DISCLOSURE: I have known Richard Perdue, a principal in Blackbird Boats, for many years and was Mayor of Huntsville at the time the Town leased space to his company.
Just as 2015 was coming to a close, Huntsville Council finally settled with Hunter–Rutledge who operated Blackbird Boats out of the old Ministry of Transport building, which was owned by the Town at that time. It was about time. The entire boondoggle took eight years to resolve and should have cost the Town next to nothing, but instead the bill to taxpayers could well top $300,000. A complete synopsis contained in the Doppler story is posted here, but here it is again in a nutshell.
In 2007 Blackbird Boats was evicted from the old MTO building because they were in arrears for rent and utilities. Blackbird left behind a large CNC machine, used for shaping the wood that went into manufacturing the boats, which the Town sold without notice to Blackbird as required by law and well below its assessed value. They then donated the proceeds to the Mayor’s Golf Tournament when the funds should have gone into the Town coffers. When Blackbird asked the Town where the CNC machine was, they denied any knowledge of it. In fact, after Blackbird reported the machine stolen, a Town employee swore an affidavit that the municipality had nothing to do with its disappearance. However, when the router was discovered in Collingwood, it was confirmed that it had been sold by the Town. The employee who swore the affidavit was subsequently charged with perjury and obstructing a Peace Officer. That matter is still before the court but one cannot help but wonder if there is more to it than this.
In 2010, Blackbird, through their parent company, sued the Municipality. The Town’s insurance company investigated the complaint and recommended that the Town settle. The Town refused. The insurance company cut a cheque for the amount they felt the Town should have paid to Blackbird and then denied any further coverage for this matter. The difference between that and the final settlement, including legal fees, is substantial and the taxpayer is stuck with it.
The legal battle carried on for years. When it finally got to Court, the Town lost on most counts. They decided to appeal the Court’s decision. After many months and more legal costs, they lost that too. They were headed back to Court to determine how much they had to pay Blackbird when both parties settled their dispute, at long last, in December.
This is the type of debacle that makes people suspicious of all things political. It should never have happened and it should not be allowed to happen again. While Mayor Scott Aitchison deserves credit for bringing closure to this matter, it should not be forgotten that he was also part of the problem as he sat on Council for four years as Deputy Mayor when poor decisions were made regarding this matter and the interests of taxpayers were ignored. Hopefully, however, a lesson has been learned and Council will exercise more effective oversight, requiring accountability, full disclosure and effective decision making when it comes to the affairs of our Town.
This issue brings to mind that the Provincial Government has recently enacted legislation that gives the Ontario Ombudsman investigative jurisdiction over municipalities. At first blush I was against it. It seemed just another level of government bureaucracy and I still think that. However, perhaps it is necessary to keep councils on their toes when it comes to transparency and protecting the interests of local taxpayers. I would imagine that the last thing our municipal council would want, is to have the Ombudsman on their case. The best way to avoid it is to do the job themselves.