Our treasonous council

If Collingwood Council operated at a higher tier or government – say the federal level – they would be called treasonous and taken to court for their culture of deception, their attacks on our democratic and civic institutions, and for their ongoing betrayal of the public trust. But because they are only a municipal government, they can merely be called despicable while we await the next election.

The latest act of desperation in the dungheap of this term is the recent motion to demand a judicial inquiry into the sale of 50% of our electrical utility to PowerStream last term. At a cost of at least $1 million.

Just when you think they couldn’t sink any deeper into the muck, The Block lower the bar again. And of course it followed yet another closed-door meeting during which public business was discussed and decided on in secret.

This is, of course, an attempt to head off the upcoming demand for just such an inquiry into this term’s unethical and secretive processes to sell ALL of our utilities to a private, for-profit, out-of-province corporation. Without, of course, public input.

The first sale happened SIX years ago. During that process they all had the opportunity to comment, to oppose the sale, to speak up. Which, of course, none of them did.

Let’s see how the processes stack up. Last term: open process, open meetings, public engagement, full media disclosure and coverage, transparency, all documentation published and available for public scrutiny, world-renowned consultants hired to oversee the process, all money accounted for, and a single in camera meeting held at the very end of the process to open the sealed RFPs. This term: secrecy from the start, deception, illegal acts, utility boards fired and replaced by puppets, OEB investigations into town actions, immoral and unethical behaviour, lies, obfuscation, personal agendashidden documents, rumours of big commissions, no public engagement, a sole-sourced lawyer, a secret deal to hand over our water utility to the same company without public input, the broken shared services agreement that cost taxpayers millions in new expenses, a promised savings of $750,000 a year from separating the water utility from the electrical but that mysteriously vanished at budget time, at least  37 closed-door meetings about the utility,  a secret contract to keep paying the interim CAO after he retired, and secretive terms of the sale the town won’t disclose.

Which one do you think most deserves investigation? Me, too. Secrecy, lies and the betrayal of the public trust this term SHOULD be investigated. 

And, I’m told, The Block secretly informed their pet CBC reporter of the impending motion head of time, so they could get media attention and play the same sort of smear campaign they arranged for last term with their phony OPP investigation (five years later and no charges, not even one police interview of an alleged miscreant: it’s long been proven to have been a hoax).

Hey! Guess who the CBC reporter – the same one who covered the phony OPP investigation – quoted and photographed? Why, our own Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson! Are you surprised? Me either.

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Thoughts on local municipal governance

Representation?A popular political theory presents two basic and often contradictory models of how elected officials should (or do) behave as representatives. One is as a delegate: solely acting as a representative of the people who elected them. The other is as a trustee, serving (or attempting to serve) everyone under their governance. In practice, these are not absolutely discrete, but are practiced in combination with one another, as situations dictate or according to how vocal the electors are.*

How is this practiced here, in Collingwood? Yes, I know, the notion of The Block actually having or understanding a theory of anything, much less putting one into practice, is ludicrously surreal. That would, first and foremost, require they do the thing they despise most: read. Instead, they govern by blunder, bluster and blame, mostly the former, without any nod to conventional political theory. But bear with me.

In the delegate model, Wikipedia tells us,

…delegates act only as a mouthpiece for the wishes of their constituency, and have no autonomy from the constituency. This model does not provide representatives the luxury of acting in their own conscience. Essentially, the representative acts as the voice of those who are (literally) not present.

An example of the delegate model – albeit not a shining example of governance by any stretch of the imagination – was when Coun. Bob Madigan made a motion for council to supersede proper planning process, and ignore expert opinion and advice in favour of uninformed council opinion, in order to satisfy the NIMBY desires of a small, special interest group opposed to a nearby development. He thus acted as the mouthpiece of this group; i.e. their delegate at the table, rather than a representative of the greater community.

But what if you are your own constituency? What if the people who elected you are not those you choose to represent? What if you and your group’s interests are all that matters?
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Wasaga pulls airport support

facepalmAnother post where I get to say “I told you so.” Wasaga Beach pulled its support for the Collingwood Airport just like Clearview did a little earlier. Told you they would.

Why? Simple: because of The Block. Seven of our councillors resolutely stand in the way of growth, business, development, jobs, a better community, our healthcare – everything except their own wellbeing and personal advantage. I warned you that the combination of the roadblocks and the wall of secrecy erected by The Block would drive our regional partners away. And it did.

Even before this, I warned you the shoddy, hostile way our town and our council treated the hospital would infuriate and alienate our neighbours who are also regional partners in the hospital. And it did.

Wasaga Beach’s mayor, Brian Smith is quoted in the Connection blaming it on “Collingwood council’s apparent lack of support for the proposed aviation business park beside the airport.”

Apparent” lack of support? What a weasel word. I suppose I can’t expect better from local media.

The lack of support from Collingwood was EVIDENT to everyone on the airport board, in the public, on the councils of Wasaga Beach and Clearview. It was even pointed out to me by several people in the county council from other communities not connected to Collingwood. EVERYONE knew who on Collingwood Council didn’t support the airport, or the development, or the jobs it would bring in.

The writer lamely notes, “Collingwood’s position is council and staff are acting on legal advice to not sign an agreement,” without actually citing the source for that claim (and, curiously, not slavishly quoting his buddy, our deputy mayor, as he is wont to do). I would question whether any reputable lawyer would advise elected representatives NOT to explain their position to the voters who put them there. The reporter, doesn’t question the party line, though.

Collingwood got a staff report about the future of the airport, Feb. 12. The ever-unctuous Collingwoodliving.com notes the Deputy Mayor called it an “apparent” breakdown without taking responsibility for the EVIDENT breakdown The Block has caused:

Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson expressed his concern with the situation surrounding the possible sale of the airport and the apparent breakdown of the regional cooperation with the Town of Wasaga Beach in addition to the withdrawl (sic) of support by the Township of Clearview…. he has been frustrated with the actions of neighbouring municipalities, namely the town of Wasaga Beach and Clearview Township.

He was so frustrated that none of The Block ever bothered to speak with our neighbours, with our airport board and explain themselves. So frustrated they never even informed them officially about the sale of the airport. And now he’s blaming someone else. What a hypocrite.*

Why aren’t local reporters pointing the finger at what everyone else sees, and asking the hard questions about Collingwood’s secret motives? About why so many closed door meetings on the airport? About why The Block are opposed to creating jobs and economic growth here? Why are local reporters letting The Block weasel their way out of responsibility? Oh right: they don’t want to embarrass their friends.
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Who ya gonna call?

This song keeps running through my head:

If there’s something strange in you neighborhood
Who you gonna call? (your councillor)
If there’s something weird
And it don’t look good
Who you gonna call? (your councillor)
With apologies to Ray Parker, composer of the Ghostbusters theme song.

More than three years after I left council, I still get calls from residents, still get stopped in grocery stores or when I’m walking my dog, dragged into conversations with residents unhappy with local politics and how they’ve been treated by this council. Specifically by members of The Block Seven.

I get asked about snowplowing, about why we don’t have more stop signs, about off-leash dog parks, about tree planting, about our utility bills, taxes, sidewalks, the BIA and pretty much everything else. I think I’ve been approached by more residents and town staff to discuss local issues these past three years than I was ever approached when I was actually on council.

I listen politely, remind them I am not on council and cannot do much as a private citizen, then I always ask, “Have you contacted someone on council about it?” And every time I get one or more of the following responses:

  • I tried, but they wouldn’t listen.
  • They won’t answer their phone (or email).
  • They brushed me off.
  • They wouldn’t give me a straight answer.
  • I don’t trust them.
  • They never returned my calls (or emails).
  • I tried but they couldn’t understand my problem.
  • They told me to speak to someone else on council.
  • They told me to call someone on staff.
  • After what they did to our hospital, I don’t want to speak to any of them again.
  • I did but they’re as thick as a brick.
  • They talked down to me.
  • I did and they promised to look into it but never got back to me.
  • I did and they promised to look into it but nothing ever got done.
  • And so on.

Well, it’s not true of everyone at the table, of course. Only The Block. Seems many residents find The Block uncommunicative, impolite and inept. Not a surprise, given their love of secrecy and deception, and dislike of learning and reading. Of course, no one ever claimed we elected the best, just that we elected a clique of self-serving people with private agendas and vendettas. But I’ve said that before. But that’s not where I was going. This post is about how to elect people you can speak with, by improving our election process.

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Collingwood’s culture of secrecy

Soviet politburoFor the past fifteen months, I have been trying to get a copy of the Request For Proposals (RFP) sent out to potential buyers for the purchase of our public utility. For the past fifteen months, the town has fought me, has refused to hand it over, has challenged my appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC). The public is not allowed to see it, even though it affects us and our once-public utility. Even though it is in the public’s interest to know what has been going on.

Why not? After all, the RFP was released in August, 2016, the responses were received that fall, and this council decided to sell our utility to the for-profit corporation, EPCOR, shortly after. All done, of course, behind closed doors with no public input or engagement. So why not release the RFP? It’s not a legal document, it has no bearing on the sale nor the conditions of proposals. The process is completed.

Seeing the RFP now surely has no effect on any of the already-completed negotiations. But the town still says no. The inescapable conclusion is that the town is hiding something. Something devious, unethical, something The Block don’t want revealed to the public.

The public can’t see it simply because of the deeply entrenched culture of secrecy and deception in town hall. This culture is so ingrained in everything this council does that it acts more like a Soviet politburo than a supposedly open, democratic government.

The RFP was crafted by the sole-sourced lawyer hired by the administration (with The Block’s unanimous approval). He sent it out, not the town, and it was not shared with council. This is not merely highly unusual: it was a deliberate act to ensure the secrecy of this document. Not only can the public not learn to whom the RFP was sent, but what it asked for because now the town can hide behind client-solicitor privilege. Very devious.

That’s right: this was set up to deliberately block public scrutiny. But as you already know, the entire process has been done behind closed doors to avoid all public scrutiny and input. As I wrote before, this council held at least 37 (and possibly more) closed-door meetings about the fate of our public utility yet in three years has never ONCE said why they want to sell it, has never ONCE asked for public comment on the sale. An open, transparent government would not behave like that.

Who can forget the promise made by candidate Brian Saunderson – now deputy mayor, in the Connection before the last election:

Ensure all major decisions seek out community input, and ensure there is rigorous staff research and due diligence before any decision is made.

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