Was it worth more than $7.7 million of your tax dollars? That’s roughly $8,400 a page (including, yes, the blank pages). That includes $232,866 in town staff salaries and $48,008 in staff travel expenses. Fifty-seven percent of that total went to legal costs, including $1.58 million on the town’s own legal costs. I can’t tell from the article linked above if the total includes the cost of having to rent commercial space downtown for the treasury department during the inquiry.
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to what a Judicial Inquiry is supposed to do, how it is supposed to operate, or why it did or didn’t do some things. But I can tell you what I personally expected: inclusiveness, fairness, accuracy, objectivity, and recommendations relevant to the municipality. And the rest is just my personal view, of course, but perhaps some of you share it.
I don’t think we got everything I expected from the inquiry and its 23 employees (plus the additional services of IT, website, and audio/visual companies that cost more than $1.1 million).
What we did get after almost two years was 914 digital pages that mostly rehashed what was said in testimonies, in emails, and other documents during the inquiry, all of which was already available on the inquiry’s website. And it came with 306 recommendations, many of which were relevant to the province (changing or amending various acts), many were generic, and others for which the town has either already implemented or has in existing policies and bylaws.
That list, in my reading of it, could have been made without an inquiry spending $7.7 million of taxpayers’ money. And one has to ask whether the 73 recommendations about the CAO’s and staff’s roles (recommendations 70-85 and 86-143, respectively) were not outside the mandate of the inquiry. (Oddly enough, spending $8,400 a page was apparently not enough to get the editor — if there was one — to include an index.).
Regardless of the wisdom or relevance of these recommendations, I certainly think the town could have spent $7.7 million (and rising: the bills are still coming in) more wisely. Spend it on something constructive that benefitted the community, like fixing the waterfront, repairing our shoddy roads and cracked sidewalks, cleaning stormwater drains across town, planting trees, developing bicycle-safe zones, improving and expanding trails, upgrading parks, upgrading the wastewater treatment plant, funding community businesses and artists during the pandemic shutdowns, or just keeping our taxes from rising again. You know: doing the things that actually matter to residents.
According to Collingwood Today:
“The task is to determine how and why a problem occurred and recommend how a town can prevent similar occurrences in the future,” stated Marrocco on Monday when he released his report.
Shouldn’t the task have been to first determine IF a problem occurred? Deciding before any testimonies that there was a problem suggests a pre-determination of guilt, not an objective inquiry.
Keep in mind that this inquiry was cunningly called for at a council meeting when three of the nine members of council were absent and could not participate in the discussion or vote. It was approved by a razor-thin majority of five: Saunderson, Ecclestone, Jeffrey, Doherty, and Madigan in Feb. 2018, more than three years after that council had been elected, and six years after the last of the events took place. If it was so important, why didn’t they call for it sooner? (A question local media neglected to ask) I suspect it was solely because it was a few months away from another municipal election and they could ride their campaigns on it to re-election. And it worked for four of them.
Keep in mind, too, that council heard justifications for an inquiry behind closed doors from a lawyer who was hired on a sole-source basis (without the RFP required by the procurement bylaw) by the administration, and not in response to a request from council for a lawyer or for said advice. According to my sources, that lawyer never interviewed or questioned any of the utility staff or former board and council members before making his recommendations to council behind those closed doors. And that same lawyer was later given the lucrative role of representing the town in the inquiry on a sole-source basis without a proper RFP for the second time.
And the local media never questioned any of this — nor was it raised during the inquiry.
Nor were witnesses or lawyers during the hearings allowed to raise the secretive and deceptive nature of the later sale of the utility by the previous council to a for-profit, out-of-province corporation, done without any public input or consultation. If anything was an utter betrayal of public trust, that certainly was. So it remained unspoken during the inquiry. And the media let it slide, too. But I digress. Back to the report…