Just when you thought our council could not get any more petty or puerile, they lower the bar again. Last night, in a 7-2 vote, our punishment-obsessed council voted to spend yet more of your tax dollars on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI). Yes, that’s right: they agreed to give even more of your money to sole-sourced lawyers. Again.
It will likely cost taxpayers millions more before it’s over. And guess what? There are even more undeclared conflicts of interest involved!
According to the story in CollingwoodToday,
During a meeting this evening (July 19), council voted to hire Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) after hearing from the firm in a June 24 closed meeting about possible legal actions to take in follow-up to the findings of the judicial inquiry report.
Mark Rodgers, a lawyer with BLG, you may recall, was sole-sourced in 2015 to look into the share sale of Collus to PowerStream. He was then sole-sourced to represent the town in its secretive sale of our public utility to a private, for-profit corporation (EPCOR). Now the same firm has been sole-sourced for a third time, despite a procurement bylaw that prohibits such appointments and requires tendering. And it’s despite Brian Saunderson’s 2014 campaign promise to
…ensure there can be no sole sourcing of any contract for goods or services over $25,000, no exceptions.
Of course, he broke that almost as soon as he was elected, just like he broke his oath of office to “truly, faithfully and impartially exercise this office to the best of my knowledge and ability” when elected mayor the following term. Keeping promises was never high on Saunderson’s vision of his role.
Mayor Saunderson worked for BLG from 1997 to 2001. Councillor Hamlin worked for BLG from 1980 to 2007 (see photos from LinkedIn profiles). Isn’t that the sort of “apparent conflict” the inquiry report warned about? Neither of them declared a conflict of interest when appointing BLG as the town’s legal firm for this action (wonder why local media never questioned them on this?). *
Saunderson’s and Hamlin’s former firm, BLG, will be “tasked with preparing materials to achieve the town’s objective of accountability of various parties based on the findings made by Justice Frank Marrocco.” So for the fourth time, someone is going to go over the thousands of documents related to the inquiry (first time by the OPP, then by the inquiry, then by the CAO).
The Inquiry and its related investigations have cost taxpayers more than $10 million since 2015. The CAO’s investigation cost at least $700,000 and seems to be ongoing and racking up costs still. The OPP investigation… well, that’s been estimated to have cost the province anywhere from $10 to $20 million. And now BLG gets onto this gravy train. This council just loves to lavish money on sole-sourced lawyers to make their Great Leader happy.
For what purpose? Not to “effectively make accountability happen for those involved,” as Saunderson said in a self-serving statement (aka bullshit) last night. No, it’s far simpler: to punish people who thwarted his ambition in 2012. Back then, he wanted the 2010-14 council to build a $35 million recplex for the YMCA on town land using taxpayers’ money. That council wisely refused to grant the handout, and built public rec facilities instead, at a fraction of the cost. And for their temerity to make an independent decision, he has been seeking revenge on all involved, ever since.**
An OPP investigation opened in 2013 and officers examined bank records, emails, personal files, interviewed dozens of people, attended every inquiry hearing, and after several years of combing through everything found no criminal activity. No one was ever charged with anything. There was no bribery, no corruption, no laws broken.
But innocence didn’t stop Saunderson from pushing ahead with his vendetta, and at a council meeting on Feb. 26, 2018, cunningly held when three of the nine members of council could not participate in the discussion or vote, five councillors voted for Saunderson’s judicial inquiry motion: Saunderson, Ecclestone, Jeffrey, Doherty, and Madigan. This is who should be held accountable for the inquiry’s costs. They ordered it, they should pay for it.***
They were warned at the time that it could cost millions more than the low-ball estimates, but they went ahead, deviously telling the public it would only cost $1.4-$1.6 million. Well, the inquiry ran up a bill of almost $8.5 million itself, and when you include the sole-sourced lawyers and consultants hired in 2015 and 2016, the payment for the lawyer to sell Collus to EPCOR for us, the $250,000 secret deal with EPCOR, the CAO’s $700,000 as-important-as-clean-drinking-water report, the $17,297 for one sole-sourced lawyer’s video report, and the initial $15,000 for sole-sourced BLG, the total is well over $10 million, possibly as high as $12 million.
Basically, every penny the town received from the secretive and deceptive privatization of our formerly public utility and public airport has gone to pay for the Sanderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry and its related costs. And to show for it we have a 900-page report with many irrelevant or outdated recommendations (and a council that routinely ignores the relevant ones about apparent conflicts).
But, apparently, Saunderson and his sycophanti don’t think taxpayers have paid enough to lawyers. Monday night they commited to spending even more of your money, likely millions of tax dollars more, on what is clearly a personal vendetta from 2012. No doubt residents are being punished for failing to show the proper level of enthusiasm for the Great Leader’s vision and the SVJI when council held its first and only public meeting to rationalize the spending (they failed to justify it, of course).
Meanwhile, our streets crumble, sidewalks decay, parks look shoddy, the terminals are falling apart, lampposts on our main road are rotting, traffic problems mount, we’re in a self-made water “crisis,” and local businesses and workers hurt by months of pandemic lockdown still suffer without any financial support from the town. But out-of-town lawyers will continue to benefit from Saunderson’s nine-year vendetta because of these seven: Saunderson, Hull, Madigan, Berman, McLeod, Jeffrey, Hamlin.
And none of them seem to realize he’s been appointed the PC candidate for this riding (without having to actually win it) and, should he win the election, he’ll bugger off and leave them to take the blame for this egregious waste of taxpayers’ money. The lawsuits and countersuits will continue long after he’s gone.****
Collingwood deserves better.
* The entire point of the final report of the $10-million-plus Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry was that elected officials should avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest, as the following SVJI recommendations (emphasis added) noted:
9 Section 223.2(4) of the Municipal Act … should be amended to require that municipal codes of conduct for Council members include provisions on real, apparent, and potential conflicts of interest.
12 The Province of Ontario should amend the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act to broaden its scope beyond deemed pecuniary interest to encompass any real, apparent, and potential conflict of interest.
27 The Code of Conduct should contain specific provisions addressed to apparent and potential conflicts of interest as well as real conflicts of interest.
28 The Code of Conduct should state that Council members must understand and adhere to their obligations concerning real, apparent, and potential conflicts of interest under the Municipal Act, the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the Code of Conduct for Council members in Collingwood, and other relevant Town policies and legislation.
31 The Code of Conduct for Council members in Collingwood should include provisions on disqualifying and nondisqualifying interests. The Code should prohibit Council members from participating in “decision-making processes” related to “their office when they have a disqualifying interest in the matter.”
A disqualifying interest is “an interest in a matter, that by virtue of the relationship between the Member of Council and other persons and bodies associated with the matter, is of such a nature that reasonable persons fully informed of the facts would believe that the Member of Council could not participate impartially in the decision-making processes related to the matter.”
** In the story Saunderson noted what seems a plan to give the YMCA its handout from taxpayers’ money:
“The past continues to haunt us, continues to cost our taxpayers annually, and will continue to cost annually until we take steps to rectify that by creating new facilities,” said Saunderson.
Codswallop: the past doesn’t haunt us, and the facilities cost no more than expected to operate (outside the pandemic effects). Prior to these new buildings, the town spent $250,000 or more a year to maintain an aged Contact Fitness Centre that had significant problems. When the centre was closed, those costs were transferred into the operating costs of the new facilities.
The new structures were both were well-received, praised by local swim and hockey clubs, and have allowed local clubs to hold practices and meets here without parents having to drive their kids out of town. And they have longer guarantees than traditional bricks-and-steel structures. But because they are PUBLIC, he despises them. Apparently, he still wants to build a recplex for the private sector with public money.
*** Former staff and former council members are covered by the town’s recent indemnification bylaw, so even on the unlikely chance that damages are assigned (with no criminal charges, a civil suit must prove loss), the town will pay them. In essence, the town is suing itself, and taxpayers get to pay lawyers for both sides of the suit. Lawyers must be laughing all the way to the bank over this. Again.
**** But of course he refuses to do the ethical thing and resign as mayor. He continues to take the town’s paycheque for a job and community he clearly abandoned months ago.