By Mike Williscraft
Mayor Bob Bentley acknowledged a “truth” Monday night, one many in the community have known for years.
“If truth be known, the information could and should be made public,” said Bentley of Grimsby’s hydro utility financials, but he added the public would not understand them and they would be used for subversive means.
Bentley made the comment in an extended jousting match with Aldermen Joanne Johnston and Dave Kadwell. Johnston had suggested council consider passing a motion telling hydro officials to release its financials. She stopped short of moving the motion, though.
Kadwell got the ball rolling by questioning the availability of information even among council, the shareholders of Niagara Power and all its subsidiary companies.
When the lateness of the Town’s own financial statements was being discussed – council just approved the 2017 audited statement on Monday – it was suggested the delay was partially caused due to waiting for financial information from hydro.
Kadwell noted that there had been no discussion of an AGM for hydro and asked if there was, indeed, an AGM held?
When Bentley told Kadwell there was an AGM, Kadwell asked how Grimsby’s shareholders were represented at the meeting.
“Mr. (Derik) Brandt was at the meeting,” said Bentley.
“In the past, the shareholders were at the meeting,” said Kadwell. “I represent the shareholders.”
Kadwell noted that no discussion or a vote from council named Brandt as the shareholder’s representative for an AGM or any other meeting.
“He is the head of the corporation. He is the shareholder,” said Bentley, referring to the Town and why Brandt was chosen to attend the AGM.
Part of the concern of both Kadwell and Johnston with the lack of information coming to them, particularly since it was noted in the financials council received for Monday’s meeting that Grimsby Energy – the biodigester – did lose $600,000 in 2017.
While Bentley said two-thirds of that loss can be attributed to depreciation and costs related to construction, Kadwell and Johnston both noted their displeasure.
Kadwell said he would vote against receiving the audited financial statements, while Johnston, later in the new business portion of the meeting suggested council pass a motion to release hydro financials.
“We don’t get the information, the financials, or anything any more,” said Johnston.
“Can we bring forward that, for the financials to be released?” asked Johnston, noting Grimsby Energy board chair Shafee Bacchus told council in July all it would take for financials to be released is a motion from council.
Bentley said council could do that but the public “wouldn’t understand” the information or would misuse it.
He also said there were competitive reasons releasing the information could be detrimental to the company.
“There are competitors in the area looking to take over companies,” said Bentley.
He added that there has been “a lot of noise” on a couple of issues from people who have “other motives.”
Of releasing the financials, Bentley said, “It’s not my decision…If council wanted to do it, they could do it.”
No other member of council commented on the matter of releasing hydro’s financial information.
When Johnston and Kadwell noted how odd it was that people elected to represent taxpayers and who are shareholders in the Town’s largest asset cannot get even basic information like when an AGM is to be held, Bentley blamed changes to hydro’s structure for the reduced role.
He cited the restructuring that took place – one which removed 10 per cent owner in utility, Fortis, from any financial liability, among other things – as the reason council members, as shareholders, are not invited to the AGM as they used to be.
It was at that point that Bentley noted the financials “could and should” be released.
As for all the shareholders, council, being left off the AGM invitee list, “That’s just the way it’s set up,” said Bentley.
Bentley wrapped up the debate by explaining to Kadwell what Kadwell’s own thoughts are on the utility.
“I know your feelings, you want to sell hydro,” claimed Bentley.
In the meeting, Kadwell denied that and noted, “I only wanted an evaluation done.”
After the meeting, Kadwell confirmed he had never suggested the utility needed to be sold.
In the end, there was no motion.