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Lubberts to CAO: Where’s my lunch?

“Five million dollars doesn’t get you much any more.”
— Councillor Paul Collard

13/05/24 — It didn’t take long for some councillors to let the new chief administrative officer know what is really on their minds — free lunch.

About half way into his second council meeting May 13, new CAO Larry Adams was tasked with firming up councillor Don Lubberts’ social calendar.

It was the first direct request of a councillor to the CAO: find out why some councillors were invited to the racetrack opening day luncheon and why some were not.

“Over the past few years,” intoned Lubberts, “we’ve all been invited to the opening day. I’ve heard that some members have been invited and there are other members that have not received an invitation.”

The sarcastic uninvited member continued: “I’m just wondering if there was a computer glitch with the Live Racing Consortium or if there was an oversight as to why all members and other staff weren’t invited.”

And Respondent No. 4 in a recent complaint of violations of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act brought his inquiry to a conclusion:

“If you can look into that for me just to find out whether there is an invitation coming or if I can make plans for other things.”

Martin allows question

At this point in the proceedings, Mayor Doug Martin should have pointed out that it is not in the job description of the chief administrative officer to be a social secretary for councillors.

But having been browbeaten by the Four Respondents at almost every turn when he has tried to impose compliance to basic, and at sometimes, ethical procedure, Martin allowed the question.

“I cannot say why certain individuals if they were invited or if they were overlooked, but I can certainly check into the matter for you and respond back,” Adams said.

He did look into it. The next day, he called Jim Thibert, the manager of the economic development corporation and chief executive officer of the Live Racing Consortium, who responded with an email which had been sent to local newspaper reporters.

Two of the most highly paid people in the municipal structure had become involved in Lubberts’ search for a free lunch of prime rib at one of the finest venues in Niagara.

Thibert’s response basically invited Lubberts to make other plans.

He confirmed that none of the four councillors had been invited, but they are welcome to attend as his guests on some other occasion should they make personal requests.

He wrote that their presence on opening day May 26 may cause discomfort for the other guests by “mixing people involved in such diametrically opposed opinions on current local political ideals.”

In a telephone interview Thibert said he can invite about 60 people — important industry players, government officials and other VIPs.

The guest list is trimmer this year because the luncheon will be held in the smaller Turfside Restaurant instead of the Prince of Wales Room because of cutbacks, Thibert said.

His email noted — but these points were not considered while developing the guest list, he wrote — the rough relationship between the four councillors and the EDTC and Thibert and that “the invitation to this special event is a courtesy and not a right of council as some may expect.”

He also noted the four councillors refused to fund the depleted reserves of the EDTC and also refused to forward a $125,000 “windfall extension” of funding for track operations after the slots casino was closed and which Thibert said had been part of the three-year funding commitment made in 2009.

As well, he pointed to the four councillors’ current legal situation in which they face a conflict of interest lawsuit “that includes allegations of targeted abuse of senior staff leading to wrongful dismissal.”

“Five million dollars doesn’t get you much anymore”

So that was that. The CAO was tasked with finding out why Lubberts was not invited to lunch and he found out. That will look good on his annual review. “Handles tasks with absolutely no impact on municipal operations for the personal benefit of members of council quickly and efficiently.”

Well, that was not that. Shortly after Adams forwarded Thibert’s lengthy email to the mayor and councillors, Respondent No. 3 (Paul Collard) fired back:

“Thanks Larry. At least it’s nice to know the computers did not have a glitch. He also forgot to mention the Five Million Dollars provided to the EDTC and FELRC over the past five years. Guess five million dollars doesn’t get you much anymore.

“Hope the guests such as Greg Bonito and Tim Whitfield have an enjoyable day. They sure have contributed greatly to the betterment of the racetrack. Regards, Paul”.

It is not known if Bonito and Whitfield have been invited, but to correct Respondent No. 3, Whitfield was part of the council that enabled the creation of the FELRC and approved the three-year funding deal to keep the track open in 2009. The other person Collard mentioned is a blogger who is highly critical of the Four Respondents and spares no effort to embarrass them.

Mc-Unhappy Day

Bob Steckley, also known as Respondent No. 1, didn’t say anything at the council meeting when Lubberts made his request. Steckley had his chance in 2010 when Ann-Marie Noyes was excluded from the Prince of Wales luncheon. He even proposed a resolution directing the EDTC to ensure that all members of council receive invitations to lunch when such are offered to any of them.

John Hill — Respondent No. 2 — also said nothing during Lubberts’ inquiry, but he did mention earlier in the meeting that he wasn’t part of a function that councillors Passero and Shular attended.

“Although I did not have the opportunity to attend the McHappy Day although I did attend it for the last two years but this year for some unknown reason I didn’t get to attend,” Hill said.

“I did happen to donate with some purchases and was fortunate enough not to get any that were served by councillor Shular or Passero because I may or may not have been sick at that point.”

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