Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Friendship (Part 4)

Have you been reading each of the previous parts of the series so that everything is fitting into a context, dear reader? We are almost at the conclusion. Just two more parts.

We are looking at the concept of "friendship" and what impact it has on Members of Council and how Windsor is governed.

We have seen that it seems to be a big concern now thanks to the Integrity Commissioner and the Mayor. That question raised about Members of Council and major players in town needs to be dealt with in order to get clarification ASAP.

Given, Edgar's seeming confirmation of the issue, I decided to take a look at his particular situation and discussed the building in Dougall Plaza in the last BLOG.

Now let us take a look at the Tunnel where Edgar is the head of the Tunnel Commission and where the Taqtaq family leases their Store. However, the issue is much broader than a mere lease at the Tunnel as you shall see.

To be fair, when issues involving the Duty Free Shop have arisen, the Mayor has declared an interest at Commission meetings.

He was modest at first and did not disclose the "general nature thereof" so that is why I contacted the City Clerk for an explanation in the first place. It surprised me since the Mayor, as a lawyer, clearly knew the rules and has acted out of an abundance of caution both, it would appear, from what the City Clerk said and from his practice at Council:

No explanation given here.

Then he opened up more:

Former campaign manager is the reason given, or rather, "a member of his former campaign" without mentioning the person's name or title. Should the explanation have been broader? To include his spouse's situation as well perhaps?

Note, do you think as worded this declaration of pecuniary interest by Edgar fits right into the "friend" or "business associate" category? If so, then it explains why Edgar could easily make the remark he did respecting the Jones/Fox issue. He viewed it that way for himself already for quite a period of time.

But what do you think of this when Edgar was a Councillor:

Perhaps Edgar and Mr. Taqtaq were not friends then but how could Edgar participate and introduce a Motion to help obtain what Mr. Taqtaq wanted if they were?

Moreover, did the request to "abandon a standard" create a huge liability on the City if something went wrong? How could the City argue that it was acting in a reasonable manner by abandoning what the association said should be done? Hmmm, I wonder if this action concerned Mr. Sutts so that it was easier for him to suggest that the Tunnel be placed into a subsidiary company to limit the City's liability.

The reason I raise this is because the only major Agreement that the Three Levels ever agreed to on the border file shockingly did NOT deal with the Ambassador Bridge where the trucks were backed up but only dealt with the Tunnel. Phase One of the Let's Get Windsor-Essex Moving Strategy included only:

  • "Windsor, Ontario, March 11, 2004 - The Governments of Canada, Ontario and Windsor today announced new measures that are part of a joint $300 million federal-provincial investment to help improve the Windsor Gateway, Canada's busiest border crossing.

    Today's agreement identifies five initial project investments, including:

    Improvements to the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Plaza in order to provide for more effective traffic management, including the implementation of the NEXUS program;"

At the time, the decision to focus on the Tunnel made little sense to me. And the agreement was signed within months of Edgar becoming Mayor too.

The improvements are very important to the Taqtaq family because business was hurting at the Tunnel obviously with the reduced number of visitors:

  • "Traffic at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel remains in a slump, and the border crossing's retail duty-free store is feeling the impact.

    It's been this way for months, and while the list of reasons seems as long as the tie-ups some days, Marwan Taqtaq, who operates the Windsor Tunnel Duty Free Shop with his family and staff, remains optimistic.

    The pending redesign of the tunnel plaza is expected to provide better store access for vehicles."

The City has set aside $10M of taxpayer money for their share of the Tunnel improvements but we know now that more money is needed but we are not sure exactly why. I have speculated, and obviously with the number of years that have gone by with no action, more money is needed for expropriation since owners have sat in limbo.

I don't recall the City setting aside that kind of money for the Tunnel's border competitor, the Ambassador Bridge, to improve their operation as part of the Strategy. There never was a Phase II Agreement which presumably would have dealt with the Bridge.

As I have Blogged:

  • "Notwithstanding his assertion that “We're a public utility” in relation to the Tunnel, he is also the business competitor of the Ambassador Bridge. Does this competitive side of the Mayor help explain why we still have a border mess on Huron Church road? Why would he fix up that road when Goyeau is a mess and the Tunnel Plaza improvements are far from being done as both Dev Tyagi and Abe TaqTaq have told us recently."

  • "This was one of the projects for which the City wanted money. I thought we had set aside the funds years ago when the Phase 1 Agreement was signed with the Senior Levels. Each level was to put up $10M for the project

    Where are the City funds now? What happened to them? Do we have the money available for our share? If not, is the whole deal dead since the Senior Levels would not put their $20M into a project that cannot pay for itself.

    By the way, we do know that the costs of the project have increased dramatically above the $30M mark. We were told that at Council a long time ago by Mr. Tyagi. I speculated that it was due to increased expropriation costs as well as increased construction costs.

    Is this why the City has done little for years on this project: no more money. If so, why is Eddie wasting millions on trying to do a deal with Detroit if we cannot afford to improve the access to the Tunnel."

Mr. Taqtaq has to be extremely interested in the expropriations as well since we were told by the Star:

  • "Closing a portion of Goyeau Street to all but tunnel-bound traffic is being considered by the Windsor Tunnel Commission as a solution to the traffic tie-ups at Goyeau and Wyandotte Street East. The closure, which would affect Goyeau between Park Street and Wyandotte, would allow an expansion of the tunnel plaza and reduce the congestion during morning rush hour and at other peak crossing times.

    "The status quo simply isn't working," said Mayor Eddie Francis, who is chairman of the commission. "We don't want people to panic because it may not be feasible, but we have to find an alternative to a situation which has become intolerable for our citizens, for commuters and for tourists."

    The commission has requested a report from the traffic engineering department on the impact of closing the street and what it would do to traffic patterns in the immediate vicinity.

    Along the stretch of Goyeau being considered, the only building not owned by either the city or the Windsor Tunnel Duty Free Shop is a Burger King franchise opposite the tunnel entrance."

Go back up and look at the Council Minute of July 24, 2002. Isn't what the Mayor is talking about exactly what Mr. Taqtaq was requesting years before. Of interest, that request was not included at the time when Councillor Francis as he then was introduced his Motion.

Here is a rather astounding fact that I found in a Tunnel Commission Minute also:

I do not know if the property involved was the Duty Free Shop but presumably it had to be on the Tunnel's property and it claims that the Mayor's wife was a tenant there. Frankly, without knowing exactly which building is involved, it is hard to be able t0 comment about what the impact is on our discussion.

Remember that I wrote before a BLOG about the Windsor Mayors' [plural ie not just this Mayor] inherent conflict of interest over being Mayor and also being head of the Tunnel Commission. [BLOG October 25, 2005 "Windsor Mayors' Conflict Of Interest"]

  • "In other words, is there an inherent Conflict of Interest built in when the Mayor and Councillors are both a Tunnel Commission Chair or member and when they are also a member of City Council. On the one hand the Mayor can say from a Windsor-wide perspective : "We see the tunnel as a public utility while the DCTC sees it more as a profit-generating private operation." On the other hand when the Bridge takes away Tunnel traffic, he says as a true competitor "our traffic has gone to the bridge and we have to do a better job of convincing people that the tunnel should be their crossing of choice."

Obviously the Bridge and City are competitors here but are the homes on Indian Road, the various by-laws the subject of OMB appeals, the Sandwich Community and so on all part of this as well? What about the US$75M deal proposed by Edgar with Detroit for Windsor to control their half of the Tunnel, how does that fit in with all of this friendship concept?

Remember the outrageous sum that the City received when Brighton Beach was sold to the Feds at a sum that seemed overly generous, $34M as opposed to around $5-$6M: As the Star reported:

  • "City council will use $6 million from the deal to pay off its legal costs for Toronto lawyer David Estrin and others incurred during the last five years of the border road debate, with the rest of the money being directed toward the city's capital budget and replenishing municipal reserves, said Mayor Eddie Francis...

    The mayor said the transaction is another indication of council's support for the Brighton Beach location for the next Windsor- Detroit bridge. The city has opposed a twin span proposal by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun."

Naturally, if there was no DRIC Bridge, the City's land would not have been needed and never would have been sold. Was that one of the reasons why the City has been so aggressive against the Bridge Company? And all of that Estrin money for opposing the Bridge Co. is being re-imbursed in effect by the party blocking the Bridge Co. moving forward as confirmed by Governor Granholm.

Has the border file now become even more confused given the relationship amongst Edgar, his wife and Mr. Taqtaq?

Given all of this uncertainty and confusion, how can Council allow Edgar to be their main negotiator with the Senior Levels and the Voice of Council? How does the Mayor justify remaining in that position given his friendship and business relationship with the Duty Free Store owners who helped him get elected Mayor in the first place?

Clearly, we need a way to deal with these types of issues and a way to find an answer to all of this. And there is one. Just read the conclusion of the Series.