SummerBlast legacy explodes in a nasty war of words


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We signed off last Saturday with a promise to dig deeper into the escalating war of words between the Downtown Development Board and the North America Railway Hall of Fame.

In a nutshell, the two sides can’t reach a consensus on whether a sum of $10,000 given by the DDB to NARHF in 2010 was a loan or the former’s commitment as a promotional partner in the ill-fated SummerBlast.

Before we proceed further, there is a third player — city council , represented by then alderman Heather Jackson-Chapman and Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands, who sat on the DDB board of directors in 2009/10.

And, the three sides in this nasty dispute are all pointing a finger in the same direction — the previous edition of the DDB, under the chairmanship of Mark Cosens.

Current chairman, Dan Muscat, submitted an information package to council Monday which offers a compelling argument the $10,000 was a loan, as was the case in 2009 when SummerBlast netted a $13,000 profit.

However, in a conversation Friday with City Scope, Muscat added, “The previous DDB board failed to ask the right questions of the North America Railway Hall of Fame and the SummerBlast committee to review their books and see where the profit and loss statements were.”

Muscat continued, “If we do deem this is a loan and we have to take this to a third party, a mediator or a lawyer, then the previous DDB board (under the leadership of Cosens) violated the Ontario Municipal Act by not going to council and getting approval for that loan.”

He further noted the two advisors from city council on the board (Jackson-Chapman and Baldwin-Sands) should have alerted council as to what was going on.

NARHF spokesman Joe Docherty insists the DDB was a promotional partner in SummerBlast, but echoed Muscat’s sentiments: “I understand from the council meeting, (CAO) Wendell Graves indicated if it was going to be a loan from the DDB to SummerBlast, it should have gone to council for prior authorization and it did not happen, so they are in breach of their own arrangements.”

Jackson-Chapman confirms she was one of the council reps, but wasn’t at the meeting where they made the decision (on 2010 SummerBlast).

“My understanding is it was similar to the first year they did this. It was a similar arrangement to 2009. It was a partnership and if they did well and they made money they would return that investment back. And if not, it was understood that wouldn’t happen.”

She joined the other players in questioning the direction of the previous DDB.

“The minutes (of board meetings), I don’t think, reflect very well the conversation that happened. The minutes don’t capture everything that was discussed. Those questions were asked, what happens if we don’t make any money?”

So, what’s the latest in this partnership gone south?

On May 6, Muscat fired off an email to Joe Docherty at NARHF requesting all of their documentation dealing with the 2009 and 2010 SummerBlast concerts. As of Friday, the DDB was still awaiting the requested material.

And, the DDB can cool their heels, advises Docherty.

“We turned all that correspondence over to our to our legal counsel to get an opinion. In the absence of a signed loan agreement, signed by both parties, it can’t be considered a loan. 2009 was a separate arrangement. As far as 2010, it’s totally different in terms of the process. We had previously asked for a copy of the 2009 agreement (from the DDB) and we were told it wasn’t available.”

Matters escalated further this week, added Docherty.

“The DDB delivered to us a registered letter to us yesterday (Thursday) morning asking for payment of the $10,000 in 15 days. The letter indicated their board had made a motion approving the fact it was a loan, but we’re not obligated by any motions that they put forward. That’s one of the reasons we took the whole package over to the lawyer.”

We’ll leave the last observation this week to Jackson-Chapman.

“I don’t think it’s our role to play mediator in this. I hope they can come up with a resolution and move on and maybe work together again because I think there’s certainly great synergies that can happen.”

REST ASSURED

Reassuring words this week from Barbara Arbuckle, director of St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works.

She called to note contingency plans are in place to ensure recipients will receive their Ontario Works cheques in the event of a postal disruption later this month.

The earliest strike date is May 25, the same time the cheques would likely be in the postal system.

Should a strike materialize, Arbuckle stressed cheques would be dispersed through pick-up and drop box locations.

Cheques will not be hand delivered to clients, however she assured all recipients will be taken care of.

Last month 1,661 cases were dealt with and of that total, 560 were direct deposit. She asked us to encourage recipients to sign up for direct deposit and there still is time to put that in place for this month’s cheques.

Good advice for peace of mind.

CLIFF’S CHINA VISION

After his trip last June to China, then mayor Cliff Barwick noted St. Thomas is now on the radar of the world’s largest country and within a year, a delegation from China could visit St. Thomas.

Barwick’s prediction came to fruition this week as a regional delegation from one of the communities he visited dropped by city hall Tuesday.

Speaking to this corner yesterday, Jackson-Chapman confirmed the group spent about an hour in the city, enough time to participate in an economic development presentation.

They seemed particularly interested in the cost of serviced land, apparently much cheaper than in their home land, noted Jackson-Chapman.

At the time, Barwick said he signed agreements with the city of Xiyu and region of Suchow, agreements that encourage trade and cultural exchange with St. Thomas, and spoke of making the cities greener and friendlier.

Jackson-Chapman was unable to get any sense of a motive for the delegation stopping in St. Thomas, however it appears another visit is possible.

Perhaps Barwick’s visit to the crawdad festival last year will still bear fruit.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I hope they can come to some kind of resolution, whatever it may be, and move forward from there.”

Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman on the different interpretations presented by the Downtown Development Board and the North America Railway Hall of Fame of a loan/partnership agreement dating back to last summer.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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