Rhino's Ramblings: Anatomy of a Media Request

Robert Thomas

It’s one of those stories I get asked about from time to time, on account of I'm a reporter. People want to know what’s going on with the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre and it's relationship with RuBarb Productions Inc.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Cultural Centre held what has been called one of the weirdest Annual General Meeting (AGM) ever, complete with a lawyer who apparently shut down at least a portion of it.

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RuBarb is being evicted from its present home at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre, home of Mae Wilson Theatre, by the end of September because they have literally overflowed the Cultural Centre and it’s affecting their operations. Space is limited.

But is there more to it? Could there be something else behind it? Something driving at least some of the underlying animosity?

In documents obtained by MJ Independent, the background of the AGM, as well as the strained relationship between RuBarb and the Cultural Centre are revealed. They also reveal that some on the Cultural Centre's board were none too appreciative of the questions I asked about the AGM, including, in my opinion, immediately jumping to the conclusion and assuming I was on RuBarb's side.

To set the record straight; I’m not on anyone's side and I never was. I have never received Christmas cards from either nor expect or want to receive any afterwards. I personally don’t care one way or the other. I’m simply looking for what happened. As I told the people behind MJ Independent it’s a no-win story; it will make me zero friends and a hell of a lot of enemies. But people, in my opinion, have the right to know what went down.

On April 1st, at 12:23 AM, I sent a series of questions to Councillor Dawn Luhning looking into the AGM and the Cultural Centre's relationship with RuBarb.

My questions came from notes and a transcript I received from attendees at the Cultural Centre's AGM. They did not originate with RuBarb. What actually reignited my interest in this was when an anonymous tipster, who had not attended the AGM, asked me about it. I had previously been working on a column for the now defunct Moose Jaw Times Herald on the exact issue, so I still had some notes on hand. I wrote the questions myself without any outside assistance.

I sent my questions to Coun Luhning for the simple reason she is Council's representative on this arm's length third party board. She is the person who is supposed to keep the board accountable to Council and, from there, to the voters. Or at least that’s how I describe the mechanics of it.

At 9:33 am Coun Luhning wrote former Cultural Centre chair Colleen Patterson, passing along the questions I had sent for a City Councillor to answer.

“Colleen, please see below. I think we need Ide's help again or George needs to give us some direction? This is getting ridiculous. I’ll say it again...RuBarb needs to be out” Coun Luhning wrote. Both Ide and George are lawyers.

"This is getting ridiculous. I'll say it again... RuBarb needs to be out."

By 9:49 am (keep in mind, this is Easter Sunday) Coun Luhning sent out an email to all members of the board.

“Happy Easter everyone. After getting this email below, so not impressed. I’ve forwarded it to Colleen and have now included everyone because I think the Board needs to see this and the manipulation that is happening from RuBarb and their supporters. I’ll have to formulate an answer to this and I’ll include the (sic) board.... I need to take a breath for now....” Coun Luhning wrote.

Next Coun Luhning acted on a quote from my email in which I mentioned something I was told by a couple of sources, that RuBarb (or its supporters) were speaking to a second Councillor. Something which is allowable in a democracy.

At 1:35pm Coun Luhning wrote an email to all fellow councillors asking who had spoken to RuBarb.

“As the rep on that (sic) board, I would appreciate conversations happening with the City rep or the board members rather than third parties that do not understand the history with this group and the CC (Cultural Centre). I would refer to the (sic) city rep in similar situations if a group came to me...” Coun Luhning wrote.

In the documents I received four out of five councillors responses, which seemingly confirmed what my sources had told me.

On April 2nd at 1:18pm, a Cultural Centre board member responded “I’ve about reached my end with RuBarb. I am not about to have my name slander as one of the (sic) board members in the media because their objective is to make “us” look like the bad guys. After reading Robert’s questions, I say we either do not reply at all or we TELL THE TRUTH. And I mean 100%. I’m sick of this game RuBarb is playing.”

"After reading Robert’s questions, I say we either do not reply at all or we TELL THE TRUTH. And I mean 100%. I’m sick of this game RuBarb is playing.”

At 1:38pm Coun Luhning responded “My God. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU...so wish you were here tomorrow for this!!”

From the emails it appears that, at the Cultural Centre's next board meeting, an in camera response to MJ Independent’s questions was formulated.

It might sound incredulous but questions I had asked a City Councillor had seemingly morphed into questions of an arm's length third party board and they were formulating a response behind closed doors.

In the responses from councillors one of them asked Coun Luhning if some sort of an update could be provided to Council. The response was that it would happen in two meetings, at Executive Committee, which would be on April 16th. On that date there was only one thing on the Executive Committee agenda, an in-camera matter which, in my opinion, was likely that update.

On April 6th a copy of the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre Inc's Constitution and Bylaws was received by the City Clerk's office as they did not have a copy.

The matter attracted other attention on April 12th when a Cultural Centre AGM attendee wrote Mayor Frasier Tolmie expressing his concerns about the meeting. He claimed, in a three page letter, that he had attended to gather information on how to become a board member.

The letter spoke about the AGM, including in previous years that no public notification of the AGM had been given. A call for nominations was halted by a lawyer acknowledging there was no way to legitimately appoint directors with the previous Chair saying she had consulted with the City Solicitor to rectify the situation. The letter writer asked for the City to step in and rectify the situation.

On April 13th the letter writer forwarded it to Councillor Crystal Froese with the following comment “Crystal; here is the letter sent to Fraser and Myron. Happy reading.”

There was no reply from the Mayor in the documents obtained by MJ Independent and it is unknown at this time if a reply was or was not provided.

After the apparent in-camera briefing at Executive Committee no further response appeared in the documents.

So it got me wondering what really is this "100% truth" mentioned about RuBarb? Why won’t anyone say it publicly? Why hide all of this in the shadows? Why so much drama?

Well, I’m going to tell you what I know and believe to be truthful and, in my opinion, when you read between the lines of past media reports and what I was able to pick up, 12-18 months ago, it’s not all about cramped quarters but something entirely different. And that something else I believe to be money. I know in the past that RuBarb Productions Inc got behind in its bills but somehow managed pay them off. A previous separate entity maybe not.

The amount was substantial and because of it I believe you have the foundation for a very nasty relationship. RuBarb had managed to negotiate and from what I’ve been told write the initial tenancy agreement with the Cultural Centre. I also personally believe it’s the real reason why the second Cultural Centre manager was terminated. In my opinion, the strained relationship developed over time. In some ways both sides are to blame inthe deteriorating relationship.

Which one, if any, are at fault is, in my opinion, in the eye of the beholder.

I will also say that I have no access to RuBarb's internal documents like I do with the City's. But then again, only one is accountable to me and you as residents.

Whether the protagonists in these emails like me or not is completely immaterial; I have no ego to bruise nor care about. With that said though, people should realize by now that I often take the less glamourous route and play the Devil's Advocate in all kinds of issues. Somebody has to ask the damn hard questions.

In my own humble opinion, there are some very serious issues exposed in these documents. The question asked about an update about the AGM shouldn’t have been ‘are' but ‘when' will Council be updated? What is any Council member's first and foremost responsibility? Is it to the board they sit on or the council they were elected to?

Given what transpired at the AGM, shouldn’t a better public account or update be given? What happened and what is being done to rectify the situation? Why didn’t the City already have a copy of MJCC's Constitution and Bylaws? Am I the only person seeing a problem with how it was all handled in-camera, behind closed doors and away from the public eye in a multi-million dollar facility that we, as citizens, subsidize in the tens of thousands annually? Why no full public update?

What about the promises made during the last Civic Election to do things in public and cut out the in-camera stuff? Council updated in-camera? How an elected official will respond to questions for an article seemingly discussed in-camera with a non-elected board? Am I right to ask about this?

Given that we have no ward system and have a Councillor-at-Large system instead,  shouldn’t a person or group be able to approach any member of Council they choose to? Or is there defined turf others need to stay out of? Are there any potential problems which could develop by councillors being tied too closely to third party boards? Didn’t this already get us in trouble with the Downtown Facility and Field House board? Or is that incorrect thinking to compare the two?
With all that said, the Board could have said no to granting RuBarb an extension until September.

So there was some leeway there but was the opportunity for compromise and a deal to be worked out missed?

With all that said, I’m hopeful that people will take the opportunity to go out and catch RuBarb's Summer Theatre Festival. And no, its not me taking sides, but really it’s about good decent local theatre we can all watch and enjoy. It’s really where the drama should be in the end now shouldn't it?

Read the letters below

Both Sides in the Cultural Centre/RuBarb Debacle

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