The Judicial Inquiry and $7+ Million

Show trialWas 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…

Continue reading “The Judicial Inquiry and $7+ Million”

The towering heights of the SVJI

Mountain of paperworkFour hundred and twenty seven thousand, two hundred and sixty five. That’s how many documents have been submitted to the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) to date, according to a story in Collingwood Today.*

There is no indication if more are expected after that, but it wasn’t ruled out, either.

More than 425,000 documents. The sheer volume is gobsmacking. Let’s take a look at what that might mean.

It isn’t specified if these are single or multiple page documents. We have to assume at least some are more than a single page. For the sake of easy calculations, let’s say 17% of them have two pages. That brings the number of pages up to 500,000. Now we need to do some calculations about just what the SVJI is doing to your tax dollars and the environment.

One typical ream of paper, and a cat (right).

Start with a base measurement: a standard ream of 20-lb paper is 500 sheets. It measures (in imperial) 8.5 x 11 x 2 inches and weighs 5 lb. Heavier weight paper (24 and 28 lb.) result in thicker and heavier reams. I’ll translate those numbers to metric below.**

Five hundred thousand pages is 1,000 reams of paper. That stacks up to 2,000 inches or 166.7 feet (almost as many as I have feet of books in my home). Just a little wider than an American football field. Laid end-to-end it would be 917 feet long. It would weigh two and a half tons  – about what a mid-size pickup truck or SUV weighs.

According to the Sierra Club, that much paper would take 25-50 full-grown trees (an average 8-inch diameter trunk and height of about 45 feet) to produce – not taking into account any other environmental, industrial or energy impacts from cutting trees to produce the paper. Other sites suggest about 16-17 reams per tree (or about 60 trees to make 1,000 reams)

Paper is sold by the box of 5,000 sheets and the SVJI has 100 cases worth of paper in those documents (printed one-sided). The least expensive paper on the Staples.ca website sells for $54 for a box of low-grade copier paper, but it can rise to $70 or more for better quality paper (heavier, brighter). Assuming the town buys in bulk from a wholesaler, they may pay as little as $40 a case.

The image on the left shows to scale 1,000 reams of paper  – 500,000 sheets – measured against the average male (174 cm or about 5’9″).

Continue reading “The towering heights of the SVJI”

SVJI costs continue to skyrocket

BureaucracyAs I predicted earlier, the costs for Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) are going to climb through the roof. And of course you, the taxpayer, are going to pay for it.

Last month local media carried stories that the SVJI – scheduled to begin this month (November) – wasn’t going to meet its deadlines. It was delayed and would not start until the “new year” (apparently not until February, 2019). Bayshore Broadcasting notes in its coverage*:

The inquiry team had hoped they would start this fall, but Inquiry Counsel Janet Leiper tells us that won’t be possible and that it will be the new year before the public hearings can start. She says that’s because the rest of some of the necessary documents aren’t expected until the end of November.

Three more months of lawyers being paid $400-$700 an hour, plus travel and accommodations , plus the other staff, computers, phone, office space… That’s going to hurt the town’s budget but hey, it isn’t Saunderson’s money he’s spending. And it helped him win the election, so he doesn’t care what it costs you.

The piece also noted the inquiry had already received about 11,000 documents and interviewed more than 60 witnesses, some of whom may need to spoken to again. Ka-ching!**

Alectra – the company that came from the merger of PowerStream and other Ontario utilities – has already submitted more than 4,000 documents, sorted out from about 40,000 the company had from the time period in question. But that’s not enough: the SVJI wants more paperwork from more people.

Alectra’s lawyer, Michael Watson, said that could mean sorting through 100,000-200,000 documents from that period.  Big job. So why not do it twice? The Connection noted:

(Judge) Marrocco suggested the company provide the documents and allow inquiry staff to do a search while Alectra does the same.

Okay, let’s do some cost and time estimates on the effort required to search through 100,000 or more documents.
Continue reading “SVJI costs continue to skyrocket”

Statement for the Judicial Inquiry

NB: This is the statement I read aloud at the public meeting for the Judicial Inquiry, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. It is a much-abbreviated version of a statement I have made in my written submission to the inquiry.

Thank you, your honour, for letting me speak tonight. My name is Ian Chadwick. I was a member of the previous council.

This inquiry is about two of the many challenges council faced and overcame last term.

First was the changing nature of Ontario’s energy sector. Prior to the provincial election, all three political parties vowed to reduce the number of Local Distribution Companies across the province. The town expected legislation to force amalgamations after the election.

Council chose to be proactive.

Council listened to our utility board, to our utility and town staff, and to a consultant from the world-renowned firm KPMG. We created a Strategic Planning Team tasked with the responsibility of finding the best option and then guiding us along that path through an open public process.

Our decision to engage in a strategic partnership was lauded around the province as a model of cooperation and collaboration.
Continue reading “Statement for the Judicial Inquiry”

More costs pile onto the SVJI

Pie in faceIt seems Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) is eating up taxpayer money rapidly, with a little help from other town departments. It was originally estimated to cost taxpayers between $2 and $6 million – and now it seems that could be much more thanks to this latest farcical chapter.

Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry needs space, not just your cash, to conduct its business. Lots of space, it seems. The SVJI crew had set up shop in town hall, and were occupying office real estate therein, but it wasn’t enough: they needed room to expand. With space in the building already at a premium, they looked around town for some larger, commercial space to occupy. Space to spread out all that paperwork and put up posters of Saunderson’s Most Wanted (aka the previous council).

And last month, the SVJI people found just the space they needed in the Sheffer Court building. The town sighed a quiet ‘hooray’ and promptly signed a lease for them. Everyone in town hall eagerly looked forward to the move so they could get their desks and copiers back. Until someone in the Saunderson  cabal caught wind of the new address.

It seems that’s the building once occupied by the Block’s antichrist, Paul Bonwick. And even through he’s long gone, the Block fear Bonwickism is a transmittable ailment that might lead to brotherly associations with the mayor – one of The Block’s principal targets of their bile and hatred this term. Or maybe it’s his Liberalism that could be catching. Heaven forbid: the SVJI members might start hanging pictures of Justin Trudeau or even Jean Chretien on the walls.

Either way, someone had a hissy fit over the closeness of the SVJI to the ghost of Bonwick past.

In full Blockish “sky-is-falling” mode they ran into town hall screaming hysterically, and demanded the move be stopped. Now! This instant! Cancel the deal! Cluck, cluck, the sky is falling! 

But the landlord said, No way. We had a deal. You signed a lease; the offices are yours for the year. And he wouldn’t let the town off the hook. So tenant or not, taxpayers still had to pay for the offices. And the SVJI still needed space.

The solution was worthy of the Marx Brothers : move the town’s entire treasury department and staff out of town hall and into the offices instead. That’s right: take all of the people, furniture, phones, computers, copiers, files, chairs, desks,filing cabinets, Rolodex cards and printers they needed to function and move them down the block. Then install security locks, new phone lines, and new internet and network cables both there and in town hall for the SVJI folk. And, of course, we taxpayers shoulder the moving and installation costs.

It’s not Saunderson’s money, so why should he care? After all, he and his minions have raised your taxes four times this term already – another four years of him will provide the opportunity for another four tax hikes to pay for their wild spending habits. And, of course, for their mandatory pay raises they vote themselves each time they raise your taxes.

Surely the treasury department is as vulnerable to the taint of Bonwickism as the SVJI staff, but the Block don’t seem to have noticed that little inconsistency in their plan during their collective cluck, cluck, clucking.

Continue reading “More costs pile onto the SVJI”