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Two and a half years of calamitous mismanagement. Council motivated by wild conspiracy theories, maliciousness and personal vendettas. A rudderless, ruthless administration flailing and fumbling its way from one catastrophe to another. The town’s reputation ruined. Our municipal partners and neighbours alienated. Secret discussions determine the fate of our assets while the public is excluded from the process. Taxes and costs rising and sole-sourced contracts handed out like party favours. Ethics tossed out the window and the municipal air redolent with the stench of entitlement.
And the term is barely half-way through. What a disaster.
Any commentary or discussion on our council’s actions, morality and behaviour this term must come with a litany of things we know they should have done, things they could have done, and what would have resulted – had they followed process, law or even acted ethically.
You could have done better. Anyone else could have done better. Just imagine what you, dear reader, would likely have done in their place, what things you could have done differently. Pretty much everything if, of course, you had either a modicum of common sense or a shred of decency in you.
Of course, we always second guess what those in power are up to. But face it, it would be difficult if not impossible to do worse than this lot has.
Shoulda, coulda, woulda: what might have helped keep this government on track, and act on behalf of the people who elected it, instead of being the self-centred, ongoing train wreck it is now. How different things might have been if only they shoulda, coulda, woulda. These are some of my list, not in an particular order; I’m sure you will have your own:
- Should have spoken to the board and staff of Collus-PowerStream for their perspective and data, and not simply taken the word of a sole-sourced consultant who lives out of town about how the utility operated.
- Should have asked PowerStream to make a public presentation about the sale and the operation instead of shutting out our municipal partner.
- Should have ignored the administration’s conspiracy-theory jeremiads and listened to the utility boards.
- Should not have fired BOTH utility boards simply because they didn’t accept the administration’s misrepresentations about their operations.
- Should have spoken to the staff at Collus-PowerStream, our water/wastewater utility, and town staff about the value of the shared services contract and not simply taken the word of a sole-sourced lawyer and sole-sourced consultants, all who live and work out of town.
- Should have researched the financial implications of breaking the shared services agreement, before taking away the water services, before creating its own IT department and taking on the massive expenses and liabilities these entail.
- Should have held public discussions about the sale of our electrical utility and our airport, the opposition to the airport development, the opposition to the hospital redevelopment and the privatization of our water/wastewater services rather than hiding behind closed doors to scheme and connive about them.
- Should have held public meetings and asked for public input on these issues instead of just taking input from sole-sourced lawyers and consultants.
- Should have ended the contract with the interim CAO and not extended it TWICE, and instead hired a permanent CAO to save taxpayers $150,000 or more.
- Should have engaged the hospital board openly and honestly about the proposed redevelopment instead of going behind the board’s back and publishing negative reports before even an application had been received.
- Should have offered OCWA and Clearford Water Systems the same access to information, staff and confidential data that was given to for-profit EPCOR in its unsolicited bid to privatize our water and wastewater systems.
- Should have told the public the truth about their intentions and schemes.
- Could have spoken to the Ontario Energy Board and to other electricity utilities about the 2012 share sale and why it was so well received by them.
- Could have spoken to the professional auditor who examined the utility’s books every year to confirm that no money was ever missing from the sale proceeds and everything was correct.
- Could have asked the treasurer to explain how all the money from the share sale was received and accounted for, when it was delivered to the town, and where it was used, and not believed a wingnut conspiracy theory and troglodyte gossip.
- Could have read the 100-plus page document from Collus-PowerStream that refuted the sole-sourced consultants’ erroneous reports.
- Could have read the glowing media reports across the province that hailed the share sale as a model of a good partnership.
- Could have read the kudos and provincial awards that had been granted the COO of our water services, Marcus Firman, and the CEO of our electrical services, Ed Houghton, rather than harass both of them out of their jobs.
- Could have treated non-administrative staff with respect, especially those in our utility services.
- Could have spoken to the councils of Collus-PowerStream customers outside Collingwood who would be affected by the utility’s sale and change of ownership.
- Could have spoken to the councils of customers of the water pipeline who would be affected by the utility’s privatization.
- Could have listened to the recommendations of the airport board instead of flatly refusing to allow a $300 million development at the airport to proceed.
- Could have asked for independent verification of the numbers quoted by the interim CAO about the promised $750,000 a year savings from taking over water – that have instead turned into a HUGE expense to taxpayers.
- Could have read the legislation that governs municipal councils.
- Could have read their own code of conduct and procedural bylaws.
- Could have read ANYTHING related, but especially the complete budget, and their own agendas.
- Could have shown more respect for the mayor.
- Could have shown respect for openness and transparency.
- Could have listened to the electorate instead of just each other.
- Could have retained their subscription to Municipal World in order to learn something not spoonfed to them by the administration.
- Could have shown more respect for delegations, especially those from the hospital.
- Could have waited until the hospital board made a formal application before putting up roadblocks and demanding reports.
- Could have avoided raising taxes three times in a row by simply not bowing to every staff demand for more money.
- Could have not given themselves a raise every time they raised taxes.
- Could have told the truth that they were never just “kicking tires” but planned to sell the electrical utility and privatize the water services all along.
- Could have asked the IT and GIS department at Collus-PowerStream to explain what services it provide the town and at what cost before dumping them to hire new people at greater expense.
- Could have explored options and alternatives for utility billing before taking on this added expense and needing to hire more people.
- Could have kept the Integrity Commissioner and to avoid investigation acted ethically, instead of firing the guy who looked into complaints.
- Could have obeyed their own Code of Conduct and Procurement bylaws.
- Could have put out RFPs for contracts for lawyers and consultants instead of handing them out like party favours to buddies.
- Could have gone online and researched how privatization of public services affects rates and service delivery, and the problems it has caused everywhere in North America.
- Could have made informed decisions, not just those based on the administration’s conspiracy theories.
- Could have saved taxpayers $40,000 or more by not granting Councillor Jeffrey a blank cheque (unrestricted and unaccountable expenses) to wine and dine across Canada on her pursuit of private political goals.
- Could have accepted the $23,000 offer from Collus-PowerStream for old computer hardware valued at $5,000 but refused it and ended up with a bin full of e-waste instead.
- Could have stopped blaming everyone else for their own mistakes and fiascos.
- Could have taken responsibility even once for doing the wrong thing so often.
- Could have created a real strategic plan based on their collective vision instead of hiring a consultant to organize a committee of their friends and supporters to cobble together a wishlist without focus, timelines, budget or measurable goals.
- Could have stopped pretending the deal to privatize the water and wastewater services to the for-profit EPCOR wasn’t already a done deal.
- Could have openly supported our hospital’s plans for redevelopment like our neighbouring municipalities have done, instead of putting up roadblocks, bullying their delegations and souring the process.
- Could have considered the 1,400 jobs and the economic growth they have put on hold by refusing to allow the airport development to go ahead.
- Could have saved taxpayers more than $750,000 (or about 3% on your taxes – so far…) by not wasting money on (mostly sole-sourced) lawyers and consultants whose advice has been negative, destructive and harmful to the town.
- Could have given a damn and just once acted on behalf of the taxpayers, the people who elected them, the residents in this town.
- Had they done these things, this council would have earned respect and admiration instead of scorn and abuse.
- Council would have had at least some credibility.
- Collingwood’s reputation would not be in tatters.
- Would have had the support and respect of two utility boards instead of the anger and scorn of those fired members.
- Staff would still have the good working relationship with the administration and council they had for years before this term.
- Utility staff would not feel alienated and demoralized.
- Utility staff would not have signed on to two unions to try to protect their jobs against privatization by for-profit EPCOR.
- PowerStream (now Alectra) would not be preparing legal action against the town for acting in bad faith over the sale of its share of the electrical utility.
- The Ontario Energy Board would not be investigating the town for its secret negotiations over the utility sale.
- The Information and Privacy Commissioner would not be investigating the town for its culture of secrecy and refusal to release information.
- The Ontario Ombudsman would not be investigating the town for its lack of openness and transparency.
- The town would still have a shared services agreement in place with Collus. Taxpayers would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars LESS for those services than we will now that agreement has been killed by the administration.
- The relationship with the hospital and its board would not be broken.
- The relationship with our municipal partners on the airport board would not be broken .
- The relationship with our municipal partners on the water line to south Simcoe would not be broken.
- Council would not be seen as so overtly secretive, scheming, manipulative and untrustworthy.
- Council would have learned the actual numbers, data and details instead of the misleading claptrap fed to them by chequebook consultants, lawyers and the administration.
- Council would have been aware of what the public thought of its schemes.
- The public would have been engaged and part of the process.
- By reading, investigating, and listening to others outside the narrow confines of town hall, council would have had the full picture of the potential costs and liabilities for its decisions before it plunged ahead and took them on without full knowledge of their impact.
- Wouldn’t have had two groups of staff unionize because they felt alienated, underappreciated and afraid for their job security when the town privatizes its water services.
- Wouldn’t be dealing with three union contracts coming up for approval this summer with the significant potential for confrontation and work to rule action.
- Taxpayers would not have had to shell out $226,000 a year for an interim CAO and would have had a permanent CAO in place at a much lower salary.
- Taxes would not have risen three times in a row. In fact, under proper fiscal management they would have fallen at least once this term.
- Council would be on track to accomplish one positive thing that wasn’t self-serving or entitlement this term.
- Seven councillors’ support base would not have shrunken to a mere handful of bitter, angry people opposed to the hospital redevelopment.
- Seven councillors would still have a chance of being re-elected instead of facing the large movement of former supporters determined to expose their malfeasance and never to let them get into office in this town again (the two non-Block members will be a shoo-in if they run).
So many things that might have made a difference. And these are just a few that came to mind over my morning tea one spring day.
Of course, dear reader, you understand that when I write “council” I don’t mean that all of them were myopic, self-centred, willfully ignorant, or had slavish blind faith in the administration. Only some of them. True, it was most of them most of the time; seven of them so focused on their own agendas, whining and wheedling to get their own way and their own entitlements. But let not their selfishness colour every member’s reputation.
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