Another strange chapter.
The chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC), James Williams, resigned recently amid the growing scandal surrounding Lewiston businessman James Glynn's Maid of the Mist Canadian boat tour lease.
Williams gave a number of reasons for quitting, all centered on Glynn and on Ontario Minister of Tourism Monique Smith's decision to put the Maid of the Mist boat tour out to bid for the first time ever.
It seems to have upset Williams that Glynn might lose the lease he held for 38 years.
Lately, Chairman Williams and Tourism Minister Smith have been at odds.
After ordering the bid contest, Smith said she wanted the winning bidder announced by June 2010. Williams proposed a June 2011 deadline.
Due diligence in preparing bid specifications, evaluating bids and selecting a winner will take longer than a few months, Williams said. "If it gets done by June of 2010, then it's because there were some shortcuts," he said.
Smith overruled him.
"Not only was it not discussed, it was summarily dismissed," Williams told the Globe and Mail. "That signaled to me that this minister was more about political expediency," suggesting Smith wanted the Glynn scandal put to bed before the next election.
Smith's tight timeline is not without precedent. The U.S. National Park Service in 2007 announced a tender and awarded the winning bidder for the Statue of Liberty Boat tours within five months. More than a dozen operators bid.
Conversely, there is no need to rush. Although Glynn's lease expired Nov. 20, 2009, the terms allow him to stay as a "holdover" tenant on a month-to-month basis, which Glynn is expected to do during the 2010 tourist season, since a new operator can't be in place by next season.
Glynn's Canadian Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. generated $23.3 million last year. Confidential documents presented to the NPC show Glynn netted more than $4.4 million after expenses. The Maid of the Mist provides about 1.8 million boat rides annually in Canada -- making it, along with the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz, one of the three most frequented excursion boat operations in the world.
This means it will likely attract a lot of bidders. Already Ripley Entertainment, Alcatraz Media, Campark and Xanterra have expressed interest in bidding. Disney and the Seneca Nation have been mentioned. Against these giant companies, Glynn may lose his long-held lease.
When Williams was appointed chairman in 2004, the 124-year-old NPC shifted from its traditional history of making a profit to losing money. The NPC lost more than $4.3 million last year and had to lay off more than 500 employees -- a third of its workforce.
Oddly, too, Williams led the NPC to secretly vote in 2008 to reduce Glynn's rent for his Canadian boat tours while excluding at least two other companies who offered to pay more.
The Niagara Falls Reporter broke that story and subsequently revealed estimates from tourism industry experts that said the NPC could get $3 million to $6 million more in rent annually than what Glynn was paying -- suggesting the NPC might solve its financial problems simply by putting the Maid of the Mist lease out to bid.
Williams fought this and, as the story escalated into Canadian national news, critics accused Williams of being secretly on Glynn's payroll.
After the Reporter's expose and increasing national coverage on Glynn's sweetheart -- and now no longer "secret" -- lease, combined with spending scandals erupting in Ontario's Liberal government, including eHealth and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., Smith ordered the NPC to open the boat tour lease to competitive bidding in October over Williams' objection.
With his resignation, Williams blamed the Reporter for helping to put his chairmanship "under siege." He cited Smith's "unwillingness" to defend him as a signal reason for his resignation.
"Given ... your unwillingness to defend this commission against the false accusations levied against us, I can only conclude that I no longer have your confidence in this matter," Williams wrote.
One week before resigning, Williams made a surprising request, which showed perhaps how tired he was of being made a media scapegoat. He recommended to the highly politicized Liberal Party's tourism minister that since she was going to allow bidding on the boat tour, then do it honestly and openly.
He suggested Smith hold a public meeting about the bidding process, form a "blue-ribbon panel" to review the bids, hire an expert manager to oversee the process and make sure all the boat tour bids are made public afterward -- both the winner and losers. And lastly -- take the decision away from him and the NPC.
In a Nov. 30 memo, he explained that, since the NPC voted twice -- in April 2008 and September 2009 -- to renew the lease with Glynn instead of inviting bids, the public's perception is that the NPC favors Glynn in any bidding process. The only way to remove that perception, Williams said, is to make this process more open than most government tenders.
Smith refused, saying she wanted to keep much of the bidding process secret, get it done fast and keep Williams in charge. Williams perhaps suspected what many already suspect: Smith is an elected politician, and secrecy allows the Liberal Party to award the bid not necessarily to the highest bidder to the public -- but the highest bidder for the Liberal Party. The Tories will want to watch this one closely.
Still, with Smith's ordering secrecy on the bids, Williams knew that even if following an honest (but secret) tendering process, if Glynn had the best offer, if Williams led the NPC to choose Glynn, there would be a hue and cry by the public, and accusations of favoritism or worse heaped on him.
Williams tried to get an impartial panel to handle the bid. Smith's actions suggest the "fix is in" and that she expected Williams, like a good party Liberal, to follow orders and take the brunt of it. So he quit.
On his way out, he threw a school of red herrings into the waters, meant to help Glynn.
Among these, Williams supports Glynn's twin claims of ownership of the "Maid of the Mist" name and that loss of the name brand in Canada will hurt the park.
Williams wrote, somewhat fantastically, "The Maid of the Mist (name) is almost as well known as the Falls themselves. The loss of the brand name ... will have a devastating impact on ... the entire tourism economy of the region."
Williams said tourists will leave Canada and hazard customs inspections to go to the United States where Glynn operates competing Maid of the Mist boat tours -- because of the name -- rather than take an equal or better boat ride in Canada.
Even if it were true that a boat's name is more important than the ride itself, the name "Maid of the Mist" has been in use at the Niagara Parks since 1885, long before Glynn came and started using it in 1971.
The recently expired Maid of the Mist lease, which Glynn signed in 1989, states in paragraph 6.03: "Tenant (Glynn) acknowledges that it does not claim any interest in or rights in the words 'Maid of the Mist' and NPC is free to use 'Maid of the Mist' in identification of its structures, retail or promotional material."
Glynn claims, however, he snatched the name away from Canada.
"We have both United States and Canadian trademark registrations for Maid of the Mist," said Tim Ruddy, Glynn's marketing vice president, suggesting the NPC can no longer use a name they have used for 124 years, should Glynn not win the bid.
Something here bears investigation.
On May 21, 1993, four years after he signed the Canadian lease saying he "does not claim any interest in or rights in the words 'Maid of the Mist,'" Glynn registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for trademark on the words "Maid of the Mist" under "sightseeing boat services."
Glynn admits "the mark was first used with the services as early as June 1885," long before he was born. Then he did something daring.
"Being duly warned that willful false statements made in this application are punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both, under Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code," Glynn declared, "Applicant (is) the owner of the mark sought to be registered; that, to the best of his knowledge and belief, no other person, firm, corporation, association or other juristic entity has the right to use the mark in commerce."
Glynn made this sworn statement in 1993, knowing that in 1989 he signed a lease acknowledging that he "does not claim any interest in or rights in the words 'Maid of the Mist' and NPC is free to use 'Maid of the Mist.'"
Under penalty of perjury, Glynn swore he not only exclusively owned the name, but was the only entity using the name, even though the NPC was using it at that time for their "Maid of the Mist" store and other promotional venues.
After Glynn obtained the U.S. trademark, he went to the Registrar of Trademarks in Ottawa, Canada. Swearing he had lawfully obtained the U.S. trademark for the words "Maid of the Mist," he neglected to inform the Canadian government about his 1989 lease, in which he acknowledged he did not have "rights in the words 'Maid of the Mist.'"
An American, James V. Glynn, trying to snatch the name away from Canada, attested to the Registrar, "The trademark has been duly registered by the applicant in the United States of America, the country of origin of the applicant (Glynn), on March 29, 1994. ... The applicant has used the trade-mark in ... the United States of America, and the applicant requests registration of the trademark (in Canada)."
Glynn used his U.S. trademark to get the trademark for Canada in April 1994. Now, curiously, Williams, a Canadian, is supporting the theft by the American Glynn of the historic and iconic name "Maid of the Mist" from the nation of Canada.