Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friendship (Part I of A Five Part Series)

Did you feel the earth shake? In one momentous moment everything has changed in Windsor.

To be honest, it is the first optimistic moment I have had in a very long time.

Perhaps the border file will finally end and we can get our economy moving after so many years of hollow threats, mind's eye visions, inaction and stalling.

Perhaps we will look at proper priorities for this town of 200,000 and not grand visions and schemes to make us something we can never be but which sound terrific and prevent us from solving our real problems.

Just look at Annie's column today. First Henderson justifying Edgar (aka Eddie) breaking his two-term promise on Saturday and now this:
  • "Revealing hidden beauty

    The ugly towers, pipes and belts of Zalev Brothers scrapyard -- as Mayor Eddie Francis said, it looks like a bomb went off in the heart of Windsor.

    But it could be one of the most interesting places in the city.

    In some unusual and fascinating projects around the world, old industrial and transportation eyesores -- viaducts, street car repair yards, brick factories and iron mills -- and their detritus are being remade into new and inventive kinds of community and cultural hubs, from parks to museums.

    They honour urban history while becoming part of the new economy."

Vote for Edgar and our brownfields can be transformed like those in Dusseldorf, New York or Toronto. How many times will we hear the word "world-class" during the lead-up to the election next year?

We may finally have new leadership in this City to move us forward. Not next year but soon, almost immediately. And if it happens, it will not happen through the ballot box nor through a coup d'état.

We will owe it all to our Integrity Commissioner, Mr. Basse and certain leakors on Council whoever they may be. And most especially to our Mayor who has crystalized the matter in a way I never thought possible.

Of course, I am speaking about the leaked Report that Mr. Basse presented to Council, under what authority I still do not know but it no longer matters, that since Councillor Ron Jones and CUPE’s President Jean Fox were "friends," then the question was whether Jones should have recused himself from any involvement in the CUPE strike whatsoever.

"Friendship" became an issue for conflict of interest all of a sudden.

Then our Mayor confirmed it by helpfully chipping in during a TV interview:
  • "The issue in front of us is discussions that were taking place with the head of CUPE in the middle of negotiations. That is an important distinction to be drawn here."

As I Blogged:

  • “Oh my. A Pandora's box has just been opened by the Mayor not just with this but in other situations.”

Clearly, what the Mayor is saying that mere “friendship” in itself may not be a concern but “friendship” with more such as dealing with the City can result in disqualification from participation in a matter whether it is a strike or a business deal. That is the “important distinction” with a big difference that may impact this City, and the Mayor, dramatically.

Frankly, it makes Windsor even more like Toronto whose conflicts policy states:
  • "A conflict may occur when an interest benefits any member of the employee's family, friends or business associates."

Aren't Edgar (aka Eddie) and Mr. Basse suggesting that our rules go this far too now?

A nice exercise will be defining what a friend or business associate means.

Before anyone starts getting all excited, I am not the one who has made this an issue. Nor did Gord's "smear artists, conspiracy theorists, tire slashers, child harassers and professional moaners." The Integrity Commissioner as confirmed by the Mayor did.

I am not suggesting any improprieties. No illegal activities, no pay-offs, graft, under the table deals or bribes. Nope, it is a very narrow matter; it is the issue of being a "friend" or perhaps a "business associate" too that has now reared its head so we need to look at this concept carefully.

I can just hear the Clerk's voice now booming over the microphone before a delegation speaks at Council as part of the Proceduaral By-law:

  • "Are you now or have you ever been a "friend" or "business associate"of a Member of Council?"
Let us ask some obvious "friend" or "business associate" questions. Let’s think of some "friendship” and "business associate" possibilities with Edgar since he spoke on the matter and some big blockbuster potential deals since he has now made this an issue. As such, since he is so involved in virtually everything, we have to consider most of all of the major Windsor projects.

Consider the Miller Canfield firm where Edgar articled because this issue involved a member of that firm before. How would they fit in with this expanded definition? Remember the fuss over Michael Duben who was at the firm when Edgar articled there:
  • "Top candidate' was hired:

    City officials deny new senior bureaucrat got job because of links to the mayor

    Although Windsor's newest senior bureaucrat worked in the same law firm as Mayor Eddie Francis and was hired without an advertised national search, several councillors and the city's top civil servant say Michael Duben got the job on his merits alone...

    Duben said the only contact he had about the job was with Skorobohacz.

    "Eddie was quite surprised. I wouldn't put Eddie in that situation," Duben said of discussions with Skorobohacz...

    "I knew full well the mayor had articled with him," Skorobohacz said of Duben, a labour lawyer who also has represented developers and property owners dealing with the city...

    Skorobohacz said he did not discuss hiring Duben with Francis before meeting with councillors about it. Several councillors said the mayor expressed discomfort because of his personal relationship with Duben.

    "Eddie felt a little uncomfortable about the discussion," Lewenza said. "Eddie did not play a role in the discussion. He really took a hands-off approach."

    Added Ward 3 Councillor Al Halberstadt: "Eddie expressed a bit of fear that it would be seen as him going out and getting Duben."

Clearly, the issue was in some people's minds as far back as 2004, even after Edgar was long gone from the firm, because of a "personal relationship."

Is this still an issue? For example, a question that can be asked is whether Edgar is a “friend” or "business associate" of lawyer Jeff Slopen who is a Principal at Miller Canfield where Edgar articled. I have no idea if they are or are not. I mean to cast absolutely no negative aspertions against Mr. Slopen. It is an issue for a Member of Council to determine, not the friend. It's a real issue though.

I think it important to ask Edgar to confirm what the relationship is. Edgar had declared a pecuniary interest in the past when he articled at the firm and even afterwards, clearly for a different reason than friendship but probably as a "business associate" out an abundance of caution:
  • "Councillor Francis discloses an interest and abstains from voting on Planning Advisory Committee Item No. 3, being the application by Mid-South Land Developments Corporation to rezone the west side of Prado Place between Ontario and Raymond and the east side of Thompson Boulevard between Ontario and Raymond, to permit 8 single unit dwellings each, as the applicant is represented by the Miller Canfield Law Firm, where he recently completed his articles of clerkship "

I must admit I do not recall if he ever disclosed an interest in the border file when Mich-Can was involved since Edgar articled for Miller Canfield, the Mich-Can lawyers.

Since Mr. Slopen is also the lawyer for the owner of the Zalev lands and there are now discussions about buying or expropriating the property, if Mr. Slopen is a "friend" or "business associate" must Edgar now recuse himself and no longer be involved? Look at what has been said in the past so you can understand what Mr. Basse may have to deal with:

  • "Hamilton's model is exactly what we need to see happen here," said Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis. "It would allow us to identify the sites and bundle some of them as a package for developers."

    Francis said the city will need to seek government grants.

    "Our first step should be to establish a committee led by council but also including interested citizens to see if there is any interest on Zalev's behalf to discuss their site and its future," said Francis. "From my understanding, there is some willingness on the company's behalf to do that."

    Windsor lawyer Jeffrey Slopen, who represents Zalev, was unavailable for comment but has said in the past his client was open to discussions. "

  • "Zalev denies causing recent 'putrid' odours

    But the metal recycler said through lawyer Jeffrey Slopen that Zalev has not operated its hot briquette plant since Oct. 31 and could not be the source of the odours Dilkens said he noticed.

    Slopen, in a letter to council, said other industries could be the source of the odours."

  • "Zalev lawyer Jeffrey Slopen said the company is unaware of any current issues but would be willing to attend a meeting if invited.

    "We're trying to be a good corporate citizen," said Slopen, noting the company has responded to concerns of nearby residents in recent years. "Our view is that we aren't aware of any issues with the Ministry of the Environment."

    Brister asked city administration on Monday about the possibility of the city expropriating the Zalev property and building another east-west artery between Howard and Dougall avenues.

    "There has to be a municipal use to expropriate that land," said Brister."

What is the difference between the Jones-Fox relationship and the Edgar-Slopen one if they are friends or business associates?

What about with London’s Mr. Farhi? Are he and Edgar friends? Here is how they met according to the Star in November, 2006:

  • “Francis and Farhi met for the first time about a year ago at a wedding in London.

    Farhi contacted Francis shortly afterward to hear first-hand about the mayor's plans for Windsor.

    "A week later, he calls and says, 'Meet me at the Lear plant. I just bought it,'" Francis said.

    Farhi arrived in Windsor by helicopter and told the mayor he liked what he'd heard the week before about where the city was heading. "He's made that very clear to us, he wants to invest in Windsor," Francis said.

    About one month ago, Farhi was the one to get a call. It was the City of Windsor, wanting to know if he was interested in doing a deal with his land next to Lear.

    "I was very taken by their honesty, very taken by them coming and asking me to help" in the revitalization of downtown.

    He says he took "14 seconds" to say yes. "If it takes me more than 14 seconds to make a decision, it's a bad decision."

I recall Edgar being asked by John Fairley on Face-To-Face about whose wedding it was but Edgar declined to answer.

In passing, the issue for some reason was raised in a recent Henderson column where he went after "tortured souls and conspiracy theorists who hate Eddie Francis with a passion" over the issue. I have no idea who these people are other than as a strawman that can conveniently be raised. Actually, the issue arose because Edgar for years allowed it to be one, not because of anything else. But remarkably, note this comment by Mr. Fahri as quoted by Gord. Was it just an expression of language used or their relationship:

  • "I cornered Francis outside and asked about the rumour. He chuckled and called Farhi over.

    Did you know, he asked, that we're cousins? Fahri roared and gave Francis a crushing bear hug. "If you and I are cousins, my friend, there can indeed be peace in the Middle East," he cackled."

Don't blame me, blame Gord who gave us the quote. He knew exactly what he was writing too because he would be absolutely aware of the "friend" issue over Jones and Fox. Could this be the Sheriff giving us a big hint by directing the "enemies" of Edgar to read this statement?

We may need Mr. Basse to look into their relationship and also what the two gentlemen talked about since a few months before they met, we learned:

  • "Mayor Eddie Francis and council took the arena plunge over the weekend and promised to do what has eluded a generation of political predecessors -- replace Ontario hockey's most ancient forum.

    Council voted 8-2 Saturday to start looking for a replacement for Windsor's 80-year-old arena, known by fans and cynics alike as the Barn...

    "We're now committed. I have faith this council is different," Francis said following council arena resolutions No. 106 and 107...

    A second resolution, passed without opposition, gives Francis authority to meet immediately with Windsor Raceway management to conduct "exploratory discussions" on its latest proposal to host the site of a new municipal ice arena.

    While the raceway is currently the only proposal on the table, council's motion also gives the mayor a green light to respond to "others as they may come forward."

Depending on what answer is given, should Edgar have had no involvement with the Arena and lands issues and should have no ongoing role? Should Edgar recuse himself now with the canal as well since Mr.Farhi has contributed money to the study and owns a key piece of property downtown right next to where it can go?

Do you understand where this can take us if Mr. Basse is correct in his analysis! Who knows where this "friends" and "business associate" concepts can lead us.

But let us deal with someone who is without question Eddie’s “friend.” But THAT is for another BLOG.