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Rose City Politics

Blackburn News: Downtown Mission ‘appalled and shocked’ by city councillor’s comments

Blackburn News – Adelle Loiselle – March 3, 2020

The executive director of the Downtown Mission admitted he is “disgusted” that a city councillor advised residents not to donate to his organization after a plan to move into the Central Branch of the Windsor Public Library fell through.

The comments came last Wednesday when Rino Bortolin was a guest on Rose City Politics, a popular podcast that focuses on municipal issues. Another guest, Pat Papadeas, wondered aloud how Ron Dunn was still the executive director of the city’s largest homeless shelter.

Dunn admitted he was both “appalled and shocked.”

“I have a problem with a city councillor advising people not to donate to a specific cause,” said Dunn. “I’d ask the people of the City of Windsor and Essex County to think about what the city looks like if the Mission is not here.”

BlackburnNews.com reached out to Bortolin, who doubled down on his comments.

“People should be questioning where the donations go,” he said Tuesday. “There are many organizations in this city doing similar work — who work on a shoestring budget at one-tenth, or even one-fiftieth of the budget the Downtown Mission has.”

The Mission publishes its financial statements online.

The Mission feeds hundreds of people daily and has 103 beds, far more than other organizations that help the homeless.

“We have a situation where the Downtown Mission chose to essentially flip a city property to profit for their own use, without explaining all of this to the public,” said Bortolin, confessing the deal to transfer the library branch building to a developer was legal.

The Mission is under no obligation, as a private entity, to release that information publicly.

“I used a realtor, and I went through the proper channels,” said Dunn. “If they wanted the property back, they should have made that a possibility in their contract.”

During the podcast, Bortolin said city council decided to take back the sale once it became apparent the Mission did not have the money to complete the transaction. He said the city offered to pay the Mission back a deposit of $150,000, but the Mission instead transferred the property and took a “sizeable” donation from the buyer.

Both Dunn and Bortolin claim they made several overtures to address concerns about the two-year-old deal to sell the library branch to the Mission. Both sides say they were met with silence.

A spokesman for the Mission’s board of directors, Sandori Kapasi, said Bortolin had reached out to a member of the board Tuesday morning, and efforts were underway to arrange a meeting. He also said Bortolin was invited to attend a board meeting, and was invited multiple times to tour the building. Bortolin hotly denied that.

“I sent out an email and got no replies,” he said. “I’ve sent out three emails and got no replies. I’ve been to the Mission numerous times. Ron knows full out that I don’t need a tour. I’ve had numerous residents’ meeting with Ron. I have never been invited to a board meeting.”

Among the questions Bortolin wants answers to is the suitability of the new location at 819 Ouellette, and whether there was ever a business case that ended in the Mission moving to the library building.

“If it was all dependent on potential donors, that was a horrible way to move ahead with a business case,” said Bortolin.

When asked why the city approved and moved ahead with a problematic deal, Bortolin said there were numerous conversations with donors and with stakeholders at the Mission to work with the city to find a new location.

Back at the Mission, Kapasi echoed Dunn’s dismay.

“I can not believe that a city councillor that represents the ward the Mission is in would make that statement — he’s hurting those people who need it most,” he said.

Dunn told BlackburnNews.com the new owner took possession of the library building Friday afternoon, and the agreement to buy 819 Ouellette would close Wednesday.

By Jon Liedtke

Jon Liedtke is a writer and musician in Windsor Ontario. He tells stories using words, pictures, audio and video.

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