappointed in you.

    You showed a picture of Tower Bridge in London, England as an example of a signature bridge that Windsor should build yet you seemed to take great delight in pointing out "deficiencies" with the Ambassador Bridge. Did you know that Tower Bridge took 8 years to build and that it was completed in 1894.

    In New York City, your home town, the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, the Manhattan Bridge in 1909, the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 and the George Washington Bridge in 1931. The Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco was finished in 1937. The general contract for construction of the Ambassador Bridge was signed July 20, 1927 and just over two years later - on November 11, 1929 - the Ambassador Bridge was ready for operation.

    Sure these bridges require maintenance and even reconstruction but they are still standing and are working. So why the "scare stories" about the Ambassador Bridge. [During the 1990's, the DOT invested more than $600 million in the Williamsburg Bridge. In 1991, the NYCDOT began a major rehabilitation of the Williamsburg Bridge. The program was designed to undo the effects of age, weather, increased traffic volumes and deferred maintenance and prepare the bridge for another 100 years of service to the City of New York. ]

    We need facts, Sam, if we are to move forward, not nursery rhymes."


Remember the TV show Fantasy Island and Tattoo's call of "The Plane, Boss, the Plane!" at the start of each show. Well Windsor has our tagline too from Eddie and Gridlock Sam.

Unfortunately for Windsorites, the border Plan is not as readily observable as the Plane was. Given the secrecy of border discussions, we can only figure out what is happening by making guesses based on putting together the facts that we know in a manner that seems logical and by filling in some blanks.

Assuming that there really is a Plan (and I have my doubts) I have attached a long note that I put together based on what I think could be happening. There are only a few people who can know if this is the Plan and I doubt that they will confirm or deny. If you read tea leaves on the side as a hobby, perhaps you have a better suggestion. If so, let me know.

If it isn’t clear after Minister Peterson’s remarks, then it never will be. The coup de grace respecting the border has been delivered. Finally a politician, and a Liberal Cabinet Minister too, has got it right. Finally a politician understands that pretending there is a crisis at the border is not helpful for Windsor or the economy of Canada. Finally a politician can say that "the border problems we've had in the past have been solved." Finally we might get a real solution.

Minister Peterson has confirmed what we all know, especially Mayor Eddie Francis who told us he monitors the border carefully. Truck backups on Huron Church Road became an urban legend after the 4 US Customs booths were opened by the Bridge Co. Now with the plans for 7 more booths to be opened, border capacity will increase by 50%. And this will be accomplished at a cost of only a few million dollars paid for by the Bridge Co. The new Bridge Co. proposal of 200 Customs booths to be completed by the end of 2007 may solve our crossing problem for the next 20-30 years as well, again paid for by the Bridge Co.

So why would anyone want to spend a billion dollars of taxpayer money to solve a problem that does not exist? Eddie could not be that foolish.

Poor Eddie….I believe that he did have a PLAN and it was a pretty smart one to boot. In my opinion, that Plan involved the Tunnel and Eddie’s desire to beat out the Bridge Company for control of the border. The rallying call for the Fast Track Schwartz solution was part of the Plan but mostly a diversion to keep the focus from Eddie’s real objective.

Eddie’s Plan probably started back in the Phase 1 MoU signed over a year ago. The key component was the improvements to the Tunnel Plaza. That part of the MoU made little sense since it had little to do with the truck traffic problems yet it was a major component. Sure there were the obvious reasons for that arrangement but there had to be more to it than that.

Schwartz’s Report also talked about restoring the Windsor Tunnel share of border crossing traffic and in fact, Schwartz was retained to do work for the Tunnel project. Unfortunately for Eddie, the Tunnel ventilation building unexpectedly needed major renovations that required a lot more money. This was on top of the City’s joint contribution to fund the Tunnel project. This may help explain why Eddie surprisingly allowed the Province recently to take over the handling of the Tunnel project since it had the resources, financial and staffing. Eddie needed the Tunnel project to be completed. He had to act quickly because the Bridge Co. raised the stakes.

In typical fashion, what was to be done had to be done in secret yet there was the need to get Council onside. Moreover, there was the need to offer "open and transparent" Government by pretending to allow for public input. Ergo, Agenda Item #5 on the July 25 Council agenda where we saw the strangely titled "Essex-Windsor Regional Transportation Master Plan" as the subject matter. That item proposed that the City:
  • may fund new roadway capacity projects deemed necessary which would solve urgent problems being created by border traffic.
  • It would also endorse the Fast Track Schwartz proposals that included the Tunnel.

The Resolution was cleverly worded and people focused on the Horseshoe Road not the Tunnel. The word "fund"’ was a strange one to use one since it suggests a "financing" type scheme. ("Fund" was the word used when Macquarie North American Infrastructure Inc acquired the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corporation by the funding of $US53.5 million of senior debt.)

Interestingly the Motion did NOT mention "trucks" but any urgent border situation. And after it was deferred, Eddie talked about misinformation being spread around. He stated clearly that he was not going to spend money on "federal or provincial roads" thereby leaving open spending on "municipal roads" like the Horseshoe or the Tunnel roadway where passenger car traffic has declined dramatically.

So what was Eddie’s Plan that involved the Tunnel that he inadvertently gave away on July 25. He could:

  • buy the rest of the Tunnel not owned by Windsor. Kwame needs money to solve his financial dilemma in Detroit if he wishes to be re-elected. And the cost to Windsor could be reasonable or even a "steal," in Kwame’s circumstances. However, the likely cost would be much more than Windsor could afford, several hundred million dollars at least.
  • sell Windsor’s interest to generate funds for Windsor. But Eddie is against a sale, OR
  • lease the Tunnel for 99 years alone or in conjunction with the Detroit Mayor as Eddie’s hero, Mayor Daley, did in Chicago with the Chicago Skyway.

Clearly the lease was the way to go since funds would become available to both Mayors for distribution for civic purposes. The logic, paraphrasing Mayor Daley’s words, was that, the Tunnel "had become a valuable asset, however, running a [Tunnel] is not a core function of city government." And Macquarie Bank who is involved in the Tunnel now and/or, but less likely, Borealis/OMERS (after Eddie’s recent shot at them and their DRTP role), might be part of it as the funding source given their connections with Windsor!

Windsor would receive perhaps a half a billion dollars for its Tunnel interest based on the Chicago Skyway amounts while still owning the Tunnel. There would be provisions respecting tolls and maintenance obligations to protect the public interest. A perfect P3 solution to make everyone a winner.

What would be done with the monies received---the Fast Track Schwartz solution would start to be implemented as a "municipal" project as claimed by Eddie after receiving David Estrin’s legal advice. Once Eddie had started the Schwartz project, he assumed that he could force the Senior Levels into going along since the preferred solution was Ojibway anyway. Getting towns and cities along Highway 401 to back Schwartz was a strategy that Eddie wanted to try as well to put pressure on.

Once the Senior Levels were involved, they would pay the bills starting with the balance of the $300 million BIF monies. He assumed that he would then use the lease funds for Windsor municipal purposes. A giant win for him and a Cabinet position to be sure in his future!

Thus Eddie would still "control" the Tunnel and would have a major impact on the new bridge crossing while finally killing DRTP. Schwartz’s proposal about a new public authority to control border crossings was very similar to the provisions of Bill C-44 that the Feds introduced to give them power over the border that they do not have now. Remarkable ESP!

In this manner, Eddie could squeeze the Bridge Co as his predecessor had tried and failed. The border control authority would allow the new bridge and the Tunnel to take money and traffic away from the Bridge Co. or force them to sell-out.

The Plan was brilliant and well-conceived. Unfortunately, Life does not always follow a Business Model created on paper, no matter how well-intentioned and no matter how clever the author. As Burns should have written: "the best laid Plans of Mice and Mayors…"

The idea was to move swiftly based on the authority granted by the Agenda Item #5 Council Resolution. Before anyone would have known what had happened, the Tunnel would have been leased and the City had the blank cheque to start the Schwartz proposals. There must be an urgent situation at the border that would allow these actions since:

  • passenger car traffic was down significantly (why else would Nexus holders have to be subsidized as the Mayor proposed)
  • Senator Kenny and the Premier told us of security/redundancy issues
  • Schwartz told us that "the Ambassador Bridge was falling down"
  • even the City of Woodstock down the road on Highway 401 was going to contribute money to the City’s cause.

A major assumption must have been that the Bridge Co would do nothing to stop what the Plan was to achieve. It would still make money and therefore not get too upset since traffic would double in the next 30 years keeping their toll revenues up. That assumption was destroyed when the Bi-national Engineers’ traffic projections were revised downwards. A new bridge could bankrupt both the Tunnel and the Bridge since there was not enough traffic to go around. The target clearly was the Bridge’s profits since presumably it made the big money with the trucks. No company, including the Bridge Co., could afford to sit idly by as its business was being attacked.

Eddie’s base of support also crumbled. Who is standing with the City now? Windsorites have been excluded from the border process by Council secrecy so they won’t help. The Province, Eddie’s supposed friend, has flipflopped and said that the Bi-national process must be respected. (The same wording as the Feds used back in the fall of 2004). Is it any wonder that Eddie will not participate in the Fed’s peer review of Schwartz? If the review is negative, as Brian Masse suggests it will be, then what would Eddie do if he agreed to go along? He needs to continue to snub the Senior Levels as he did before.

Most importantly, the Bridge Co came up with an innovative proposal for building 200 Customs booths and a common customs clearance for the Bridge and Tunnel car and truck traffic on the US side and paid for by the Bridge Co. That became the major threat to the Mayor’s Plan. It could ruin his Plan since the obvious risk was that few would use the Tunnel diminishing its revenues, preferring to use the Bridge’s customs booths! Who then would fund the lease?

Eddie also did not seem to appreciate the strong connections that the Bridge Co. has on the US side: eg The Mayor with their new Port of Detroit project and the Governor of Michigan in relation to their new Cobo Hall development, a vital State need. Never mind the fact that the US Government and MDOT are spending hundreds of millions on the Ambassador Gateway project. If a new crossing were built, hundreds of millions would be needed again on the US side.

Eddie claimed right away that the project would impact the Tunnel negatively (although one could argue that it would enhance the declining Tunnel business and increase border volumes at the same time). No wonder Eddie had to say their proposal was not "serious" and why he had to ignore their newspaper ads in which they wanted to partner with the City.

Now Minister of International Trade Jim Peterson dealt the final blow:

  • "I will be telling my colleagues in Ottawa that the border problems we've had in the past have been solved and I'm delighted to hear it,"

He said he learned that the delays at the border have been dealt with. "This," Peterson said, "is music to my ears." …But he also wants to deliver the message to potential investors in Canada that the border problems are being addressed.

So where are we? In utter chaos! Worse off than ever.

I have advocated before that there is a solution that is possible for Windsor and that makes good sense as well:

  1. Short-term solved already by the 4 new US booths (and 7 new ones along with the 9 booths for traffic into Canada)
  2. Medium-term solved by the new Bridge Co. 200 booth proposal
  3. Security and redundancy solved by reverse customs
  4. Long-term solved by a new Bridge at Ojibway. Develop plans for that corridor and get ready to build the bridge if and when necessary.

The Detroit Free Press came up with a similar proposal in an Editorial. What they wrote is obvious, realistic and affordable. It stated: "the Ambassador Bridge's Border Solution is the best plan to keep international commerce and traffic flowing, and to delay the need for building a costly second crossing. "

It is time now for Windsor Council to take charge and to take back control of the border file as it did before and to work with the only party that knows how to deal effectively with the border. The first step should be to talk to them.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bogeymen and "Public" Border Meetings

The bogeymen of David Estrin’s legal bills and the Twinned Bridge are leading a call for a public meeting on the border. How convenient.

But what is the point of a public meeting now? What can the public say or do that can help salvage the mess of supposed high legal fees, the Mayor’s failed billion dollar short-term dream and no allies for the City on the border? It would take real information sharing, more than one session and citizens truly believing that Council wants public input for citizens to have a meaningful dialogue with our elected reps
Why the sudden change by the Mayor and Councillors? Support finally for open and transparent government? Hardly.

The infamous Agenda Item #5 gave the real PLAN away. There is a desire at City Hall for complete authority to do what they want in secret with us giving them a blank cheque.

To justify this a "public session" is needed. Only after the public has ranted and raved will the real Resolution will be put forward by a "Friendly Councillor." No member of the public will have the chance to speak against the Friendly Resolution since the public’s speaking time would be over by then and only Councillors can speak. Eddie will enforce strictly the Procedural By-law too to make sure of that.

The Resolution will pass unanimously (What are in camera strategic sessions for anyway if not to plan in advance what actions are to be taken at the public session). Then City Hall can say they have listened to us and then blame us later when the Schwartz billion dollar short-term strategy fails as it must.

Now that you understand why I say there is no need for a public meeting, do not be surprised when it happens.

Bridgeco Over Troubled Waters

Do you remember the Ambassador Bridge Co's Windsor Star ads promoting their innovative new border proposal? They paid for them on three separate occasions including 2 1/2 pages of Bridge Co. ads in the Star(4 1/2 if you include the "flag") just before the July 1 holiday weekend. Are there any doubts? They are serious in what they are proposing. Can anyone remember them doing something like this before?

In passing, it is interesting that they had to pay for advertisements to get the attention of the Mayor and Councillors. From what I have been told, there have not been many conversations between our City officials and one of the most important parties in the border issue. After all, they do "own" most of the border trucking business and a good part of the passenger car traffic as well in South-West Ontario.

I was amused by the contrasts in looking over events over the past few months: The "open and transparent" City Government acting in secret, hiding behind the "lawyer" excuse, while the "secretive" Bridge Co goes public.

To be blunt, the Bridge Co. does NOT need Windsor to agree or disagree with their proposal since all of the changes can be done on the US side only. So why are they trying to win support on our side? Perhaps because they are a WINDSOR company too who pays taxes here and who employs people here and does have a role to play in the redevelopment of Ward 2.

Again the Bridge Company suggested partnering with the City. Does Council have the nerve to talk to them to do a deal in the best interest of Windsor. Or are the Mayor and Councillors going to wait until the FEDS impose one on us, or rather, wait until the FEDS walk away from us since the border has been "solved" short-term?

At some point if there is no reaction, even the Bridge Co will lose patience. Then what happens to us? The failed Schwartz strategy is hardly a fall-back with the City having no strategic alliances formed by now to help us and no money either to construct what Gridlock Sam suggested.

Even Sam knows when he is beaten! His interview on the John Fairley show on Cable 11 a few months ago was unbelievable. He admitted (I am sure with proper approval being given by City Hall) that his proposal was a thought provoker rather than written in stone. If he is not firm on his own PLAN and is open to suggestions on better alternatives, then why isn't Council prepared to admit the obvious?

The Bridge Co solved the short-term problem on their own with 4 booths (and they propose to build 7 more on the US side to increase capacity by 50% and 9 more on the Canadian side), they will solve the intermediate problem on their own with 200 booths and they are prepared to go to Ojibway, where Schwartz wants to go and where they own the land already, for the long-term.

It does not take a rocket scientist, a lawyer/entrepreneur or a "mediocre" physicist to know what the City ought to be doing!

Eddie Telephones Our Windsor-Born PM For a Chat

  • Francis lobbies PM over border

    Prime Minister Paul Martin is committed to finding a solution to the city's border traffic problems that both the federal government and Windsor "can live with," Mayor Eddie Francis said Wednesday.

The Feds (and the Province after they said that they too are "respecting" the Bi-national Process) are clearly not as stupid as is Windsor to even consider spending a billion dollars on Eddie's short-term border dream. I wonder how Eddie got any sympathy when he had to admit that what Minister Peterson said was true when he confirmed that there were no truck back-up problems now on Huron Churcg Road. (Hmmm I wonder if Eddie and the PM discussed the "peer review" of Schwartz which Eddie refused to participate in). If Councillors can grasp this seemingly difficult concept at there next in camera border strategic session, perhaps they might get somewhere.

Secondly, Windsorites will not at a "sham" public session give the Mayor and Council a blank cheque to do whatever they want on the border. It was tried with Agenda Item #5 but obviously, someone could not stand the heat of 16 Windsorites being critical at a public session and it was "deferred." What a mockery of open and transparent government that was!

Thirdly, Councillors might ask Eddie at the in camera strategic session what his real PLAN is before they get totally surprised when it is sprung on them. And they know they will be surprised otherwise given past cases. Obviously, the Tunnel is part of it (and the Mady parking garage has to be as well since it provides the parking spaces for Customs).

Oh and Councillors should not get dazzled by the big dollars that Windsor will supposedly get that will solve our every problem for years to come when they finally hear about Eddie's PLAN at the in camera session just minutes before the "sham" public meeting. I have a bet who will be asked to move and second the "Friendly Resolution" too and those Councillors will jump to carry out their assigned tasks .

Finally, in the end, the choice is between DRTP and the Bridge Co. (I know that some are dreaming about a "public authority" controlling the border, perhaps even with a City controlled crossing but the City cannot afford the litigation costs nor the damages claim. And the Tunnel is NOT the money-maker that some might think either to generate big bucks on some half-baked financing scheme.) Like it or not--like the company or not--any real analysis of the border should demonstrate what I have said so many times before: the Bridge Co. has already won.

By the way, I take great offence at the comment by Councillor Lewenza that there is no other alternative other than hiring David Estrin and his band of experts. The only real alternative that makes any sense is for the City to partner with the Bridge Co. to solve the border fiasco. Council should insist that Eddie and the Councillors in Wards 1 and 2, the impacted Wards, meet with the Bridge Co. forthwith!

PS I bet that the City did not mention anything about a horrible border situation in the nice glossy magazine sent around to 200,000 people with the Globe and Mail! On the one hand we try to encourage investment here and on the other we have the Mayor saying we have a major problem that requires a billion dollar short-term fix. Nice way to undercut our true story and chase away investors. I wonder if there was a story about how we deal with outside developers like Beztak too!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Parking Garage and Public/Private Partnerships: Another Financial Fiasco

More millions of City money down the drain as the parking garage near the Tunnel goes into receivership. It looks like the City will suffer a $3 million loss in this public/private partnership.

So much for a $0 increase in the City's budget with all of these financial disasters coming forward. What else are we going to be hit with? We already have to pay an extra $68 million for the MFP "settlement," more for Tunnel renovations, and when will Canderel ever end. Oh, and I really am not worried about taxpayer payments for an Arena project at the Raceway or wherever. According to Councillor Lewenza, the $15 million has already been set aside and it is only $75 per household for the next few years in any event. (I didn't want those potholes or sewers fixed anyway)

Isn't it interesting that there was no discussion publicly about a potential multi-million dollar parking garage loss at Council that I recall? Was there a reserve set by the City? When did the City know there were problems with the garage, who knew and what was done to try and salvage the mess?

It is hardly an excuse for someone on Council to say that he/she is "innocent" since the details of the deal were not available. They should have been available before the vote to approve the deal was taken or one should have opposed the deal.
"Hindsight" teaches us I am afraid. That is why I am so scared about what is happening in this City today, especially with all of the secrecy.

The Tunnel causes more problems for the City. Declining revenues, increased costs for the ventilation building and now this. Was anyone ever told that the City had to pay for allof those Customs officers parking spots? I sure hope that we are not going to have another deal "touted" by the City if the Windsor Tunnel Commission head/Mayor has to do something to preserve the Customs parking spots. We do not need something snuck through in secret or via an Agenda Item #5 manoeuvre. AND, we do not need a deal done by the Tunnel Commission rather than the City so that details are hidden from public scrutiny!

Public/private partnerships may not be what they are cracked up to be either if the public sector is on the hook for huge losses. I would hate to think what an arena deal could wind up being if the City invests $15 million in a P3! Can you really imagine what would have happened if the Mayor and Council had been given their blank cheque on the border. The thought of that makes me shudder!

It seems very clear that the City of Windsor is extremely unsophisticated in any financial dealings that are at all complex. It is time that the City retain the professional expertise needed if it is going to get involved in these types of sophisticated transactions in future.

Parking Garage and A Possible Border Strategy

This garage mess might stick to Mayor Francis. He may not be covered in Teflon after all.

The two Windsor Star stories show a much greater involvement by the Mayor than he suggested initially.

It seems that Eddie was deeply involved in the partnership concept right at the beginning. Eddie "made the motion at the Tunnel Commission meeting to approve the partnership agreement between Mady and the City. The Tunnel Commission, which is an agency of the city, approved the deal before it went to city council for approval." What due diligence on the contract terms did Eddie take as a Tunnel Commission member and as a Councillor? As Mayor, Eddie knew about the default for some time. What did he do about it? Handing the matter off now to outside legal counsel is a nice trick to divert attention and foreclose comment but the questions that need answers are not "legal." Why won't Eddie talk?

And perhaps it gives us some indication of what Eddie is trying to do to the Bridge Co with his PLAN on the border as well.

Eddie said in the first Star story:

  • "Mayor Eddie Francis admits it was a bad deal for the city. There was no stipulation in the agreement that allowed the city to recoup any of its money in the event of a default by its partner. "This is another file we've inherited where the proper protections were not put in place," Francis said. "The legal agreement that was entered into did not put us in the best position we could be in."
  • Francis acknowledges he was on council when the agreement was approved, but says council never got the details of the contract once it was finalized. "Hindsight is 20-20. Our job right now is to fix the situation we now have."

The new revelations in the second story suggest that there are more things to do than just "fix the situation" now. We need to understand exactly what happened since we need to prevent this from happening again. It sounds very much like MFP and Canderel as well and what happened there. The controls put in place by the City did NOT prevent the infamous Agenda Item #5 blank cheque almost being approved!

What other surprises are there that the Mayor knows about but that citizens don't? Some comments:

  • Why doesn't the Mayor who is a notorious micromanager know how much is owing in back taxes?
  • Why does Mr. Sutts have to be asked that question since it is NOT a legal issue
  • Will Mr. Sutts be paid the same amount as in the MFP file
  • Why isn't the matter being handled in-house by the City's Legal Dept
  • Why didn't Eddie say that he was the one on the Tunnel Commission who made the motion to approve the partnership
  • His excuse that Council did not see the final details does not hold water now that it was shown that he was on the Commission that did the deal
  • Council's enthusiasm for the report----Eddie was a noted businessman so why didn't he ask questions
  • Again, Eddie tried to divert attention by referring to Council not seeing the final details but did the Commission of which he was a part see them and if not, why not?
  • Eddie said "All I know today is when agreements come on my desk, before I sign them I read through those agreements" Did that mean that in the past did he not do so?
  • "But Francis said the agreement should have contained other legal protections for the city. It didn't " Then why did he approve it at the Commission or did he fail to ask to see the final agreement
  • When did Council know about the default since Mady approached the City last year
  • Why didn't the City want to get involved to try and salvage its investment
  • Will the City try and scoop it as McNevin suggested.

Finally, if the suggestion of Mady's lawyer, David McNevin, is right, then is this what Eddie is trying to do with the Bridge Co.? ["But if the city is waiting in the wings to snap up the property at fire sale prices, it is taking a risk, McNevin said."]. If his objective is to increase the Tunnel car business so that the Bridge's volume is decreased, build Ojibway to take truck traffic away from the Bridge, and then have his public authority in place to control traffic, set tolls and allow for a sharing of profits, then is he trying to squeeze the Bridge Co so they will sell out? Is he trying to make sure that the Tunnel and new bridge make money at the Bridge Co's expense? If so, it is a dangerous and potentially costly game for the Mayor to play. Eddie should know that the Bridge Co. does litigate and usually wins if their business is being attacked. The cost of losing would be horrific for taxpayers.

If I were on Council, I would wonder why the tone of the Bridge Co. ad #3 changed so dramatically from wanting a City partnership in the first 2 ads to focusing on Eddie.

There are lots more questions that need asking at City Hall.