Nobody at city hall seems to be able to come up with a better use than the present one for the Pearl Company property on Stephen Street–after all it is generating taxes as an arts and entertainment centre — but that hasn’t stopped some councillors from insisting on pressing a taxpayer-funded vendetta against its owner Gary Santucci. Before Santucci bought the building it was vacant for some time and for a while was an illegal booze can. He and his partner Barbara Milne have turned it into a cultural hub, staging regular plays, art shows and concerts and have generated no complaints whatsoever from neighbours in the Lansdale area. Apparently Santucci’s transgression was in not being sufficiently deferential to members of council and senior staff in his struggle to obtain a minor zoning variance that would allow his operation to continue legally. Not only that he had the temerity to publicly criticize councillors, some of whom take themselves far too seriously. So we have had the spectacle of city bylaw officers and police looking like the Keystone Cops, in attempting to entrap Santucci on trumped up liquor violations and other forms of harassment. People familiar with the situation say the attacks on Santucci, which will get a day in court this month, are purely political—that staff would have solved this problem long ago were it not for perceived pressure by councillors to keep up the attack. Instead staff are kowtowing to Santucci’s enemies on council who seem determined to put him out of business, with no plan”B” for a property that is generating steady tax revenue. The question that needs answering is how much public money has been spent on external counsel and staff time keeping this abuse of power alive? We know the sky is the limit when it comes to protecting members of council when they screw up—look at the roughly $750,000 that was squandered trying to defend against wrongful dismissal suits following the taxigate affair. Now the city has been slapped with a $15 Million dollar suit filed by Sarcoa Restaurant alleging misrepresentation by staff and council members who serve on the Hamilton Waterfront Trust board. Continuing this strong arm attack on a taxpaying citizen who has invested in a challenged neighbourhood when nobody else would, and is supporting local artists to boot; is a criminal waste of taxpayer dollars. How many people around the council table or on City staff are paying anywhere near $20,000 in property taxes a year, as Santucci is on his holdings? The culture of fear and compromised integrity at 71 Main that was documented in a staff report last year, has apparently not abated. Members of council who are not directly involved in this case should pluck up their courage and put a stop to the Pearl Company fiasco.

 

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