May 14’s council agenda (p. 40-49) contained yet more evidence of The Block’s bully-boy tactics and pettiness: a complaint made to the integrity commissioner against our mayor. They damn her no matter what she does.
This complaint was filed by someone who might charitably be called the Block’s pet barnacle for his concreted attachment to them, dragged along by their momentum without any of his own. He’s also nicknamed the “frequent filer” for his habit of filing FOI requests against people he doesn’t like, apparently looking – unsuccessfully – for something evil in their emails he can then share with the Block. And as you might guess, he’s a candidate for council using a tawdry ploy to get his name in the local media before the upcoming municipal election.
At the same time, it is yet one more underhanded smear of a good and honourable woman by The Block bullies again. One wonders who wrote the complaint. Someone lawerly, perhaps? Someone actually literate? Certainly unlikely that the named complainant had the skills to do it himself.
The report notes at the beginning (sec. 2):
The essence of the complaint is that Mayor Sandra Cooper, given her brother’s position as Senior Vice-President of Operations and Business Development with the Clearview Aviation Business Park, had a conflict of interest in that she contravened s.7 “Improper Use of Influence” of the Collingwood Code of Conduct when she voted on the report.
Yet Sections 3 and 4 explain that the mayor “attempted to avoid contravening s. 7, “Improper Use of Influence” by checking with the Director of Public Works and with her brother to ascertain whether CABP had made inquiries about the Airport property…” So no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, no matter her efforts to show respect for the will of Council, The Block are out to get her and drag her name into the mud. But rather than attack her themselves – that would have taken a spine – they used a wannabe council candidate who eagerly jumps at the chance to get media attention.
First let’s consider whether the mayor had a conflict of interest – direct or indirect – in the Collingwood Airport Business Park or the airport itself. That requires you to read through the updated Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. And you’ll quickly see she didn’t. She has no pecuniary interest in the development, but because her brother does, she has stepped away from the table during discussions and votes where CABP was involved.
But is her brother really an issue? or just a canard? Section 3 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act says he isn’t:
Interest of certain persons deemed that of member
3 For the purposes of this Act, the pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent or the spouse or any child of the member shall, if known to the member, be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the member. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.50, s. 3; 1999, c. 6, s. 41 (2); 2005, c. 5, s. 45 (3).
Parent, spouse of child only: siblings are NOT considered for conflict of interest.
And here’s the other thing: does the IC actually have the authority to determine conflict of interest? I don’t think so. Section 8 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest says:
8 The question of whether or not a member has contravened subsection 5 (1), (2) or (3) may be tried and determined by a judge. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.50, s. 8.
As I understand that, the person who filed the complaint has to apply to a judge to determine if a conflict occurred – the IC cannot make that determination on her own. Of course the IC can weigh in on influence.
The 2019 amendments to the MCoI Act relate influence only to pecuniary interest, not to ethics or morality:
5.2 (1) Where a member, either on his or her own behalf or while acting for, by, with or through another, has any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any matter that is being considered by an officer or employee of the municipality or local board, or by a person or body to which the municipality or local board has delegated a power or duty, the member shall not use his or her office in any way to attempt to influence any decision or recommendation that results from consideration of the matter. 2017, c. 10, Sched. 3, s. 4.
On the basis of this provincial legislation, I have to disagree with the decision of the IC. Frankly, the town’s Code of Conduct is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The Block use it against the mayor while they transgress against it themselves. The Block’s business cards should read “Do as I say…”
And the IC writing the decision appears to have chosen to interpret the law and the Code in a rather elastic prescriptive manner rather than in a narrower proscriptive one. To me, it goes beyond what the MCoI Act clearly states.
Over the past three-and-a-half years individual Block members have voted on issues that affected their friends and family: a brother-in-law’s business interests and property, their own job (town advertising), their family interests (family and in-laws owning homes near a residential development where residents were complaining about noise), and having the town hire the former CAO as a sole-sourced consultant on the Collus sale after his retirement, despite public statements by one councillor that he was a personal friend of the former CAO (see image of tweet). As I read it, these also violate the Code of Conduct – egregiously so, from my perspective – yet no one complained (aside from me on this blog, that is). But ethical rules are for others, not for them.
The vote in which the Mayor did not step away from the table was to allocate $100,000 of town funds for a consultant to look into options for selling our publicly-owned airport as outlined in a previous staff report. This was one of the rare times the normally secretive and sly Block made a decision about out airport in public – all the rest of their discussions have been held in secret, behind closed doors (as they did with the hospital redevelopment, the privatization of our electrical utility, the attempted privatization of our water utility, the massively expensive creation of a new IT department at quadruple the previous costs, and so on…).
The IC noted that “The Mayor’s view is that, so long as the matter dealt only with funding for the consultant, then the Council decision did not engage or impact in any way the interests in her brother’s company.” The IC disagreed, but I disagree with her. I would argue that paying a consultant to come up with a recommendation based on a previous staff analysis is not the same as voting to retain or sell the airport. And even the IC noted that CABP has not expressed any interest in acquiring the airport.
All CABP has asked for all these years is a non-binding letter to agree to discuss access to the runway in the future. This would in turn allow the development to proceed and start creating the 1,400 or so jobs it promised (plus the construction jobs). But The Block have said no every time such a letter was requested – in large part because they all are eaten up by jealousy of the mayor’s brother for being successful in both business and politics, but in part because they have a virulently anti-jobs, anti-business ideology, and so oppose anything growth-related.
Our other airport partners (Clearview and Wasaga Beach) said yes to the request and were baffled and frustrated why Collingwood wouldn’t even explain why it said no. The airport board itself recommended it, but its chair, Councillor Edwards sided with The Block and voted against the request at council. Then when the board asked for a legal opinion about the issue, The Block and the town’s administration muzzled them (illegally so, as I read the Municipal Act’s section on municipal service boards).
The unnecessary delay in this large, job-creating development, and the secret decisions made by The Block about selling the airport without consulting our partners – which for years our neighbours helped fund, and on which board our neighbours sat – so frustrated these other councils that they both pulled their funding from the airport and withdrew from the board. It’s not the only time The Block have alienated our municipal neighbours over their nasty, deceptive ways, of course (the refusal to support our hospital was another, but I digress…).
The issue of the airport and potential conflict can be confusing because there are many aspects about it that are not directly related to the business park – like its operating budget, or the dissolution of its board after Clearview and Wasaga Beach left, staffing, fuel sales, maintenance and so on. Whether selling or keeping it would have an effect on CABP is a difficult question to answer because it deals in what-if situations, although I agree that the Mayor should not be involved in any vote about the sale.*
But about hiring a consultant to look at options for the sale? It strikes me as a stretch to say that is a conflict. However, the Block took advantage of the confusion and launched yet another attack on her even though she had already announced she was not running for office again and it would not get them the advantage that their similar sleazy tactics got them last election.
Why? Because that’s who they are: bullies, the lot of them, abusing their power and their position for personal vendettas.
To further rub salt into the mayor’s wounds, the Block leader, Deputy Mayor Saunderson, made a motion to have the IC come to council to personally explain the 10-page report in public – even through the IC concluded there was nothing to sanction. While Saunderson claimed his motion was to be more “open and transparent” – words no one in town associates with him or his cabal except ironically – the real reasons were twofold.
First, The Block are bullies: they collectively take delight in embarrassing the mayor and hurting her. They do so at every opportunity and this is just one more example.
Second: they don’t read, so they need someone to explain the report to them because it’s frankly far too long for their attention span. Maybe if it was a paragraph or two at most, in large print, of words no more than two or three syllables, they might get through it. But ten pages or legalese? It might as well be War and Peace in Russian for all they would read of it. (Madigan commented several times on how complex the report was – he’s clearly baffled easily – around 1:22-23 in the video. At 1:32:35 Doherty complains they won’t learn the lessons in the reports if the IC doesn’t present them in person – even though she has the full report in front of her to read!) **
And, as expected, all of his little underlings voted in favour of Saunderson’s motion. The unctuous, pro-Block site, CollingwoodLiving, gave voice to each of Saunderson’s minions as if their eagerness to abase themselves was actually newsworthy content instead of just more dreary, self-serving sycophancy.***
This nasty bit of political theatre will cost taxpayers at least $1,000. Open and transparent, eh? Expensive and unnecessary you mean. But for The Block, money is sprinkled from the wand of their Magic Money Fairy, so they don’t care what it costs as long as they get their way.
Watch the discussion starting around 1:15:30 in the video. Saunderson says the public are “entitled” to hear the report – ironic, isn’t it that NOW he wants openness and transparency after three and a half years of secrecy and closed-door decisions? The only thing transparent is his motive.
Even more interesting is the comment from Saunderson at around 1:55:00. Councillor Lloyd had just finished saying he intended to question the IC about the anonymous complaint (against the Mayor, Councillors Lloyd and Edwards) about which the IC had emailed to clear him in April (see my blog notes here). Saunderson, clearly annoyed by this, blusters that he wants only the one that was reported on. Of course – the ‘unreported’ one CLEARED the mayor and the others of any wrongdoing, so he doesn’t want it raised. But the three named members DID received a report from the IC. Saunderson just doesn’t want it made public.
Then at 1:27:28, he bloviates about the “cost-benefit analysis”, saying it was a small price to pay for the “public to be aware of what’s happening around this council table.” Given that The Block have deliberately kept the public in the dark about every major issue this term, and made their deals behind closed doors about the sale of public assets again and again, the irony is just dripping off him here.
Smell something distinctly rotten-fishy here? Like more dirty politics at work?The Block’s usual way of doing business, I suppose.
Just when you think The Block can’t sink any lower into the pit of unethical and petty behaviour, they submerge themselves again to a new depth and bring up more sewage to spread around.
Collingwood deserves better.
* The IC’s report says in Sec. 10 that, “The benefits of development of the CABP (development charges, increased property assessment) will accrue to the Township of Clearview. It is our understanding that the Town of Collingwood is facing the prospect of increased operational demands and upgrades at the Airport, without additional funds to pay for it.” This is both a narrow and partial assessment of the situation, uncomfortably suggestive of comments by the former town administration. But there are other benefits to growth for all neighbouring communities, although not all can be easily quantified, including jobs, housing sales, business opportunities, recreational opportunities, increased fuel sales and access fees at the airport, increased opportunities for local businesses to work with and for the development, better potential for federal funding, better potential for public-private partnerships, and greater exposure in outside media. Plus a busy airport that benefits the entire region will help cement regional relationships and open opportunities for more partnerships like transportation services to and from the airport.
** I cannot say for sure why they don’t read; whether it’s because of illiteracy, lack of interest in municipal business, or sheer laziness is beyond my ken to assess. From the Municipal Act to the Code of Conduct, critical documents appear to go unread and thus ignored. You can tell by the questions they ask at the council table that they haven’t even read their own agendas. They obviously need someone who will bypass the printed word and ‘splain the document to them in simple words. Real simple words.
*** From what I see, dissent in any form unnerves them considerably. It shakes the very foundation of their ideology: that anyone should oppose it goes beyond mere bafflement to whites-of-the-eyes terror when confronted by a different point of view.
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