More Council Secrecy, More Lawyers Paid

On Thursday, June 24, our council again scurried behind closed doors to do town business out of the light of public scrutiny. Oh, how they love doing their machinations in the dark! The items on the agenda included:

Items for discussion: a) Collingwood Judicial Inquiry Legal Advice; and b) Collingwood Airport

Why would the airport be a topic for secrecy? After all, we don’t own it. It was privatized by Saunderson and his cabal last term without any public input (and sold for considerably less than the appraised value). It’s in Clearview, so we have nothing to say about planning, services, or growth there.

Just another example of how this council likes to keep our residents uninformed about town business.

The first topic, though, was the report from the lawyers on how they spent the $15,000 handed to the law firm BLG to determine whether the town should give them even more money to sue the people involved in thwarting Saunderson’s proposal to give the YMCA a $35 million handout in 2012.

$15,000 was not even enough money to cover a single in-camera Zoom presentation by the lawyer who actually represented the town in the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI).* Basically all council did was give more lawyers more of your money. It would have been better spent on lottery tickets. I’ll bet the lawyers laughed all the way to the bank.

But I suspect $15,000 was just enough for the lawyers (once they finished laughing at council’s naiveté) to tell our obsessed, petty council they have to ante up much, much more of our taxpayer’s money to take people who broke no laws and have never been charged with any crime to court, simply because they offended our current mayor back in 2012. Millions more, I expect.

The cost of the SVJI has already topped $10 million, and yet continues going up and up even though the final report was presented eight months ago, and the events it covered began a decade ago. You have to wonder when our council will wise up to the fact their Leader will be leaving them shortly and they’ll be left to shoulder the blame for these egregious expenses. I suppose none of them plan to run for re-election, because this is going to stick to them if they do. They can’t move on, can’t seem to focus on current town affairs.

Since the town didn’t release a media report following the meeting, methinks there may have been some hesitation among staff to advise spending several millions more of your tax dollars on the SVJI, despite council’s eagerness to serve their Leader’s wishes and use that money to punish people. So while hiding behind the closed door, council likely discussed other options to serve their Leader. But will opposition to the herd surface?**

Lawyers have done very well by the SVJI during this and the previous term, but the public hasn’t appreciated giving them all our money while our streets decay, our sidewalks crumble, the terminals languish, and local businesses and workers have had no financial help from our council during this pandemic. I’m sure council won’t hesitate to give lawyers more, however.

So what next? One suggestion was that the town could gamble and contract with ambulance chasers — lawyers and legal firms who work on contingency fees rather than hourly rates, taking anywhere from a third to almost all of any settlement (legaline.ca says, emphasis added, “The typical contingency fee may be anywhere from 10% to as much as 45% of what you may be awarded.”). But as one legal firm warns, what they often say they will take and what they actually get are often very different:

Beware: Typically, lawyers who quote 15% of the damages award plus ‘whatever costs the other side pays’ are often really charging you far more than those lawyers who charge you 30% of the damages award. They are asking you to assign to them the costs awards you receive. Beware of the “assignment of costs.”

I’ve never heard of a municipality using ambulance chasers, and it would strike me as morally and ethically inappropriate to do so, even reprehensible, but with our council’s history of bad decisions, that would not be surprising.

Since contingency fees are not allowed in criminal or quasi-criminal matters, it would be a tacit admission that no one being sued broke any laws, and that this was just a continuation of the personal vendetta against people who put a stumbling block in front of Saunderson’s ambitions.

Countersuits would, of course, be made, with reasonable chances of success (and which the town could not defend on a contingency basis), and the whole process will take years to meander through the courts, and cost millions more. Especially if successful countersuits assign damages. 

All this to serve one man’s grudge: our mayor, who announced he didn’t even want the job and campaigned to get out of his responsibilities back in January. And who expects to be elected as our riding’s next MPP a year from now, not even finishing his term, and leaving our rudderless council in the lurch as he waves them goodbye. Although he continues to take the town’s paycheque, he’s basically abandoned Collingwood, but council seems oblivious to his betrayal.

Of course, in a civil suit, the town has to prove loss. And what did the town lose? It got two beautiful, state-of-the-art recreation facilities at no cost to the taxpayer. It got a strategic partnership with a progressive, innovative, publicly-owned electricity corporation that was lauded across the province, while still retaining local control over rates and service (which we lost when Saunderson privatized the utility to a for-profit firm last term). I see no loss anywhere, aside from the outrageous costs of the SVJI for which five former council members (Saunderson, Ecclestone, Jeffrey, Doherty, and Madigan) are responsible.

But logic, law, common sense, ethics, and concerns about spending your money frivolously have never stopped this council from pushing ahead with their obsessions,

Collingwood deserves better.

~~~~~

* That one-time Zoom presentation cost taxpayers more than $17,000. You have to wonder why Saunderson and his sycophanti chose to give even a paltry $15,000 to a firm not involved in the SVJI, nor familiar with the mountains of documents the inquiry produced, nor with access to the almost 400 boxes of emails from EPCOR. Instead, council gave it to the firm who advised Saunderson and the previous council on privatizing the publicly-owned electricity utility without public consultation. How daft does anyone have to be to assume $15,000 would purchase anything significant from a large law firm that was not even party to the SVJI? But our SVJI-obsessed council just loves to throw your money at lawyers to further their Leader’s vendetta.

** Horace, in Ode III:3, wrote about the courage to stand up for what is right:

Neither the passion of citizens demanding crooked things,
Not the face of a threatening tyrant
Shakes the man who is righteous and set in purpose
From his strong mind…

One can only hope someone at the council table breaks free from the spell of the Saunderson cult and emulates Horace’s “righteous” person… all it takes is a strong conviction to do the right thing for the people of this town.

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