Let’s not miss the point.
It is not my usual practise to write about the same topic two weeks in a row but today I am going to make an exception.
During this past week, Mayor Scott Aitchison published an open letter in relation to Accelerate Muskoka. We posted it on Doppler. It was a good letter. It laid out the Mayor’s personal belief of why Accelerate Muskoka should be awarded a long-term lease for the Waterloo building. It also gave glowing and well-deserved biographies of some of the principals involved in that company. Clearly, he is in favour of this proposal and that is okay. But he entirely missed the point.
No one is questioning the credentials of the folks involved in Accelerate Muskoka. As well, there are many that were impressed with the ideas they have brought forward for the use of the building, although some also worry about their current proposal to pay little or no rent. I suspect this will change before Accelerate comes back to the Council.
The real question is whether or not the Mayor and some members of Council have allowed the process in relation to the Waterloo Building to become subverted. Why is this important? Because it becomes a slippery slope. Governments, including municipal councils, are required to submit to the highest standards when it comes to acting on behalf of the public.
At their General Committee meeting in April, all members of Council, including the Mayor, voted to issue a new Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Waterloo building. Times had changed in the past two years. Council knew that there was new interest and that is why they all voted to see what it was, by issuing a new RFP.
Now here is the rub and here is the real issue. Between the passing of the motion for a new RFP at General Committee in April and its ratification at Council in May, Accelerate Muskoka comes along and informs the Town, if not the Mayor himself, that almost two years later, they are in a position to proceed.
The timing is interesting and I do not generally believe in coincidences. Hearing this, the Mayor uses all of the influence he has to subvert the motion for a new RFP and allow Accelerate Muskoka to negotiate with the Town unilaterally. He, by his own admission, initiated the motion to table the new RFP. He did this with the full knowledge there were other potential proposals out there because he, but not Council, had met with them. He also has made no secret that he wants Accelerate Muskoka to occupy the Waterloo building and damn the alternatives. He simply gave them special attention. This stinks. It is nothing short of preferential access for people the Mayor wants to help. That is the real issue.
In my view, what the Mayor should have done is this. He should have told Accelerate Muskoka “Sorry boys, I really want to see this, but it needs to be dealt with in context with the other folks who we now know have an interest in the Waterloo Building and that is why Council has signaled its intent to issue a new RFP. You are more than welcome to compete.'”That would have been leadership. That would have been the right thing to do. That would have allowed Council to fulfill their responsibility and hear from all interested parties before any decision or negotiations are initiated.
It is also specious to believe, as some have said, that other proponents will have a fair chance at responding to a new RFP. You can bet your bippy that is not going to happen. The instructions to Town Staff are clear: Come up with a deal. No other proponent will be given that opportunity and even if a new RFP does materialize, it could be a flawed process as at least one of the proposals will be widely known.
Another point that has been made is that money is not the only currency when evaluating a proposal. That is true, but it is an important one. On a per capita basis, the taxpayers of Huntsville paid far more for the Waterloo Building than the Federal Government. They deserve a bang for their buck. They also deserve to see competitive bids.
The tension at the last meeting of Huntsville Council was palpable. As one Councillor put it, you could cut it with a knife. Some Councillors were angry. Some felt betrayed by the maneuverings and others resented the bullying. That is a really a sad way to end a Council meeting and the Mayor must take some responsibility for that.
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