Bumble, Fumble, Stumble and Mumble

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EcclestoneCouncillor Cam Ecclestone did an unusual and unexpected thing this week at Collingwood Council. He spoke. Normally, the intrepid but mute councillor is too busy to open his mouth. Like his colleague, Councillor “Sponge Bob” Madigan, he takes seriously his duty of holding his chair in place in case gravity ever lets go, while laboriously turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. At both tasks, these two excel beyond normal expectations. Yet this meeting, they stepped out of character.

Take a look at the Rogers recording of the Monday night meeting, starting at 1:35:00. Read the story in the Connection, too (the EB didn’t even bother to write it up…). It’s entertaining, in a sad sort of way. The title of the piece refers not to some comical law firm or accounting agency, but to my interpretation of the missteps and sidesteps taken in this little dance.

A novice to the Collingwood table, Ecclestone is noted mostly for his unique, naive approach to the procedures and rules of meetings: he ignores them. When not speaking out of turn, he is usually frantically trying to figure out where in the agenda the rest are. But for the most part, he stares fixedly into space, clearly in a meditative state. Or is that vegetative?

During the election campaign, Ecclestone alleged he had been a “head of council” previously, as well as chair of various political committees (see here for a video of him making these claims) and in the private sector was “very responsible for managing committees.” He claimed to have “learned a lot about the political system.” Except, it seems, the basic rules of procedure and meetings. Well, process is probably overrated. Learning, too.

At 1:35:05, Ecclestone declares he has a “prelude to an actual notice of motion.” No, he has a motion to waive notice so an actual motion can be presented. There will be no notice. That’s what the waiver is all about.

He then starts to read the motion, but quickly backs up to begin again with the proper process of first identifying the mover and seconder. He calls it the “procedure bylaw” at 1:35:14, rather than the correct “procedural bylaw.” But I’m sure that’s just a minor brain fart, and we’re all subject to them from time to time.

At 1:35:34 he beings to speak; out of turn of course, and has to be interrupted by the mayor, bringing him back to the proper process and explain to him what he’s doing. The motion to waive passes, and at 1:36:38 he reads the actual motion: to ask council for $5,500 (1:37:20) to go to Japan and represent the town for the 35th anniversary of the Katano-Collingwood Sister City relationship. Whew. That was like pulling teeth, if you don’t mind the metaphor.

Sister City relationships, as you will soon read, seem to mystify The Block. They can’t figure them out, as if they were some sort of complex, difficult alchemy. Nor, it seems, can they figure out the crafty mechanics of a timeline. But I’ll come back to them. And watch how they eat their own.

EcclestoneAt 1:37:27 Ecclestone mentions eight people, plus (including? it isn’t clear…) two grandchildren are going on the trip to Japan. “It’s kind of a pre-determined, pre-packaged (sic at 1:37:30) uh, put together by a firm in Toronto.” Huh?

“It’s worthwhile,” he adds, telling council one of the benefits to the community of this taxpayer-funded junket is, “I’ll learn some Japanese and give a presentation and do what I can to represent Collingwood, if everyone sees fit.” (1:37:36).

Wow. That’ll sure help taxpayers. How did we ever live without him being able to say “arrigato”? Our municipal services might crumble if he can’t mumble his way through at least one “kon’nichiwa” every day…

What if “everyone” doesn’t see fit? Will he do less to represent us? Will he refuse to say arrigato after being passed a motion?

At 1:38:40 Councillor Lloyd asks the question that must surely have vexed other council watchers: who is going? Ecclestone ignores protocol, as usual and instead of going through the mayor, simply starts replying as if this was a chitchat over a glass of wine (1:36:46). The mayor tries to corral him back into the process, but he never stays there.

At 1:38:52, Lloyd asks about the grandchildren: “Who are they?” Ecclestone starts to rhyme off the adults in the party. The mayor again tries to lasso him back to reality by pointing out (1:38:58) that it appeared he meant they were his grandchildren. Ecclestone finally corrects this.

DohertyAt 1:39:14, Councillor Doherty asks “Why has this group been formed?” After 35 years, one would hope our councillors would be aware of the existence of and reasons for our first and oldest Sister City relationship. But apparently not.

She asks, “Is it endorsed by the town?” (1:39:30). Apparently she has never noticed the signs at our borders that list our three Sister Cities. Or visited Friendship Gardens, a popular park on Minnesota Street. If the town didn’t endorse these, then who does she think did?

Well, observation of commonplace things like your community’s parks, its signage, or its history is probably overrated. Ecclestone tries to answer, again without going through the mayor as is proper, and the mayor yet again tries to teach him the simple rules of order (1:39:32).

“I gather there’s some history to this,” Ecclestone says. Doh… after 35 years you really think so? Glad you finally started paying attention.

Then he stumbles through a description of his itinerary, claiming he will make “some sort of a presentation and give a couple of gifts from the town of Collingwood to support the…uh… Sister City… thing.”

The Sister City Thing? “Some sort” of a presentation? Don’t you hate it when people use technical terms like that?

At 1:40:07 the mayor tries to explain what the motion was about and provide some historical context since clearly the “Sister City Thing” bemuses The Blockheads.

At 1:40:45, Ecclestone again interrupts to speak without permission. He says he asked Deputy Mayor Saunderson, and Councillors Fryer and Edwards if they wanted to go instead “because I was third out of the group.” Saunderson, Fryer, Edwards… one, two, three, but Ecclestone thinks he’s third? Well, basic arithmetic is probably overrated, too. Unless he mean’s he’s third in The Blocklist, which might be correct.

But as amusing as it is to watch our befuddled councillor stumble and mumble his way through this, what’s really entertaining is watching how the rest of The Block treat their own. After all, he’s been a staunch supporter all this time; a loyal soldier who raises his hand without question or even thought, to echo however his Leader votes.

Ecclestone voted to give Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey first a budget of $40,000 to pursue her personal political ambitions out of town, then voted to increase that to an unlimited amount so she could fly across Canada, wining and dining without any restrictions, at taxpayer expense. But when he asks for a little slice of the entitlement pie, he gets shot down, as you’ll soon see.

The Leader had already turned it down, it seems. That should have telegraphed the course of action for the rest. If he can’t have it, no one can. Ecclestone clearly didn’t read the signals properly. His initiative couldn’t be allowed to pass. Perhaps it’s because he showed any initiative not previously approved by The Leader that he gets shot down.

(Refer to Law 2 of the 48 laws of Power: Never put too Much Trust in Friends… “…You must never let your guard down in such a venture, however; always be on the lookout for any signs of emotional disturbance such as envy and ingratitude. Nothing is stable in the realm of power, and even the closest of friends can be transformed into the worst of enemies.”)

At 1:41:13, Doherty fulfills her main role at the table as the Asker of Inane Questions by posing, “What’s in it for us?” and Ecclestone (without following procedure) responds that “Well, it’s a bit of history…I guess we have a history going back with Katano. I believe.” You think so? You haven’t quite grasped the nature of a 35th anniversary? Maybe an appreciation of history is overrated, too.

But to be fair, it becomes clear that none of The Block has the slightest inkling of what a Sister City relationship means, is meant for, or even that we have them. Ecclestone merely takes on the temporary role of Exposer of Group Ignorance for the rest.

MadiganAt 1:41:48, Sponge Bob weighs in saying it’s “admiral (sic) for Councillor Ecclestone to take a tour of Japan out of the kindness of your heart… that’s fantastic. But I won’t be supporting it.” Madigan – who also twice supported giving Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey her slush funds without a nanosecond’s hesitation- now declines to support his fellow Block member’s request.

Wow. The knives are out.

FryerAt 1:42:17, Councillor Fryer weighs in, suggesting the request should be deferred until the next meeting (July 11) and asks for a “more formal” presentation (needing, I suspect, the time in between to figure out what a Sister City Thing is…).

Ecclestone stumbles in unbidden, only to be brought back to process by the mayor, then tries to explain (at 1:42:46) that the cost of the airline tickets is dependent on getting approval right away. Now. After that night, it would go up considerably. “The trip may not be affordable,” he says. It falls on deaf ears.

He also notes the airfare is about $1,210, but he’s asking for $5,500. Since the trip involves home stays, not hotels, and meals are mostly provided for the visitors by the families… what’s the other $4,290 being used for? A round of sake for the whole town? He never explains.

At 1:43:12, Councillor Edwards chimes in. He meanders around the sorrow of having restricted expense accounts, and jokes (?) he can now afford to go to an FCM conference since he’s found out there might be money for him to do so. But he finally comes down on The Block’s side at 1:44:15 by refusing his support.

At 1:44:20 Councillor Lloyd requests a recorded vote, sealing in municipal amber The Block’s treatment of their own. But they’ll avoid that stickiness, as you’ll see.

JeffreyAt 1:44:33, Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey – twice beneficiary of The Block’s egregious largesse – joins the fray. At 1:44:50 she starts down the “job creation” and “business relationships” road, which is not the prime function of this Sister City event, but it does make good sound bytes. “Is there that kind of role that could happen?” she asks. Is she subtly asking “Can it happen with the sleepy Councillor Ecclestone representing us?”

At 1:46:48 she bemoans that “…it would have been good to have some sort of analysis from economic development beforehand…” then says she might have supported it had there been one, but can’t now. It’s a moot point, but still the knife plunges in.

At 1:47:28 Doherty again speaks, parrotting what Jeffrey said (the two are a great comedy duo, as I wrote earlier…), going over the well-worn road of economic benefit questions (none of which, of course, she raised when she helped boost the Senator’s expenses into the stratosphere…). Plus she wants to know about “potential, or, um, social potential…” (1:47:43), eventually repeating her shallow, “What’s in it for us?”

(Let me digress by pointing out that Sister City relationships are not one-sided: they are mutual, and were created to foster understanding between cultures. Friendship and respect don’t always come with financial benefits.)

At 1:48:12, the mayor asks Ecclestone to perhaps explain himself further, based on meetings held by the Sister City group. Which apparently he never attended, because at 1:48:15 he meanders into the group’s itinerary, instead. Ecclestone seems uncomfortable with the itinerary. Or maybe just not knowledgeable about it, as he fumbles to lay it out. Painfully:

“The first four days is devoted to the town of Katano, I believe… there are some formal things planned… I believe two events, and uh, other than that, and there’s, uh, an itinerary that, uh, goes on for I think three days or whatever, in other parts of the country, and the group has to stay together. If the group doesn’t stay together then the money doesn’t work, sorta thing. So I couldn’t come home early because it would affect the others, and, you know, in their total, so it’s either I go or I don’t go, and, um, one way or the other.”

SaundersonAt 1:48:49 Deputy Mayor Saunderson speaks up, saying that, “if we are going to have Sister City relationships, and it seems to be something we’re looking at investing in…” Uh, Brian, we’ve had these relationships for 35 years. We have had a park in town built to honour the Katano relationship for the past couple of decades. The three cities are listed on our welcome signs at the entrances to town. Never notice them?

Maybe if any of The Block took a few minutes from their busy day to raise their head from the sand and actually ask staff about the existing relationships – or better yet, attend one of the advertised Sister City meetings and speak to the people who maintain them – you’d know the answers to these questions. Come on, at least Google something.

“What’s the return, what’s the value of the relationship to this community?” he asks at 1:48:08.

Why doesn’t any of them ask “What are we giving to our Sister City? What value are we providing to them?” It’s always gimme, gimme, gimme with this lot. What they’re really asking, however, is “What’s in it for ME?” And without some concession, they’re not going to vote for it.

Saunderson then talks about being “prepared to invest in it” as if he might consider such a relationship in the distant future. But the town already invests in it and has done for 35 years. Not much money, of course. We have one staff person who aside from other duties handles it when it arises (which is rarely). It’s mostly volunteer run. Every few years a group asks for a municipal representative to join a trip to Katano, or to greet visitors who come here.

Aside from the rare trip to Japan, it costs pennies to maintain, especially compared to the unlimited expenses account grant to The Senator. Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted on out-of-town lawyers and buddy consultants in The Block’s ongoing efforts to destroy our utility services.

But knowledge is clearly among the overrated attributes at the table. Better to fearlessly expose what you don’t know on camera. (PS: Thank you for the material you provide for these posts. I couldn’t make this stuff up…)

At 1:50:04, Fryer adds another comment, saying he would have gone himself, but had another commitment (basically a boot to the head for Ecclestone because Fryer’s none-too-subtly saying he would have had The Block’s support, but it won’t go to another…). Then he again asks for Ecclestone’s request to be deferred, knowing that the deadline is that night. At 1:51:06 the mayor confirms his request for deferral.

At this point, I expected Ecclestone to shout, “Et tu, Brute?” But I doubt he’d get the reference. It’s Shakespeare, after all.

At 1:51:29 Fryer wants to know in the report “what’s been done in the past, um, when people have travelled …is it all personal cost?” As if any of that mattered. It reminds me of The Block demanding confidential information from Collus staff and claiming they can’t create a shared services agreement without it – even though it’s entirely irrelevant and illegal (we know that there never was any intention to craft another shared services agreement because The Block intends to sell Collus to Hydro One this year, after it finishes destroying our staff morale…).

At 1:51:59, Ecclestone again interrupts to say he would be “paying out of pocket about $2,000… in addition to the $5,500.” Now I’m confused, because earlier it sounded like that $2,000 “out of pocket” money was coming from his own council expense account: i.e. taxpayer funded money. But perhaps I misunderstood. Does that mean the total cost of the trip is $7,500? For what does he need $6,300 above the airfare? Is he just bad at adding? Or explaining? Or both?

At 1:52:36, the Block votes to defer the motion (Lloyd and Edwards voting against, yet uncharacteristically, Madigan does, too. Maybe he couldn’t see The Leader raise his hand…). But the deferral kills the plan just as effectively, because, as Ecclestone noted earlier, and they all know, it would be too late by then. So why it was put off remains beyond me. Unless it was to draw out the humiliation Ecclestone received from his Blockhead buddies. After all, why punish a person once when you can do it a second time at no extra expense?

This whole megillah has taken roughly 17 minutes of hemming and hawing and repeating what someone else said, some pontificating, chastising, a little grandstanding, a lot of inanity and some public flogging.

EcclestoneSure, it is painful to watch, but it’s worth it to see The Block flounder around trying to understand the subject, fail, then pounce on one of their own and send him scurrying back into his place. Like a cackle of hyenas disciplining an errant youngster. Or hunting down an antelope.

I suspect from his hangdog look Ecclestone – despite the collective bumbling, fumbling, stumbling and mumbling – got the message.

I would bet that between now and the next meeting, Ecclestone tucks himself back into his shell and withdraws his request to fly to Japan. He will retreat to the arduous but safe task of keeping his chair firmly on the ground from now on.

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