LOCKED IN A GAGE
Gage Marine has been a monopoly on Geneva Lake for more years than most people can remember. In the “old days” there were many competing boats trying to take passengers out on the water, as many as twenty-six different operations at one point. The lake became a steaming mess of black coal smoke and angry boat operators and passengers. A monopoly was created, and Gage Marine was selected as the boat company to oversee the only for-hire boats on the lake (other than fishing guides and rental boats).
They’ve done a good job. Today, the lake is calm, and the commercial carrying boats are finely kept up and sleek, not to mention mostly clean diesel-powered. The Gage boats dock in downtown Lake Geneva at the Riviera Pier. They pay ridiculously low fees for occupying the piers and having all kinds of free parking places. They also get to lock the piers up so they can have protection and privacy for their expensive boats. What is the price everyone pays for this monopolistic service, whether they go out sailing or not?
Several years ago the Geneva Shore Report ran a story alleging that the City of Lake Geneva helped Gage get a cheap long-term lease rate for its boats at the Riviera because Gage allegedly needed the rate and long-term contract to secure a loan from Walworth State Bank for money to build Pier 290 Restaurant. As part of the deal the City of Lake Geneva allegedly shifted its banking relationship from PNC in downtown Lake Geneva to the Walworth State Bank. The best alleged sweet-heart deal around was concluded. Pier 290 was built. But that’s not the end of the story.
It seems that Gage Marine, being in the business of taking care of boats and boating equipment, also secured (ex parte) the ability to provide maintenance and repair to the Riviera Pier complex, while it uses the piers for its boats. Casey Seiche, a citizen and city activist of Lake Geneva, went after the repair and service receipts. It seems, according to Mr. Seiche, that those expenses totaled over $511,000 over the last five years. Who wrote those checks? Neither Mr. Oborn, the city administrator, or Tom Hartz, the city’s new mayor could answer Casey’s question. They both said that they didn’t know. They both decided, since they’d never seen the receipts before, or knew about the service and repair payments, that they’d keep the documents Casey got from the city clerk.
What is going on? Since when is the entity renting the piers authorized to work on them, and then bill for the supposed expenses? Who oversaw that work? What work? Was any work really done? What was the work performed on, and when and where? Why were there no other bids? Why was there no objectivity at all in this entire affair? Why doesn’t anybody know anything? The city administrator’s staff did not answer phone calls from the GSR all on Monday morning. When encountered physically, the clerks at the front desk said nobody had called in. They also stated that they did not know where to find out how much Gage Marine pays in rent to the city every year for the privilege of running this agreed upon monopoly. They said only Mr. Oborn could find out that information. Mr. Oborn was busy on a very, very long phone call, probably with Washington State where he’s going, but that he would call back. He never called.
Is the cost of repairs and services charged by Gage Marine about the exact same amount as what it is supposed to pay out to the city in rent? The X-Files investigators of the GSR wonder. And, the entire staff will stay on this investigation until some resolution is reached.