Council approved the new contract with Star Entertainment to run the Rawlinson Centre at the council meeting last Monday evening. This is the first year that we've contracted directly with Star Entertainment - in previous years the Arts Board was responsible for the contract, resulting in problems like financial statements not being submitted, and money from reserves being spent without prior approval from Council. In the interests of improving transparency, council has taken over the responsibility. Unfortunately, we haven't done a very good job.
The contract total for the next year is $395,000, an increase over last year's number. That's a lot of money, and was high enough that three members of council voted against it, me among them.
But the underlying problem with this contract is that is was handled differently from our other contract processes. Normally for a large contract like this, the city would tender it out, or do a request for proposals. That would give us an idea of the fair market value - what is reasonable for running a venue of that size.
However, for some reason, most of council felt that it was okay to just give the contract to the company that's been running the venue for the last ten years, taking an ever-increasing part of the city budget every year. Not only that, but we increased the size of the contract, for no apparent reason, other than that there was no raise last year. A couple of council members even said that they like the individual involved, and that was good enough for them, indicating that they missed the class where we learned that when it's not your personal money you're spending, liking shouldn't enter into the decision-making process.
Another option would have been for administration to do some research - find out what similar facilities in other cities cost - so that we would know if we're in the ball park. If that research was done, it wasn't shared with council.
And while having a written contract is an improvement over the years when there was nothing in writing, a contract should include a few milestones and deliverables, setting some targets and expectations. And no, the single statement of "running the facility" does not meet my idea of a deliverable.
We missed the opportunity to make the situation better. If we had tendered it out, perhaps the result would have been the same - maybe almost $400,000 is the going rate. If that were the case, and if there were some hard deliverables in the contract, setting out targets that need to be met before payments are made, then I might have been able to support this. But we chose to take the lazy way out, for whatever reason.
And interestingly, there hasn't been a single word about this in the local paper. That they chose to put council's support of a provincial helmet law on the front page of Tuesday's paper (one of those feel good motions that costs us nothing), rather than this topic certainly raises some questions about what is considered news in this town.
I'm still reminded regularly by city residents that this facility was built with the promise that it wouldn't cost tax payers a cent - the fact that it takes an increasing amount of money every year is a recurring irritant to many people, who rightly think that council should try to fix the situation. That we couldn't even be bothered to follow regular procedures before making the decision to carry on with the old contract just adds insult to injury.
"A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on." - Sam Goldwyn