Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Friendship--The Five Part Series

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.

Friendship (Part 2)

We have been talking about friends, friendship and business associates and the seeming new issue of how that fits in with conflict of interest. The question then arises whether a member of Council needs to recuse himself/herself if a "friend" issue comes up.

Clearly, as I Blogged previously, Mayor Francis seems to think it is a big deal. So do the Integrity Commissioner and those anonymous Leakors who tried to discredit Councillor Jones.

Let us now deal with a real friend of Edgar (aka Eddie) not someone who may or may not be. What I will be dealing with is all public information, something that anyone could have found using the Internet.

The City Clerk provided this specific answer to me when Edgar declared an interest in a Tunnel matter but did NOT state the general nature thereof:

  • From: Ed Arditti
    Sent: February 6, 2008 10:48 AM
    To: Galvin, Mark
    Subject: Declaration of Pecuniary Interest
    Importance: High

    I noticed that the Mayor declared a pecuniary interest twice with respect to matters involving the Duty Free Shop at Windsor Tunnel Commission meetings. However, the Minutes did not disclose the general nature thereof as is required by law.

    Accordingly, as Acting Executive Director, would you please let me know "the general nature thereof" as is required by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

  • ----- Original Message -----
    From: Critchley, Valerie
    Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 12:40 PM
    Subject: FW: Declaration of Pecuniary Interest

    Good Afternoon:

    Thank-you for your inquiry which has been directed to me for response.

    I can advise that the Mayor has always been cautious to take the high ground with respect to any possibility of an actual or perceived conflict of interest and has always chosen to excuse himself from any discussion or voting on any matter related to the Duty Free Shop. The basis of his caution is his personal acquaintance with Abe Taqtaq, his former campaign manager. Also, while the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act excludes matters that are remote and insignificant, the Mayor has also noted that his spouse is a tenant in a building that Mr. Taqtaq has an interest in.

    I trust this answers your inquiry and remain,

    Yours Truly,

    Valerie Critchley
    City Clerk
    Corporation of the City of Windsor

The gentleman mentioned is Abe Taqtaq.

What a nice choice of words "personal acquaintance." Whatever that means, as you shall see, dear reader, it is much closer than that. And we'll talk about that building where Edgar's spouse is a tenant subsequently. Just keep on reading.

You will note the reference to Mr. Taqtaq being Edgar’s former campaign manager. Here is what Edgar said about his campaign team after he successfully won his first term as Mayor:

Respecting the Tunnel Duty Free Shop, I saw this

  • “Marwan Taqtaq
    (BS '65) For the past 21 years, Taqtaq has operated the Windsor Tunnel Duty Free Shop on the US-Canadian border. He recently participated in building a community medical center.”

  • Abe Taqtaq is vice president and general manager at Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Duty Free.

It is this position that may have caused and may cause Edgar significant "friendship" issues.

Edgar has not always taken this perspective in dealing with matters involving the Taqtaq interests. Consider this involving Coltaq Developments in which the Taqtaqs were involved:

No pecuniary interest declared by Edgar on this matter and he must have voted too. Note that he did declare a pecuniary interest in matters involving Miller Canfield when he was working there as an articling student.

On another occasion in August, 2003, we saw this where Edgar actually introduced a Motion respecting Coltaq. Obviously, he did not declare a pecuniary interest:

At the time, here is what was going on about those lands:

  • "Windsor Star 06-02-2003

    Route debate delays plans; Critics say land tied up unfairly

    Deputy Mayor Gary McNamara is upset that a "set to go" 351-home subdivision has been tied up because of its location within an "opportunity corridor" that years from now may become the route to a new border crossing.

    The Coltaq Developments subdivision is the largest the town has seen in years, on farm fields bordered by Highway 401, Highway 3 and Outer Boulevard. It went through all the regulatory hoops more than four years, but then ran up against Ministry of Transportation concerns that halted its final approval by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

    "This property is at a key location that (if the subdivision was allowed to proceed) would significantly reduce the viability of several corridors," a Transportation Ministry spokesman said recently."

And then this:

  • "Windsor Star 08-06-2003

    Developers angered by delay; Subdivision in limbo because land is within one of five possible border routes

    Investors who have been trying for five years to get a 350-home subdivision built are upset the City of Windsor is opposing the project.

    On Aug. 20, when an Ontario Municipal Board hearing starts, Tecumseh will be supporting the Coltaq Developments plan for its 85 acres bordering Highway 3, Outer Drive and Howard Avenue.

    Windsor will be siding with the Ministry of Transportation, which doesn't want the subdivision developed now because the land is within one of five transportation corridors which may be chosen as the route from the 401 to a new border crossing...

    If the government wants to prevent the land from being developed, it should expropriate it and pay a fair price, said Abe Taqtaq, a partner in Coltaq with contractor Mario Collavino."

All's well that ends well. It would seem that the Motion making Windsor neutral might have been helpful since the Province bought the land

  • "08-20-2003

    Province to purchase land; 85 acres in potential border corridor will be bought and not frozen to development

    The province has agreed to buy 85 acres of prime subdivision land located within one of five possible border crossing corridors.

    The agreement, which is still not finalized, makes an Ontario Municipal Board hearing, scheduled to start today in Tecumseh, unnecessary. Lawyers for the developer and the province are expected to ask for an adjournment...

    The Ministry of Transportation office that deals with media inquiries was closed on Tuesday because of the government's energy conservation measures. Abe Taqtaq, general manager of developer Coltaq Developments, said he hasn't received anything in writing about the agreement.

    "I'd love to make a comment, but I can't until I get something in writing," he said.

    Coltaq has reported spending about $2-million buying and planning the subdivision on the parcel of land bordering Highway 3, Outer Drive and Howard Avenue."

Someone may want to follow up to see if Coltaq or its principals or related organizations made contributions to the Mayor's campaigns too and where their office was said to be located. That can be a concern too if there is an "exceptional case" as you shall see subsequently in another BLOG.

In case you think the name Collavino is familiar, it is. PCR Contractors, a Collavino company, built the East end arena. I am sure you remember this:

  • "09-22-2006

    New arena proposal challenges Ice Track: Family, Killer Bs offer 6,500-seat, $50M idea

    A prominent Windsor construction family has teamed up with a Toronto architectural firm to propose a 6,500-seat arena and three ancillary ice pads in a taxpayer-funded project that will cost less than $50 million.

    Brothers Paolo and Renzo Collavino, whose father was co-founder of the Collavino construction company, are behind the project, which was quietly submitted to city officials back in August.

    The Collavinos, acting as general contractors through their firm PCR, would be responsible for building the arena using plans provided by Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects (known locally as the Killer Bs). The city would own and operate the facility. No location was announced.

    "It's no secret Windsor has been looking for an arena for a long time," Renzo said Thursday. "I've had this idea for a while -- I never had a reason to bring it out until the council resolution."

The Taqtaqs and Collavino through PCR have had other business relationships together too. Take a look at these photos which were Collavino projects.

Those buildings will have an interesting role to play in the "friendship" debate as you shall see in subsequent BLOGs.

Friendship (Part 3)

Merely being a friend or business associate of someone can now potentially give rise to an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner resulting in a member of Council being forced to recuse him/herself from being involved in some key matters in Windsor.

It seems that our Mayor seems to support that proposition given his remarks respecting Councillor Jones' friendship with Jean Fox during the CUPE negotiations.

Accordingly, if a Member of Council is in a position where a friend might somehow be involved in a relationship that could give rise to a conflict, it would seem that the Mayor would agree that the Member ought not to be involved. I assume that it includes himself too.

But what are the rules around this? Does the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act apply even though does it not mention "friends?" Is the language broad enough to cover this:
  • "When present at meeting at which matter considered

    5. (1) Where a member, either on his or her own behalf or while acting for, by, with or through another, has any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any matter and is present at a meeting of the council or local board at which the matter is the subject of consideration, the member,

    (a) shall, prior to any consideration of the matter at the meeting, disclose the interest and the general nature thereof;

    (b) shall not take part in the discussion of, or vote on any question in respect of the matter; and

    (c) shall not attempt in any way whether before, during or after the meeting to influence the voting on any such question."

I believe that is broad enough to cover the kind of relationships we have been talking about. Let's assume it does. Even if it may not, Edgar and the City Clerk have made it so. Remember this comment from the City Clerk:

  • "Also, while the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act excludes matters that are remote and insignificant, the Mayor has also noted that his spouse is a tenant in a building that Mr. Taqtaq has an interest in."

I am not so sure that I agree with the City Clerk about remoteness and it being insignificant. Moreover, there is another section that is important and is applicable:

  • "3. For the purposes of this Act, the pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent or the spouse or any child of the member shall, if known to the member, be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the member.

I showed you a photo of a building that Collavino's PCR built in a plaza on Dougall:

  • "Constructed two new buildings to house existing and new tenants, and prepared the site for demoliton of the existing structure for construction of an additional building."

The owner of the lands when the buildings were built was a company owned by the Taqtaq family. That Company was an amalgamated company. Mario Collavino was an officer and director of one of the companies amalgamating into the new Company but I do not know his role in the new Company, if any.

A unit in one of the buildings is occupied by the Mayor's spouse, Michelle Prince, where she runs her chiropractic clinic.

How did Ms Prince get there? She left her space on Howard Avenue and moved there.

Here are her new premises and you can tell who the leasing person was too at the Plaza:

Note that Mr. Taqtaq's phone number is that of the Tunnel Duty Free Shop. It is the same phone number as this building right across from the Tunnel that was for rent too that I Blogged about before:

As we can see, Edgar's spouse has an interest in the lands as a tenant. Edgar is deemed to have a "pecuniary interest" in it too.

Do not forget that not only is Edgar the Mayor but the Head of the Windsor Tunnel Commission as well. The Duty Free Shop rents space at the Tunnel from the City.

What do we have but Edgar and Abe Taqtaq being friends, having a business relationship as Landlord/Tenant through Edgar's wife and a relationship at the Tunnel.

What does this all mean? Keep on reading the next Part of my BLOG.

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.

Friendship, The Conclusion (Part 5)

I trust that I, at least, have made you do some thinking over the last 5 days.

You will need to read right down to the end of this BLOG for you to appreciate how difficult a matter the friendship issue is and how it has been dealt with in other situations.

I will repeat again. Neither I nor any of Gord's "smear artists, conspiracy theorists, tire slashers, child harassers and professional moaners" brought up this controversy over friendship. The Integrity Commissioner as confirmed by the Mayor's statement 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"that has now reared its head so we need to look at this concept carefully.

The friendship/business associate matter is not a legal concern for anyone except a member of Council. He/she has the legal responsibility to declare the pecuniary interest and follow what the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act requires.

Mr. Basse stirred up a hornet's nest as far as I am concerned with his still not released to the public Report on whether Councillor Jones should have recused himself and not been involved in anything to do with the CUPE matter due to his friendship with Jean Fox, the President of one of the CUPE locals.
I have spent some time looking at the Mayor and his friends and business relationships because of his key role in the City. More importantly, he confirmed the concern raised by the Integrity Commissioner about Councillor Jones and friendship
  • "City councillor Ron Jones has hired a lawyer to defend his interests against allegations of wrongdoing that may emerge from an investigation into hundreds of cell phone calls to CUPE union president Jean Fox during the 101-day strike by municipal workers.

    Jones insisted repeatedly Saturday there has been nothing “inappropriate” in his relationship with Fox — either before, during or after the strike...

    His calls and friendship with Fox date back years and many of the calls occurred around his prostate cancer surgery in February, while others focused on supporting Fox while she obtained a restraining order in court against an anti-CUPE protester, Jones said."

However, our Mayor claimed as I Blogged previously:

  • "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."

It would seem that the Mayor is of the opinion that even if the calls were purely "innocent," since there was an important City matter involved, that makes a big difference.

If Councillor Jones should have recused himself then from the CUPE strike matter because of "friendship," using Edgar's own logic, should the Mayor be required to do so on the border file, the Arena, the canal, the Zalev properties and so on? Clearly, if "friends" or "business associates" are involved in a City matter, using Edgar's perspective, what choice has he but to recuse himself and to permit new leadership from the City to take over.

As Gord wrote, perhaps this is exactly what Windsor needs, a "vanilla man" who, along with one or two other Councillors, would form an executive team who will not go to war against everyone but who might actually accomplish something:

  • "And make no mistake. Marra is a nice man. Polite. Well-spoken. Amiable.

    Those are fine qualities, even if Coun. Alan Halberstadt described him as "a bit vanilla." But is that what Windsor needs in 2010 and beyond, a nice guy to manage the corner office and keep everyone placated, if not happy? Under normal circumstances, I would say yes. Maybe it's time for a healer and soother who won't ruffle too many feathers and can get along with Liberal friends at Queen's Park."

Do you understand now why in the first BLOG I mentioned about the earth shaking and why I was optimistic finally. We would have people in charge who would view our issues differently and who would actually try to achieve a solution rather than constantly being at odds with everyone to our economic detriment!

What are we to conclude from this discussion? I think it is simple. We need a stated case to a Judge or a judicial inquiry to detemine how far the conflicts of interest policy spreads in our political arena.

Will it be expensive to do? I would expect so unfortunately. Here is what the inquiry into the issues surrounding Mayor Hazel McCallion may cost:

  • "But inquiry lawyer Will McDowell warned "a great deal remains unknown" about the issues and the commission's focus will evolve as new information emerges.

    The inquiry is now adjourned for preparatory investigative work.

    It is to resume no later than March 1.

    Its $2.5 million budget compares with the original Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry into municipal corruption, which ran for 214 days, cost $20 million and had about 60 lawyers acting for the 22 parties.

    Cunningham said his inquiry will differ from such prominent ones as the Walkerton water scandal and Air India bombing.

    Those inquiries, he said, set out to determine what caused those tragedies and how they could have been prevented.

    "On the other hand, we set out to examine certain transactions and relationships," he said.

    "These may well be important matters, and they are certainly matters of contention."

    Cunningham framed the two broad areas to be investigated:

    The context, history and conduct of city business as it related to a purchase and sale of a 3.5-hectare parcel of land owned by OMERS that involved Peter McCallion and World Class Developments.

    (The deal involved private meetings between Mayor McCallion, the developer and OMERS, while zoning of the land was still before council. OMERS subsequently sold the land to the city, which in turn leased it to Sheridan College.)

    The circumstances surrounding an agreement that gave OMERS, a 10 per cent shareholder in Enersource, a controversial veto."

Friendship, business associates....does the Mayor now have to back out from a number of major transactions in this City? Given the Basse comments and Edgar's own words, Edgar (aka Eddie) has no alternative in my opinion but to recuse himself from some or all of the matters until the issues are clarified or risk negative comments from Windsorites during the entire election year until we know what the line is that should not be crossed.

Take a look at this story and see how something that is legal and innocent can take on an ugly and dirty side very easily:

  • "Friends in high places

    In Canada, business influence appears at all levels of government. The biggest single donors to the election campaigns of municipal leaders are property developers. Is it because property developers as a group are more concerned about the democratic process than others? It might be. However, it seems likely that the donations are also made because municipal politicians control the zoning and development of land.

    That's why a group in London, Ontario is asking questions. George Sinclair of the Urban League of London thinks there's a "troubling" connection between donations made to candidates for city council and a subsequent vote.

    Prior to the November 2003 municipal election Shmuel Farhi, president of Farhi Holdings Corp., made total donations of around $5,000 to about a dozen candidates. Two weeks later, Council voted 10 to six to allow Mr. Farhi's company to demolish the former home of baseball legend George (Mooney) Gibson. Of the 10 who voted in favour of the demolition at least six received donations from Mr. Farhi. Of the six who voted against, only one accepted a donation from Mr. Farhi.

    The developer told the London Free Press that his sole motivation "is to help people who spend a lot of time and effort to make the municipality a better place to work and live." Mr. Farhi added that the timing of his contributions was "pure coincidence."

Would that defence work for Mr. Farhi today in Windsor given his "friend" comment about the Mayor? Could our Mayor claim that his and his wife's relationship with a "friend" and "business associate" when dealing with City matters are of little concern? It is not an easy question to answer.

Take a look at this story commenting on a US Supreme Court decision . It is based on the US Constitution but the reasoning could be very applicable here. It shows how friends and business associate questions can be dealt with in a logical fashion. Of course, what is reasonable to one may not be reasonable to another. But it is a start:

  • "Judge Should Have Recused Himself in Case Involving Contributor, Court Rules

    The 5-4 ruling, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is a victory for groups interested in curbing the influence of money on judicial elections.

    The Supreme Court ruled Monday that West Virginia's chief justice should have stepped down from a case involving his campaign's biggest financial supporter.

    The 5-4 ruling, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is a victory for groups interested in curbing the influence of money on judicial elections.

    "In all the circumstances of this case, due process requires recusal," Kennedy wrote.

    Kennedy's opinion was joined by the court's more liberal justices.

    "There is a serious risk of actual bias when a person with a personal stake in a particular case had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge's election campaign when the case was pending or imminent," Kennedy concluded.

    The case closely resembles the plot-line in novelist John Grisham's 2008 book "The Appeal."

    The case examined Justice Brent Benjamin's decision not to recuse himself from a $50 million lawsuit involving the man who spent millions of dollars to get him elected to the bench. The losing side in the West Virginia mining case before Benjamin argued he should have stepped aside for his "probability of bias" in the case, which involved Massey Coal.

    Massey's CEO spent $3 million in ads to help Benjamin's election.

    The Supreme Court had previously only recognized the need for recusals when judges have a personal financial interest or some other closely held personal connection to a case. Monday's opinion expands that reach."

Justice Anthony Kennedy speaking for the majority sets out the approach and how to handle matters:

  • "Under our precedents there are objective standards that require recusal when "the probability of actual bias on the part of the judge or decisionmaker is too high to be constitutionally tolerable...

    Not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a probability of bias that requires a judge's recusal, but this is an exceptional case...

    Much like determining whether a judge is actually biased, proving what ultimately drives the electorate to choose a particular candidate is a difficult endeavor, not likely to lend itself to a certain conclusion. This is particularly true where, as here, there is no procedure for judicial factfinding and the sole trier of fact is the one accused of bias. Due process requires an objective inquiry into whether the contributor's influence on the election under all the circumstances "would offer a possible temptation to the average . . . judge to ... lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true..."

    Although there is no allegation of a quid pro quo agreement, the fact remains that Blankenship's extraordinary contributions were made at a time when he had a vested stake in the outcome. Just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, similar fears of bias can arise when--without the consent of the other parties--a man chooses the judge in his own cause. And applying this principle to the judicial election process, there was here a serious, objective risk of actual bias that required Justice Benjamin's recusal...

    But, as we have indicated, that is just one step in the judicial process; objective standards may also require recusal whether or not actual bias exists or can be proved. Due process "may sometimes bar trial by judges who have no actual bias and who would do their very best to weigh the scales of justice equally between contending parties." The failure to consider objective standards requiring recusal is not consistent with the imperatives of due process. We find that Blankenship's significant and disproportionate influence--coupled with the temporal relationship between the election and the pending case--" ' "offer a possible temptation to the average ... judge to ... lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true." ' " On these extreme facts the probability of actual bias rises to an unconstitutional level.

    The Court was careful to distinguish the extreme facts of the cases before it from those interests that would not rise to a constitutional level."

What was intersting in this case also is that another judge recused himself because of friendship and some photographs:

  • "Maynard withdrawing from Supreme Court case after vacation photos with Blankenship released

    State Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard will withdraw from the court's reconsideration of a decision that favored Massey Energy, a coal company run by his longtime friend Don Blankenship.

    "It is not enough to do justice - justice also must satisfy the appearance of justice," Maynard wrote in a brief memo filed today with the court.

    He added, "I have decided to voluntarily recuse myself from this case. I will recuse myself despite the fact I have no doubt in my own mind and firmly believe I have been and would be fair and impartial in this case. I know that for a certainty."

    Controversy erupted this month over Maynard's majority vote in the court's 3-2 decision that excused Massey from a $50 million verdict after photos surfaced showing the chief justice and Blankenship allegedly vacationing together in the Monte Carlo area...

    Caperton wanted Maynard off the case because of the justice's decades-long friendship with Blankenship. He also wanted Maynard to withdraw his majority vote from the decision...

    At least three of the photos show the men posing and smiling at seaside locations and sitting at an outdoor restaurant.

    It's unknown who took the photos, which were dated July 3-5, 2006 - a time when Massey had an appeal pending before the Supreme Court...

    In his memo released today, Maynard said he worries that the controversy that the photos have caused is the sole reason he's stepping aside.

    "Above all else, I am very concerned about how the public views this court," Maynard wrote. "Without question, the judicial branch of state government should always be held in the highest public confidence and trust. The mere appearance of impropriety, regardless of whether it is supported by fact, can compromise the public confidence in the courts. For that reason - and that reason alone - I will recuse myself from this case."

All this is very interesting you might think. Think about what I have written in the past 4 BLOGS and apply the facts to what the US Supreme Court said. Then if you think you have the correct answer, consider this photo in addition. It is of the Abe Taqtaq wedding party with Edgar as one of the important members of that party.

What is your answer now? What should be done on the many key areas in which the Mayor is involved? Should the Mayor at least on everything to do with the border continue to be the Voice of Council or recuse himself now because of the Taqtaq relationship. Or not!

In this instance you, dear reader, are the Chief Justice in the Court of Public Opinion in Windsor:

COURT CLERK: How say you. Is this one of those "exceptional cases or not? In this case YOU are the Judge"