Rhino's Ramblings - What Really Happened At The Cultural Centre?
By Robert Thomas - Opinion/Commentary
It is one of those stories I began well over a year ago and you leave it on the shelf as you await the results from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into some of the internal workings of the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre (MJCC).
A Centre which is undoubtedly a jewel for the city but at the same time one which by all appearances has had some serious financial problems hidden away in its books. SEE RELATED - A Media Request
So what do I mean by “financial problems hidden away in the books?”
Well this is an opinion column and in my opinion there are some things from the past which just do not add up.
Now am I saying there is something nefarious going on at the MJCC at the present time?
No, I do not think so. From what I have been able to determine by my investigations the present board is in many ways cleaning up a mess they inherited and for the most part but were not the creators of. With that said there are things I truly believe need to be made more transparent in order to hold our elected and other officials accountable. SEE RELATED - Cultural Centre AGM Shows Improvement
To make a long story short the MJCC has seen three new managers over the last few years. With two former managers leaving under some very questionable cirumstances. Circumstances which in my opinion we as residents were not given a clear picture of.
It all leaves me and a few others asking the question what really happened at the Cultural Centre? Why the need for managerial changes and why did Council hold a special in-camera or closed door Executive Committee meeting with the board of the third party MJCC? Is there anything they are hiding? And if so what? SEE RELATED - Behind Closed Doors
As I said this is a story I left on the backburner as the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner does a review and decides whether or not they will be releasing the further documents I requested through a review which right now is underway. Documents which should shed a lot of light on exactly what happened at the Cultural Centre.
It is all part of a waiting game when it comes right down to it as the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is strapped when it comes to resources as the concerns involving local governments have been increasing while the Commission’s staff and budget has not.
With that said though I did some digging on my own and was able to discover from a source within City Hall the in-camera or behind closed door special Executive Committee meeting was to discuss what really happened at the MJCC. Events which I was told included the now defunct RuBarb Productions. They also gave me a fairly good set of the Cultural Centre’s books going back more than a few years.
This is the meeting where the City’s Clerk/Solicitor advised the MJCC to not meet with Council’s Executive Committee at the Cultural Centre but rather at City Hall because then who was attending and what was discussed at the meeting could remain secret. That is a fact I discovered in an email released as part of a previous FOI.
Now can I tell you exactly what those events were? No, but I now have some new documents which point to something was awry at the MJCC.
What I discovered in a search through the Information Services Corporation (ISC) - the private firm which holds land titles and business registrations - was a lien against a home owned by a former MJCC tenant whose tenancy dates back to almost the time of the Cultural Centre’s opening.
Although the dollar amount is not in the lien - it is just a lien against the property - I was able through my City Hall connections to determine the amount owing is about $11,000. And the outstanding balance does indeed date back to the tenure of the first manager at the MJCC.
By taking a look at when the lien was issued it is easy to tell the entire debt has not been collected in many years. The big question to be asked here is why did it take so long to try and collect from two former MJCC tenants and was the outstanding debt known or hidden from the board?
It leaves me thinking just one thing and that is did the Board of the MJCC know about the unpaid rent or was it one of the reasons why there were the initial changes at the MJCC? And could there be a lot more to this than meets the eye?
If you remember the column I wrote about a year ago I made mention of a document I had acquired through an FOI where one of the board members at the MJCC said they should tell me nothing or tell me the entire story when I asked some pointed questions regarding the MJCC and its 2018 AGM.
So my question is what is the entire story? Is there more hidden away that came as a shock to the MJCC board? And if so what is it? Is the reported $11,000 owing and now a lien taken out on just the tip of the iceberg? What happened at the MJCC?
One of the biggest things in all of this was the fact at one time the now defunct RuBarb Productions owed a considerable amount of money to the Cultural Centre.
It is a fact RuBarb made great efforts to emphasize to the media at a news conference when they were requesting a reprieve from being evicted during their Summer theatre programming. That they did not in fact, at that time, owe anything to the Cultural Centre and they were being tossed out into the street for other reasons. SEE RELATED - RuBarb Gets Temporary Reprieve
But could there be much more to this? As far fetched as it sounds could there have been yet a second arms length third party operated City facility with its board was not given the full details of exactly what was going on?
It may sound far fetched to some but if what the documents I now have combined with what sources have told me there may be well be a similar situation as to what happened between Scott Clark at the Downtown Facility and Field House (DFFH) competency based board. For those of you unfamiliar with the DFFH and what happened there a report from Myers Norris and Penny found, amongst other things, Clark controlled information and kept the board from knowing the complete picture. The DFFH was bleeding red ink and it all added up to the discovery of an annual loss of about $1 million per year over a three year period.
Given the operational structure of the MJCC board and its similarities to the initial DFFH board did something similar happen at the Cultural Centre? And if it did when was it discovered? And most important if what I have been told and backed up to some extent with documentation is true why weren’t the general public ever told exactly what was going on?
According to my City Hall source - who has never ever been wrong - there may well have indeed been some hidden debt involving the now defunct RuBarb Productions and the third party MJCC. Debt which I was told was written off without board knowledge or approval. Debt which far outweighs the monies owed to the MJCC by a couple of former tenants that now have a lien taken out against their home.
It leaves me asking a multitude of questions into really what happened at the MJCC.
Questions such as if what I was told is indeed true how much debt was written off without MJCC Board approval? If debt was indeed hidden or written off without Board approval who or what organizations benefitted from these actions? Was there any type of backdoor shenanigans going on which lead to any debts being hidden and then forgiven? And if there was debt written off will the MJCC Board or the City ever release the dollar amounts to taxpayers because in the end we are the ones not only owning but subsidizing the Cultural Centre?
Although the Cultural Centre has by all appearances turned a corner on what may be called a dark time in their history and things are massively improving there still needs to be answers in my opinion provided to both you and me. Answers we can all hope come sooner rather than later.