COLUMN: Fishy deal sets bad precedents in South Dundas

MORRISBURG — For every step forward that the current South Dundas council takes, it takes two back. The last minute deal to secure the Renegade Bass Tournament championship is the most recent backwards step by this council.

At the August 11th council meeting, a last minute agenda item was added, seeking a cash contribution and the waiving of launch fees for the boat ramp in Morrisburg for the Renegade Bass Fishing Tournament. The South Dundas Chamber of Commerce pushed for the waiving of the launch fees in 2014. It was denied. This year, an ad-hoc group consisting of Councillor Marc St. Pierre, Mayor Evonne Delegarde, the Chamber’s Executive Director Geri Fitzsimmons and Acting CAO/Treasurer Shannon Geraghty, met with the fishing group in a bid to bring them to Morrisburg. The end result is the launch fees are now waived and $3,000 of municipal tax dollars are being given to the Renegade Bass tournament to use for prizes for the derby. The Chamber also must kick in a contribution of $2,000.

The head of the fishing tournament, Paul Shibata, stated in an interview with Cornwall Newswatch Editor, Bill Kingston, that former CAO Steven McDonald was “sincerely rude to us about our presence.” If that was the case, why would the Renegade Bass Tournament want to come to Morrisburg? They did because they already advertised it as a possible location.

According to the page two of the registration form for the Renegade Bass series, Morrisburg, along with Gananoque, Newboro, and Dog/Cranberry Lake were possible sites. Going further on the Renegade Bass series form, it states that “the Classic [derby] location will be selected by random draw at the third qualifier”. Morrisburg must have won on August 8th, which is why the Derby needed to locate in Morrisburg.

How is it that the South Dundas ad-hoc committee met four weeks before the council meeting to hash this out with the promoter, if the selection of Morrisburg as the site of the derby wasn’t set until a random draw held until August 8th? This tournament deal has a certain, fishy smell to it.

There is no good reason why the ad-hoc group of two members of council, a member of administration and the representative from the Chamber acting on the municipality’s behalf, without the sanction of council to pursue the derby the way that it did. When a group wants to have money or support from the municipality, they make a presentation to council in the form of a deputation. Or they would contact the appropriate person in municipal administration, a Tourism official or Economic Development Officer. Neither position exists in South Dundas anymore.

Why was this deal added to the August 11th meeting in the scant few hours between 3pm, when this scribe downloaded the meeting’s agenda package, and the 7 p.m. start of the council meeting? Why was this rammed through council?

One could argue that this was added to the agenda last minute, because they found out about the issue on the day of the meeting. In 2014, the sitting council had a surprise from the St. Lawrence Parks Commission land on the day of a council meeting, when the commission notified South Dundas that they owned Upper Canada Road. That is an understandable last-minute addition. A tournament agreement, negotiated four weeks before the council meeting, for a “selection” of Morrisburg as host that occurred four days before the council meeting, if we follow the presumed timeline, means there is no excuse for a last minute addition. Unless the intention was to exclude taxpayers from being able to respond and argue against the spending of tax money. The precedents set by this decision of council is bad.

First is the deal itself. The Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of its member businesses first and foremost. In 2014, when the chamber made the request for waiving of the launch fees, it was denied by the sitting council of the day. The chamber then solicited their members the funds to pay the launch fees. South Dundas was not out any money, and the business community benefited from the event. Why could the Chamber of Commerce not have done the same this year?

The Renegade Bass tournament could have paid for the fees this year. It states clearly on page two of their registration package “Launch Fees for 2015 Season – $40.00”. If the tournament is charging the fee, then they should be able to pay $10.00 per boat launch fee, not stick the taxpayer with the bill.

The chamber is not paying the bill this year; the businesses are not paying the bill; the boaters are not paying the bill; and the tournament is not paying the bill; the taxpayers are, and then some.

A more telling precedent of this council, is the ability for an un-elected group to work with certain members of council to ram through an agenda, bypassing procedure and scrutiny, that suits that specific group, not the taxpayers and residents as a whole. It shows how little transparency there is in the government operations in South Dundas. The sitting mayor was elected on a platform of more transparency, openness and communication with residents in how government operates. This is a complete 180-degree turn from that, with less transparency, less openness and less communication.

If we continue to have niche groups calling the shots and running over council, what kind of a mess will South Dundas be in three years time?



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