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.
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* 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.

The unstrategic anti-plan returns

ZombieWednesday’s standing committee heard that the so-called “community-based strategic plan” has risen from the dead – a document that was committee-driven (not community; and a committee of carefully selected buddies, at that…), and was neither strategic nor a plan. See it in the agenda package.

A real strategic plan would have been council-driven, based on the vision of our elected representatives. But having none, The Block turned it over to an outsider and their friends to come up with something.*

Once The Block approved its creation in 2015, the resulting document, the ‘CBSP,’** became a bureaucratic zombie that never seems to die, like an extra in some cheesy Bruce Campbell B-flick. And like that undead extra, it continues to ring the cash register.

This zombie is supposed to be a “report card,” but instead it lists all sorts of minutiae that council patted its collective backs over, even though most things listed were simply part of some larger process, or just staff’s regular jobs. For The Block to even comment on them would be to micro-manage. Or even nano-manage them. It’s called the “2016 Report Card” even though 2016 is only two-thirds through. Maybe the other third of the year doesn’t matter, as long as the consultant gets paid.

And of course, The Block wants to take credit for this and for what staff do. Like they actually rolled up their sleeves and dug in to do some real work instead of meeting in secret to plot and scheme and raise your taxes.

So in a term highlighted by having no accomplishments for the greater good, the “CBSP” has become The Block’s poster child for their idea of success.

They hope that by waving it around periodically you’ll be so dazzled by its brilliance that you’ll forget that they raised your taxes. Twice. Or that they destroyed our 150-year-old working partnership between water and energy utilities and are running our electricity corporation into the ground. Or that they are trying (in secret meetings, of course) to kill the airport industrial park and its 400-plus jobs. Or that they almost scuttled the hospital redevelopment (and are still trying to do so…). Or they gave Councillor ‘Senator’ Jeffrey an unlimited expense account to wine and dine across the country (but apparently not Oakville where the latest FCM meeting was held – probably the in-drive food service and movie are terrible… and she can’t get her warm Camembert in the car…). Or the staff morale they’ve shattered.

But I know that you, dear reader, aren’t fooled. If this dreck is all they have to show for two years at the table, then it’s a sorry statement. But let’s take a closer look at it…

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Fixing the shared services agreement

Way too long!First, some history: for 15 years, Collus – now Collus/Powerstream – had a beneficial, mutually-agreed-on and successful agreement with the town to provide services back to the town at reasonable rates. These were things the town did not or could not provide itself for reasons of cost, staffing, expertise, equipment or interest. It was mutually beneficial to have Collus provide them.

The list of potential services included:

Reconnect & Collection, Meter Reading, Billing & Collecting, Customer Service, Information Technology Management, Data Tracking, Accounting, Engineering, Planning & Necessary Maintenance, Contracting with Developers, Customers & Others, Subcontracting Services, After Hours Response, Normal Hours Response, Emergency Preparedness, Provision of Supervisory Services, HR, Policy Development, Regulatory Assistance, Reporting and Capital Construction Activities.

The town, of course, had to request most of the services, and if they weren’t asked for, they weren’t provided, so the town wasn’t billed for them. What was asked for and provided was billed quarterly. These figures appeared in publicly accessible financial updates and budgets presented to council. Nothing secret here.

True, not all services on that list were provided all the time. That’s because the town never asked for that service. And it wasn’t billed for what it didn’t receive. Got that? No provision = no billing.

The agreement was supposed to be restructured in 2012 when Powerstream took over the 50% share of Collus. But the person responsible for doing so didn’t accomplish it in time and left. But Collus/Powerstream continued in good faith to provide services, billing the town only for what it did.

In fact, Collus employees have always gone well above and beyond what the service agreement stipulated. After all, the employees of Collus are also residents who love and respect their home town and want it to be the best it can be – a level of dedication one doesn’t expect from interim employees.

In July, 2014, the former council called for a new agreement to bring the contract up to date and see if there were any services to add or delete. The interim CAO was tasked with the job of having the agreement examined and recommendations made for it to be updated. Should be a simple task, right?

Instead, it resulted in the now-infamous report by True North and Beacon 2020 that condemned the agreement and Collus, publicly presented to the new council in December, 2014.

Council rightfully rejected the report and asked the consultants to fix it and bring it back with the facts straight. But that’s not what happened. I wrote about this botched report back in February, 2015.

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The Swimmer

riverThe swimmer stood on the dock, contemplating the lazy current in the river. The warm spring, followed by the sunny days of early summer, had warmed the water enough to make the crossing less a challenge than a few weeks back, when he had first done it. It was still early enough in the day that the boaters weren’t on the water yet. The morning was calm and quiet, the sky clear and bright.

The perfect time for a swim.

He dropped his robe on the dock beside his towel, and prepared to dive.

“Just a moment!” a voice from the shore interrupted him. He turned to see a man in a dark grey suit striding purposefully along the dock towards him. He carried a briefcase in one hand and was holding a cellphone against his left ear with the other.

“Can I help you?” the swimmer asked, somewhat confused by the stranger’s interruption.

“Busby. George Busby. Municipal policies and planning department.” The stranger stuffed the phone into a pocket, and shoved his hand at the swimmer, who shook it automatically, but hesitantly. “You intending to swim today?”

“I am. Why?”

“Your plan, of course. We need to see your plan.”

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Consultants Run Amok

Dilbert consultant cartoon

As the old saw says, a consultant is someone who comes in to solve a problem and stays around long enough to become part of it. So how many consultants’ reports does it take for council to figure out we’re spending too much money on consultants’ reports?

More than three, apparently.

Three is the number of consultants’ reports included in the preliminary budget alone (the one that recommends raising your taxes almost 4% and gives council another pay increase as a reward for doing so…!).

Three consultants’ reports… one would be an unprecedented number in a small town town budget. Three is, well, staggering. The inefficiency just screams aloud.

Taxpayers have to ask: why does this council need to spend our money on so many outside consultants? And why are the local media silent on this abuse of our tax dollars?

In its first year, this council has used more outside consultants to tell it what to think than most councils use in their entire terms. And most of what these consultants have produced is little more than shredder-ready claptrap designed to bolster staff agendas and decisions already made for council by staff.

It’s unlikely those at the council table even bothered to read these reports cover-to-cover. Certainly none at the table bothered to question their numbers or conclusions. That would require critical thinking and analysis, both of which run counter to the wishes of the admin staff and would make the consultants’ reports appear meaningless.

After all, why bother to hire consultants if all council is going to do is ask them difficult questions and think for themselves?

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