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.

Continue reading “Brian suddenly realizes there’s a budget process.”

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.

Continue reading “EPCOR and The Block’s Big Lie”

Open vs secret at Collingwood Council part 2

ScamIn the previous part of this story, I provided dates of meetings and events in the terms of the previous council (on which I sat) and the current council. I documented how last term, the sale of one half the share of our electrical utility (Collus) was sold to the municipally-owned PowerStream (now Alectra) through a very well-documented, open and transparent process. I compared it to the secretive, deceptive process used by The Block on Collingwood Council, and the administration.

Last term, residents and stakeholders were engaged and informed. This term we have been ignored, avoided and lied to. Last term, there was a single in-camera meeting during the 18 month-long process, and that was to open sealed bids.

This term there have been at least 37 closed door meetings about the utility in three years to date, and perhaps more than 40. Last term, everything about the process and the public discussions was covered in the local media (even the number of proposals received was reported last term). This term, only the barest coverage exists, in part because the process has been so secretive that there has been little to report (this term even the number of bids received from the RFP has been kept secret).

Keep in mind, too that in July 11, 2016: Council voted 7-2 (The Block vs Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd) to “explore” selling its share in Collus-PowerStream, even though by then they had already, secretly appointed a sole-sourced lawyer to oversee the share sale. At that meeting, Councillor Madigan disingenuously said, “I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties.” He also said, “You can never be in control if you own 50% of anything,” then voted to sell 100% of the utility! Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson said, “By bringing it out in the public, we’re just letting all parties know that we’re kicking the tires and seeing what’s available.” The hypocrisy and deception was – and remains – rampant among The Block.

In this post I will cover the final year for the process in both terms: 2012 compared to 2017. Since this is still ongoing, and likely will continue until the end of this term (Nov. 2018), I will report on the subsequent events in later posts. But even a to-date comparison shows clearly how much the public has been misled and deceived this term.

There were also public discussions about how to spend the money from the sale last term, and a meeting where public suggestions were invited and received. The council discussion about the sale money continued until mid-2013, when the final decision was made. I have listed those dates, below.

Alectra has recently rejected a demand from the town to buy the town’s share for $12.5 million. The Block’s plan to privatize all of it to a for-profit corporation (and next year to follow through by selling that same corporation our water and wastewater services) is in motion. Under their plan, all of the utility will be owned by an out-of-province company with no local representation, no local say, no transparency or accountability, no local control over services and rates. And all done with no public discussion or consultation.

This process has gone far beyond merely unethical. It has the stench of corruption about it. Secrecy always does. Sole-sourced lawyers and consultants were brought in at great expense to taxpayers to push a one-sided agenda. Public consultation was ignored. Requests from our own utility board and from our municipal partner to make public presentations were refused. Secret deals to pay money from taxpayer funds even if the sale doesn’t go through have been signed. The former interim CAO was retained as a “consultant” at taxpayer expense after he allegedly resigned – done at another closed-door meeting. At the very least, a judicial inquiry into the process should be held, but perhaps the OPP Rackets Squad should be called, too, to determine if public money has been legally and ethically used.

Continue reading “Open vs secret at Collingwood Council part 2”

In camera, closed door meetings in Collingwood, 2015-17

SecrecyUsing the agendas posted on the town’s website, I tallied up the number of Council’s in-camera meetings for three specific topics this term: Collus-PowerStream (including the share sale, shared services agreement, advice from Mark Rodger and board appointments); the hospital redevelopment, and the airport (including the request for a letter of intent and possible sale of the airport).

There are several other items listed for in camera discussion that may be related to one or more of these, but since I could not pair them with motions or later news items, and the listed descriptions were inadequate, I did not include them. I did include three closed-door meetings that I have good reason to believe were related to Collus-PowerStream (CPS) issues. These are council meetings only, and does not include any the standing committee meetings.

Of course, I cannot list any of the numerous one-on-one or small group meetings about these issues held in the interim CAO’s office, nor meetings between the town administration and CPS staff. Note that some of these were special council meetings called specifically to discuss the subject behind closed doors:

Airport: 14 meetings:
2015: Jan 5, Feb 2, Feb 17, Apr 7, May 4, Oct 19, Nov 16;
2016: Jan 4, Mar 21, July 11;
2017: July 17, Aug 21, Sep 11, Sep 25.

Hospital redevelopment: 4 meetings
2016: Apr. 11, Aug 8;
2017: Mar 4, Mar 27.

Collus-PowerStream: 37 meetings, plus three potential
2015: 9 definite, 2 possible (of a total 28 council meetings)
Mar 16? property disposition (agenda description is inadequate);
Mar 28? legal advice (agenda description is inadequate);
Apr 7 shared services;
May 19 shared services;
May 27 shared services;
June 15 shared services;
June 22 shared services;
Aug 4 shareholder’s interest, Collus PowerStream board applications;
Aug 24, board applications;
Sep 8, board applications;
Oct 5 Hydro shareholder update review and services.

Continue reading “In camera, closed door meetings in Collingwood, 2015-17”

The secrecy and deception behind Collingwood’s utility sale

Shady dealsMeetings held behind closed doors late into the night. Personal vendettas. Kickbacks. Conspiracy theories. Scams and phony reports. Backroom deals. Unethical politicians conniving. Dubious legality. Shady characters pulling strings from the shadows. Scheming. Minions acting like thugs. Cowardice. Hidden contracts. Lies and deception. A deal they can’t refuse. A financial shell game. The betrayal of public trust.

If that sounds like the ingredients for a crime novel, to me it reads like Collingwood Council’s secretive, unethical “process” to sell our public utilities. The public was betrayed by The Block. The process has a stench of corruption about it. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Monday night, The Block voted to sell our electrical utility; only the remaining two ethical and honourable members of council – Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd – voted against the deal. And what a “deal” it is – crafted in secret, without any public consultation or input, and giving away the keys to the candy store to a for-profit buyer. It screws Collingwood. What little we know about it only illuminates the devious scheming that went on behind it. For example:

Other terms of the sale include a 25-year lease of the Collus PowerStream property and operations centre from the Town, job and location guarantees for Collus PowerStream employees, and a contribution of $150,000 towards the Waterfront Master Plan, one of the community’s biggest priorities, as identified in the Community Based Strategic Plan.

Since when does a utility sale become contingent on a “contribution” for an unrelated project like the waterfront? When you buy a car, do you have to “contribute” to the dealership’s coffee fund? Or to the salesman’s kid’s little league uniforms? Sure sounds like blackmail to me. And who signs a 25-year lease for anything, let alone an old, outdated building without any commitment by the owner to upgrade or maintain it?

And will the OEB permit a utility sale to be contingent on a 25-year lease? Or a kickback for the waterfront? My industry sources suggest not.

Council “offered” the share sale to its partner, Alectra simply because the shareholders’ agreement (USA) required it. Alectra already offered to buy it earlier this year (outside the RFP process; the amount undisclosed, but industry contacts suggest the offer was likely $10-11 million) but The Block turned them down. Without saying why, of course. But we know they were already in bed with EPCOR.

The latest price demanded by the town is highly inflated – it includes unrelated items to bump up the asking price by $2-3 million (or more) above the actual value. Why? Because The Block want the municipally-owned, Ontario-based Alectra to refuse so the town can buy it back and then sell the whole thing to the out-of-province, for-profit EPCOR:

If Alectra opts to buy the Town’s shares at the same price as EPCOR has offered, Alectra will become the sole owner of the utility. If Alectra opts to sell its shares, EPCOR will become the sole owner of the utility.

See? It’s already decided. EPCOR wins. The deal was made behind closed doors.

That’s a direct quote from the town’s own media release. This whole deal was connived in secret to sell it to EPCOR, without any public discussion, much less consultation. It’s very dirty; from my viewpoint, it’s negotiating in bad faith with our existing partner. If this isn’t corruption, then the definition has been changed since I was in office.

EPCOR will get $1 million even if Alectra buys it. That’s $1 million of YOUR money paid out as a kickback. Plus the town has agreed to pay a portion of EPCOR’s legal fees. Why? As the Connection reported, that was one of those sleazy backroom deals The Block cut:

If Alectra chooses to buy the town’s shares, $1 million would be transferred to EPCOR for their time during the process. Rodger said the town would pay a portion of the legal fees for the deal, as would the purchaser.

Continue reading “The secrecy and deception behind Collingwood’s utility sale”

The secret costs of the EPCOR deal

Scheming BlockheadsWhether or not The Block sell our share of our public electrical utility to the for-profit, Edmonton-based EPCOR, it will still cost taxpayers millions. And I don’t mean just the rising costs of sole-sourced lawyers and buddy consultants the administration has hired (well over $1 million already, and the bills keep coming in). I’m talking about the hidden costs The Block won’t divulge because they don’t want taxpayers to realize how really bad a deal they’ve made with this devil.

And it all happens behind closed doors, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. No public input allowed on the sale of our own utility. The Block intend to privatize our utility without informing the public of the costs or the consequences.

My industry sources tell me there are many costs associated with the sale that will be built into the selling price, but paid back to the buyer after the sale. In other words: it’s a shell game. We taxpayers will pay the buyer’s costs and their fees, but these will be hidden in the contract, which will be kept secret, so you won’t know what they really are. Sneaky and underhanded – The Block’s way.

Let’s start with the transfer tax: the Ministry of Finance applies a 22% tax to sales made to out-of-province buyers. So if the sale of the town’s share is $8 million as it was in 2012, the MoF will demand a $1.76 million transfer fee. But the buyer will probably offer more, an inflated value of, say, $10 or even $12 million, and the town will repay the buyer the tax from the total. So the town doesn’t actually get the extra cash: that pays the buyer’s taxes. Did I mention the shell game?

Then there’s the “break fee” or termination fee we will pay even if the deal falls through. This happened to Innisfil when its council decided not to sell InnPower to EPCOR (as I recall from media stories, the amount was $1.2 million, but I may be incorrect). Wikipedia tells us this is:

… a penalty set in takeover agreements, to be paid if the target backs out of a deal (usually because it has decided instead to accept a more attractive offer). The breakup fee is ostensibly to compensate the original acquirer for the cost of the time and resources expended in negotiating the original agreement. A breakup fee also serves to inhibit competing bids, since such bids would have to cover the cost of the breakup fee as well.

Which my industry sources tell me has already been agreed upon – in secret of course – by The Block and the town administration. We’ll pay it even if we decide not to sell. How much will it cost us? It really depends on what sort of slimy deal The Block cut, but again my industry sources suggest it will be between 8% and 13% of the offer.

Continue reading “The secret costs of the EPCOR deal”