Collus in purgatory

PurgatoryPurgatory is how a staff person described to me the current situation of our local electrical utility, Collus-PowerStream (CPS). It’s the result of The Block’s and the administration’s incessant interference, manipulations, contrivances and scheming over the past three years. And it was evident, Wednesday, at the meeting where CPS presented its draft Distribution System Plan, a strategic plan for future maintenance and growth.

They’re in purgatory because The Block have made the utility’s future uncertain. They cannot accurately craft business plans, strategic plans, cannot make any long-range plans for growth or sustainable development because they never know what new hurdle or attack The Block will throw at them. For three years CPS staff have weathered assaults on their revenue stream, their employees, their services, their morale, their partnership with both PowerStream and the town, their board, their integrity and their ownership. The Block have done everything in their power to make the lives and work of the employees hell. And they’ve been very effective at it. Some employees have had to take stress leave as a result of the bullying.

And now with The Block about to privatize our utility – without, of course any public discussion let along consultation – CPS is in a real quandary. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) requires utilities to create and share with the public these system plans that reach five years into the future. But if you don’t know day-to-day what will happen with your ownership, your rates, your board, or your revenue, how can you create a realistic plan for tomorrow, let alone the future?

But CPS has to do it, and Wednesday’s presentation was part of that requirement. Which meant it, by necessity, was long on generalities but short on specifics (I believe they will be provided in subsequent public presentations). The invitation (sent to all members of council) read:

Collus PowerStream Corporation is pleased to present an overview of its draft Distribution System Plan (DSP) of planned investments in its electrical distribution infrastructure to service present and future customers from 2018 to the end of 2022. The investments are designed to provide timely value to customers by aligning reliability and service quality with customer expectations.
Customer and other stakeholder input over the years has influenced these planned investments. The draft DSP gives all stakeholders the opportunity to review and comment on it. Collus PowerStream welcomes feedback on the proposed investment plan to help Collus PowerStream maintain acceptable levels of service and ensure plan alignment with customer needs and expectations.
Collus PowerStream believes that feedback received on this consultation through two-way communication will further enhance existing relationships with our customers and other stakeholders, and help achieve positive value-added outcomes that support the Ontario Energy Board’s regulatory objectives for the electricity distribution sector.

Of nine members of council, only two had the courtesy to attend this important presentation: Councillors Edwards and Doherty.* The latter was there because she is the Blockhead on the CPS board, appointed in lieu of an actually qualified person (numerous applicants evidently proved too intimidating by their qualifications to appoint). Doherty is she of the “what’s a dividend?” comments.

The mayor and Councillor Lloyd were both out of town on previously arranged vacations. As for the rest – all of them members of The Block – what was their excuse for not attending? Disdain? Arrogance? Disrespect? Willful ignorance? Perhaps all of these. These attributes define The Block and have been expressed towards our utility and its staff (and our hospital) in the past.

It might have been their nap time, too (although at least one prefers to snooze during council meetings…). Or perhaps there were scared off by the very idea of public engagement and feedback – the bete noir that threatens their beloved culture of secrecy.

Am I being too harsh expecting our elected representatives to actually do the job we pay them for (and for which they’ve given themselves a pay raise THREE times already and are planning  fourth)? 

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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.

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The Block are privatizing our public assets

sneakySo Brian and his Block minions want to sell our airport. Our publicly-owned asset. And they’re doing it without even the pretence of the courtesy to tell us why. No public input, no public engagement, no open discussion over it. In the flaccid Connection story, it notes,

In November, 2016, deputy mayor Brian Saunderson asked Clearview Township Deputy Mayor Barry Burton if his municipality was interested in taking over operation of the airport.

As usual, the slavish local media drool over their buddy Brian, but cleverly neglect to point out that Saunderson is neither the spokesperson for the town (and has no authority to make such a request), nor does he even sit on the airport board. Any such request should be made officially by the town to Clearview Council, as a group. And yet the paper has no critical comment about how sneaky and underhanded this process has been. Ah well, local media gave up its credibility years ago.

Now, I know that egregious secrecy on The Block’s part doesn’t surprise my readers by now. In almost three years of their term, The Block have never once publicly divulged the reason for any of their destructive rampages through our community. They – who promised us openness and transparency during the election campaign – have rightfully earned the nickname The Most Secretive Council Ever. And several less printable but equally deserved nicknames, of course. But they just love secrecy and conniving in back rooms. They’re addicted to it, a habit they can’t break.

The Block have not told us why they want to sell our public utilities to a private, for-profit corporation out of Edmonton. They have never told us why they are in a libertarian frenzy to privatize our public assets and utilities without public input. They didn’t tell us why they created a new IT department in town hall, hired three new staffers and are spending two-three times the cost to operate it than we used to pay for in the shared services agreement. They didn’t tell us why they illegally fired the water utility board, or the electrical utility board and replaced them with their own secretly-chosen patsies (or put themselves on the board, instead). They didn’t tell us why they separated the water utility from the effective, efficient, 150-year-old working partnership with the electrical utility (and now the water utility is in chaos). And they didn’t tell us why they threw up roadblocks to stop the much-needed hospital redevelopment.

So no one really expected them to start acting all open and transparent now, over the airport. They are, after all, The Block. They live up to their name at every meeting.
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The Block’s worst abuse of power yet

Abuse of powerI warned you. I warned you The Block would blame others for their own evil acts, that they would scheme and connive to sell your assets behind closed doors, and they would find a way to keep the much-disliked interim CAO on, no matter what the cost to taxpayers. I warned you they would lie, scheme in secret, and behave unethically in order to get their own way. 

And I was right. They did it all, Monday night, behind closed doors.

This week, the town issued a media release that can only be described as the most flagrantly disingenuous statement this municipality has ever made. It says:

In order to ensure the process carries on uninterrupted, Council voted to direct the municipality’s legal counsel at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, and CAO John Brown to continue negotiations with EPCOR and prepare the required draft agreements.

The Block intend to keep paying the sole-sourced lawyer (who, I understand, has already billed the town around $500,000) and its unpopular interim CAO (whose salary is higher than that of the premier of Ontario!) in order to continue the vendetta against our publicly-owned utility, Collus-PowerStream.

These are the same people who not long ago promised they were only “kicking tires” and would get public input before they made any decisions. They lied.

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Why hasn’t a new CAO been hired?

Block Stress relief kitThe town was supposed to be hiring a new CAO, to replace John Brown, the unpopular interim CAO currently in the corner office. But although he’s supposed to be gone by September (I can hear you cheering now at that thought), that’s barely six weeks away. And we have heard nothing yet from council about his replacement. By now, a new one should have been in place. Announcements should have been made in the local media. But we’ve heard… nothing.

Smells fishy? It’s as if The Block still intends to keep Brown on, to extend his contract for a third time. I can hear you gasping in horror at the thought. I know: even for those who don’t agree with my other sentiments about this council, it’s unsettling to think on it. Brown is arguably the least popular administrator in this town, since I arrived here in 1990. Possibly the least popular person here, period. And he apparently has fewer supporters in the community than even his main idol worshipper, Brian Saunderson (whose remaining community supporters can be counted on the fingers of one hand and still have enough digits left over to flip him the bird…)

At $225,000-plus a year, Brown’s salary is more than the premier of the province is paid, and at least $50,000 and maybe even $100,000 more than another CAO could be getting. Renewing his contract has cost taxpayers at least $100,000 and perhaps double that. Not to mention the costs in legal and consulting fees he has racked up – more than $750,000 to date and more in the pipeline – to pursue his objectives. None of which have benefitted the town or our residents. So you could argue that by supporting and retaining him, The Block have wasted more than $1 million of your money so far. But take heart: they have raised your taxes three times and given themselves a raise three times, too.

I haven’t been able to glean any details about what happened to derail the recent recruitment process, except that The Block interfered with previous practices and as a result, like everything they touch, it is seriously screwed up. Seriously broken. A simple process that they turned into a disaster. Like always.
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