John Brown’s letter got the attention it deserved

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WhingingIt went almost unnoticed, but on the agenda for the April 30 Collingwood Council agenda was a letter from the former interim CAO, John Brown, with eight questions (and some comments) about the CAO’s report on the costs of the upcoming judicial inquiry (item eight in the Consent Agenda portion). The letter itself is unsigned (see it here) but the agenda notes the author’s name. Not even the local media picked up on it.

It’s curious that not one of The Block bothered to have it pulled for discussion or request that staff answer the questions from their former mentor and – some say Machiavellian – advisor. One would have expected the slavish Blockheads to fight one another to rush to the defence of their éminence grise, and have his letter front and centre on the administration’s to-do list. Instead it was merely accepted “for information” and thus consigned to the dustbin. *

Consent agenda discussion starts at 3:10:47 in the meeting (video here). Only letters from Blue Mountain Watershed Trust got pulled for discussion. I suspect Brown must have been steaming when he watched that. Were these former sycophants throwing him under the bus? Why weren’t they tugging their forelocks and bowing as they had in the past? Could they be – gasp! – rejecting his influence at long last?

Let’s look at that letter and see what we can comment on. All quotations are taken directly from the agenda item with no attempt to change the nonstandard punctuation, spelling, capitalization, wording or spacing (despite my urge to correct same… I have written about his language skills in the past)

1 Why is this report submitted for council approval when not all members of council are able to attend?
-During my tenure as CAO the Clerk kept a record of all upcoming council member vacation plans and items of political sensitivity, such as the report this report , were always arranged for meeting when all members of council would be in attendance. Why not this one ?

Curiouser and curiouser. Only Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson was absent from that meeting. My sources tell me he didn’t bother to inform the clerk, the CAO or the mayor of his absence; no one in town hall knew beforehand he wouldn’t attend. The agenda was released several days before the meeting and Brown’s letter was in it. How is it that Brown knew Saunderson wouldn’t be there so far in advance?

And why didn’t he similarly complain when the original motion was cunningly timed for Feb. 26, when the movers knew both Councillors Lloyd and Edwards would be absent for it? Surely that was even more important a vote, more politically sensitive an issue than this one? But he doesn’t seem to have noticed. Or cared.

(And you’ll note in the minutes that Councillor Fryer is marked absent for the controversial Feb. 26 vote – he was at the table, but conveniently got up and left the room when the vote was called, thus avoiding having to make a public commitment or a decision – a spineless action by someone who wants to be our next deputy mayor!).

2 Why was this report not submitted to the Strategic Issues Committee as was the intent of the advisory committee system for complex / politically sensitive issues?

The current standing committee system – which Brown set up – is redundant, inefficient, less democratic and more expensive that the old Committee of the Whole process. It’s been broken for the past three and a half years, and no serious effort has been made to fix this horrible mess.

However, none of the standing committees have any authority to actually do anything: at best they can recommend an item on the agenda be forwarded to the full council where it will be raised again in its entirety, all the same reports and presentations heard for a second time, then dealt with. Sending a report to any standing committee has the effect of pointlessly delaying it.

3 Why does the report not have any comment / advice from the towns lawyers who have knowledge of this issue /recommendations being made ?
4 Why does the report have extensive legal content from the City Solicitor of Mississauga and none from the Towns lawyers? Have the Towns lawyers been consulted and if so , what was their advice ? If not , why ?

As I recall, the town’s legal firm didn’t get to say anything publicly on the initial motion to call for a judicial inquiry, so whether they were even consulted is unknown.

But what’s it to him? The sole-sourced lawyer who made the presentation recommending the inquiry – both in public and the much longer one behind closed doors (as it the usual method of decision-making here) – was hired by Brown himself before he retired. Why didn’t he use town lawyers then, instead?

Nor did the town’s lawyers get to comment publicly on a wide range of crucial topics such as the sale of our publicly-owned electrical utility to an out-of-province, for-profit corporation, or the decision not to support our hospital’s plans for redevelopment, or the decision to stall a major industrial development at the airport which would have created hundreds of local jobs.  All while he was employed – and outside (sole-sourced, of course) lawyers and consultants were (and some still are) involved in every one.

Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to ask for the town’s legal firm to participate now?

5 As Pubic Inquiries are rare and highly unique events called for specific and different reasons in each municipality , why was Mississauga picked as a comparator for Collingwood ? – during my involvement with this file the Missisauga Public Inquiry was discussed and was not judged to be a comparator for Collingwood , and specifically related to its cost . I am prepared to explain further in camera.

Gotta love that offer to once again go behind closed doors to secretly discuss a matter of public importance. But Brown is no longer in the catbird seat: he’s just a citizen like you and me and no longer has access to those backroom deals and discussions. Seems like he misses that.

Not judged by whom? By him? Well, now it’s someone else’s turn to judge things. 

And can an event actually be “highly unique” – which would mean “highly one of a kind” or should it just be uncommon? Well, let’s not comment on Brown’s English for now.

Mississauga’s judicial inquiry is the fifth item to show up on the first page in a Google search on “judicial inquiry Ontario” and as far as I can see, it’s the most recent example of one (at least a completed one). Plus it dealt with city officials and a utility like ours will.

Brown says the Mississauga inquiry “was discussed” – when? Not in public that I could find. Is he breaking his oath of confidentiality and giving us details from an in camera meeting? If so, what are the legal ramifications of this leak?

But the telling point is that it was Chief Justice Heath Smith – she who will oversee the inquiry – who provided the report on the Mississauga inquiry to the town to “give some idea as to potential costs,” according to the newspaper. If the judge herself thinks it’s relevant to our community, we should pay attention.

6 The report repeats a number of times the fact that the costs of a judicial inquiry are difficult to estimate,
‘’It is very difficult to estimate the potential costs of an inquiry due to the unknowns that will impact the hearing length , any potential delays in receiving documents and materials, unknown forensic audit and investigative needs, determination of the parties and witnesses , the potential for legal challenges and many other issues that can arise ‘’
The question arises as to why any estimate of the potential cost of the Collingwood Public Inquiry was undertaken since council was fully informed by Mr Mc Dowell with respect to quantum ? Taking into account the repeated qualification of the difficulty of accurate cost estimation what , if any credibility can be given to the figures quoted in this report ?

No, he’s not using the word quantum like Stephen Hawking when describing states of matter. He means “a required or allowed amount, especially an amount of money legally payable in damages.” But why shouldn’t council be told what an inquiry might cost or have that confirmed by another source? Especially since this council chose NOT to include any method to save for it or cover the costs in the current budget (all except Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd, who voted against the budget because it didn’t deal with these costs).

Back in February when the Block’s pet CBC reporter covered the motion (he was called by The Block to report the story even before the council meeting), he quoted a potential cost of “a minimum of $1 million.” Why didn’t Brown send a letter then to complain about that figure? Or after any of the subsequent stories in local media that used similar numbers?

And let me point out again that it was Chief Justice Smith who provided the Mississauga report so Collingwood would have an idea of the potential costs. And to be prepared: the estimated cost for Mississauga was $1.5 million – and it came in at $6.2 million!

You might want to read the wording of the motion to approve the judicial inquiry, in the Feb. 26 agenda. It mentions noting about how to finance the cost. But now is not the time to comment on the lack of financial wisdom among The Block. Besides, you already know they haven’t a clue about money.

7 As Council has already dealt with this issue, and approved it , why is a further series of recommended approvals being sought and ,in particular, for the Terms of Reference ? Have any changes been made to the council approvals and if so,what ?

Because the financing of this inquiry was not included in the budget, the town staff need to be given authority to spend money outside the budget. A lot of money in this case. And it comes from taxpayers’ pockets – despite what Dizzy Debbie says. This motion was necessary to legally permit the town to spend the money from reserves because The Block neglected to budget for it.

8 With respect to the recommendation that the CAO be authorized to engage legal representation for parties ,Members of Council and current Town employees who will be called as witnesses at the Inquiry , little explanation has been provided in the report to justify this very significant delegation of responsibility of the CAO . What choices does council have in this regard and why have they not been included ? What criteria does the CAO intend to use to make decisions with regard to this very costly element of the public inquiry?
It is noted that council is being asked to exclude any prior employees from the benefit of legal advice yet this important and potentially discriminatory recommendation is nowhere explained in this report . Why has the CAO made this recommendation ? – of interest , while the large part of this report is based on the Mississauga experience it is my understanding that Mississauga council retained this responsibility and not their City Manager .

An odd attack on the powers of the CAO’s office from a man who once occupied that very same position – and in a manner I suggest one might call autocratic. The municipal buck stops at the CAO’s office, and from my perspective, CAO Amin is only doing his due diligence – and his job.

I think Brown’s real concern is in the costs of his own legal counsel once the inquiry gets going. No one needs to “lawyer up” for testify – and one would think someone who did everything openly and above-board wouldn’t be concerned about it. And in fact CAO Amin’s report doesn’t say it will not pay for legal counsel – instead it suggests, “Council must also give consideration to paying for the costs of legal counsel for the parties to the proceedings or for members of Council or staff called upon to provide testimony.”

Given  that that list of parties might include 100 or so people – some of whom have to travel here from as far away as Ottawa – the costs may prove much (much!) greater than the estimate.

Since no one has yet been identified as a party, much less been called to testify, why is Brown so worried? The inquiry isn’t about him or his involvement in this term’s secretive sale of the utility to a for-profit corporation, nor about his behaviour towards utility employees, his use of sole-sourced lawyers, his emails to EPCOR or utility staff, or his relationship with some of the sole-sourced consultants. It’s about what happened last term. Of course, all these things may be raised during the inquiry, but that depends on who gets called to testify, I suppose.

Brown concludes:

There are other questions arising from this report however answers to the above are considered necessary in the interests of informed council decision making , openness in governance , accountability and transparency .
I look forward to the staff responses in public session of council .

He wants “informed council council decision making”? The Block played ostrich with their heads in the sand about everything of importance this term, refusing to have public presentations that countered their ideologies, refused to read reports that debunked their conspiracy theories, refused to consult the public on major issues, refused to listen to facts or reason. Why should they start now?

Well, he has a long wait if he expects a response. Like I said, not even one of the Blockheads asked to have his questions answered. Even Madmouth Madigan, a previous belligerent defender, was unusually silent. Perhaps without Brian to tell them what to think, The Block were at a loss how to continue. Perhaps they were embarrassed by the whinging, self-pitying tone of the letter. Perhaps they didn’t want to be scolded in camera. Or maybe they’re beginning to get a glimmer of a hint of a notion that by calling for this inquiry, they’ve lifted the lid on Pandora’s box and everything nasty inside is about to come out and bite them, so they better not open it further.

Whatever their reason, Brown’s letter was ignored by The Block and moved from the table to the shredder. For which, I suspect, staff are very grateful.

Collingwood deserves better. Keep that in mind next election when you have your chance to vote every one of The Block from office.

~~~~~

* UPDATE: On the other hand, maybe it’s just another of the many proofs we have that The Block don’t read their agendas. I noted in that same meeting Councillors Madigan and Jeffrey appeared befuddled and shocked when Coun. Lloyd quoted the minimum cost estimate of the judicial inquiry at $1.6 million.Clearly they had not read the report. But when was it ever news that The Block don’t read?

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