Rhino's Ramblings - Emails And $152,000

It came as a question from a reader and that is what is the big deal with the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre? Why are you digging so deeply into it? Aren't things better over there?

The look into the activities at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre (MJCC) developed into a two-fold story.

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One of the stories was about the actual goings on at MJCC while the other was how the business of City Hall is not as transparent as it should be.

The first part of the story has to deal with RuBarb Productions and their interaction with the management of the MJCC.

In order to better understand what happened at the MJCC you have to understand the management model.

The MJCC is an arm's length third party board which receives things such as funding or a subsidy for putting on its programs while other things such as cleaning, maintenance and utilities are the responsibility of the City of Moose Jaw.

It is a structure similar to the operation of the Moose Jaw Art Museum and Gallery and what was once used at the Downtown Facility and Fieldhouse (DFFH).

The facilities are run as bodies independent of the City of Moose Jaw and receive subsidies to carry on their operations. In some ways it allows the City to operate facilities without spending large amounts of cash on such things as employees and management of these facilities. It is also is a system where there is an elected board and the City holds the right to appoint 50 percent plus one to these third party boards if they so choose to do so.

But in the case of the MJCC the City has never decided to exercise this option. Presently, and for a number of years, Councillor Dawn Luhning has been Council's representative on the MJCC board and effectively how Council keeps the MJCC accountable.

With that said the MJCC runs on what is called a Governance Model.

In a Governance Model you have a board which sets policy and then you have a staff or management who advise the board by providing reports giving all options and finally they set the Board's policies into action. The Board does not conduct the day to day operations of the facility.

This is the structure of how the City of Moose Jaw works – Council sets policy on advice of Administration and then Administration is tasked with turning that policy into actual action. Under this system the ultimate authority is Council and through to them the voters as all members of Council are ultimately accountable to you, the voter, every four years you can re-hire or fire the choice is all yours at the ballot box.

But what happens when this structure breaks down? What happens when a third party board is broadsided by not having all of the information? Is it at all possible things could happen financially or otherwise without the Board's knowledge which could have a massive impact?

The answer to that is yes. And it has happened already with the DFFH Board where the then CEO Scott Clark was controlling information, did not understand his role and lack some major budgeting skills led to that board’s dissolution and facilities which years later have a new management structure in place. For those who are interested I invite people to read the Myers, Norris and Penney or MNP public portion of their report.

But after what happened at the DFFH could it happen again? Could administration of a facility ran by a third party arm's length board actually do similar things? The sad answer to the question is yes.

Through two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests I submitted I was able to get a very accurate picture of what happened at the MJCC.

In the first FOI request I learnt a massive amount of things – many of them I was not suppose to know - but through a stroke of luck the City inadvertently released them to me.

When you order documents through an FOI you are able to specify whether you want them on paper (at a cost of 25 cents per page) or you can ask for the cheaper electronic version. As for myself I requested the paper version.

When I went to pick up the paper version late on a Friday afternoon I noticed the document being redacted with a Cadomark marker. You know those big black markers which are permanent and never ever fade. The type of markers sports' heroes sign their collectibles with.

The only problem with Cadomark markers is when they get old they do not properly penetrate the paper. So as I walked out with my redacted documents I had no idea the City had inadvertently gave me everything. All I had to do was to hold the pages up to an alternative light source and I had everything.

So that is why I put in the second FOI and asked for more specific documents. It’s a major reason I knew exactly what documents I was looking for and they did in fact exist. This led to the Request For Review and Council receiving three recommendations – they have now adopted – from the Freedom of Information and Policy Commissioner's Office.

SEE RELATED - Council Votes To Accept Recommendations

So what did I learn? What really happened at the MJCC?

Well it all has to deal with monies owing to the MJCC and how this was not revealed to the Board by the Administration of the Cultural Centre.

In the first instance you had an unauthorized write off of $32,000 in debt owed to the MJCC from RuBarb.

When the Board finally discovered what had occurred they took a look and found out RuBarb owed the MJCC about $80,000 not written off.

Due to the fact the MJCC Board immediately terminated the employment of senior members of Administration they unknowingly breached a provision which protects older workers when dismissed.

So the MJCC had to pay out $100,000 in severance payments to former employees.

At the time these events took place in my own opinion how the MJCC handled the terminations publicly led to more problems. In media reports the Board said they had decided to part ways as they sought to take the Cultural Centre in a different direction. Whether it be privacy, public embarrassment, shame or plain old politics in my opinion you had a Board in my belief less than truthful with the public.

Additionally in my opinion this led to even greater problems with the arrival of second – but short lived manager – of the Cultural Centre.

Although it is a disputed point the second manager did not live up to his contract and split his time between Moose Jaw and Prince Albert.

Somewhere during his short tenure the MJCC's manager met up with RuBarb Productions Inc and started to discuss their involvement at the Cultural Centre. This involvement would lead to what has been described to me as a “sweetheart deal written on a dinner napkin” where space was rented to RuBarb for about $1,200 per month.

Whether it be in retaliation for his upcoming contract termination or astute business practices to get more revenue into the Cultural Centre is a subject which could be argued for months in my opinion.

When the Board discovered the lease to RuBarb they immediately moved to terminate the agreement giving RuBarb Productions Inc their one year eviction notice. This lead to news conferences and the attempt to force Council through public pressure to intercede on RuBarb's behalf because ultimately due to the structure of the MJCC's third party arms length board the power lays with the elected officials.

Although there are no notes or minutes taken it is my belief what really happened between the MJCC and RuBarb was the subject of the in-camera special Executive Committee meeting. The MJCC Board spoke to the elected officials to tell their side of the story secretly away from the Public.

As to why they did that perhaps some day they may reveal it.

RuBarb would continue on until the end of their Summer run and according to documents end up owing just over $20,000 to the MJCC when they ceased operations.

In total what I was able to determine was the total cost of lost revenue from rentals was in the range of $52,000 and $100,000 in severance packages. Or the total cost I could discover was $152,000.

The sad thing is in my opinion is the MJCC could have avoided much of the controversy by simply stating the truth in such a way not to breach former employees as well as their renter's right to privacy.

On the second issue of Council not using their personal emails for City business this is highly important when it comes to transparency and accountability.

Although I will be honest and say most people are never going to check and use an FOI but the very thought of leads to accountability.

In my opinion it helps to flesh out any backdoor dealings by council members on behalf of the citizens of Moose Jaw. If there is anyone looking for a special deal there is now the possibility it may come up in an FOI. Then people in the media or others may just find it and in the end hold that individual accountable.

I realize there are some who feel it is none of mine other people's business but I personally disagree. People need to have access to the truth if they so chose to.

This is where this whole issue gets disparaging as I hear the whispers the FOIs I submitted on the MJCC were personal. Far from it. It did not matter who was on the board on the City's behalf but what was said, done and what in the end it cost taxpayers of Moose Jaw financially is.

On a broader stroke we need to set the example if we want to show others how to do the right thing.

In the past Moose Jaw has hosted representatives from Ukraine where we were suppose to show them how to run a transparent, accountable and responsive municipal government and police force. Here is hoping the City of Moose Jaw continues to strive to do that.

From Odessa, Ukraine have a great week.

Rhino's Ramblings is an opinion/commentary column as such you may hold a different opinion. (We are hoping) eel free to drop us a line at moosejawnews@gmail.com and If your letter or column is not libelous, a personal attack or bad taste we have no problem running it.

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