Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tunnel Tunes

In my opinion, the Mayor is petrified that information about the Tunnel deal will come out that shows that money was wasted on a transaction that never made sense financially. That is my explanation about what happened at Council last night.

It seems to me that there is no "financial" case for the transaction. Maybe there was initially but not as time went on.

Here is what was said by Administration in bold type and underlined for the attention of Councillors so they will know the party line and will follow it:
  • "For the City of Windsor, the objective of the discussions with Detroit has been and continues to be to ensure that this significant international border crossing remain in public control and to allow it to be operated as a unitary and integrated tunnel."
Nothing here about making a profit is there! No wonder it is merely a "business" case. It could run a loss and Eddie could still claim that his business case was being met. It was "no lose" for him!

I apologize to my readers. I should be more timely about some of the comments I make about City Council but I cannot. I truly cannot stomach watching what goes on at Council live. It is an incredible waste of time to watch what takes place there. Rather, I videotape it and play it back the next day so that I can skip all of the useless parts.

I tried again last Monday. I did watch live on Monday the ridiculous debate about putting the Mayor on the Undevelopment Commission Board. I watched the conversation about perhaps imposing an Interim Control Bylaw in the West End merely because one developer wants to put up a four-plex I believe that he is legally entitled to construct. During this debate, there was a serious allegation made against a City employee who went nameless made by one of the Councillors.

That was shocking and disgusting and never should have been allowed to be said. The Mayor as Chair of the meeting should have ruled it out of order immediately. In fact, it had to be made clear that the Councillor was not talking about certain people who were involved in the process.

What a great way to hold a meeting. I turned off my TV set because I just could not stand watching the immaturity any longer. Had I not done so, I probably would have thrown my shoe at my TV set because of the issue that was brought up at the end with respect to the Tunnel deal.

We got a taste of it from Craig Pearson, in the Star A3 column:
  • "We have thus far learned most from across the river about a possible tunnel deal with Detroit. In an unprecedented move, according to Coun. Alan Halberstadt, city administration has asked that questions from he and Coun. Bill Marra -- who want details of a 2006 outside report on the tunnel -- be stricken from the books. It's a closed-door discussion, not about answering questions, but about zapping them from existence, like they had never even been asked."

In passing, if Craig and Grace keep this up, someone may demand a recount about Don getting Henderson’s job.

What happened was that there was an in camera meeting with respect to the Tunnel. The subject matter was

  • “Windsor Detroit Tunnel – Property Matter – Negotiations.”

I believe that Councillors Halberstadt and Marra demanded that the matter go into the public agenda. Since it really had nothing to do with Negotiations, I do not understand why it was in the in camera session in the first place.

Oh it did discuss Negotiations in passing, but the purpose of the report was

  • “That the City Clerk be directed TO REMOVE CQ 59 – 2007 and CQ 79 – 2008 from the monthly reporting of outstanding CQ’s.”

Those are the embarrassing questions that Councillors Halberstadt and Marra have asked about the Tunnel deal that have not yet been answered.

If you did happen to listen to the Council meeting you would have no idea what the Councillors were talking about because the Administration Report was never posted. Remember, it was supposed to be dealt with in camera and those Reports are never posted.

There was a request to defer the matter for one week because Councillor Marra was not there (he had to leave after the in camera session) but it was defeated. In my opinion, once a matter is taken out of the in camera session and put into the public session it should not be heard on that night but rather at least one week later. In this way, the public has an opportunity to read the Report and to decide whether or not to attend as delegations.

I might well have decided to come and talk about this report and demand that the Mayor provide the answers. However because of the way the process was run, I and everyone else in this City was deprived of the opportunity to do so.

That Procedural By-law does need amending!

A copy of the Administration report is posted here. Do read it please.

I think you might want to take a look to see the kind of information that the Councillors wanted to know. I would have thought that it was the kind of information that a Councillor would be entitled to, certainly a Councillor who was also a Tunnel Commissioner like Councillor Mara. Instead they have not been given an answer for quite some time and after the meeting last night, it appears they will never get it. And neither will we as taxpayers.

Take a look just for fun on page 4 and the italicized typing towards the middle of the page. There are some blanks there. Try and figure out which names should be within those blanks. I believe that one of them could be the bogeyman whose name has been mentioned many times as a possible party that wants to get possession of the Tunnel and perhaps cement it up! Such a fixation on that Compnay if true!

I did not know that Public Reports could have information removed like this.

What was said at Council to prevent any information from being disclosed?

First the City Clerk claimed that it might take an excessive amount of effort for Administration to provide what Council Halberstadt wanted. The Councillor clarified that by saying that all he wanted was one report. I hardly believe that that would take much time to find and produce

Then we had the City Solicitor and Councillor Valentinis duo try and stonewall things by throwing up solicitor-client privilege. That’s always a good one to use.

Fulvio the Enforcer in effect then said that no information should ever be given out until the transaction closes because it could prejudice the City’s position. I guess he forgot the news story that said that Detroit was not going to be dealing with us. Moreover in the Administration Report it was stated:

  • “At this time, there are no active negotiations with the city of Detroit and none have taken place since the summer of 2008.”

Following the logic of the Councillor, even if a transaction was completed between Detroit and some third-party and it was to last a hundred years in the future, this information should still not be made available because in a hundred years we might try and do another deal with Detroit. Releasing the information today could somehow be prejudicial to us if we were to negotiate again in the future.

It seems strange. One should look at this as auditing a transaction. I know that there was a report done initially on the 400 building because we wanted to learn from that transaction how we should run other construction projects. My recollection is that the report was very positive about what happened. Can’t we use the same logic and say that we should audit the way this file was handled so that we could learn in the future?

Ooooops, I forgot. There is another audit that the City’s Audit group undertook that has not been disclosed for a very long period of time. Who knows why? Perhaps the lesson learned in the 400 building audit is the precedent being followed with the Tunnel deal now.

Of course, our Mayor has waived solicitor-client privilege in my opinion and has let the cat out of the bag with respect to the value of the Tunnel. Accordingly what is there left to hide:

  • “Mayor Eddie Francis questioned how Detroit arrived at a $100-million price tag for control of the U.S. side of the tunnel.

    Windsor has gone through an "exhaustive process" to arrive last year at a $75-million value, he said.

    "That was the number we were prepared to pay back then, but economic conditions have changed considerably and are very different than five or six months ago."

    The mayor said 2010 toll revenues for the Detroit side are projected at about US$11.5 million, but the city has no way of knowing exactly since it is controlled by Alinda, a private company which holds a lease until 2020.

    "Does the tunnel have revenues to support $100 million on the American side? I'd be interested in looking at their numbers," Francis said.”

The Mayor no longer is in a position to prevent the disclosure of the Appraisal in my view. He cannot come out and say that they did a “exhaustive process” and arrived at a $75 million valuation and at the same time keep that information from us. It up to him to demonstrate what he has done and he can only do that by providing us with a copy of the Appraisal.

Let us cut through all of the nonsense. Council Halberstadt asked for the appraisal report that was prepared by Price Waterhouse. With all due respect, that is not the key piece of information that we need. The information that is fundamental to this transaction is in the letter that I posted above. It is the amount of money that Infrastructure Ontario would provide. It is clearly not $75 million. It is a sum of money in a range of amounts. Obviously, the amount is less than $75 million. I wish I could tell you what that amount is but some "third party" is opposing that release under my Infrastructure Ontario FOI application.

This entire exercise of wiping out those Councillor questions may well be nothing more than an exercise in damage control in my opinion to prevent Detroit from knowing that Windsor cannot do this transaction and probably could not do the transaction in the past. It may be an attempt as well in my opinion to hide from taxpayers in Windsor that we have spent over $1 million on a transaction that was never going to be concluded. In other words we have wasted money and Eddie cannot bear being blamed for it.

Eddie probably thought he could do the deal initially. He probably thought that he could get the money from Transport Canada. When they backed out, he was in a jam. What he should have done then was blame it all on them, walked away from the deal and then demanded that Transport Canada pay the legal fees.

That seems pretty logical to me and very reasonable as well. But what if our Mayor had done something such that Transport Canada had legitimate grounds to refuse to do so. That meant that the City would be stuck with the fees and that the finger could be pointed possibly at the Mayor. You know how he is with respect to being “blamed.”

Perhaps he felt then that he could sweet-talk the Province into doing the transaction. Heck, he just got over $3 million as a backstop for Red Bull. I have already revealed some of the letters that made that strategy seem doubtful. However, it would have put additional pressure on the Mayor.

Think of it, what if the amount was $15 million or $25 million or $40 million. Why would Detroit have continued to negotiate with us when they needed $75 million? I thought that DCTC, or perhaps it was Alinda, offered substantially more than those amounts and perhaps could have been convinced to pay $75 million. I would think that Detroit would be pretty angry at us now if ultimately they would get less.

What about Windsor taxpayers… how long have we been paying for a deal that could not be completed if Infrastructure Ontario was not providing $75 million? How much money was wasted and why? If the transaction was never going to be completed, then why didn’t we just find an excuse and walk away from it?

I do not know the answers to any of these questions.

It seems to me that Councillor Halberstadt ought to re-ask his questions just to make a point. Moreover, Council Marra at the next Tunnel Commission meeting has no choice but to ask for the information and ask for it to be disclosed immediately to him as a Tunnel Commissioner. That is his legal obligation in my opinion.

There is one other person who should be very interested in knowing the answer to how much Infrastructure Ontario was prepared to pay because of the grave consequences to him personally because of this file. If there was no hope of getting $75 million, then I would think that he would be a very angry man today if he found out.