The report The Block don’t want you to see

Huge reportLate last year, BMA Management Consulting produced a hefty 517-page report called Municipal Study 2017* that examines a wide variety of socio-economic indicators in more than 100 Ontario municipalities: taxes, user fees, population, average home value, water/sewer, economic development programs and more. As Owen Sound notes on its website:

The study identifies both key quantifiable indicators and selective environmental factors that should be considered part of a comprehensive evaluation of a local municipality’s financial condition. Use of the study over a number of years provides trends to allow decision-makers to monitor selected indicators over time. Trend analysis helps to provide interpretive context. In addition, context can be provided by comparing a municipality’s own experience with the experience of other municipalities. In 2016, 105 Ontario municipalities participated in the Study.

Sudbury also notes on its website (with links to studies from 2011-17):

In 2017, 102 municipalities participated in the study which provides comparisons of financial information, select user fees, tax policies and rates, sewer and water services, and taxes as a percentage of income.

Collingwood data is listed among those 100+ participating municipalities (see pages 10 and 25 of the full report). But as far as I can tell, we were not presented with a copy – at least not for public consumption.
Did we even participate? If so, why hasn’t the report been released to the public? Are The Block hiding it from us? (I know what you’re going to say: because The Block encourages the culture of secrecy in town hall, they don’t ever like to release ANYTHING). A search for it on the town’s website turns up as much as you’d find in our Blockheads’ grey matter: no results.

Or was the data merely lifted from an earlier study BMA did of the town? By my count, we have used BMA for at least four such reports (Jan. and Dec. 2014, Nov. 2015, and Nov. 2016). I cannot find any record that these were actually put out to tender, but given The Block’s and the administration’s eagerness to sole-source everything and hand out contracts like party favours, I doubt it.

Maybe the town declined to buy it because some folks in town hall didn’t want it to be made public because it might reflect badly on their policies and practices.

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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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What became of Better Together Collingwood?

GullibilityRather amusingly, the Better Together Collingwood website is still online. The latest event noted on the site is a rally for Monday March 25, 2013. Its Facebook page also remains intact, although the most recent post there is dated Jan. 15, 2015. But what are stale-dated entries about non-existent activities of a fake association among friends, eh? Well, it seems the only friends left for BTC are at the council table.

It’s amusing because as a group it ceased to be a functional entity the moment the last municipal election was held and Brian Saunderson won his seat as deputy mayor. That’s because the real purpose of the group – in fact the sole purpose – was to get him and his minions elected. Which it did. After which any pretence of it being a community or citizens’ group was immediately dropped. The gullible people who tagged along thinking they were working collaboratively towards a better community were no longer needed and there was no need to string them along any more.

And it wasn’t as if the organizers sent emails or letters to all members or supporters saying, “Thanks for your efforts, keep up the good work.” Nothing was said about how the groups was supposed to make sure their candidates ALSO toed the line and behaved as they had promised. The Block just turned their backs and walked away. They never looked back. They were too busy taking things apart and breaking Collingwood.

Apparently the organizers and site manager(s) were too busy celebrating their victory to bother to attend to the infrastructure they used to get into power. So the site and FB page remains as ironic reminders of how easy it is to fool some of the people all of the time. You joined? You were conned.

BTC’s sites exist to rub people’s noses into the fact that they actually believed in Brian and his cabal at one time. Few would admit to that these days, of course. Not after three years of deception, secrecy and pursuit or personal agendas and vendettas at public expense by this council.

And where, oh where was the local media coverage of this debacle? Oh right: no harm or criticism ever done to your friends.
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Brian suddenly realizes there’s a budget process.

PerplexedOver on BBFFWS (Brian’s BFF’s Web Site) is a sort-of-a story about Collingwood’s 2018 budget. It’s really just some comments about a document this council won’t even get a peek at until sometime in late January, and won’t get through the approval stage until late spring or even early summer. Even though all of our municipal neighbours, the county and indeed most of Ontario, have already approved their 2018 budgets, Collingwood continues to slog along, months behind the process curve. And nary a word of complaint from The Block. Well, to be fair, nary a word they even noticed was uttered.

But apparently the news that there is actually a process involved in budget approval surprised The Block, who had in the past three years merely raised their hands to hike taxes at staff’s request (while, of course, granting themselves a pay hike at the same time). I suspect the idea that there may be something deeper, something more complex, something that involved reading, bemused them. Maybe even shocked them.

Who knew budgets could be so difficult? Well, everyone except our Blockheads.

This week the treasurer told council that there is already a surplus of $1.75 million. That over-taxation represents about a 6% tax increase. In other words, had anyone on The Block been paying attention, they could have held taxes at zero percent these past three years, or even (gasp) lowered them. But paying attention isn’t their forte. Like actually reading the full budget isn’t a practice they have adopted. Or ever will.

Of course, a lot of that surplus will be used in paying off the excessive costs the town shouldered when it broke the shared services agreement, created a new IT department, bought tons of new hardware, hired three new staff persons and then still had to contract out some of the services we got from Collus IT staff for a third the cost. Oh and then there’s the pesky costs of the sole-sourced layers and consultants the administration hired to justify selling our publicly-owned electrical utility to a private for-profit corporation (without any public discussion, or course). Plus the costs of paying the former interim CAO a consultant’s fee after he “retired.” And hiring new staff in the treasury department (yet which department still can’t produce the budget on time). Plus there are hundreds of thousands more in legal bills to come to go through the legal application process to sell our utility. And then there’s the promised $700,000-plus savings from taking the water utility away from its partnership with the electrical utility – which instead seems to have become an expense to taxpayers, not a savings.

So will we really have a surplus for 2018? Not likely. If that were true why would the treasurer have asked council to approve an automatic 1.7% cost-of-living increase on our taxes this fall, months before the budget was even discussed? And that, by the way, was ON TOP of the automatic annual 0.75% levy The Block approved previously.

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EPCOR and The Block’s Big Lie

The Big LieFor all their evils and their wrongs, the Soviets did some things very well: propaganda and disinformation. As one writer commented in the Spectator, “Communist ideology dismissed the idea of truth as a bourgeois construct. What mattered was power; and you baptised as truth those doctrines which provided it.” Stalin defined truth as what he said it was.

The Soviets were such masters at it from an early stage that George Orwell declared that history stopped in 1936; after that there was only propaganda. So good were they at it that their methods and techniques were copied by other states and are still in play in the West, today. And they’re not just in what comes from the Trump administration: both are in play right here in Collingwood, alive and active this very week.

Yes, Collingwood has been subject to the sort of propaganda and deception that has its historic roots in Soviet propaganda.

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