John Megarry filed a Freedom of Information Act requesting the town provide the costs of having the two lawyers from the town’s inquiry legal team speak online to council for one meeting in February. The amount for that single event seems gobsmackingly high, considering it was done virtually and not in person: $17,297.48!
Just a reminder: the legal team for the inquiry was sole-sourced last term; appointed in violation of both the town’s procurement policy and breaking Brian Saundersons’ earlier election promise of “no exceptions” to tendering any contracts over $25,000. The previous council in which Saunderson was deputy mayor handed out sole-sourced contracts like party favours last term, simply ignoring the procurement policies.*
Megarry shared the expense file with me this week (read it here). It’s merely two lines, with no details aside from totals (I suspect readers will wonder whether something nefarious is being hidden by this parsimony).
The town clerk, Sara Almas, noted in her email to him (emphasis added),
Please find attached the General Ledger for the two invoices received from Lenczner Slaght for work conducted in preparation for and to attend the February 16, 2021 meeting of Council regarding the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry. Please note that the January Invoice (Document Number 87968) contains services provided in November and December of 2020 by Ryan Breedon in the amount of $4774.25 that do not fall within the scope of this request. Therefore, the difference of $2517.08 is applicable to your request. The total amount of legal expenses incurred by Lenczner Slaght as a result of the February 16, 2021 Council meeting is $17,297.48. As this meeting was held by Videoconference there were no expenses related to travel charged to the Town.
I suppose we’re lucky that there were “no expenses related to travel charged to the Town” because that would likely have added many thousand more dollars to bring both lawyers to Collingwood and then send them home (we’d likely have had to pay for their overnight accommodations and meals, too). But it’s still a helluva lot for a single virtual appearance.
And you should take note that the clerk also references additional “…services provided in November and December of 2020 by Ryan Breedon in the amount of $4774.25.” What services might they be? The clerk doesn’t say. But the public portion of the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI) closed a year before the final report was handed in (delivered in the first week of November, 2020). So what was this sole-sourced lawyer doing for the town after the inquiry’s final report was in hand? And why hasn’t this been made public before?
You might also note that these newly-revealed costs all must be added to the ever-increasing costs of the SVJI, now well over $10 million if all the true costs and secret deals are included. But the town won’t provide an honest accounting of all the expenses (you apparently have to file an FOI request to get the town to tell the truth about these costs).
How much an hour did these lawyers cost the town? Megarry pointed out hourly costs are not available:
…MFIPPA says lawyers may deny access to that information, but the total for the 2 guys —McDowell & Breedon (who never opened his mouth!) — must be around $2000 per hour, since surely they didn’t spend more than 8 hours each in prep and attendance?**
The cost of never opening your mouth is, based on the clerk’s email, $2,517.08. I’d probably be silent for an hour or two if someone handed me a cheque for that much. But that means the remainder for McDowell’s virtual appearance at a single meeting was $14,780.40.
That also raises the question of how much work the town will get from the law firm BLG, appointed for a mere $15,000 to “…ascertain potential action against various parties related to the judicial inquiry.” Surely at least one of them will have to come to Collingwood to help our $216,000-a-year CAO hunt heffalumps in the almost 400 boxes of documents plus an untold number of digital files the inquiry and OPP already searched. Maybe it will be BLG’s Mark Rodger again, whom the previous council appointed (sole-sourced) to sell our public utility (council’s betrayal of the public trust done without any public input or consultation).
Single, sole-sourced lawyers appointed in the past have charged at least $700 an hour (I suspect it’s a LOT more these days). Even that low rate would give the town only about 21.5 hours of work. Minus four hours (minimum) to travel back and forth (BLG’s closest office is in Toronto), we’d get 17.5 hours at that rate. But if there are two lawyers who come to view the Wall of Documents and discuss anything with staff and council (behind closed doors, of course, as is council’s wont), that will be halved, or about a day’s worth. Minus time taken to eat, of course. Or maybe we’ll get just a single lawyer in a virtual meeting, like we got for $14,780.40 in February.
Your tax dollars at work.
As Megarry quipped, it’s probably just “enough to allow them to say ‘yes, there’s enough here to justify spending even more!’” I agree: this is too small a fee to uncover anything substantial. Our council may simply receive a recommendation to do as they always love to do: spend more, more, more, on the SVJI! Lawyers will get richer, the town will get poorer and taxpayers will shoulder more burden for Saunderson’s vendetta.
Collingwood deserves better.
* What Saunderson promised in a piece in the Collingwood Connection was (emphasis added): “Change the purchasing policy to ensure there can be no sole sourcing of any contract for goods or services over $25,000, no exceptions.” In the same piece, published in late 2014, he also promised to (emphasis added) “Ensure all major decisions seek out community input, and ensure there is rigorous staff research and due diligence before any decision is made.” He broke that one, too. Oh, and this one, too: “Improve communications to ensure the residents of Collingwood are informed of all council initiatives and engage the residents regularly to get community feedback.” Too many broken promises to list here.
** Ironic isn’t it, that the public can’t find out the hourly wages of the lawyers they paid for, while the town is obsessively hunting for the same information about former Collus employees in the Wall of Documents, even though that information is confidential and protected under provincial law. This was always a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do council.