Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Publish Day - another taxpayer's lament

Another every-other-Wednesday, and another rockin' opportunity to publish my work. This time out, I share my thoughts on a spate of recent lawsuits in which the City of London was named as one of the defendants. The piece is called Must every tiff end up in court? A couple of background stories can be found here and here.

As a taxpayer in this burg, the whole scenario rubs me the wrong way. I wanted to make sure the other little taxpayer voices were represented in this now-very-public discussion.

I hope this gives you the feeling that your voice can be heard as well. I look forward to your thoughts on this piece.
Must every tiff end up in court?

CARMI LEVY, London Free Press

I was raised to behave in a certain way. Beyond respecting my parents, not stealing, and not using my pet turtle as a hockey puck, I also learned early on not to bite the hand that fed me.

It's a lesson that some folks in London's construction industry might wish to revisit in the wake of three high-profile lawsuits filed in the past month.

Southside Group owner Vito Frijia kicked off the suing season Nov. 9 with a $2-million libel suit against City of London city engineer Peter Steblin and a number of directors and officers of the London Development Institute.

Frijia's complaint is based on an Aug. 10 letter from Steblin that, according to the suit, incorrectly says Southside was responsible for delays during last summer's Hyde Park roadwork project.

C.H. Construction followed 10 days later with a $2-million libel suit of its own, this time against the city, Steblin, the London Development Institute and its president, Stephen Janes. As with the Frijia-Southside suit, Steblin's letter dated Aug. 10 is the source of the complaint.

Just to make the jumble complete, a third libel suit was filed Friday. C.H. Excavating is suing a competitor, Blue-Con Inc., and others, and the latest suit also has to do with letters by Steblin and Janes.

Like a parent dealing with a playground tiff, I feel compelled at this moment to grab all sides by the scruff of the neck, force them to look each other in the eye and resolve this once and for all. Let the city apologize for its letter. Let the suing firms apologize for wasting our time and money. Let everyone shake hands and get on with the business of doing business.

I'm sorry the plaintiffs in the lawsuits feel they were wronged. But construction is a tough business, so get over it. Like kids in the playground, you'll get dirty and scuffed up in the process. You might even skin your knee.

But that's fine. A little criticism in life is actually a good thing. It helps you build a thicker skin.

I find it hard to believe that any development or construction firm would grow to any size if the owners had hissy-fits every time someone didn't glowingly praise their work.

The irony in all of this is that the public probably would never have known about the alleged defamation of both companies if they hadn't initiated legal action. But now we know. And I, for one, am ticked. I hardly think I'm the only one.

Business is all about building long-term relationships within your community. We exchange goods and services with organizations -- and people -- who have earned our trust and respect.

We return to our so-called merchants of comfort because we want to.

Yet the next time I see one of these organization's signs on a project, I might find it difficult to muster up some warm and happy thoughts. Would it prompt me to avoid doing business with them in future? Who knows.

I don't quite understand the business model that is driving the Frijia-Southside and C.H. lawsuits. Do the owners believe this will foster goodwill and trust in the corridors of city hall? Do they think citizens will applaud them as they try to extract huge sums of money from taxpayers' pockets?

Ah yes, the taxpayers; the poor souls who are always forgotten in high-profile cases, yet without whom none of this would happen.

That's because taxpayers pay for all of this. We fund city hall. Directly or indirectly, we pay for the Hyde Park work. We'll pay the lawyers to fight these suits. We'll cover the increased insurance premiums no matter what happens.

So as I watch both cases unfold around the same time our city tries to knock down a proposed huge property tax increase for the coming year, I feel anything but goodwill for those that willingly expose saps like me to additional financial risk.

After a lifetime of treating the hands that raised me with respect, I rather resent mine being bitten by a couple of complete strangers.



Anonymous said...

An excellent work and very driven piece. Kudos!

Oz said...

A friend of mine tripped over some uneven pavement at a gas station a few weeks ago. She landed on her face. Seven stitches, two black eyes, and a bruises all over her face materialized by the next day. She didn't sue, but she certainly could have....and gotten a ton of money. Just goes to show you that there's still some people out there who don't take advantage of a situation.

Trillian said...

Great article, Carmi. If the construction companies don't feel petty and juevenile, then they didn't read the article!