If you ever doubted our mayor, Brian Saunderson, was engaged in a petty, personal vendetta against people who thwarted him in 2012, you only need to read a recent article in CollingwoodToday, titled, Council to hire lawyer for potential action against parties involved in judicial inquiry.
And, as usual, our secretive council scurried behind closed doors to hold their discussions in order to make their decision outside the scrutiny of the public’s eyes:
After a closed session discussion this evening (May 3), council returned to public session to pass a motion (6-2) in favour of hiring BLG law firm to “ascertain potential action against various parties related to the judicial inquiry.”
After already spending more than $10 million of taxpayers’ money* on his Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI), his council continues to waste even more public money trying to sue people who have not been charged with anything, much less found guilty in a court. Nor have the OPP charged anyone with anything illegal, despite conducting an ongoing investigation since early 2014.
And let’s not forget that the events Saunderson is looking to punish people for began ten years ago and ended in 2012! But he can’t move on, can’t go past this slight: his pettiness and vindictiveness have no temporal limits. The members of staff and council from years past who refused his committee’s demand to give the YMCA a $35 million handout will be made to pay for thwarting his ambition.
Instead of the corporate handout, the 2010-14 council approved the construction of two new, state-of-the-art, publicly-owned recreational facilities at no additional cost to the taxpayers, meeting the community’s demands for both more local ice and water time. Parents no longer had to drive out of town for practices and tournaments. And for that, Saunderson cannot forgive the council and staff who accomplished this. As he said,
Mayor Saunderson said the move to hire a lawyer and look at possible lawsuit options was a step toward closure.
“This last investment is to see if there is any realistic way of recouping costs,” said the mayor. “If not, then we will move on, but we will have done that knowing that we pursued all possibilities towards that end. And I think that is owed to our community.”
He wants to “recoup costs” from people who broke no laws, who performed their duties as councillors and staff according to the law, and who accomplished great things for the greater good of the community? He wants others to pay for the SVJI he and his cabal were responsible for initiating? Ironic, or just utter hypocrisy?
If anyone should be forced to pay the costs the taxpayers have borne it is the five Block members who voted for it. They were advised before the vote that the costs would spiral out of control, yet they continually lied to the public that the costs would be minimal until the evidence betrayed them. And no doubt that is one reason why this council recently passed an indemnification bylaw to protect themselves from lawsuits and putting the burden of their costs onto the taxpayers.**
Meanwhile, local businesses and workers continue to suffer from the pandemic lockdowns without any meaningful financial support from our mayor or his thralls on council. Our streets decay, our sidewalks crumble, our terminals rot, and the waterfront remains stagnant. The critical water pipeline agreement with New Tecumseth and the looming deadline to renew it was ignored for years and now water capacity is in crisis.
Yet council obsessively continues to throw money at Saunderson’s vendetta instead of spending it on the town’s pressing affairs.
And let’s not lose sight of Saunderson’s ongoing job-hunting campaign to leave town hall for a higher-paying job as MPP in Toronto. Although the ethical thing would have been to step down from his office while he campaigns to get free of his mayoral responsibilities and break his oath of office, he continues to take the town’s paycheque for a job he clearly didn’t care to commit to. If he is successful, the rest of the council will be saddled with the mess he has created — and its egregious costs. He will wave them goodbye while they suffer the slings and arrows of public distrust and disgust over their waste of money and ignoring the pressing needs of the community. They will also be held responsible for the job-killing ICBL, once he has sloughed off any such responsibility and left others to clean up after him.
Collingwood deserves better.
* The town admits to spending more than $8.2 million on the SVJI, but the true accounting has never been released and likely never will. This would include the sole-sourced lawyers and consultants appointed outside the proper procurement processes to set up the SVJI, the costs of bringing the town’s legal team and former CAOs back into town to justify the costs earlier this year, the $700,000 for the CAO’s report-about-the-report-as-important as-clean-drinking-water and the subsequent reports-about-the-report that staff keep presenting (no doubt at Saunderson’s request) to a public with no interest in them (the county was barely lukewarm towards the SVJI), the $250,000 secret deal with EPCOR, and the CAO’s and her staff’s time spent reading the documents and emails to hunt for heffalumps in the same material the OPP and the judicial inquiry examined and reported on. And possibly many more secret costs council won’t divulge.
This council delights in lavishing your tax dollars on the SVJI, while they ignore the pressing needs of the community. I believe the true costs are well over $10 million.
** To be successful in such a lawsuit one must prove loss. And what loss was there to the community? Collingwood ended up with a superb strategic partnership with one of Ontario’s most progressive utility companies and received a dividend from them before the previous council cost the utility too much in legal fees to continue paying one. The partnership resulted in better service to consumers, 24-hour call service, and shared resources with a much larger corporation. It was widely hailed across the province as a model for strategic partnerships for utilities. There were no losses in the sales of the Collus share to Powerstream. In fact, we received more than $14 million from it. We used that money to build the rec facilities and partly fund the Hume Street widening.
Collingwood built two public recreational facilities that still benefit the community and have allowed the town to host tournaments, meets, and practices we previously could not. These have brought economic benefits to the town. The buildings have a guaranteed 25-year lifespan for the fabric and 50 years for the supporting structure. This is better than what we would get for a bricks-and-mortar building. In the Sprung/BLT deal we got great value for our money spent, and BLT even donated $500,000 in extras well outside the amount we paid.
You’d think one of the two lawyers sitting on council would know that the potential for success of any such litigation is very low. And that the very likely counter-litigation has a much better chance of success.
This latest move merely puts more money into the hands of lawyers instead of into the community. Do the lawyers on council represent an apparent conflict of interest here, the sort Saunderson’s beloved SVJI railed against in many recommendations? Or is it merely crass hypocrisy and council’s continued obsession with this vendetta?