Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cullen Garden Miniatures Fiasco Raises Important Questions & Some Ethical If Not Legal Issues!

If you're not an Oshawa taxpayer, Oshawa City Council's purchase of the Cullen Garden Miniatures is a laugher. For those of us in Oshawa, it says something of City Council's ludicrous priorities and their ability to manage our city.

At this time when council is trying to keep our tax increases below 9%, the tax money they blew on the miniatures purchase seems like a spending rounder of a drunken sailor. It has every appearance of being an inside job.

Without any idea of what they would do with them, council voted to spend $234,000 of our hard earned tax dollars on the 182 unit collection of the Cullen Gardens miniature buildings. This comes out to an average price for the "dollhouse" buildings at $1285 each.

Of course to make the purchase far more palatable to the politicians, Oshawa City Council were given an appraised value of the collection at $678,000. So at $234,000 the price seems like a great bargain.

Only problem was, the appraisal was provided by a Cullen Gardens insider; the guy who designed, built, and managed the collection for Cullen Gardens.

I guess you could tell this Oshawa Council gang anything and they would believe it. Hopefully they are more astute shoppers with their own money.

But that's not the end of the story. They bought the stuff in a "private meeting" without any public knowledge or information about the potential purchase.

Remarkably they were prepared to spend another $120,000 for restoration and an additional $2,400,000 to develop a site to house them---Only trouble is: What were they going to do with them? Where they going to put them?

Council's first idea for a site was Lakeview Park where they would probably last a week before destruction, and then they suggested Camp Samac where the public has been barred for the last number of years due to liability concerns. Other sites considered were the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens and the Oshawa airport south field.

For a council that wants to limit its responsibility to do important things like informing the public about the plebiscite question on Oshawa's move to the general vote, why do they want to get into the business of developing tourist attractions. Even Whitby which had housed the miniatures for years refused to cough up the bait to buy the collection.

The whole charade stopped when council debated spending an additional $50,000 to hire a consultant to prepare a plan. Maybe they had in mind hiring the Cullen Gardens "insider" who had built and then appraised the things for valuation purposes.

The result? Oshawa will now try to sell the things.

I wonder how much they will get for them. I think it is doubtful that they would get $1000 for the Parkwood miniature which the insider said cost $22,000 to build and is now appraised at $17,600, requires $3,400 in repairs, and we are told has a replacement cost of $29,000. Amazingly, the $22,000 build cost is about the same build cost as my full size home in Beau Valley which in all probability was built about the same time.

Even if they are given away at a !00% loss of taxpayer's $234,000, this is still a blessing to Oshawa since, according to Mayor John Gray, who supported the miniatures purchase in the first place, $4,000,000 has to be carved out of the budget to keep our tax increase to 4%. Even throwing these miniatures in the dumpster will provide a savings of close to $3,000,000 of that in budgeted development costs. I guess Mayor Gray earlier thought that a 9% increase was justified if we could keep the Cullen Garden miniatures.

The real question? One city councillor, who from all press coverage took a leading role as an advocate of the purchase by the city admitted in the October 2nd meeting of Council's "Finance and Administration Committee", according to a Letter to the Editor published in the October 24th issue of Oshawa Express, that her company did consulting work on behalf of Cullen Gardens and the Cullen Family.

One might legitimately ask the question then whether this councillor had a conflict of interest as a protector, defender, custodian, and guardian of taxpayer's money and her role as an advocate and consultant for the Cullen Family.

If she indeed had a conflict in her role as city counsellor and with her business relationship with the Cullen family, did she declare it on occasions when the issue of the Cullen miniatures was discussed and excuse herself from all discussions on the purchase?

Press reports indicate that she took a leading role in the discussions.

If the councillor had a conflict of interest, what is the responsibility of other councillors and the city to take action to report on the situation and seek corrective action?

Something indeed may be rotten in the State of Denmark!

No comments: