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Questions remain unanswered


The Salmon Festival is becoming Grand Falls-Windsor’s version of the Senate scandal, it just keeps getting worse. The people of Grand Falls-Windsor were previously well aware of the $670 000 dollars worth of asphalt, recreation facilities and snow clearing that went down the drain this past summer on top of the $476 000 the year before.

We have most recently learned a series of facts through a CBC access to information request.

Firstly, council held private meetings in May of 2015 and the notion of cancelling the concert was discussed. The majority voted to proceed. This was against the advice of the director of finance, town manager and the promoter KTC Entertainment, all of whom recommended cancelling the show which would have capped the taxpayer’s exposure at $350 000.

Secondly, a conscious decision was made to keep this meeting out of the public domain. Thirdly, there was no specific contract in place with KTC but rather we were relying on an old contract from 2011 between the town and a consortium of promoters, including KTC, as our guideline for allocating profits and losses. The 2011 contract was voided in 2014 when the relationship between the town and the other promoters soured. Councillor Finn did advocate for a new written contract between the Town and KTC in 2015 but for reasons unknown this was never done. It is not clear if KTC had the same understanding as to terms as Council.

KTC has refused to disclose their profit or loss from the concert and further from my review of a CBC radio interview it is not clear if they even lost money at all. Merrill Stewart, principal of KTC, acknowledges there was no contract and his description of the arrangement is vague at best. We do know in May 2015 when cancelling the concert was first discussed it was suggested KTC was not prepared to go beyond the $80 000 already invested. It was then the relationship between KTC and the town was severed. From that point whether we had a signed contract or not was, in large part, a moot point.

It is easy to pin the blame for this fiasco on the councillors who voted to proceed and so they should shoulder their fair share. They, for reasons that have not been made public, chose to ignore all financial indicators, advice of senior staff, KTC and other councillors. But so too should management and the three councillors who wanted to bail, that they were proponents of cancelling the concert in May 2015 does not absolve them of responsibility for prior ill advised decisions. Everyone was playing Russian roulette with public funds promoting an event that is well outside the scope of the Municipalities Act.

All the actors in this tragedy played significant roles in how the taxpayer was faced with the unenviable choice of cutting losses at $350 000 or risk further losses in the hopes sales would turn around despite no evidence to suggest this would happen. When you are trying to dig yourself out of a hole a good place to start is to throw away the shovel. Had the May meeting been disclosed or the cancellation been debated in public maybe it would have turned out different. But that meeting and debate was kept private, ostensibly not to tank the festival. Even if one accepts that logic it does not explain or justify the further non-disclosure after the concert or why it was only through the CBC it became public.

Through all this process we have heard from Councillor Darren Finn only. The Acting Mayor has not spoken, the former Mayor and now MHA has not spoken nor have any other councillors. To be fair to Councillor Finn he should bear no more responsibility for this than anyone else simply because he was the Festival Chair. A committee chair is not akin to a minister of the crown, he simply administers the directives of the majority of council but has no decision making autonomy of his own.  

I would like to add my voice to the growing chorus of opinion this matter requires an independent audit of the finances and practices of the Salmon Festival. I have little or no confidence in council themselves to objectively evaluate this to assure it doesn’t happen again nor do I have confidence in getting full disclosure as to what actually happened and how this went so terribly wrong without an independent review. Council to this point has been less than transparent and but for the CBC we may not even know what we know now. I appreciate such a review may prove embarrassing to some but that is neither my concern nor problem nor is it a reason not to conduct a review.  

 

Mark Griffin

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