In camera, closed door meetings in Collingwood, 2015-17

SecrecyUsing the agendas posted on the town’s website, I tallied up the number of Council’s in-camera meetings for three specific topics this term: Collus-PowerStream (including the share sale, shared services agreement, advice from Mark Rodger and board appointments); the hospital redevelopment, and the airport (including the request for a letter of intent and possible sale of the airport).

There are several other items listed for in camera discussion that may be related to one or more of these, but since I could not pair them with motions or later news items, and the listed descriptions were inadequate, I did not include them. I did include three closed-door meetings that I have good reason to believe were related to Collus-PowerStream (CPS) issues. These are council meetings only, and does not include any the standing committee meetings.

Of course, I cannot list any of the numerous one-on-one or small group meetings about these issues held in the interim CAO’s office, nor meetings between the town administration and CPS staff. Note that some of these were special council meetings called specifically to discuss the subject behind closed doors:

Airport: 14 meetings:
2015: Jan 5, Feb 2, Feb 17, Apr 7, May 4, Oct 19, Nov 16;
2016: Jan 4, Mar 21, July 11;
2017: July 17, Aug 21, Sep 11, Sep 25.

Hospital redevelopment: 4 meetings
2016: Apr. 11, Aug 8;
2017: Mar 4, Mar 27.

Collus-PowerStream: 37 meetings, plus three potential
2015: 9 definite, 2 possible (of a total 28 council meetings)
Mar 16? property disposition (agenda description is inadequate);
Mar 28? legal advice (agenda description is inadequate);
Apr 7 shared services;
May 19 shared services;
May 27 shared services;
June 15 shared services;
June 22 shared services;
Aug 4 shareholder’s interest, Collus PowerStream board applications;
Aug 24, board applications;
Sep 8, board applications;
Oct 5 Hydro shareholder update review and services.

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The Block’s worst abuse of power yet

Abuse of powerI warned you. I warned you The Block would blame others for their own evil acts, that they would scheme and connive to sell your assets behind closed doors, and they would find a way to keep the much-disliked interim CAO on, no matter what the cost to taxpayers. I warned you they would lie, scheme in secret, and behave unethically in order to get their own way. 

And I was right. They did it all, Monday night, behind closed doors.

This week, the town issued a media release that can only be described as the most flagrantly disingenuous statement this municipality has ever made. It says:

In order to ensure the process carries on uninterrupted, Council voted to direct the municipality’s legal counsel at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, and CAO John Brown to continue negotiations with EPCOR and prepare the required draft agreements.

The Block intend to keep paying the sole-sourced lawyer (who, I understand, has already billed the town around $500,000) and its unpopular interim CAO (whose salary is higher than that of the premier of Ontario!) in order to continue the vendetta against our publicly-owned utility, Collus-PowerStream.

These are the same people who not long ago promised they were only “kicking tires” and would get public input before they made any decisions. They lied.

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Saunderson’s disrespectful performance

Perry Mason“Your honour, I object,” shouted Perry Mason as he leapt from his chair and approached the bench. “This line of questioning is simply badgering my client.” “Sustained,” roared the judge, pounding his gavel.

Didn’t you just wish someone would have done that Monday night? I certainly did, while watching the embarrassing, disrespectful way that Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson grilled David Finbow, the volunteer delegate from the hospital board. Cross-examined Finbow as if he were a criminal. That is NOT the way we expect our elected representatives to treat delegates. It was embarrassing and, frankly, childish.

As I read it, it’s also in violation of our own Code of Conduct:

Members shall conduct themselves with decorum at all meetings in accordance with the provisions of the Town’s Procedural By-law or the applicable procedural by-law of that Local Board. Respect for delegations, fellow Members and staff requires that all Members show courtesy and not distract from the business of the Town during presentations and when other Members have the floor.

Where was the courtesy? The respect? Grilling a delegate and implying he isn’t being honest is not what I call respect. And the Procedural bylaw says:

Delegates shall respond to questions from the Members only through the Chair…

Which Saunderson clearly ignored in his aggressive, verbal jousting.

You can watch the whole event on Rogers TV, here, staring at 0:55:00 and continuing on through to 1:57:00. Saunderson’s attack-style questioning begins at 1:26:23 and lasts until 1:44:45. That’s longer than delegations are allowed speaking time (10 minutes)!

You’ll also see how often he ignores proper protocol, speaking without going “through the chair.” And at 1:44:30 he apparently thinks he’s the mayor: he tries to set up a meeting meeting with the hospital board and council, and says staff will take care of it. What bloody arrogance.

(NB: the time stamps shown may be off by a second or three either way. The Rogers online video does not have a user-friendly method to move to specific or exact times in the feed)
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Saunderson shirks his responsibility to taxpayers

Saunderson playing during budget meeting
The town’s budget is by far the single most important thing elected officials have to manage. It’s complicated, affects everyone in town, reaches into every department, ranges through services, user fees, and ultimately determines the quality of life for everyone here. It is the one thing that demands the full attention, the full concentration,  the fullest effort of our councillors.

It demands active participation and open dialogue, full discussion from all of our elected members.

So what does our deputy mayor do when others are struggling through the budget? Brian Saunderson leaves the room to go play on the ski hills with his buddies.*

Showing his disdain for the people who elected him, Saunderson left the February 8 budget meeting long before it was finished, and joined his friends from work to party on the ski hills. 

It left The Block without its leader, headless, and in his absence, they floundered like landed fish without the ocean of his benevolent control to tell them how to vote or what to think. Well, okay, they flap and flounder by themselves most of the time even when he’s there, but at least they stayed in their seats and worked through the whole meeting.

You can see him in the photo from the Empty-prize Bulletin. Beaming after he shirked his responsibility in order to play on the slopes. Smiling while his cohorts are sitting indoors, hunched over their desks trying to wrestle with the town business they are paid to manage.

It was a daytime meeting, a Wednesday. Many at the table took time off from work to fulfill their civic duty. Staff had to suspend the pressing demands of their jobs to be in the meeting so they could present their department’s budget and answer questions. Members of the media had to leave their newsrooms, stop working on other stories, cancel meetings and photo shoots to sit in the council chamber to hear those presentations. One councillor postponed a previously-planned holiday trip to be sure to be at the meeting.

Saunderson, however, went skiing at a private resort while all the rest were making the effort to fulfill their duties. He left early, while the rest stayed until 4 p.m. Why work yourself when you have your minions to do it for you?

Remember his statement before the election that, “Council is elected to serve the residents of Collingwood and is accountable to the residents throughout its mandate.” Where is that accountability now?

He also promised to “Improve communications to ensure the residents of Collingwood are informed of all council initiatives and engage the residents regularly to get community feedback.” How can you inform residents of anything when you don’t even attend the meetings? What’s he going to communicate to us – the snow conditions?

What arrogance. What utter disregard and disrespect for the public.

Collingwood deserves a deputy mayor who takes his responsibility seriously and doesn’t shirk his civic duty for personal pleasure. He should resign – after he apologies to the community.

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Saunderson announces another tax hike

Sneaky BrianAt Collingwood Council, Monday night, Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson revealed The Block’s plan to foist its third tax hike this term on residents. Despite the report on the town’s financial situation by the interim CAO’s pet consultant that warned Collingwood is already overtaxed, Saunderson and his Block plan to raise your taxes AGAIN this term.

At the end of the meeting, he made a notice of motion to “keep” the next tax hike at 2%. Well that simply means he’s giving staff the permission to raise it 2%*. Had he been serious about low taxes, about sustainable budgets and wise financial management, he could have simply said no increase. Zero per cent would have been the right answer. But he made it clear he supports another tax hike – the third this term. And wither Brian goes so follows his six minions.

Now lest you think this is just more of Saunderson’s lawerly, grandstanding moments – him pretending to be concerned about residents – it’s really the sort of political flimflammery we’ve become accustomed to from The Block. Consider that he made this notice before seeing the final budget documents, but long after council was presented its initial look at the upcoming budget. That was when staff proposed a hike of almost 5%.

Saunderson had weeks and weeks in which to comment and make his motion, but only made his preference known the week before the final budget is to be presented, Jan. 30. But the public didn’t know what he was planning because he announced his notice after the in camera meeting, when all the cameras were turned off and everyone in the audience had gone home. Even the media ignored him. What did it accomplish aside from forcing staff to rework everything they have prepared for presentation next week? Just a little slap in the face to staff, don’t you think?

It’s only two percent, some might say. Anyone can afford that. Not so: it will hurt our many residents working for minimum wages, and every senior struggling on a fixed income. These folk will have to figure out what to cut from their limited income – like food or hydro – to pay for the town’s latest increase. And also pay for the impending increases in user fees, and skyrocketing water and electricity rates – about to explode thanks to The Block selling our utilities to an Alberta corporation. Without public input, of course.

Two percent means more than $1 million in the town’s coffers – which will be entirely used up paying for the extra expenses incurred by breaking the shared services agreement with Collus PowerStream, and for the huge bill for creating our own IT department. Plus we’ll still have to pay for hiring all those extra staff – and of course pay for the costs of The Block’s vendettas and witch hunts – already well over $500,000 in lawyers and consultants so far. And the $100,000-$150,000 extra it has cost us by The Block renewing the interim CAO’s contract.

For astute financial management, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for inept bumbling, you’ve come to the right council. The Block are spending your money like drunken sailors who won a lottery while on leave; they’re ratcheting up your taxes to pay for their excesses. All part of The Block’s ongoing war against low-income earners and seniors.

Collingwood deserves better.
* Sure, he said “up to 2%” but that’s like telling a child it can only have “up to a quart” of ice cream… and then leaving them in the kitchen with the opened gallon container… plus the additional levy approved this term will make it closer to 3%… and yes, a levy IS a tax no matter how the Blockheads try to spin it.