Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is It Finally Time To Leave Town (Part I)

Fortunately, it is snowing outside and I can spend the time Blogging because I have a lot to rant about. I trust that you may have some time to read as well with all of this bad weather. I am going to break down what I say into two parts, one for each of Saturday and Sunday.

I normally do not write a BLOG on the weekend. I write enough during the week such that I need some time off to relax a bit and get the juices flowing again. Moreover, from my readership statistics, I know that my readership numbers go down dramatically since many of you I believe read my BLOGs at work or stay off the Internet on the weekend to do your “household” chores.

Every so often, and today is one of those days, I get so infuriated that I have to do a BLOG. I am so angry.

Today however it is beyond anger. It is disgust. I moved here 20 years ago from Toronto and always believed that Windsor was an undiscovered part of Ontario that had tremendous potential.

I wanted to be part of it. Until today.

For the first time, I am seriously thinking whether it is time for me and my family to move out of this Region. This area is being run by people whom I consider to be so amateurish in leadership and so extravagant with my tax money that I cannot stomach it any more.

It is all talk. It is all dreams. It is all visions. What we see in reality is our businesses closing, our downtown desolate, the highest unemployment rate in Canada and growing, our major industry dying in front of our eyes, foreclosures, declining house values, rental and retail vacancies and our infrastructure crumbling. Top it off with high taxies and levies.

Those are the old problems that are boring and probably cannot be solved anyway. They take too much work and effort. Who really is interested in making sure that the potholes are patched or that we don’t have watermain breaks? It much more fun to do a Tunnel deal or help build a new border crossing or develop an airport or rail rationalization or build a transportation hub or a new arena or a new downtown in the East End. I can hardly wait for Brownfields redevelopment or developing a new waterfront or hundreds of acres of new parkland as legacy projects.

I honestly do not believe that this Region can prosper unless something very dramatic happens and very quickly. I am not even sure that this Region can survive. Instead of the debate about what we should be doing to make this region prosper, we are fretting over a $1,200 per day consulting fee and seeing a front-page story of our newest THINK BIG DREAM.

I believe you will be as angry as I. To be very direct about it, I am not sure what we can do unless there is someone who finally will say that he/she has had enough and around whom we as citizens can rally. We can moan, we can write on the Star Forums or even do a BLOG but we truly need a Leader whom we can support and whom we can trust to have our interests at heart.

Let me tell you why I am angry and disgusted. You need to read all of these items in the Star. I will also tell you about one that you saw a few days ago, one you did not see in the newspaper and one that you will see shortly. I regret that I seem to be ignoring the other media in town but the reality is that most of the people in this Area get their information from the only major newspaper in town.

Here are the ones from Saturday’s Star:
  •  Cargo central: Mayor to sign Lufthansa deal for freight hub study--'Developing a new economy'
  •  New airport board named---Mayor Eddie Francis and two members of city council join a group of six industry experts named Friday to the Windsor Airport board of directors
  •  Development CEO keeps job --Despite resigning from board, Mancini stays in paid post
  •  The Greenlink ad

Here is the story from the past

  •  No more free lunch for city politicians

The one that you did not see

  •  Area MPPs launch “Alternative Manufacturing Opportunities Summit” to save local manufacturing industry

The one that you will see soon

  •  Cooke/Francis announce that canal vision is feasible—THINK BIG effort will revitalize downtown.

Count the number of items in the Lufthansa story that ought to infuriate you:

  • 1. Is there no North American location that is comparable. Did they really have to rub it into our faces and fly to Europe for the day.
    2. The Mayor is supposed to sign the deal today even though it is not on the Council Agenda until Monday for approval. Who said that Council is not a rubber stamp and irrelevant.
    3. Did the Mayor snub all of the area MPPs by not attending at the Press Conference for a huge development opportunity
    4. the Front-page story upstaged what the MITI Minister was trying to do for this area
    5. does anyone seriously think that this area can compete with Aerotropolis in Detroit when there is hardly any business at our existing airport
    6. How many members of Council does it take to sign an agreement: three, one to hold the pen and two to move the paper so that a signature can be written
    7. So much for Ken Lewenza Jr. and his “Buy Canadian” rhetoric when the contract is signed with a foreign company, sole sourced as well so that no Canadian company can bid on it.
    8. No worries for Councillor Dilkens. Who cares if his International Relations Committee budget is slashed, he can still fly off to Europe at taxpayer expense.
    9. Nice shot at the Minister who is the one who is responsible in the end for bringing us jobs, even call centre ones, by showing how cheaply our Council Members can fly compared with her airplane ticket cost.
    10. Did they fly out of YQG, Your Quick Getaway? Nope, they flew out of Detroit’s DTW--- Detroit’s The Way if you want to fly overseas!
    11. How many times did Francis “travel to meetings and tours in Frankfurt” and who went with him and what did it cost?
    12. Another foreign consultant to do another Vision Report at a cost of about a quarter of $1 million “If the study says there is no market potential, then that’s it – the end of it.”
    13. The two Councilors are going on the trip so that they can hardly vote against it when it comes in front of Council on Monday.
    14. Good to know that our Mayor is now an airport expert to go along with his other expertise “But I know this can work based on what I have seen.”
    15. Who needs a Development Commission with the Mayor on the job
    16. The Story did not say if Ms. Nazzani, the airport General Manager, went too. If not, is that a vote of non-confidence in her? If she did go, why wasn’t that mentioned in the Story.

The Airport Board story is interesting.

  • 1. One of the members of the Board is Robert Payne, manager of international press and the public relations at Fraport PG, owner and manager of the Frankfurt airport. I will let a Corporate Governance expert determine whether that is a conflict of interest if he was just appointed and three Directors also just went to Germany to his Airport. Did he declare a pecuniary interest in this matter? Why are we opening up an issue potentially of conflict of interest after we have gone through the WEDC mess and there is the outstanding Estrin lawsuit?
    2. Who is in another member of the Board? Renato Discenza, senior vice-president of Infrastructure Ontario. Talk about a huge fee for the Corporate Governance expert. Isn’t the City seeking money from them for the Tunnel Deal? Is there a potential conflict? What about the DRIC road… they are going to be the ones helping to finance it. Is that a conflict with the City with respect to Greenlink? These are some very difficult questions for our expert consultant to opine about at a cost of many thousands of dollars. Heck, Infrastructure Ontario may have to hire one too.

How about the newest saga of the Undevelopment Commission story:

  • 1. I must admit that I do not really understand why the Chair resigned from the Board supposedly because of political interference. I wonder if he really means it but felt that he needed to be part of the group and not let his buddies down. After all, when this issue first arose, he said: “Mancini was not opposed to adding the two local political leaders to the board, but did not elaborate. "I try to stay away from commenting on the political issues of the day and commenting on the needs of elected officials," he said. "They are in better position to decide that."
    2. It looks like we still have an CEO with an income of $1,200 a day and he is still on the search committee
    3. There is a real problem that he must be having with his telephone because he does not return calls. It would seem, for the third time, that the Star can only get e-mail responses from him. Why do they quote him at all then when in other cases, they state that the person did not return a call.
    4. Why would the County Warden want to talk to the Board about whether he should remain as CEO if they have said that they want to resign. Frankly, who cares about what they think!
    5. It is too bad that the Leamington Mayor did not know about Sandra’s initiative because that is how industry is being enticed here
    6. I truly cannot believe at all what Windsor’s CAO, John Skorobohacz said “The minute you introduce a politician it changes the dynamics…. The Board wasn’t about pitting Lakeshore against Tecumseh. It’s about what’s in the best interest of the region. Let’s be realistic, when elected officials come to the table, they represent certain interests that don’t transcend municipal boundaries.” He has just insulted the people to whom he reports. Realistically, how can he remain in the job working for people that he thinks so little about.
    7. What is funny though is that the CAO could be correct about politicians but for the wrong reason. The Agenda Item keeps the name of the consultant confidential because “confidential issues are involved.” What does that mean? We should not have told people the names of Sam Schwartz or Parsons Brinckerhoff. This is absurd. Nevertheless, someone shot off their mouth because the Star reported that the job is going to a subsidiary of Lufthansa, the German airline.
    8. Now the County Warden is a headhunter too and believes that he should be on the search committee since he is reviewing files of unacceptable shortlisted candidates whom the Board committee has already rejected.
    9. John Millson may as well not waste his time. As a friend of Mike Hurst, he has no chance

The Greenlink ad. Why, it is another of the taxpayer paid advertisements to encourage people to write to stall off the construction of the road to the Ambassador Bridge, errrr, to the border and to hinder the development of thousands of new jobs for this area at a time when they are badly needed. We are doing so well here with minimum wage jobs replacing the high-paying auto industry work.

Here is the past “free lunches” story:

  • 1. “Council's decision triggered an angry response from Mayor Eddie Francis, who said he was frustrated that politicians are dwelling on small cuts when the city faces major challenges with its proposed $406-million operating budget.” After all, what’s a few thousand dollars for a one-day trip to Frankfurt in such a big budget.
    2. The move to cut council's free meals will save $20,000 annually.
    3. In the early stages of council's budget deliberations, ratepayers face a 0.63 per cent tax hike for 2009.

Let me tell you about the story that you did not see in the Star.

In a nutshell, the four Provincial Government members in the Region are bringing in experts from around the world in the area of renewable energy… wind, solar, battery-powered, and nuclear… to speak to our local manufacturing companies. They are suffering because of the slowdown in the automobile industry. There is the need to help them diversify into one of the most rapidly growing areas of manufacturing in the world. The MPPs believe that our local manufacturers can sell into this market and be successful. Here is the address for the PowerPoint presentation so that you can see it for yourself

Considering that the Mayor was going to Germany on the same day that the MPPs were doing their presentation, he now has a built-in excuse why he was not there and why the City is not one of the sponsors. Oh yes, I understand that he will point to the Undevelopment Commission and say that this is how the City was involved.

Wait a minute, I think I understand. Didn’t our Mayor snub Dwight Duncan in a pre-budget meeting when he went to Germany? Now he is using the same precedent on Sandra Pupatello who was the main speaker. I really think that the Mayor is afraid of Dwight who was supposed to be there. Eddie attended the Red Bull cash meeting when Dwight was out of town. He did not attend this one because he may have thought Dwight was going to be there but unfortunately he remained in Toronto to prepare the Provincial Budget. Eddie did not have to take his two friends and go to Europe to avoid meeting Dwight again after all.

Finally the Canal future story. It is coming up shortly remember, towards the end of the month. There will be some version of a canal whatever it is that will be put forward as the most exciting thing ever to happen to Windsor’s downtown since the Keg Restaurant and the Bus Terminal. I’m sure you can see how prosperous our downtown is especially after the influx of St. Clair College students as well.

Can you understand yet why I am so frustrated, why I am so upset. Why I am considering leaving Windsor. We are in desperate shape and it is not cyclical as in the past but structural. I will tell you more tomorrow.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Greenlink R.I.P.

After all of this WEDC and 400 Building audit stuff, it is good to get back to a border BLOG.

Believe it or not, I heard from a very credible source that there may actually be a Greenlink4.

We know about Greenlink and Son of Greenlink. The Star's Don Mcarthur seemed to confirm what I had heard that there was a Grandson of Greenlink. Now there may be another one. I wonder what Eddie was giving up this time and whether Councillors know.

Those poor Teshuba letter writers. They may have been sending a letter about something that may no longer exist.

I wonder how much all of these revisions are costing taxpayers and we still have no idea what new compromises are being proposed.

As I just Blogged recently, Eddie was so quiet over the jobs and over the Laurier Extension. I do have an explanation but do not know if I am correct or not.

I have the idea that Eddie has been told it is all over, to be quiet. I think he was told to quit tilting at windmills if he knows what is good for him politically.
  • "Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."

You may wonder why I used that expression. Here is a fascinating news article from the Toronto Sun:

  • "Generating controversy

    Grits' green legislation to clear way for wind farms and other eco energy projects 'undemocratic'


    It's green and mean.

    At least some say so.

    The Ontario government is introducing green legislation next week expected to strip the right of local councils to oppose wind farms and other green industry projects.

    Wind farms are a prime example of the type of green industry the province is trying to encourage to generate clean electricity and foster growth in new industries.

    However, local objections and red tape have been used to stall new projects and frustrate developers.

    That won't be allowed under the new law.

    "We need to assert a higher provincial interest," McGuinty said last week.

    "We cannot allow small groups and individual municipalities to stand in the way of the greater public interest." That means not wanting one in your backyard won't cut it as an objection.

    It's a political departure by Ontario's Liberal leadership that has taken pains to show it's running a government that listens.

    McGuinty's government is also desperate to stimulate jobs at a time when this province's auto sector has been ravaged and the broader economy is suffering."

Major projects like the DRIC Road could always be done merely by uploading the road any time the Province wanted. That will happen soon with E C Row. And now legislation can be passed to eliminate "local objections and red tape" and "stalling."

Why didn't the Province do this you might think earlier on? Simple, no money until 2010. Eddie did his job by keeping everything in limbo. Now he is not needed any more except...

The big problem now is no P3 money for a road that will cost over $3B by the time it is finished. What to do , what to do.

There are 2 choices the Province has:
1) Have Eddie stop threatening and actually sue over the EA to stall matters even more until traffic and the economy recovers whenever that is
2) Build the "cheap" at grade solution, mitigated to avoid problems.

My guess, Alternative 2 especially because DRIC finally issued a press release confirming what we Bloggers have been saying for an eternity:

  • "The fact is, getting rid of traffic lights will eliminate stop-and-go traffic and reduce emissions. New cleaner fuel rules and (truck) engine technologies are also reducing pollution from tailpipe emissions."

We have better things to do than to waste money to build a road that is not needed. We have been Delrayed long enough.

It will be called an interim step and will lead right to the Ambassador Bridge. Dwight will have learned from the kangaroo even if Sean O'Dell did not.

Oh, sorry to say to a few bureaucrats, the DRIC bridge is now dead too!


Strange fallout from the WEDC BLOGs I have written. I will tell you about WeACT at the end.

The WEDC matter is getting so complicated that it makes my head spin. I just can’t believe the number of politicians who contacted me yesterday and told me that they knew nothing until they read about the resignations in the Star or in my BLOG.

I must admit that I find that very strange considering that both City and County Councils had their CAOs on the Board of the Undevelopment Commission. It would seem as well, because the facts are not clear to me at least, that they must have made the decisions on their own to resign unless the Mayor and Warden and/or their Councils allowed them to do so. I found that odd.

But if politicans did not know or only some did....what is going on!

I am so confused. I figure if I am then other people are as well. However, the most important thing for me to do right now is to offer up my suggestion as to how the Commission can carry on, at least in the interim. We do need to survive as a Region after all.

Of course, I mentioned to you before that the Star Blogger offered up the name of Alfie Morgan as the Temporary CEO of the Commission. Considering that our Mayor would have a veto, I would think, whoever becomes the Head would have to be acceptable to him. Alfie could be a good choice provided however that some of the comments that he made in a Henderson column about small business have been forgotten by the Mayor. They were pretty strong.

However, if there was a link between Alfie and our Mayor since Eddie did appoint him as his temporary CAO, some of the County people might be offended if he was made CEO even on a temporary basis. So that will not work.

Wait, I have a brilliant alternative suggestion.

As I commented before, the Commission was so fortunate to be able to hire Patrick Persichilli as the new Vice President of the Undevelopment Commission. That search seemed to be carried out very quickly and without much fuss or muss. Who would have thought that the Board would resign so soon after he was appointed.

Poor Mike Burton. He left at the wrong time I would think. He might have been CEO. If Patrick was not there, then our economic development situation would be virtually hopeless. With him around in the nick of time, then we have a chance. What good fortune and timing for us.

As I also mentioned, I did notice an omission from his background history as outlined in the Commission press release. It failed to mention as I saw on his Blogsite:
  •  "He is also the President of the Windsor-West Provincial Liberal riding association."

Sandra and Eddie are good friends aren't they, except for border skirmishes. Sandra was there with Eddie for the Red Bull cash announcement. So Eddie would not mind if Patrick was appointed. Why would the County object?

What a huge advantage this is for us in our time of crisis. I am certain that Patrick and Sandra can work together very closely. The reality of economic development as the Former CEO said was that the Municipality really relies upon the Province to do the work for us anyway. They have all of the resources, not us. They really direct investment towards this area and we hopefully can capitalize on it. This is especially true on the huge developments, say a new automotive plant.

What could be better for us if Sandra, the MITI Minister, sends all of this business to the President of her constituency! All those other areas of the Province can go jump in the lake. Sandra can justify all of this because of our very high unemployment rate and the threat of a major depression in this area because of the close down of the automobile industry. Perfect answer if the Opposition dares to say something at Queen’s Park.

So the first thing would be to make Patrick the acting CEO, probably indefinitely, but we don’t have to deal with that right now. Rather than paying someone to be the Vice President, it probably makes more sense is to hire a couple of economic development officers instead. After all, if Sandra is really doing all the work, then Patrick can devote his time to creating brochures and making bookings at the cheapest possible rate for trips to trade shows in Europe.

Clearly, the Commission does not have much business to do if you go back to my BLOG where I posted the priorities of the Undevelopment Commission in their resignation letter. If this is what they thought they should do for millions of dollars over the period of the next year, it does not bother me that they resigned.

That is merely one solution. I have a friend in the Economic Development business and he promised to send me some ideas from a professional’s perspective. When I get his note, I will post it here too to be of assistance.

Now to WeACT. Here is their press release. I expect that the Mayor, Warden and City and County Councils will think this is a good idea and support it strongly. The Credit Union members ought to!

  • Windsor Association of Concerned Taxpayers Inc.

    For Immediate Release

    February 19, 2009

    (Windsor) – The Windsor Association of Concerned Taxpayers (WeACT) is demanding the City of Windsor use the newly created Office of the Auditor General to investigate how residents' tax dollars were used by the Windsor Essex Development Commission.

    “It is absolutely astonishing to learn that after millions of dollars were given to the Development Commission, their priorities have been so minimal: “A Memorandum with the Province of Saskatchewan,” the International Multimodal Conference, and a “long-term development strategy,” said WeACT President, Chris Schnurr.

    “Developing a long-term development strategy? After untold millions of dollars, and economic uncertainty facing our region since at least 2002, they do not have a long-term strategy in place?”

    Citing concerns over the inability of the Commission to retain a CEO, WeACT is also concerned that issues dealing with the expenditures of funds, especially the trips to Europe and consulting fees, may be swept under the rug now that the Board is resigning.

    “As residents funding this organization, we demand the Commission open up their books for a full forensic audit," said Schnurr. "I also ask the County Council to appoint a representative since the County is a co-funder."

    Incorporated in 2007, the Windsor Association of Concerned Taxpayers (WeACT) is a watchdog organization that looks out for your tax dollars and rights as a taxpayer.

    We provide oversight of local government and aggressively resist unwarranted taxes and fees and ill-advised public expenditures. We challenge our municipal government to be accessible, responsive, efficient and fair.

    ##### 30 #####

    For more information please contact Chris Schnurr

Watch out Joint Councils. I hear that Madame Defarge has purchased some yarn and is knitting again. You do not want to fool with her!

Call For A Judicial Investigation

There is a time to be silly and to be able to joke around and then there is a time to be serious. This is one of those occasions that demand that serious action be considered.

Let me get right to the point. In my opinion, there is an immediate need for a Judicial Inquiry for Windsor. There is a matter of utmost concern that must be dealt with forthwith under due process of law. We need to discover the truth and we need to discover it now. No more of these whitewash WUC Audits or400 Building extravaganzas that last forever.

Forget the border and the DRIC Road/Greenlink controversy. Who cares about the Undevelopment Commission. The tax rate for 2009… that can be dealt with later. Audits on the 400 Building, Huron Lodge and the Arena will take decades before they are finalized.

No, dear reader, we must deal with the most fundamental of issues in this City.

Council Dinners!

As I am sure you understand from that story in the Star some time ago, Bloggers are lonely people. We sit around at our PCs and surf the net for hours and hours looking for information that we can convey to our readers. I admit it, that describes me to a “T.”

But it is worse for me personally. I read City Council Minutes. It is so bad for me, and I recognize it now, because I used to enjoy reading them!

Every single week almost I would see something similar to what I posted above:
  • "Border Update – update on Legal matters (verbal report as necessary)."

Almost every Monday night in the Minutes I would see the reference to Border Update. I could not believe it. What possibly could they be discussing? Oh I knew it was something important because they wanted it done verbally. They did not want a written record. It was clearly so secret so that the Mayor and Council could have “plausible deniability” if they were ever questioned.

Record, what record? There was nothing in writing so they were safe. How diabolical I thought. How clever.

But now the truth is out. Oh sure, I could send it to the Integrity Commissioner and I may well do that. However, I need to hear testimony and under oath about what really happened. We need a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ontario to undertake the most searching of inquiries to find out exactly what was on the menus.

Of course, the person who gave it away was our Mayor. That I don’t understand:

  • “Francis said that as a result of the decision to end free meals, council will no longer hold in-camera meetings before the 6 p.m. Monday public meeting.

    The later start will give councillors and staff a chance to eat, Francis said.

    "I sometimes question why we have in-camera because stuff (confidential information) gets out there anyway," the mayor said in frustration."

In passing, I wonder if he was taking a shot at my inside moles who find out all of this confidential information. The only other distributor of Confidential Information that I am aware of was the person or persons who used to give it out to the former A3 Star columnist.

It is now absolutely clear. The only reason that they had in camera meetings was to eat a free dinner! It had nothing to do with secrecy, nothing to do with open and transparent government. No free dinner, no in camera meetings.

I think the Councillors were rather unfair to our Mayor. He is the only full-time member of Council. He works from nine to whenever every night. As part-timers, the Councillors can come to Council minutes before the Council meeting. They would have been fully fed and happy.

Pity the Mayor. Right after he ended work, he would have to go immediately into the Council session, hungry and thirsty. Imagine the mood he would be in and then he would have to sit around for hours listening to delegations and then Councillors on an empty stomach. It would be a sight to see. Cogeco might have to give the Council Meeting an “X” rating.

I understand it now. “Border Update” was a code word. It meant “Come and get it. Prime rib and shrimp tonight!” As the Star correctly pointed out, there was the lamb chop controversy a few years ago.

I know that there may be a City workers strike but consider this:

  • “CAO John Skorobohacz told councillors that getting rid of coffee and water at daytime city hall staff meetings this year could save up to four clerical jobs.”

At the City Hall pay structure including benefits, we are probably talking at least $500,000 or more. It is no wonder that the staff members at the Tim Horton’s nearby are wearing Rolex watches and diamond rings. They must be getting huge bonuses and tips. That outlet must be the #1 franchise location in North America.

It is no wonder that the City had to install those modern toilets in the various City buildings after employees drank all of that coffee and water.

Some of my readers have difficulty believing some of the things that I say. I know that. I sometimes have difficulty Blogging it too. When I said that the Mayor treats the Councillors like kindergarten children, a few of you may have felt that I was over-exaggerating. If so, then please tell me how do you explain this:

  • “Francis said that in-camera meetings, if required, will be held after the public meetings.”

What does that sound like to you? Do you remember when you were in public school and if you were a bad student and did something wrong? What happened? The Teacher gave you a detention and made you come in to the office after school so that you would learn how to behave.

Please explain to me then what the difference is. Mayor/Principal Francis is giving a detention to his Councillors/Kindergarten students. They have to go into another meeting right after Council.

Next time, they will learn not to take away free dinners.

It is time that the Provincial Government stepped in and under the provisions of the relevant legislation appointed a Judge to look into this matter. Clearly, if there was no legal reason for an in camera meeting, none should have been held and no food should have been ordered.

Over a considerable period of time, a tremendous amount of food would have been ordered and eaten by Members of Council. Taxpayers need an accounting. The City Accounts need reimbursement if there has been wrongdoing.

Judicial action is required immediately. Minister, get moving. It does not bother me at all if some of the Members of Council get heartburn.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I will put it as simply as I can:

  • The Province needs to take over the running of Windsor and Essex County. This area is a shambles.
Brian Gregg CAO of Essex County has now said that he intends to resign from the Board of the Undevelopment Commission. He joins up with John Skorobohacz, the CAO of Windsor, who also resigned.

That really ought not to be such a big deal if the two CAOs told their Councils about what was going on with the Commission. Presumably they knew, because the Board in their letter of the 19th said the decision had been made to resign on the 12th. The only part that bothers me is the charade that went on at County Council last night. Citizens were fooled, right!

The two CAOs would not resign on their own. After all, that would be undercutting the Mayor and the Warden and their Councils. No subordinate would dare do that without risking termination.

However all is not so clear. I am told that certain members of County Council were not aware of the Board letter until this morning and were unaware that Mr. Gregg was going to resign until they received his letter.

I frankly do not have the resources to contact each Mayor and find out what they knew and when to know what the truth is. Perhaps the media could do their job for once! As far as I am concerned this is a continuation of the farce of the Undevelopment Commission.

There is the absolute need to have a full and thorough forensic audit of the Commission and an investigation of who knew what with respect to the Board's actions in the last few weeks.

There are millions of taxpayer dollars and funds that came from the Credit Union that are at stake even forgetting about the economic problems of this Region that everybody seems to be ignoring for their own egos.

Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project - No Significant Environmental Impact

What interesting timing! A Press Release on the day of the Obama-Harper meeting when it was to be expected that the Prime Minister would try and pressure the new President as he did with President Bush to build DRIC.

The US Government approval was just announced I believe. Do you think that this was a gift from Obama to Ambassador Michael Wilson for all of the "help" the Canadian Government gave to try to prevent him from being elected.

You better believe it. Revenge can be sweet!

  • Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project - No Significant Environmental Impact Says U.S. Coast Guard Preliminary Finding
    --Privately Funded Bridge Project Awaits Canadian Response

    Last update: 10:22 a.m. EST Feb. 19, 2009
    WARREN, Mich., Feb 19, 2009 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- The U.S. Coast Guard issued a Draft Finding of No Significant Impact on the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project, the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), owners of the Ambassador Bridge, announced today. The Coast Guard, as lead federal agency for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), determined that the enhancement project will not introduce any significant impacts on the natural or man-made environment within the project area. A number of federal and state agencies coordinated efforts since 2007.

    "We are ready to complete our investment of approximately one billion dollars for the enhancement project and to improve cross border connectivity as soon as we receive final approvals of the Environmental Assessments from the U.S. and Canada," said Dan Stamper, president of the Ambassador Bridge. "No municipal, state, provincial or federal funds will be required, leaving those dollars available to address other community needs."

    Thousands of Jobs Would be Created through Private Investment

    The Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project - financed exclusively by DIBC - proposes complimenting the nearly 80-year-old existing bridge with a new second span with six lanes of traffic. Development of the second span can be commenced in 2009. The project is expected to create more than 20,000 jobs over the next two decades and nearly 4,000 jobs within the first year, according to a study by the Andersen Economic Group. To date, DIBC has invested approximately $500 million for a new customs plaza, improved traffic connections and property at the bridge.

    In addition to the Coast Guard's final approval, the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project for a six-lane, cable-stayed bridge has applied for Canadian approval as well. The application was submitted in 2006, but the Canadian government has not demonstrated a commitment to process the project in a timely manner.

    "We are frustrated that at a time when large infrastructure projects are desperately needed to stimulate the economy and create immediate jobs, the Canadian government is holding up this project," added Stamper.

    Canada Should Meet Its Financial Commitment to Improve Traffic Connectivity

    The Canadian government has also not made good on its 2002 pledge to invest $300 million to better connect the Ambassador Bridge to Interprovincial 401 in Ontario. Based on this commitment, the U.S. is currently investing more than $660 million to improve traffic connections to the Ambassador Bridge and other existing crossings. The Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project, a $230 million publicly funded project creating a new interchange connecting the existing bridge to I-75, I-96 and I-94 in Detroit, is already underway and will be completed next year. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Transportation has proposed more than $430 million to improve the existing Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Ontario.

    The Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project required the Environmental Assessment by the Coast Guard because the Detroit River is a navigable waterway of the U.S. The Environmental Assessment review utilized Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) approved implementing instructions and incorporated input from agencies including: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the International Joint Commission, Michigan Department of Transportation - Bureau of Transportation Planning, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan State Historical Preservation Office, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the City of Detroit - Historical Commission.

    The Ambassador Bridge

    Built in 1929, the Ambassador Bridge stands between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario as an international symbol and link between the two countries. It handles 26 percent of the trade between the two countries and is one of the busiest international crossings in the U.S. The Ambassador Bridge is privately owned by the Detroit International Bridge Company and The Canadian Transit Company. The owners believe in the development and wellness of the local community where their business is operated and continue to support a variety of local organizations including Hospice, the Windsor Symphony, the Windsor-Essex Children's Aid Society and the University of Windsor.

WEDC Board Resignation Letter

If I was a business person in Windsor/Essex County, I would be in despair today. There is no hope for an economic recovery here for years to come.

If I was unemployed or seriously at risk losing my job, I would consider moving from the area because my expectation of finding work would be diminished greatly today.

If I was Canwest, I would seriously consider selling the Windsor Star, even at a fire-sale price, because clearly decision-makers do not read the newspaper and it would appear that people living in the County do not do so either.

I was just about to go into a long and involved discussion about what happened at County Council last night. And then I read the Windsor Star online this morning and this story

“Development commission board resigning”


To be honest, I was very upset at the County meeting. Actually I was disgusted by it.

I had heard rumours before that the Board members were going to resign if politicians were put on the Commission. That was suggested by a number of the Council members last night. It is clear now that Dr. Schumacher’s column in the Star had nothing to do with the Commission doing economic development work but rather it was designed to pressure the County to keep the Warden and therefore the Mayor off the Commission or else.

What is bizarre, though, according to the Star story is:
  • “The board voted Feb. 12 -- three days after Francis was appointed -- to resign, says the letter dated Thursday.”

What then was the purpose of the Schumacher column and what was the purpose of the County Council meeting.

I believe that there was only one member of Council, Mayor McNamara, who forcefully spoke out and reminded the Commission who the boss was.

An interesting question would be who knew what was really going on.

I wonder if Mayor McNamara knew. Could that be why he did not oppose the Warden going on the Board even though the letter that he circulated stated that he was adamantly opposed to that?

What about Mayor Hurst? He went on and on and on praising the Commission in a manner that frankly made me sick given their actions to date

What about some of the other members of County Council who absolutely opposed any political representation on the Board even though the Commission was a disaster?

I hope that the Warden did not know although I am certain that he must have suspected it. If he did know he should never have accepted the position since he now can be blamed for causing the collapse of the Board. If he had refused to go onto the Board but allowed some other politician to do so, then the Mayor would not have been a member and the Board would still have existed.

If he did know, my guess is that he took the political way out by appeasing most of the members of his Council whom he knew would not oppose the Commission knowing that it would end anyway.

What I found fascinating last night would suggest to me that lots of people on Council were in the know and that there was a huge drama going on. It had been going on over the last few weeks and had nothing to do with the Commission but more to do with Bruce Crozier’s replacement in the future.

There were no questions whatsoever on Mr. Mancini’s fees of $1200 per day, his role on the CEO search, the 10 months, what was happening next, nothing about the Schumacher company and the obvious concerns that needed to be addressed. No discussion whatsoever on matters that inflamed the public.

So, do all of these interesting questions about the dynamics of the Board and how they spent their money get swept under the rug now because the object of the exercise is to figure out a new organizational structure now? I hope not. I trust that the City and Council politicians, or least the Credit Union Members, will demand that there be a forensic audit of the Commissions expenses. We ought to know what they did with the millions of dollars that they were given.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. It looks like the Chamber of Commerce was correct years ago when they say that this Organization would not succeed. A reader sent me this note:

  • “You may already know that the first Development Commission was an initiative of the Chamber of Commerce in the 1950's time frame.”

It looks like the Regional Chamber may have a new job!

PS. I just received a copy of the Board letter. The only Board Member who did not sign it was Brian Gregg, CAO County of Essex. I am surprised that Windsor’s CAO resigned. Did the Mayor and Council allow him to do so?

I assume that Mr. Gregg was aware of what happened and reported it to the Council members. If so then the hour long WEDC extravaganza should never have taken place at the County Council Chambers but rather at the Capitol Theatre. Drama, comedy, farce… take your pick.

Is there another drama being written...begging the Board to stay! Who knows, who cares any more!

I believe now that I was right at the beginning of this BLOG. With this kind of games-playing by these politicians, despair is the name of the game in this Region.

Shreck And O'Dell Relatively speaking

Yes, dear reader, I think that Transport Canada's Sean O'Dell may have found his long lost US relative. His name is Bill Shreck and he is an MDOT spokesman.

You remember Sean's wise saying:

  • "Moroun will lose some traffic, but there's more than enough business to go around."

Bill may have one-upped him! Or actually multi-upped him in one single news story.

Now Bill is an MDOT DRIC apologist after all too, but he kind of shot down Sean. That was very unrelative-like:

  • Bridge project may be topic in Obama's Canada trip

    "Stamper says 9.4 million vehicles, including 3.5 million trucks, crossed the Ambassador Bridge in 2006. Traffic on the bridge has been dropping each year since 1999.

    But that is expected to change once the economies of both countries pick up, MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck said.

    "We have six lanes of traffic at Detroit/Windsor and two are tunnels which can't handle truck traffic," Shreck said. "We're competing with Buffalo which have 14 lanes, and they are talking about expanding.

    "We need to be competitive against other border crossings. Right now, we need a modern, fully functioning Ambassador Bridge. We need a DRIC bridge ... all that to be in place when the economy recovers."

He admits that traffic is down by confirming what Stamper said. Yet he thinks we need a DRIC Bridge still. However, just about everything else that he said is so wrong that one wonders which Briefing Notes he has been reading and whether his Director will call him into his office to give Shreck heck:

1) Perhaps Bill can tell us exactly when the economy will pick up. I would think that the Big Three might be interested in his wise words so that they can tell Congress not to worry. All they need to say is "Shreck told us" and they would get their multi-billion dollar loans.

2) Someone better tell the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel that they cannot handle truck traffic. I wonder then what are those strange big vehicles that go through the Tunnel that certainly do not look like cars

3) Even the Peace Bridge people acknowledge that the issue is no longer capacity but rather the smooth flow of traffic. That problem would be solved for FAST trucks with the third lane of a new Enhancement Project Bridge

4) There seemed again to be no recognition by MDOT that lanes are not the issue but that Customs processing is the concern. I thought that it was said during the Cropsey hearing that there could be up to 60 booths at the Ambassador Bridge. The new DRIC Bridge will have 29 inbound Customs booth lanes into Canada for 2035, the number of lanes that the Bridge Company has now interestingly enough.

5) There seems to be a failure to understand as well that the Bridge itself can handle more vehicles given its capacity capability and the Gateway project for which about a quarter of the billion dollars has been spent and which project was designed to accommodate a second bridge.

6) Even with all of their lanes in the Buffalo area, an FHWA Report stated that the Ambassador Bridge was the best border operation and that others should learn from it.

However, I believe that Bill may have lost it. He is clearly under so much pressure that he will almost say anything in order to have the DRIC bridge built. He is even prepared to undercut his own Department to do so.

Bill talks about competing with other crossings and specifically mentions Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Don't you find it interesting that he does not mention MDOT's Blue Water Bridge which is the real competition to the Ambassador Bridge. He does not do so because the Bridge Company has been so successful in taking away traffic from them and because they did such a poor job in design that they need to spend another half billion dollars to build a new plaza in Port Huron.

Bill oh Bill is in big trouble now. Wait until his Director reads his comments. Now the Director is in big trouble too. Here is the reason why. In an MDOT Border Crossing Workshop, competition with Buffalo was described as a "MYTH." The image above came from that Presentation. MDOT "debunked" the Myth by saying that Michigan and New York crossings serve very different markets :

  • Different trade corridors
  • Different markets for commodities

Has Bill changed MDOT policy without the Director's approval? Oh my.

After reading what Sean and Bill have to say, perhaps I know now where someone came up with the expression "It's all relative."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

11 Boxes As A Stalling Device

Have we all been played again? Was it was the stall and distract tactic once again. If so, I am so tired of it. I have been telling you about it, dear reader, with respect to the border file for so long so it should not come as a surprise to you if this happened all over again.

Do you really think that there is anything substantially different in the Dunbar audit than there is in what was disclosed yesterday in the 200 Building audit i.e. Part One of the 400 Building audit? I would doubt it. My guess as well is that Mr. Dunbar probably saw most of what was in the 11 boxes of documents that surprisingly made an appearance that stalled off disclosure of the Audit Report until the City auditor was able to look at the materials.

What is the difference after all between not having an audit come out in a timely fashion because all of a sudden 11 boxes are mysteriously produced and using full tunneling/Greenlinks to stall off the building of the road to the border until the Province has the money to do it.

Oh some of you who are just recent readers probably don’t understand what I’m saying. It is more than just protecting the reputation of Councillor Valentinis who was the main proponent and defender of this Project. Interestingly, his name has not yet come up in the Star articles or on TV.

The really shocking revelation as far as he ought to be concerned is that no business case was presented to justify the project in the first place.
  • Prior to the project approval, we expected to find in place a comprehensive business case analysis for a supportable, validated, investment decision. It was anticipated that the business case documentation itself would have set out clear objectives, scope, expected outcomes, critical success factors, risk assessment and risk mitigating measures, an environmental assessment, strategic alignments. The expected business plan would have clearly analysed costs and benefits of the project to Council for decision-making purposes...

    At an in-camera meeting of July 18, 2002, Administration submitted a report to address the questions of Council. However, the report did not contain the defined criteria that we would expect to be included in a business case such as, clear project objectives, scope, expected outcomes, critical success factors, risks assessment and risk mitigating measures, responsibilities and ownership."

Accordingly, on what business case basis was the Councillor continually supporting the Project at Council. He would always give us his justification but clearly it was not based on a strong business case as the Auditor pointed out because there never was one.

Oh my... what is the business case and, more importantly, the financial case, for the Tunnel that the Mayor has never disclosed other than keeping it in public hands so that the entranceway cannot be cemented up. Now I am really getting worried on the $100 million transaction.
Moreover, Councillor Valentinis was around while the Committees structure of the Project disintegrated and effectively there was little City management of it. He has to take responsibility for that.

However, in Windsor, there are more things around than meet the eye. Nothing is as plain as it seems in this City for whatever reason.

Just consider that the final draft of the Dunbar report was given to the CAO sometime in late 2006. That means most of the work had probably been completed by the fall of 2006. Now sit back and think, what else was taking place in the fall of 2006 that was historic for Windsor. What project could have meant the end of the careers of certain politicians in Windsor if it had not been started?

Oh I think that you are almost there. It was a design/build project as well, just like the 400 Building. It was started before there was a signed contract. As part of the justification on price, certain other City buildings were to be sold. It was all rush, rush, rush and significant mistakes were made that will now cost us money. Of course, the extra costs will not be shown as part of the project because it is finished, including financing costs that will be charged to General Revenues. It is claimed as well that it was built on budget. And one more amusing point, just like the 400 Building, there is a huge issue with respect to parking.

Now you know. I’m talking about the East End Arena. If the audit on the 400 Building had come out in the fall of 2006, someone could have asked questions about whether the arena was being constructed in a manner that was more satisfactory than the 400 Building fiasco. Wasn’t our last Municipal Election in the mid-November, 2006? Can you imagine as well the outcry that well could have cost some people their political careers. It might have meant that Project Ice Track would have been built instead in Tecumseh.

There has to be an Arena audit too. Poor Angela, she will get stuck doing that one:
  • "A post-construction audit is a standard procedure upon the completion of a major project such as this and is also an industry “Best Practice”.

    A post-construction audit is an independent and objective assessment designed to add value and improve an organization’s project management process. It is a gathering of pertinent facts and evidence in accordance with internationally recognized standards that, when reviewed with integrity, objectivity and competence, provides a history of what has taken place. Comparing that history with the applicable Policies and Procedures of the municipality and with industry best practices provides a basis for recognizing processes that were performed well and for recognizing areas where improvements are recommended."

Do you honestly believe that the Arena project could have moved forward with this damning report out in public? Councillor Marra in fact said that he has serious concerns now over using the design/build model. But it was not out in public and the Arena project moved forward.

I find it very interesting if you go to the timeline that I posted yesterday that set out to how long it took to reveal the audit the excuses that were made. Why, it got so bad that we had to retain an outside lawyer and outside accountants to be involved in this audit which delayed it even more. I wonder what that cost us for retained experts.

Lo and behold, when the audit finally came out with, the Arena was already finished. I will leave it to the Audit Department to figure out if the Arena was plagued with the same mismanagement as the 400 Building. At least this time the Committees did not disappear because careers are on the line.

However, we were deprived of learning from whatever mistakes were made on the 400 Building. We were unable it seems to know about Best Practices in the Arena project because the Audit criticisms had not yet come out.

And if someone dares suggest that the Arena project was carried out differently, then one needs to ask why whatever processes and procedures were put in place were not there for the 400 Building.

I know what the justification will be. It is very clever too but it will not work. In October 2005, the City of Windsor hired Brodel Management to conduct a review of the new building using a very limited scope for the review according to the Auditor. Brodel Management was paid $13,811 to review the construction of 400 City Hall Square I believe.

Here is what I saw in Council Minutes in February, 2006.

  • "400 City Hall Square Project Review

    Bill Rodrigues, Brodel Management; and Ronna Warsh, General Manager of Social and Health Services, appear before Council to provide an overview of the “400 City Hall Square Project Review”, which was undertaken for the City of Windsor to evaluate its overall performance in project planning and implementation, including a summary of key recommendations in the areas of governance and reporting, policies and procedures, project team resources, corporate communications, customer service, budget, design process, leasing, and property management."

    That Administration BE DIRECTED to bring forward strategies for the implementation of the key recommendations in the report from Brodel Management dated December 2005, respecting “400 City Hall Square Project Review”

Remember as well what was said in February, 2006 that should be questioned today:

  • "Councillors approved a report by an independent consultant who found the building was constructed under budget and filled an important need by bringing several city departments under one roof. "Overall, the assessment was that it was done well" and it met the objectives of the city, said John Skorobohacz, the city's chief administrative officer...

    Skorobohacz said the project came in under budget and the city will have an extra $1 million, based on projected revenues and operating expenses.

There is even more to talk about with respect to the Audit. That will come in another BLOG.

WeACT Rules; Another Success For Windsorites

What a nice story in the Star about “the affable and occasionally ornery curmudgeons who have been hounding members of the city's audit committee for nearly a year.” They are members of WeACT, the Windsor Association of Concern Taxpayers, headed by Chris Schnurr.

They deserve our thanks for a year's worth of effort! The audit is devastating to the City's project management of the 400 building. Wait until Part II comes out for some real shockers.

There is no doubt at all that Windsorites would not be seeing anything at all significant about the 400 Building Audit but for their involvement. There is no doubt whatsoever that ultimately the Dunbar Audit will be released due to their persistence.

Of course, this is not the only project they are involved in. I would tell you what some of the others are except that would give it away to City Hall. I have no intention of doing. I want Council and Administration to be caught by surprise.

One other project that was mentioned in the story is the Windsor Tunnel deal with Detroit. Wait until you see what happens at the next Commission meeting. It should make the Star and the other media outlets as well. Just a warning in advance for the various Media Editors in town. Make sure that you have crews available to attend that meeting also.

The beauty of what they are doing is that they are holding politicians accountable in a way that cannot be done at Council. A Politician who hopes to be elected to a position has no choice but to deal with them at the Committee meeting or look like a fool in the eyes of the Public.

I suspect that the Dunbar audit is not all that different than what was revealed yesterday. But look at the turmoil that it has caused the Mayor and Council who been made to look like idiots for being so secretive. That is worth more than the price of admission.

Another member that attends a number of meetings along with the five is “Madame LeFarge.” I would suggest that you do a search on the Internet to understand the significance of the name. One thing that is for certain. If she was at the roundtable as pictured in the Star, she would not have told the reporter her age!

The five are members of WeACT as the story just briefly mentioned. Now you understand the raison d’être of the group and its significance for Windsor with its most secretive municipal Government.
  • “Founded in 2007, the Windsor Association of Concerned Taxpayers (WeACT) is a watchdog organization that looks out for your tax dollars and rights as a taxpayer.

    We provide oversight of local government and aggressively resist unwarranted taxes and fees and ill-advised public expenditures. We challenge our municipal government to be accessible, responsive, efficient and fair. "

There are of course many other members of WeACT with other skills who were working on different projects, just ready to pounce on Politicians who think they can fool the public. Some of those people are public while others are working behind the scenes for obvious reasons.

The good part about a group like WeACT is that it can draw on the expertise of people who are quite talented at what they do and who have good connections within the City. Moreover, considering many of them are retired as well, they have the ability and most importantly the time to do things that an ordinary citizen might not be able to undertake with all of their day-to-day responsibilities. Being "older" in this case is a huge advantage because most of these people who are now politically involved have seen it all before. There is not all that is so new under the sun as some younger politicians may believe. Been there. Done that

Obviously, most of my readers are unable to assist WeACT by attending meetings along with the five plus one because of work, home and school commitments. Isn’t that what Government depends upon? Look at when meetings are scheduled, for Government convenience not for that of Citizens. If Citizens cannot attend, then who knows what is going on.

However, there are other ways that you can assist WeACT. Just go to their website and join up.

Now I'm going to make you feel guilty. What you should be doing is contributing to the WeACT Legal Fund as I have asked before.

  • "Funds may be paid into the Legal Fund by visiting any branch of the Royal Bank and making a deposit to Account #08152-1008275.Donations can be completely anonymously thereby eliminating any perceived or real concerns of retribution."

And for you business people who are sick and tired of City Hall but afraid to make a ruckus because you know what will happen to your business if you do, now you have a way of making a difference without anyone knowing about it.

There, after making that donation, don't you feel so much better!

200 Building Audit

Ah Mr. Dunbar. You really know how to hurt Windsor Council. It is what Council is noted for:
  • "We question the necessity and the degree to which Council meetings relevant to this project were held in-camera. The lack of public transparency on a taxpayer funded project created challenges throughout the audit review."

I wonder if you were sick of it too and retired.

Lots of stuff to read and to try to absorb. When you read the Report there is no doubt that the way that this project was carried on was a shambles. It is a shocking indictment of the way that this City constructed the 400 building. I will outline today just some of what the Auditor said in the Report. I will talk about some of the financial information and the City's justification in another BLOG.

To be blunt, Councillor Valentinis was the big proponent and defender of this project. It would be very interesting to hear what he has to say after reading this Report. He has to be very distressed and disappointed.

Well, we only got half of it. We just got Part I of the 400 Building Audit. They did not dare give us all in one package. I think that the real juicy stuff is coming, for example why St. Clair College did not come to the building and why a number of contractors who bid on the project were furious. Is the failure to release the Dunbar Audit at this time based on the concern that the City may get sued by unhappy Contractors?

Part II is to come in several more months or so. Who knows when we get the Dunbar Audit or if we will get it without a lawsuit or a Privacy Commissioner order. It is too late for that Classified Ad in the Star that offered a reward but wouldn't it be nice if I received a copy of that Report in a brown envelope in my mailbox.

By the way, any privilege on Dunbar was waived by quoting it in the just released Audit report.

Heaven help us with the DRIC project which is described as Infrastructure Ontario's first road project using the AFP or P3 model. There must be a course given to public servants when they first join the Government to teach them how to make excuses when things go wrong.

The best excuse is one we heard for example with the Brampton Hospital Audit. There is no doubt that Infrastructure Ontario will use it. Our City did with the 400 building:
  • "this being the first project undertaken by the City using the Design-Build method, it was a learning experience for the organization. Ultimately, we believe that the goal of an audit ought to be to learn from and improve upon previous results."
Fantastic, learn how to do this with the $27 million project. Improve at taxpayer expense. After all, it's not your money.

Our City also has the"reorganization" excuse that was used in the dead men don't pump gas audit as well. That works wonders when you can point the blame at someone who is not around now.

Back to the 200 audit. Here is what I still don't get and the Audit report does not explain it either. As I wrote before:
  • "Back in February of 2006, the Star reported:

    "Councillors approved a report by an independent consultant who found the building was constructed under budget and filled an important need by bringing several city departments under one roof. "Overall, the assessment was that it was done well" and it met the objectives of the city, said John Skorobohacz, the city's chief administrative officer...

    Skorobohacz said the project came in under budget and the city will have an extra $1 million, based on projected revenues and operating expenses.

    The contractor wrote a Letter to the Editor in which he said:

    "After much speculation, allegations and innuendoes, it is vindicating to read in The Star report of Feb. 7 that the municipal building at 400 City Hall Square was constructed under budget. Not that we, the design builder, had any doubts about the conclusions now reached by Coun. Fulvio Valentinis, the independent consultant and the city's chief administrative officer."

One might want to call up that independent consultant and ask him if he still believes what he said based on this Audit. I certainly believe that the CAO needs to be confronted publicly at Council and asked how he could make his comment. It has to be based on something.

Interestingly, here is what the Auditor said about that Report:

  • "In October 2005, the City of Windsor hired Brodel Management to conduct a review of the new building using a very limited scope for the review. The proposal to conduct the review stated that “The primary focus of this review is ‘what did we learn’ and ‘how do we do things better?’”

Take a look at this. You have to read it for yourself. Look at the timeline. It explains why it took an eternity for the Audit to be published and provided to the public. I am sure that Mr. Dunbar was frustrated and that is why he released his report.

It is absolutely inexcusable the way the Audit group was treated. An interesting question is whether the Auditor ever approached any of the City politicians to complain, and in particular the Mayor, and what the response was.

To be blunt, Council needs to ask Administration to explain publicly at Council why information and people were kept from the Audit Group. If no satisfactory answers are given, heads should roll. It is unacceptable to keep this information away from the people whose job is to ensure that taxpayer money is used properly:

  • "The 400 CHS audit review leading to the April 2007 audit draft report was subject to a significant scope limitation. A scope limitation is a restriction placed upon the internal Auditing department that precludes the department from accomplishing its objectives and plans. The scope limitation of the 400 CHS review of 2007 was defined by the Auditor as the restricted access to records, personnel, and physical properties relevant to the performance of the engagement objectives and the performance of necessary engagement procedures.

    The City Auditor completed a draft report in April 2007, noting the following scope limitations in the draft document:
    - The Auditor did not have access to all in-camera Council documentation
    - The project financial closeout was not completed, so the Auditor could not perform a financial analysis of total project expenditures
    - The Auditor had limited access to the project records and project staff to provide
    clarification and answers to questions.

    Throughout 2008, Audit had been provided with access to new information and persons to answer questions necessary to address the scope limitations of the April 2007 draft. Through an analysis of the new information, Audit has identified areas of the April 2007 draft that required updating. This issue was addressed through changes to the report objectives, a refinement of audit objectives and corrections or amendments to certain draft findings and recommendations.

    A significant volume of work was required to bring this report up to date with the new information. The report has been updated to reflect the new information provided by Administration and the information gathered throughout 2008 in the interviews held by Audit with the project Staff and Consultants who worked on the 400 CHS project."

I shudder to think of what the Dunbar Audit said with incomplete information. I am sure that this has to be one of the reasons why some do not want this Report disclosed:

  • "The preliminary financial findings of the April 2007 draft were based on project expenditures recorded in the PeopleSoft financial system as at December 6, 2006. Due to the scope limitations identified above, it was necessary to present the City Auditor’s Office financial findings in the report without clarification or comments from the City’s Corporate Projects Group. [Emphasis in original report]

    To complete audit reports in compliance with our Audit Charter (2004), the audit process requires that Management ensure that a written response to the recommendations in the Internal Audit report is submitted to the City Auditor, and that the Auditor include Management’s written response in the report. A disclosure of non-compliance is required in the instances where full compliance with this written response requirement could not be obtained."

Frankly, based on this remark, do we have an Administration without respect for taxpayers? Council needs to take decisive action to let them know who is in charge!

Consider some of the remarks made with "complete" information:

  • This lack of specificity makes it difficult to determine whether the City received what it bargained for when what it bargained for is not specified in the written construction agreement, and when that written agreement states that it is the entire agreement between the parties.

  • Audit found it difficult, and in some cases we were unable to identify, specific and measurable project deliverables which to evaluate in the audit. It was difficult to determine what the City had negotiated for, given the ambiguously stated requirements within the various documents.

  • The City has not adopted a corporate standard upon which project management is based and there was no best practice adopted and used to manage this project.

  • the report did not contain the defined criteria that we would expect to be included in a business case such as, clear project objectives, scope, expected outcomes, critical success factors, risks assessment and risk mitigating measures, responsibilities and ownership.

  • Administration reported that project staff could not be assigned to the project due to their busy portfolios, but had volunteered to put in the extra hours required to manage the project. We consider this to be a management procedure that is against best practices which creates an exposure of risk to the health and well being of employees working on the project long-term, risk to the success of this project and to simultaneous and future projects – therefore, to the Corporation as a whole.

  • Administration adopted a project structure identifying team members and their authorities early on in the project. However, the plan fell short in the adequacy of the structure and in identifying the where, when and how many resources were required.
    The breakdown in planning and adherence to the approved project structure led to a strainedproject management environment. This had a direct impact on the risk of the project to be delivered on time, within budget and with an adequate level of quality.

  • For a project with an approved budget value of approximately $27 million plus, we would suggest that allocating staff on the basis of staff “volunteering to put in the extra hours required” created risk to the project.
    The assignment of individuals to work on a project requiring “volunteer service,” in addition to their regular full time duties performed, indicates that Administration failed to adequately plan for the resources required to successfully deliver the project.

  • Within three months of the start of construction, the Working Committee structure had eroded to the point where there is no senior member of Administration designated as the project manager to lead the team. Demonstrated sponsorship and continued support of the project has reached the point of critical weakness.

  • The project Steering Committee was assigned the role of providing overall direction and guidance to the Working Committee and to review issues requiring Council direction. The failure to appoint replacement resources to the Steering Committee resulted in the absence of corporate leadership in the project and demonstrated a major weakness in corporate sponsorship and support.

  • The Working Committee was assigned the directive to ensure the project met the objectives set by Council by day-to-day management of the Design Build Contractor, review of technical, financial and design issues and referral of material issues to the Steering Committee and/or Council. The failure to appoint replacement resources to the Working Committee left this team without adequate senior representation necessary to obtain decisions on project issues and without adequate resources to perform their required duties

  • We requested but were not provided with any approved project charter or micro level project plans.

  • We did not find evidence to show that a formal project risk assessment occurred in the planning phase of the project. This indicates that management of risk was performed on a re-active basis, which is contrary to best practice.

  • However we were unable to identify documentation to confirm the duties of maintaining an
    up to date budget, an estimated cost to complete the project and to regularly report on thefinancial position of the project were performed and reported on a monthly or consistent
    basis to the Steering Committee.

  • The project was delivered substantially complete approximately 9.5 months after the delivery date stipulated in the MOA. The delivery date was changed to an undefined date, when the City expanded the scope of the project contract to include fit-up services.
    As per the development contract schedule A, approved by Council at an in-camera meeting on or about March 31 of 2003, construction was to be completed within 66 weeks from the date of the signed agreement with a deadline for substantial completion identified as November 15, 2004.
    The project architect, J.P. Thomson, issued confirmation of substantial completion in a letter dated September 6, 2005.

Here are some comments from the City's outside counsel. They are shockingly candid:

  • Ideally, the OSR would be a clear, stand-alone statement which consolidates into narrative and/or drawings the City’s requirements at the point it has agreed with Vindella that Vindella should undertake the Project. Instead, the OSR is a collection of material beginning with the RFP, including Vindella’s proposal and other materials that were (presumably) created during negotiations with Vindella. When these negotiations were concluded, the result was a Contract Price within the meaning of CCA14 and a set of requirements that Vindella must meet to earn the Contract Price. If the City was to claim a breach of contract, it is very likely that the other party would challenge the result. Anyone – including a judge adjudicating a breach of contract claim by the City – attempting to distil the City’s requirements from the OSR faces a daunting task.

  • By the time the contract is signed, the workable parking solution was (or should have been) defined. That being so, the “wish list” in the RFP has no place in the OSR, having been superseded by the final parking solution to which the City and Vindella agreed.

  • The City’s difficulty arises because the OSR does not provide the clear and measurable benchmarks by which the City can determine whether it received what it was due for the Contract Price. It is likely that some of the absolute dollar overrun was a function of the usual “project creep” (things being added after the Contract Price was settled) and unforeseen conditions. Changes may also have arisen because the contractor claimed that a particular item was not included in the Contract Price and the OSR – being unclear at best – did not support the argument that what the contractor was claiming an as extra was not an extra at all.

  • Creating an OSR that was an accumulation of the procurement, negotiations and Q&A in
    contract negotiation stages deferred a true definition of the City’s requirements to a future date. It thereby created the condition that determining whether the Project as completed was the same as the Project when contracted would be as much of a mystery as the OSR themselves. Indeed, the approximately $300,000 dispute between Vindella and the City (albeit a minor one in a project of this size) does suggest that this concern with clarity and measurability is not entirely academic. As well, there may have been some earlier issues on which the City simply backed down rather than even dispute them, for the same reason, the unclear OSR. If there had been a serious dispute over the construction that had gone to litigation it may have been difficult for a judge to determine whether the City had received what it had bargained for – or not. The approach taken to defining the City’s requirements was not good practice and should not be repeated.

Remember, that these comments were made after the Auditor went through those 11 boxes of documents and had the opportunity to interview all the relevant people. In fact, I understand that some senior people from out of town from KPMG "cross-examined" some of the people involved in the process for hours. That was the term given to me!

Exactly why there was a need to involve the outside auditors who are merely supposed to be involved in "oversight" is a question that I have.

In passing, it would be interesting to know what the cost of the outside auditors and lawyers who were retained for this project never mind the internal costs given how long it took.

I did not want to go into a major analysis in this BLOG. It is probably long enough if you include reading the timeline which I urge you to do.

I will leave you with this thought and will really scare you even more:

  • "In 2006, the City Auditor’s Office undertook a post-construction audit of the processes approving the project and managing the construction of the building. A post-construction audit is a standard procedure upon the completion of a major project such as this and is also an industry “Best Practice.”

Poor Angela Berry, Lead Auditor. Once she finishes this project, guess what her next assignment must be. Surely you can figure that one out, dear reader. What major project have we just completed: THE EAST END ARENA!

If she thought that she had it bad on this job, she will think that a piece of cake compared with what she will find I suspect on the Arena project. I wonder if it was run in a manner similar to the 400 building. A decade from now we may find out based on the 400 building audit timetable.

If I was Councillor Bill Marra and I was going to run for Mayor, I would certainly insist that the Arena audit take place now so that the blame, if any, can be put right where it belongs. I would also insist that the audit be completed before the next municipal election. In that way, if there was a screw up, certain people could not run for office against him!

After all, that project was completed before the results of this Audit came out. What a remarkable coincidence.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

400 Building Audit Executive Summary

Read it for yourself. Not very pleasant reading from what I have read so far.

Part I is primarily financial. Wait until Part II comes out in several months. It deals with:
  • "A review of how the project approval process was conducted in compliance with the City’s Purchasing By-Law, the Municipal Act, 2001 and the Common Law governing procurement by public authorities, with respect to the award of the contracts for the building construction and for the building fit-ups:

    - This will include a review of the selection of proponent and the information reported to Council for decision-making purposes (including a determination as to whether the costs, benefits and risks of the project were appropriately and clearly presented)."
We should learn about why St. Clair pulled out and the consequences to the project. We should also see I trust a discussion about the comparison of the proposals that were submitted to determine whose proposal was best and/or most cost effective. Hopefully, it will look at the RFP itself that would indicate what type of building the City wanted and what was to be used in determining who the winning proponent would be.

Part II may be the controversial part that has the City concerned over possible lawsuits from contractors who lost out.

No Dunbar Audit/Report so far. I thought it was to be given out at the same time.

The Report itself is over 100 pages so give me a chance to read it all. If you want a complete copy, then email me. I would appreciate your comments too.

Nelson Eddie And McNamara's Band

I wonder if Warden Nelson Santos likes all the pressure that he is being put under these days to ensure that he joins the Undevelopment Commission Board.

The reason is quite simple. If he does not go on the Board then neither does Eddie. And our Mayor must have some really big reason for trying to salvage the Commission for him to be so aggressive about it at Council last Monday night.

Fortunately, Dr. Albert Schumacher, the Vice-Chair of the Board, has made it very easy for the Warden. His huge Guest Column in the Windsor Star is so ridiculous in my opinion and so out of touch with what the Community is saying that the Warden should refuse to sit on the Board and should introduce a motion to wind it up immediately. Of course, before it is wound up, he must ensure that a proper forensic audit is done of the Board so that we will know exactly how our taxpayer and Credit Union money has been spent.

I would certainly like to know about all of the trips to Europe, who went and what they spent! Also, did they travel out of YQG or DTW!

I have never been a fan of the Undevelopment Commission given what they thought that their mandate was and their lack of action in doing anything significant. The recent events that have been disclosed in the Star just compound how troubled this Organization is.

It is a mess and yet, Dr. Schumacher seems oblivious to this fact. If that column was designed to be persuasive, then it failed. I found it arrogant and patronizing.

Can you believe this statement:
  • “While we know that Mayor Eddie Francis and Warden Nelson Santos have the communities' best interest at heart, returning political representation to the development commission is not the answer.”

My mind boggles. Who has ever suggested that? The concern is the way that they are carrying on business now: making nice brochures, creating award-winning websites and going on tradeshows overseas to Europe at taxpayer and Credit Union member expense. Preposterous!

The only reason we are having this conversation about the Mayor and the Warden is because the Commission is failing. Frankly, he should be thrilled that the conversation is not about winding up this Organization completely and starting anew! That is what I would propose.

There seems to be no recognition by the good doctor that the troubles of the Commission are of its own makings. I see that he has learned from the cheerleader/sycophant book of sayings how to call opponents names rather than dealing with issues:

  • “Under these conditions we must find a new chief executive officer with a unique set of qualifications and new ideas to lead our region and assist the board in bringing new investment and employment opportunities…

    The board realizes that there are those who would detract us from this goal, who feel the need to insert a different agenda and grasp at the absence of a CEO as an opportunity to destabilize the ongoing work. I would remind those professional critics…”

I wonder who those detractors are and those professional critics. I guess it must be those people who believe that taking 10 months to fill a position is absurd. If the Big Three can undertake a massive reorganization in a few months in order to obtain Government funds, it seems to me that it should not be such a difficult task to find one person in all of this time.

Perhaps Dr. Schumacher could have explained to us the process that the Commission went through that seemed to be able to hire a new Vice President so quickly. I do not understand why they did not follow that process as well to try to find a new CEO.

To be blunt about it, I would wonder why anyone would want to come to Windsor to work for this Commission. It is a joke. It appears that our salvation will be unemployed executives of companies that have gone out of business or who have been downsized. No disrespect intended but if they did not make it at their old jobs what makes one think that they will be successful with the Commission in attracting new business and jobs here.

Dr. Schumacher tries to explain why it takes 10 months to hire a CEO. I wish he would explain why was necessary to hire a Vancouver headhunting firm rather than someone in Ontario. Someone has to pay for the travel bills don’t they.

My goodness hiring someone from the “municipal economic development field” is not good enough for us. We need someone with contacts “beyond those in the traditional municipal field.” There is that good old Windsor entitlement attitude again. We deserve something better.

In fact, I believe that the Doctor stated that he attended a number of Ontario Development Commissions meetings and he was not impressed with very many of the people that he met there. You know those people don’t you, the ones who have brought jobs and industries to their communities already.

But it is interesting that he glosses over what everyone seems to be upset about now. As Chair, CEO Evaluation & Review Committee, it seems to me that he needed to explain how Chair Mancini became the Interim CEO. He also needed to explain how he became a member of the Search committee. He did not set out whether anyone within the Board recognized that there was a possible conflict between searching for a new leader and receiving $1200 a day while there was no leader and how was that dealt with?

I wish the Vice-Chair had told us what Board Members were thinking and saying over this 10 month period. Were any of them asking questions about why this process took so long? I wonder if any of the business people who were on the Board would have allowed their businesses to be run in this fashion, without a leader for almost a year.

Does Dr. Schumacher not get it? Does he not understand how foolish this statement is:

  • “That person will plug our region into the emerging world of creative industries as envisioned by the recent provincial report by Dr. Richard Florida that will form a new template for economic development -- that frankly overlooked our area.”

Why was our area overlooked? Why did Dr. Florida ignore us? What has the Development Commission been doing so that we would be at the forefront when one thought about creative industries in locating in Ontario? The answer would seem to be… not very much.

How could Dr. Schumacher write the following statement. I do not remember anyone asking for permanent representation by politicians:

  • “The partnership and synergy that exists between the three bodies in our collective efforts will in fact be diminished by the inclusion of political representation on the commission.”

Even our Mayor who seems so protective of the Commission did not want to remain a member for a very long period of time. He stated six months maximum. I expect that the County will ask for a much shorter at a time period to make a determination whether the Commission has any value at all. I would suspect perhaps 30 to 90 days might be the most that they would be prepared to accept.

I did not see anything in the column as well about the Schumacher Research and Leadership Group. Why not? That is an issue that was raised both by a City Councillor and by the Windsor Star. Does he think that this is something that need not be discussed, that no one cares about? I trust that this is a matter that will be discussed at County Council because it appears our City Councillors were not aware of this matter when they voted to put the Mayor on the Board. I am certain that they would have asked some insightful questions to get answers before voting.

No one questions the dedication of Board members. No one questions their calibre. No one questions their “desire to see our community grow and prosper.” What people are questioning are the issues that Dr. Schumacher chose not to address in his column because he has no satisfactory answer.

Dr. Schumacher’s Column is the reason why the Warden should not spend his efforts to try to salvage the unsalvageable. It would be a waste of effort frankly if this is the doctor speaking on behalf of all the existing Board Members.

Who knows, perhaps they all have threatened to resign if politicians are put on the Board, even temporarily. I hope so. Call their bluff and let them all go! It would make life easier for the Councils

The Warden's real challenge should be how can he set up a new Organization that will actually do the job of attracting new businesses to our area and help our existing businesses grow and diversify thereby creating jobs.

As well, if the Warden chooses this approach, he does not get caught up in the world of City of Windsor politics and also sticks it to his political opponents.