You’ve been duped. Again.

Duped againRemember all those blithe assurances from The Block that they were only “kicking tires” and “just exploring our options”? Well, there’s a story in the Connection that shows just how much you have been conned by your elected representatives. It’s titled,”Collingwood to continue utility sale negotiations with unnamed bidder.”

Read that headline again. Pay attention to two words: negotiations and continue. How can they be “kicking tires” or “exploring options” while continuing to negotiate with a company? A company The Most Secretive Council Ever won’t even name, but had its representatives in the room yesterday?

It’s all been a thin lie. A con game. And the result will be the loss of our public utilities at a huge expense to the taxpayer.

Council voted 7-2 — with Mayor Sandra Cooper and Coun. Kevin Lloyd opposed — to authorize solicitor Mark Rodger and chief administrative officer John Brown to “pursue further detailed discussion with one RFP proponent” that had responded to the town’s request for proposals for the town-owned share of Collus-Powerstream.

The sorry truth about the two years of backroom deals by The Most Secretive Council Ever has been revealed. This is the secret deal to privatize our electrical and water utilities I warned you about earlier. It’s been planned for the past two years and is finally coming to closure.

That unnamed bidder is most likely the Edmonton-based energy giant, EPCOR. Your public utility services are soon to be in their hands without any input or consultation with you, the owners of those services. Your rates will skyrocket, you will have no say about the service. There will be no accountability or openness. Just what The Block wants.

The only two on council who haven’t been scheming and plotting against the public’s interest are Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd. The rest have acted in bad faith and betrayed the public trust.

Collingwood deserves better. And we deserve a full investigation into this, not only the process but to see if anyone benefitted from misuse of public money.

Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives

IneptitudeThe word initiative derives from the Latin word initiare “to begin.” Since 1600, it has meant “introduce to some practice or system,” “begin, set going.” While any sort of action or engagement, positive or negative, can be classified as an initiative, generally one refers only to positive enterprises when describing political or social initiatives.

I know, I know: you immediately want to interrupt and say, “but Ian, The Block don’t do anything positive, and you cannot talk about a council’s initiatives when none have occurred.” I agree, but bear with me.

It’s true that, when measuring the positive actions begun for the benefit of anyone but themselves, Collingwood council comes up woefully short: mene, mene, tekel upharsin so to speak. There simply have been none and likely won’t be any this term. This council is better described with one or more of the 44 antonyms for initiative: lethargy, indifference, indolence, apathy, diffidence, staleness, dreariness, lassitude, insipidness… they have no interest in your or my good, just their own.*

A short while ago, I wrote Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1, a post humorously (but truthfully) describing council’s sorry list of “accomplishments” for the first half of its term (forbidding you from throwing birdseed on your driveway is their main intellectual effort). Aside from my sarcastic poke at their rampant ineptitude, as you, dear reader know, there were no real accomplishments.

In that previous post I promised to present you with a list of “the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest.” And I started to. The list was long. So very long.

To be frank, after I began that post, I found myself unwilling continue. There were simply too many dreary, petty items, too many malicious actions, too much skullduggery and self-interest to expose again. I became depressed in the process of categorizing and explaining all the malevolence and evil. All that self-serving, nest-feathering, the witch hunts and vendettas … it could drive one to drink.
Dilbert, of course...
While I don’t mind writing another sententious “Malleus Politici” (and the Muse knows they deserve it) this became an extended, overly long and increasingly bitter rant even for someone given to near-hypergraphia. After some contemplation, I decided to take a different tack. I thought what I should do is to list some of the initiatives taken by other municipalities and compare those with what Collingwood has or has not done in that vein. See what positive approaches others have taken in dealing with the problems, issues and challenges in their municipality and measure ours against that.

Alas, we again fall woefully short. But if you have been reading this blog, you already know that. Still, the exercise is educational. The list as follows is neither complete nor in any order aside from what came to mind at the moment of writing.

Continue reading “Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives”

Council is privatizing our utilities

Water costs
Collingwood council and its administration are planning to privatize both our water and electricity utilities. All, of course, without consulting you, the public. Some members of council have even stated – with a straight face, mind you – they would ask for your input at a later date. A date long after it’s too late for public input to matter, of course.

They have already engaged in negotiations with outside companies to take over our utilities, all the while pretending they were just “kicking the tires.” They appointed their lawyer to oversee the sale. Consultants made reports painting the existing situation with faux negativity, from early 2015.

In 2012, the former council determined (after considerable public discussion and public consultation) to sell only 50% of its share in the electrical utility, not 100%, and not water, because that would mean a loss of control over services and rates, loss of accountability and openness, plus additional liabilities. This council is determined to give away those controls, reduce accountability and transparency. It will cost taxpayer millions. And they’re doing it all in secrecy.

“I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties,” Councillor Madigan said last July – facetiously I assume, because by that time, more than 18 months of in camera discussions had been held. Surely he was awake through at least one of them.

Council has acted in bad faith and conned the public about this ever since it took office. No one expects them to be honest or open about it now. Their plan was made evident in 2015 when The Block fired the existing water utility board (a group of talented professionals with considerable experience in water) in violation of the town’s procedural bylaw, and replaced them with five members of their own group – none of whom have any experience in water or wastewater (and none of whom have any talent). That signalled their intentions.

A recent request for proposals (RFPs) for the sale of the town’s share of the electrical utility was sent to utility corps – including, people in the industry lead me to believe, EPCOR, in Alberta. These RFPs belie that pretense that this is just “kicking the tires.” It’s always been a full-blown conspiracy to privatize our utilities. You don’t send out RFPs to corporations just to see if they’re interested. You do it because you intend to sell. Once started, the process is irrevocable. And inevitably expensive.*

But electricity is only part of the plan. All along it’s been a bigger picture: to sell both electricity and water/wastewater services. And let the taxpayer pay for the fallout. As Food and Water Watch documented (in the USA):

Investor owned utilities typically charge 59 percent more for water service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled the water rates of the 500 largest community water systems in the country and found that private, for-profit companies charged households an average of $501 a year for 60,000 gallons of water — $185 more than what local governments charged for the same amount of water. Investor owned utilities typically charge 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled sewer rates survey data from dozens of states and found that private ownership increased sewer bills by 7 percent in West Virginia to 154 percent in Texas.

Continue reading “Council is privatizing our utilities”

The PowerStream deadline looms today

Our Council Blockheads at workBig day for Collus-PowerStream today: the deadline for acceptance of PowerStream’s sale offer for the remaining share of our utility expires this afternoon. And of course Council will finally deal with it at the special meeting called for noon, today, mere hours before it expires. Nothing like waiting until the last moment. They’ve had a month to deal with it, but that’s our council: inept and procrastinating until the end.

Like I wrote in December, if not accepted, this will trigger the shotgun clause in the shareholders’ agreement and force the issue (see below). Council could have avoided the deadline and the shotgun by simply agreeing to waive the right of first refusal and the shotgun clauses as PowerStream requested before submitting its bid, but no one in The Block was bright enough to realize the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.

The Block will be like flies stuck in amber: frozen by their failed ideology and innate stupidity; unable to respond effectively while the deputy mayor and the interim CAO try desperately to spin the issue as PowerStream’s fault instead of a debacle of their own making. That’s been the storyline fed to council and the public for the past two years and they’ll stick with it despite it having been exposed here as a poorly written fiction for a long time now.*

As evidence of their ineptitude, any bids for the share received from the RFP sent out last fall are supposed to be discussed at council’s January 20 meeting. Two weeks after today’s deadline. That’s a true Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment.

And if you’re a council watcher, you’ll recall the gormless Blockheads mouthing bromides about “kicking the tires” and “getting public input” – all the while scheming and conniving behind closed doors (where they will be, again, today). And now they’re stuck. They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind. Ain’t karma a bitch?
Continue reading “The PowerStream deadline looms today”

Thank you and Happy New Year

Twenty seventeen will arrive one second later than expected, thanks to the addition of a leap second added to balance the atomic clocks with the Earth’s actual time. One more second for my readers to browse, I suppose, although 2016 was such an awful year that few folks want it to stay around any longer. One more second of Donald Trump or Brexit is unbearable for most of us, but there it is.

For my readership, however, 2016 was good; the number of visitors was up 15% overall from 2015 and continues to climb. Thank you, everyone: I hope my humble scribblings entertained and maybe even informed you. At the very least I hope they opened the door for conversations. And this year I met and conversed with several regular readers, and even received a gift basket as a thank-you for exposing the ugly underbelly of local politics. First time that has ever happened.

To date, I have written 918 posts (this is 919) with over 1.4 million words in them. The longest is post more than 8,700 words. I know, I know: I’m a yappy bugger but writing is what I love to do and when I can bolster it with research, why, I’m in intellectual heaven. That count doesn’t include the words I pound out for my work, for my novels (several in the works, none likely to see publication), for my published articles, what I write on social media, or my Machiavelli blog, or my correspondence. Several tens of thousands of words were written outside this blog. That’s why this blog is called Scripturient: having a strong urge to write.

A lot of readership in 2016 came from my posts about local issues: the unethical, immoral or even illegal behaviour of the group of seven on our local council we call The Block (so named not simply because they block vote, but because The Borg was already taken and much over-used). Sadly, much of that activity was either ignored or glossed over by the local media. But I believe it’s important the public is made aware of the shady dealing, the secret meetings, the conniving and scheming, the nest-feathering, the personal agendas and vendettas of this group. They are aggressively destroying so much of this great town, and as a result of complaints they are under investigation by the Information & Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsman and the Ontario Energy Board. And possibly the police (if rumour proves true). Our reputation with our neighbours and developers has never been lower. But I digress.
Continue reading “Thank you and Happy New Year”

More council Christmas carols

A few preliminary verses for your consideration this holiday season… perhaps my readers might like to offer their contributions or extend the verses below.

To the tune of The Holly and the Ivy:
The folly of our council,
So evident to see
Fumble, flail and bumble
Of this we all agree.

O the rising of our taxes
And consultants not a few
The lawyers that they hired
Block vendettas to see through.

To the tune of: We Three Kings of Orient Are:
We the Block of Council votes are
Conflicts of interest we bring from afar
Sell our airport, sell the utilities
Follow our CAO…

O we don’t need your public voice
No consultation or input
We know what’s best, we know what’s right
The meeting door stays closed shut

To the tune of Silent Night:
Silent night, in camera night
All is secret, that’s our right
Round yon interim CAO
Gather and listen to what he says so
We do his bidding, we must
In his deep wisdom we trust

To the tune of Good King Wenceslas:
Cam Ecclestone he raised his hand
And voted to defeat it,
When recorded vote was called
He stood. It was approved.
Could not recall his vote that night,
When the media asked him.
Brian had to lecture him,
On The Block’s agen-en-da.

To the tune of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:
The Block they went in camera
They wanted no public to hear.
When selling our utility
Their private agendas were clear.

To the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
Kathy’s a happy councillor
Her expenses she thinks are fab
She flies around the country while
Taxpayers pick up the tab.

All of the other Blockheads
Voted for her to play
She parties without restrictions
While the rest of us must pay.

Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1

Blind leading the blindAs we reach the end of our Council’s second year in office, halfway through its mandate, it is time again to assess the collective performance and list the accomplishments of our elected officials.

To avoid accusations of egregious negativity, I will list council’s accomplishments first. And to avoid further accusations of meandering through overly long diatribes (mea culpa, I do ramble a bit…), I will split this post into two pieces. The good (this post) and the bad (a subsequent post).

For a historical comparison, you might wish to refer to my analysis of council’s first year prior to reading this piece. It will give you some context. And maybe a reason to drink, too. It was that kind of year.

So here it is: all of the remarkable achievements and accomplishments of Collingwood Council by the end of its second year:

  1. You can no longer toss birdseed onto your driveway or patio.
    Now don’t be misled into think this legislation isn’t a significant achievement. Consider the ramifications of having people toss their birdseed willy nilly around their property. It would be chaos. And it might attract squirrels. The very notion that squirrels might get at the birdseed makes some folks at the table apoplectic. It must have taken hours and hours of in camera discussion and secret negotiation to get this passed. Given the calibre of the minds at the table, this is The Block’s greatest intellectual accomplishment this term and could possibly be council’s most fondly recalled legacy for decades to come.
  2. Public discussion, input or consultation has been shut out.
    Democracy is far too messy already to allow the public to hear what council is saying about major policies and operations, so everything worth discussing has been moved behind closed doors where public scrutiny won’t embarrass anyone at the table. And why should the public be allowed to comment on things that affect them? Better they don’t know and so they can’t respond. That way the oily gears of governance and patronage won’t be slowed down by having to deal with messy public input or media oversight. So what if it’s your utility, your airport, your taxes? The Block will decide what’s best for us without asking our opinion. You don’t matter: only their opinion matters. And just in case you thought you could complain, The Block fired the Integrity Commissioner. Why have public scrutiny when you avoid public input? And forget those election promises of openness and transparency. You knew they were just kidding, right?
  3. Our reputation is ruined and our relationships with our municipal neighbours is in the dumpster.
    Utility boards have been alienated. The hospital and medical staff enraged. Developers infuriated. The OEB is investigating council. The Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating council. The Ombudsman is investigating council. PowerStream hates us. Collus hates us. Clearview hates us. Wasaga Beach hates us. New Tecumseth hates us. The airport users and developers hate us. The hospital board hates us. It can only be a sign of strength to stand alone. The Block has proven Collingwood can go it alone without regionalism, support, allies, partners or friends. The town’s strategic goal has been to emulate our governing Blockheads and be friendless and mirthless. And in this endeavour they have been highly successful. You don’t think that’s impressive? The Block and our administration put unstinting effort into making Collingwood is the North Korea of Ontario municipalities. Imagine how little we’d care about Kim Jong Un if he had international friends or was a competent ruler. He’d be like us. And now we’re just like him. Well done!

There you have it. Everything this council has accomplished this term. Three major accomplishments that in olden days would merit a rousing song from a bard, and plaques or even bronze statues scattered about the community.

With the positives safely out of the way, in an upcoming post I will examine the downside: the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest. But so as not to keep you in too much suspense, here’s a quick preview of all the things council did wrong, all of their evil, malicious and underhanded actions to date this term:

  1. Everything else.

See you next post.

Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 2

Keystone councilAs promised, here is the second part of the Gong Show analysis from December 12th’s council meeting. Like I said earlier, it’s perhaps more like a Keystone Cops or Abbott and Costello skit than the TV show.

As always, you can follow along on the Rogers Community TV broadcast, starting at 2:16:30. Laugh aloud at the zany, misinformed antics of your elected representatives as they fumble and stumble their way through an agenda of items they clearly have no clue about. You should start with part 1 of my review, if you haven’t already read it.

And by the end of this post you can decide which of these titles best suits our Blockheads:

  1. The Most Secretive Council Ever
  2. The Most Inept and Ineffective Council Ever
  3. The Most Devious Council Ever
  4. The Most Disrespectful Council Ever
  5. The Most Corrupt Council Ever
  6. The Most Underhanded Council Ever
  7. The Most Petty and Vindictive Council Ever
  8. All of the above.*

So first take a look at a letter that appeared on the consent agenda of the Strategic Initiatives Committee from Dec. 7 (SIC is one of those dysfunctional and inefficient council committees created by the interim CAO, yet embraced by Blockheads at the table with no experience in process or politics who prefer to flail and fumble rather that govern efficiently). See page 96 for the letter, which says in part:

Please accept this letter as confirmation that Collus PowerStream will not be renewing its existing computer rental agreement with the Collingwood Public Utilities that expires December 31st, 2016.
With regard to the existing equipment, the Board of Directors at our November 25th meeting authorized me to offer a one-time payment of $23,920.00 plus any applicable taxes for the attached listing of user workstation equipment and associated accessories (keyboards, mice, cables etc.) we are currently using and are interested in acquiring.
We ask that you please confirm acceptance of this offer by end of day December 15th, 2016. This will allow us sufficient time to make alternate arrangements prior to year-end for replacement hardware should the Town choose to not accept this offer.

Some key concepts here to keep in mind:

  • The board authorized the request and amount offered;
  • The agreement to rent equipment ends Dec. 31 at the same time the shared services agreement ends;
  • CPS needs to know by Dec. 15 and it’s already Dec. 12;
  • The offer is more than three times what the equipment is worth.

Simple, right? Apparently not for everyone.

Some history: Collus always provided the software and the technical support for the town’s computers as part of the shared services agreement. The agreement ended in 2014 but was extended until the end of 2016 so the interim CAO could present an update agreement. It still hasn’t been done.

The town (in this case the water department) purchased the hardware and rented/leased it back to Collus (later Collus-PowerStream, CPS) for just under $22,000 a year to provide a revenue stream to the town. With the unrelenting harassment of the utility and its staff by The Blockheads and the administration, CPS wants to get as far away from this viper’s nest as possible. CPS offered to buy the remaining hardware – mostly used notebooks, monitors, mice, cables and keyboards – from the town. And end another revenue stream to the town from the utility.**

used computersNow, keep in mind that this is all equipment CPS is using, not another town department or service. Whenever a department needs computer equipment, that department head purchases it. No department head has asked for any of this equipment, not least of all because it’s old and used and they can get new with a signature on a slip of paper.

And it’s all at least 3-4 years old (which means the laptops may not even be up to running Win 10) and may not be in the best shape after daily use for that time. Much of it would normally be replaced with new equipment in the next 12-28 months as per the town’s hardware replacement cycle.

But our Blockheads are apparently experts on IT, even though some of them can’t even configure their own home wireless without IT intervention.

And don’t forget: the shared services agreement to provide IT services to the town ends in January, 2017, before that vaunted mid-month report from the consultant. Second, the recent PowerStream offer to buy the Collus share has a deadline of Jan. 6. If accepted, there will be no relationship of any sort between the utility and the town. And if not accepted, PowerStream will invoke the shotgun clause and the whole shebang will unravel 30 days later.

This where the fun starts – be prepared to laugh and roll your eyes. And to shake your head in wonder at the pettiness of our Blockheads.

And then gasp in disgust at the backstabbing and deviousness that happened a mere two days later. Of course, you won’t read any of this in the local media. You’re welcome.
Continue reading “Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 2”

Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1

The Gong ShowHas there ever been a more inept, ineffective group at the council table in Collingwood? Certainly not in the 26 years I’ve been here. Not in the dozen years I covered it for the media, not in the 11 years I served on council have I seen anything so comical.

Rogers TV really should put a laugh track on their broadcasts of council meetings. They could call it the Gong Show – had that name not already been taken by a more serious TV show.

But until then, you should watch the December 12, 2016 meeting. You’ll roar, you’ll chuckle, you’ll guffaw over the zany antics of our madcap councillors as they flail about trying to understand what they’re doing. It’s funnier than a Marx brothers’ skit. And it will take more than just this one post for me to cover this slapstick madness. So here’s part one…

Start at 53:14 into the show (I’ll deal with the pointless waste of tax dollars on a peer report about the hospital that says nothing at another time). This is about a letter on the consent agenda (A8) from Collus PowerStream about the final closure of the IT services provided to the town. It says:

We are hoping that we can agree to a very early discontinuation date. We understand, the Town has created specific IT job descriptions with the intention of recruiting for those positions in the very near future. In addition with your recent acquisition of an outside IT consulting firm we believe it is time to operate independently.

At 53:28 Deputy Mayor Saunderson reads the motion, saying, “Moved by myself…” (here’s your first big chuckle of the night: none of the Blockheads know that it should be “moved by me…“! Yuck, yuck, yuck… I guess they don’t teach English in law school…) and then says the town will utilize (why use the solid one-syllable “use” when three bloated syllables will do?) the IT services provided by Collus PowerStream “up to June 30, 2017… or until mutually agreed upon earlier.”

Yep: lotsa laughs already. The Blockheads gutted the shared services agreement and their interfering this term will cost taxpayers at least $1 million more a year starting in 2017. But now they’re in panic mode because they didn’t plan for this.

The agreement actually ended some time ago (end of 2014, I believe), but on the promise of an updated agreement coming, it was extended to January, 2017. So Collus-PowerStream has no obligation to provide ANY services (including billing for water) in 2017. And last Friday PowerStream put in a bid for the town’s share of the utility with a deadline of January 6. After that, there will be no Collus-PowerStream left, just PowerStream. With no obligation to the town whatsoever.

Not to mention that this council and administration have connived behind closed doors to sell our share of our utility without any public input. The administration sent out RFPs trying to find a buyer (ignoring PowerStream’s first right of refusal in the contract…). Hardly conducive for continued relations.

The town already sole-sourced the IT services this fall to a Barrie company (and again without public input). So who do they think is going to going to do the work to complete the transition? And after two years of harassment, bullying and a $500,000 morale-destroying witch hunt cooked up by The Blockheads, everyone at Collus wants to get free of any relationship with the town as soon as possible. January is late enough to be in this viper’s nest.

But The Blockheads press on, oblivious.

Continue reading “Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1”

Collus share bid received

My sources tell me PowerStream submitted a bid to purchase the town’s share of the Collus-PowerStream utility, late on Friday, December 9. While the amount was not stated, I am told it is a “very fair” bid. This is so far going as I predicted in my earlier post.

PowerStream paid $8 million cash for half the share in 2012 (with another $6.4 million coming through Collus from notes and recapitalization), but since then The Block and town administration gutted the board (twice), joyfully ruined the shared services agreement, and happily took away the water side thus reducing the utility’s revenue considerably. Done over two years of secret conniving behind closed doors.

IT services is hanging by a thread – town hall pulled the plug and secretly contracted (apparently sole-sourced without RFP or RFQ) with a Barrie company to do the work. And council approved Collus buying the remaining hardware so the cord has been almost fully cut. The IT relationship with Collus and the town is likely to be cancelled by January 1.

For many years, the town got exemplary IT service at a hugely discounted cost from Collus. The new contract with the out-of-towners will cost taxpayers tens of thousands more every year, but hey, it’s only money, right? Your money, of course, but what do our Blockheads care about you?

All that’s left is billing for the water side, still done by Collus, but thanks to town administration and our Blockheads, is about to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars more a year when the share sale goes through.

Given the Block’s active and aggressive devaluation of the utility since the 2012 sale of 50%, I doubt the book value of the utility is more than $5 million now. However, PowerStream may offer more than that if for no other reason than to end the harassment and bullying and get away from the town as quickly as possible.

The deadline for the town to accept or reject the bid is, I believe, Friday, January 6, 2017, just under a month away. And that’s with the sword-of-Damocles shotgun clause hovering over their heads. Not very much time for a council whose term has been showcased by flailing inaction, and gormless dithering to make an actual decision. I bet the Blockheads do what the administration tells them to do, just like they always have.

Continue reading “Collus share bid received”

A cup of mao jian

Mao Jian teaThe tea bag is an example of remarkable serendipity; an unexpected, simple invention that changed the world. But it was entirely unintended.

Tea, from the camelia sinenis tree, is the most popular beverage in the world after water, and the most popular hot beverage period. Before the tea bag appeared, barely over a century ago, all tea was sold loose. Today more than 90% is sold in bags (if you include tisanes, or herbal “teas” that figure is about 70%*). For what is arguably the most popular drink in the world, that’s quite a change in a few decades.

At the turn of the 20th century, New York tea and coffee merchant Thomas Sullivan was shipping samples of his product to customers in small silk bags. He expected them to pour the loose tea out before brewing it. But customers didn’t know that and instead plunked the bag into the pot with the tea inside. They quickly found it easier and more convenient than messing about with measuring and cleaning. Sullivan saw the opportunity, and worked on perfecting the design. By 1908 he was selling his bags.

A century before social media accelerated ideas and products, tea bags went viral.** Other American companies started selling hand-sewn fabric tea bags around the same time as Sullivan. In 1930 Salada brought out the first heat-sealed, paper fibre tea bags. The design – a thin flat pouch either round or square – didn’t change much until the 1980s when the pyramidal design was invented in Japan (although not widely used, the design is gaining popularity for whole-leaf teas through companies like Tea Pigs).

teabagWhile big in the USA, it wasn’t until the 1950s when the tea bag took off in Britain, in the post-war, post-rationing bloom of convenience and newness. In 1953, Tetley was the first British tea company to offer bags and the rest quickly followed. Even in the 1960s, tea bags represented only 3% of all tea sales. But by 2007 that was at 96%!

(The Brits have many tea habits that are well described here and you should read George Orwell’s essay on tea here)

Tea bags meant convenience: tea became easier to buy, store, and to shelve. Speciality store sales gave way to supermarkets. The image of tea as an elite drink was eroded by the democratic nature of the easy-to-use tea bag. ***

What changed in the tea world was not just the packaging. The bag changed the way consumers saw, evaluated and purchased tea – by brand as opposed to actual product. This meant marketing became an overriding factor in sales.

Tea leaf readers went out of business. Who reads tea bags? The whole art of tasseography has pretty much vanished. (okay losing some cons and carnies isn’t a great loss to society, but we also lost a useful literary trope and cliché…)

Continue reading “A cup of mao jian”

Stumbling towards the utility’s demise

The Return of ChanduThis week, Collingwood Council met in a special meeting to discuss an request from its utility partner, PowerStream, to waive some conditions of the shareholder agreement. This meeting appears to have been called by the interim CAO, which seems to me to usurp the mayor’s authority, but we know the administration – in partnership with The Block – has long been pulling the strings in this town to serve its own ends. Plus the meeting was held mid-day at the fire hall; a time and location that appears intended to deter both public and media presence.

Well while the public was deterred, the media were present, but nothing appeared in either paper. That doesn’t surprise me in the increasingly lax EB, but I expected better from the Connection. Finally, a story appeared in the online Connection, Friday. And it – as is too often the case with local media – doesn’t tell the whole story.

First read the waiver requested by Powerstream here. It asks the town to waive, “…Article 7, Article 8 and Article 9 thereof, for purposes of the Offer up until December 14, 2016.”

Got that? No, probably not. What it means is that PowerStream intends to present its offer early next week, but doesn’t want the offer to invoke terms in the agreement that would trigger the shotgun clause. And what, you ask, is the shotgun clause? Well, let’s do a quick review of the history first.

In 2011, the former council initiated a public process to explore opportunities to sell all or a portion (up to 50%) of our electrical utility. After several public information sessions in which public input and comment was sought, and after the issue was discussed in public at the council table, requests for proposals (RFPs) were sent out to prospective LDCs across the province. A strategic committee consisting of the utility board, staff, the mayor and KPMG Consultants was created to oversee the process and report to council and the public. All of the RFPs came in for purchase at EXACTLY 50%. No one wanted to buy less and the direction from council was to sell no more than half.

After a lengthy review and analysis of the offers, PowerStream was chosen as the winner. The offer was reviewed by their lawyers and accountants, our lawyers and accountants, the lawyers and accountants and council members of their three member municipalities. The process then moved to the Ontario Energy Board whose lawyers and accountants reviewed it. And then Energy Probe’s lawyers and accountants reviewed it. Everyone approved it, the finances were clean. The deal was sealed.

In the agreement were two important clauses. First, each side had the first right of refusal to buy the other half, should the partner ever want to sell its share. Second is the shotgun clause: should either party want to sell or buy, it can make an offer to the other party. If that offer is not accepted, then the rejecting party is bound to purchase the remaining half at the amount stated in the offer. And do it within 30 days.

So why did Powerstream want to waive these clauses? Well, first of all, the town sent out RFPs to several other LDCs in the province, totally ignoring PowerStream’s first right of refusal. Yes, it’s highly unethical and sure looks illegal to me, but that’s the way things are done here this term.

I suspect PowerStream – being an honourable company highly regarded by everyone outside our town hall – decided not to drag the bad faith shown again by our town into a legal battle which would further tarnish our badly tattered reputation. And one we would lose. Badly.

Second, PowerStream clearly wants to put its offer in along with those expected (or possibly already received) from the RFP, and not force the shotgun clause. In other words, to have its offer considered in context with the rest, not start the irrevocable process the shotgun clause will effect.

And guess what The Block did? Yep: they voted NOT to waive the clauses. The Block demanded 45 days to consider the request. Which is risible since the letter clearly states an offer is coming December 14, not sometime in February. 

Continue reading “Stumbling towards the utility’s demise”

Those pesky costs The Block forgot to mention

Hidden costsWho sends out your water bills? Collus-PowerStream. It’s all part of the shared services agreement. Yes, that simple little agreement that for 15 productive, cooperative years linked our water and electrical utilities with mutual resources. That same agreement The Block dismantled and handed over to the interim CAO two years ago to rewrite and update. A 30-minute job that still hasn’t been completed. And never will be.

Who takes the data from the meters, calculates the charges, prints and folds the bills, inserts them into envelopes and puts them through the postage meter? Collus-PowerStream.

Who handles the automatic payments, the credit card and debit card payments, cashes the cheques and takes payment in person? Collus-PowerStream.

Who applies the payment it to your account and calculates any credit or debit? Collus-PowerStream.

Who answers the customer calls, explains the bills, makes changes of address or ownership to bills, opens new accounts, closes inactive accounts? Collus-PowerStream.

Who chases delinquent accounts and who works with customers in difficult situations? Collus-PowerStream.

Who banks the money and pays the town their share? Collus-PowerStream.

Our share of the electrical utility is about to be sold – YOUR utility – even though you never got even one chance to voice any say in the matter. It was all done in secret, connived behind closed doors with lawyers and consultants without any public discussion. 

Who pays for the cost of billing and mailing once the deal is closed? YOU will. Oh dear, did the administration neglect to warn you about this?

Continue reading “Those pesky costs The Block forgot to mention”

Corruption, Collingwood & the Collus Board

See no evil...The Most Secretive Council Ever has comfortably assumed the mantle of The Most Secretive and Corrupt Council Ever. As I warned in a previous post, The Block was going to appoint someone’s friends to the Collus-PowerStream board – and do it both illegally and unethically. And last Monday, they told us they had done it. Fait accompli.

But as you have learned this term, laws, procedures, ethics and morals are for others to obey, not for The Block.

According to a story in The Connection (apparently the EB couldn’t be bothered to report on it online and I don’t get their print version…):

Michael Pace and David Goldsmith were named to the board, replacing Collingwood CAO John Brown and treasurer Marjory Leonard. Clerk Sara Almas remains on the board, serving as co-chairperson.

Know who these men are? Of course not. Only The Block knows. These men don’t live here. They didn’t even have to fill in an application to sit on a local board like the rest of us do. They were handed the appointments. Isn’t that usually called “patronage”? *

Who recommended them? The public has the right to know who is pulling the strings in those back rooms. It is an offense to public trust not to tell us.**

So now all three members of the utility board supposed to represent our local interests live out of town. According to the Connection story, one is a lawyer with “experience in mergers and acquisitions” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink…) but no experience in the electricity sector. The other is a consultant from Ottawa (we have already employed so many consultants this term, I’m surprised we just didn’t use one of them) and engineer, whose background (based on his website) seems mostly in steelmaking, with some experience in industrial-electrical relations.

How either can represent the interests of some 17,000 local residential customers, plus all the small businesses and commercial operations in our area was not explained. Nor will it be.

Nor were we told why the municipalities Collus PowerStream serves outside Collingwood have never yet been informed, much less consulted, about these changes in board membership that affects their residents and businesses, too.

But guess what else? You will have to pay to bring these two to any board meeting – paying the costs of their transportation, time and accommodations. One lives in Ottawa, one in Toronto. Imagine paying those expenses, those per diem costs for their trips here. Right: you got screwed by The Block. Again.

Councillor Lloyd questioned the process:

Coun. Kevin Lloyd questioned the process used to find the board members. Lloyd felt they should live in Collingwood, but Almas said Collus PowerStream is governed by the Ontario Business Corporations Act.

This Administration cried crocodile tears over not getting access to personal and confidential information so they could share it among themselves and watch it inevitably get leaked – information that is protected under the Ontario Business Corporations Act. Now it is riding on that high horse to justify breaking town procedure and our bylaws, but it won’t tell us who’s behind these choices. Ain’t hypocrisy grand?

You can watch the whole discussion on Rogers TV here starting at 1:36:43.

Continue reading “Corruption, Collingwood & the Collus Board”

No, Brian: Elvis isn’t in the CBSP

SaundersonAt the Nov. 28 Council meeting (seen here on Rogers TV), Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson blathered on in cliché-rich, lawerly manner (starting 1:14:05) about how much the Elvis Festival means to his “Community-Based Strategic Plan” (1:16:18) – that committee-based wishlist which was neither strategic nor a plan.

What does he mean when he claims that a report has “galvanized the question quite nicely”? Galvanized? Does he know what that word means? It’s not what he appears to think it does… it means to “shock or excite (someone), typically into taking action.” A staff report is seldom shocking or exciting, and even if it were, a question doesn’t get galvanized, nor the report, but rather the reader does.

When he claims he wants the festival to be a “self-sustaining entity unto itself…” I simply cannot grasp what that tautology means. Can you? It sounds like something from the Department of Redundancy Department.

And no, Brian, it doesn’t “beg a larger question” – begging the question doesn’t mean to raise one. It means to make “…a conclusion based on a premise that lacks support.” To beg the question would be to assume, for example, that because Elvis drank water, the festival should be hosted on the waterfront. The word you want to use here is “raise.”

Is he “hardened by the fact” or heartened? Sure sounds like he says the former… maybe some folks at the table find staff reports of a more prurient nature than I ever did.

But where does this fit in with his vaunted yet curiously flaccid CBSP? In fact it fits nowhere.

Number of times Elvis is mentioned in the CBSP: NONE.

Continue reading “No, Brian: Elvis isn’t in the CBSP”