Deputy mayor & interim CAO missing in action?

MissingThe headline in the Connection story reads, “Collingwood meets with provincial ministers about waterfront plan.” Well, that’s incorrect: it wasn’t “Collingwood” – it was Mayor Cooper and two staff members at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference this month.

Notably absent from the reporting of these important meetings were the deputy mayor, Brian Saunderson; our interim CAO, John Brown; and senior administrative staff.

Why? Saunderson was at the AMO conference. Was he not invited? Or did he simply disdain to attend? I don’t know.

I doubt the interim CAO attended AMO. I suspect he was too busy hectoring Collus PowerStream staff from his corner office to attend anything as trivial as a major provincial municipal conference where ministers could be met, issues discussed and causes advocated. Not to mention the learning and networking opportunities. Permanent CAOs have attended in the past. Another reason we deserve a permanent CAO.

I don’t know why the other admin staff didn’t attend. I would have thought it beneficial for them to help present a united front on our waterfront plans, discussing funding and support opportunities and the impact on our local economy and budget implications.

The mayor had meetings with the Minister of Tourism, Eleanor McMahon, and the Minister of Economic Development and Growth, Brad Duguid. How important can they be to a town that survives on tourism and desperately needs to maintain and grow its economy? Right…

Hats off to the two staffers who did attend: they, at least, know what’s important for the community.

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A brief update on Collus-PowerStream

Just a brief note to give my readers the opportunity to examine two documents related to Collus-PowerStream and our council’s secretive efforts to sabotage our utility. Both are in PDF format, linked below.

First is the presentation given by the Electricity Distribution Association (EDA) to AMO delegates earlier this month. I referred to this in a recent post about the opportunities this council has thrown away in their headlong rush to fulfill their petty little vendettas.

Collus-PowerStream was mentioned during the presentation (page 14) as one of the leading innovators in LDCs in Ontario. Bet you’ve never heard The Block say anything like that at the table.

Never a good word for all the hard work our utility staff have done comes from The Block. They can’t stand hearing good news about our utility they want to destroy and they never, ever pass any positive news along to you – the actual owners of our utility.

We could have been in the forefront of a remarkable exciting new development, been a player in new organization – had The Block not interfered with their petty, personal agendas. But you’ll never hear them admit it.

Second is the EDA’s weekly newsletter for August 16, 2016 which also provides a summary of the presentation. On page 2, you’ll read how our own utility was profiled for its efficiency:

Collus PowerStream’s SmartMAP which has improved outage restoration and operational efficiency.

Once again, we are being recognized by the provincial association, esteemed in the eyes of LDCs and municipalities across the province. But do you think you’ll ever hear The Block mention this at the council table? Of course not! Nor will you read in in the local media, which, sadly, does little more than regurgitate The Block’s slimy propaganda.

The weekly newsletter is also interesting because it highlights news, issues, events, policy changes and events in the energy sector. Which, of course, The Block never reads because they don’t receive it. That would require them to actually taken an interest in the energy sector and learn something. Both of which are anathema to all Blockheads. Besides, they already know everything. Actually learning something would just confuse them.

The newsletter would normally go to LDC board members, but given who The Block placed on the utility board – their administrative pitbulls – they are unlikely to pass it along to the public, either. It’s kept secret, like everything else done around, with and to our utility. But here, at least this one time, you have a chance to read what The Block doesn’t want you to know.

You’re welcome.

Collingwood deserves better. You deserve better.

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No consultation with customers or neighbours

Collus distribution areaDid you know Collus-PowerStream serves thousands of customers in Stayner, Thornbury and Creemore? More than 4,000 residences, businesses, restaurants, stores, churches, municipal facilities and farms are on the Collus-PowerStream distribution network, along with almost 12,200 in Collingwood.

Do you know how many times Collingwood has consulted with the councils of Town of the Blue Mountains and Clearview over its plan to sell our utility to Hydro One that will crucially and negatively affect those customers in their communities?

Right: none.

The same number of consultations they have had with local customers. It’s all been done furtively: behind closed doors with high-priced, unctuous, lawyers and oleaginous administration staff. A disgraceful breach of public trust.

The Most Secretive Council Ever plans to sell the service on which these customers depend to a utility that will quickly raise their rates roughly 10%. Perhaps even higher.

This will impact the living conditions and quality of life, the economic livelihood and the viability of local businesses and farms in these areas. It will greatly affect the municipalities themselves. How will it affect the already-growing problem some people have making their existing electricity payments?

Right: The Block don’t care. 

Sure, it will make it harder for everyone, especially seniors and those on low or fixed income. All part of The Block’s war on them.

My sources say they haven’t even officially informed our neighbours of anything yet, let alone included them into their secret negotiations. That shows the arrogant level of disrespect this council has for our municipal neighbours and regional partners. They’re just going to let it be a surprise when the bill-shock comes in.

Collingwood deserves better. So do our neighbours.

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It’s not the town doing this: merely staff

Yellow journalism“Collingwood laywer (sic) says town won’t sign confidentiality agreement regarding Collus employee information” says the headline in a story in last week’s Collingwood Connection. Yes, it really does say “laywer….” (ah, proofreading…)

Well, that’s wrong: it’s not “the town” that won’t sign, but rather merely three members of the administrative staff. The Block recently replaced the town’s experienced, democratically-appointed members with staffers in order to push through The Block’s destruction of the relationship with PowerStream. But it’s not “the town” behind it at all.

They would sign it if instructed to by council. But council is controlled by The Block. So that will never happen: it goes against the ideology.

The Block wants this information so badly it hurts them to even think about being thwarted from it. They figure there’s some secret buried there, some imagined evil lurking in the salaries of staff. Rubbish, of course. Their wacky,but viral conspiracy notions have ruined the town, but they continue with the demolition amidst the rubble.

That confidentiality agreement is meant to protect the right to privacy and confidentiality that our utility service employees have. The Block and its pet administration know that, but they want to distribute personal information among themselves and friends. It’s despicable and unethical. Just like The Block’s other actions.

Ask yourself: why does “the town” need this information? It isn’t relevant to anything, certainly not the shared services agreement (what should have been a 30-minute negotiation has taken more than two years and is still in limbo). The information is not relevant to any operational issue or efficiency issue. It doesn’t affect the share value or the town in any way. In the 25 years or so since the corporation was first set up, it’s never been needed for anything.

The utility’s auditors and accountants, the Ontario Energy Board, the former CFO (now on council), the corporation’s lawyers, the municipal partners, and former boards haven’t found anything wrong or improper in the operation that would require making public this information. Why does The Block want it, then?

It’s just part of The Block’s vindictive personal agendas and vendettas against the utility staff. Always has been. You already know that.

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Opportunities Collingwood has lost

I spent two days in the trade show at the AMO conference this week, looking at the booth across the aisle from me. It constantly reminded me of the opportunities for Collingwood this council has thrown away, of what great opportunities we have lost this term.

The booth across from me was announcing the upcoming merger of four of the province’s top utility companies – Horizon, Enersource, Hydro One Brampton and PowerStream. This will make it the largest LDC (local distribution corporation) in Ontario. The four most innovative, customer-oriented, conservation-minded, efficient and forward-thinking utilities are merging.

You remember PowerStream? They are our municipal partners in Collus. So why haven’t you heard about this venture? Because The Block doesn’t want you to know about it.

This will be the start of a powerhouse operation that changes the face of the utility sector in Ontario. It will streamline operations and combine resources – all for the betterment of their customers.

Collingwood could have been part of this exciting new development. Should have been part of it – had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the once-great relationship between the town and our utility partner, PowerStream. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the relationship between our utility, and its excellent, hard-working staff, and the town. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed our town’s reputation and standing in the province.

But, of course, they did, as you, dear reader, know from reading the tragic news here. Deliberately, they pursued personal agendas and private vendettas. And we watch slip away the opportunity to be part of something new, dynamic and exciting. The opportunity to be in the forefront vanishes while we shuffle to the rear.

No one wants Collingwood at the table these days. That was driven home to me during the conference through several conversations with people in the energy sector and other municipalities. No one could understand why our council wants to alienate one of the most progressive LDCs in the province and align with the least efficient, least respected power company – the one with the highest electricity rates and lowest customer satisfaction.

No one could understand why our council insisted on shooting itself in the foot. Again, and again, and again.

To outsiders it seems like madness. Only to the small, myopic circle of Blockheads at the table does it make sense to destroy what everyone else in the energy sector heralded as a brilliantly conceived, mutually beneficial, morale-boosting partnership.

Once lost, we can never recover it. Lost opportunities will be this council’s lasting legacy.
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Why is this man still working for Collingwood?

You're firedI am appalled and disgusted, and you should be, too. In what seems only minutes after council and staff received a remedial presentation on roles and responsibilities that emphasized the MAYOR speaks for the town, no one else, the interim CAO was at it again. Speaking out about town issues and events when it is the mayor’s role and responsibility to do so. Not his.

This breach of etiquette should not be tolerated. It shows no respect for the mayor, or her office, let alone the actual events. Such insubordination undermines her authority.

In a story in this weekend’s Collingwood Connection, interim CAO John Brown is quoted as saying:

“The 50 per cent share sale has caused this council to spend money which resulted from the activities of the last council. There is always legal fees (as a) result of us doing our due diligence. I think this council is doing a better job than these figures show.”

This is outrageous and misleading.

During the discussion, Brown said the current council has incurred significant legal fees as a result of the sale of 50 per cent of the town’s stake in Collus.

These weasel words falsely attempt to put the blame for THIS council’s egregious and excessive consulting and legal fees on the former council when it is clearly THIS council’s responsibility.

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What did the former council ever do for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us?
TIM: What exactly are the demands?

BRIAN: We’re giving Powerstream two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Collus utility, and if they don’t agree immediately, we execute the shotgun clause.

TIM: You mean, cut their nose off?

DEB: Cut all our noses off. To spite our collective faces. Show them we’re not to be trifled with.

BRIAN: Also, we’re demanding a ten foot mahogany statue of the former mayor with his conflicts hangin’ out.

KATHY: What? They’ll never agree to that, Brian.

BRIAN: That’s just a bar– a bargaining counter. And of course, we point out that they bear full responsibility when we sell our utility and the rates go sky high, and that we shall not submit to blackmail!

BLOCK: No blackmail!

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Time for council to learn the rules? Nah…

vengeance takes timeBeing a councillor is hard work. You have to scurry around in dark corners looking for places in which to hold secret meetings, you have to plan the destruction of town facilities and services, you have to spend whole minutes calculating how much to raise taxes, you have to wrack your brain for hours trying to determine the best way to discourage business, offend developers (except those who are your in-laws), you have to spend countless hours listening to staff drone on and on and on about boring stuff like planning and finances before you can get back to figuring out how much money to pump into an expense account so the Senator can party around the country without having to fly economy or eat in 4-star restaurants (answer: unlimited expenses!).

You have to plot how to make staff morale crumble even further, how to punish anyone who might have even smiled at someone on the former council, and how to squeeze more from the taxpayer to reward those out-of-town lawyers and consultants you’ve become buddy-buddy with this term.

And then there are all those secret meetings and passing along confidential information and emails to your mouthpieces and sycophants so they can fuel their whisper campaigns.

Whew. It sure is a busy life. Vengeance takes a lot of effort. Let up for even a moment and you fall off your path of malice and mayhem. Being petty and vindictive requires all your attention.

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The destruction of Collus

Council wrecking our townThere’s a story in the online Connection that highlights how much this council has spent on lawyers and consultants to further its vendetta against Collus-Powerstream: more than $400,000 so far. Half of it was spent in 2015 (I have seen a document that shows more than $249,000 spent in 2015) and the cash register is still ringing. By the end of this year it may well top $750,000-$1 million.

That’s $400,000 of your tax dollars already spent for nothing. Not in town, not on local companies or services. We got absolutely no benefit from that expense. It wasn’t spent on anything for the greater good, but to pursue a very personal vendetta.

Remember that promised savings of $500,000-$750,000 the CAO bragged about back in March? It seems it’s all going to lawyers and consultants. And they’ll be getting more, too. The bills just keep rolling in.

This week, we got the news that Collus Powerstream is one of the top-performing utilities in the province. The Ontario Energy Board released its 2015 Benchmarking Report. in it, Collus Powerstream moved from the third tier (of five) up to second. It’s quite an accomplishment – and owed entirely to the efforts of our great, hardworking utility staff (including the former CEO, Ed Houghton).

It’s ironic that Hydro One remains in tier five – the lowest-performing category. Yet this is who The Block has been secretly trying to sell our utility to: the least efficient utility in the province. Powerstream is, by the way, the second largest municipal utility in this province, with more customers than Toronto Hydro. Powerstream has even more urban customers than Hydro One.

Why do I say costs could top $1 million? Because the Block’s aggressive drive to destroy Collus-Powerstream is about to come to an explosive head. I expect that before the end of summer, Powerstream will be so fed up with the harassment from town hall they will make an offer to buy our share of the utility. And then it will be gone.

We will have lost control over our own hydro rates and services. It will relocate out of town, maybe even out of the region. We will also lose the more than $200,000 a year we get for rent from the building. And any future cash dividends. But we will have the inevitable bills from lawyers to close the deal. Ka-ching!

Now while that purchase is likely the best thing for the staff at Collus – it will get them away from the toxic relationship created by this council and administration – and it will probably benefit the consumer too* – it means we lose a valuable public asset: our electrical utility.

And you, the public haven’t been able to even hear the discussions, let alone provide your input. It’s all been done behind closed doors. Screwed again by The Most Secretive Council Ever.

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Whatever became of that angry mob?

Defending our honourLast term, council was presented with an angry, 14-page screed from the “Friends of Central Park” (aka “Build the YMCA a Taj Mahal at Taxpayers’ Expense,” later called Better Together Collingwood…yes, you know who was behind them both!).

The mouthpiece attacked the honesty, the credibility, competence and the behaviour of the former council – all because we chose to build new recreational facilities that were not the expensive option a group of well-off residents demanded we build. And because we didn’t raise taxes or incur significant debt in our choice.

I realize it’s not often one gets lambasted by taxpayers for not raising taxes, but we were severely criticized for choosing the path of fiscal responsibility. Can’t win them all, I suppose. But I think it’s time to see if this current council – elected by that group and their minions – has followed through on the demands made of us last term.

I have deleted some of the specific rec facility-related content in the letter because it isn’t relevant any more. But I think you’ll find what remains (shown in italics) very informative and relevant. My responses follow. I’m sure you’ll chuckle over the evident hypocrisy.

That Council ask staff to report back on the following best practices in municipal good governance.
Answer: Not seen in these first 21 months in office this term. Likelihood of ever being seen: same as winning the lottery twice in a row. Municipal good governance would get in the way of personal agendas and entitlement.

I. clarify the values and respective actions that they interpret to embrace good governance and share these with the public;
Answer: Ditto. Okay, first you have to know what good governance is. The Most Secretive Council Ever has no idea because that would require coming out from behind closed doors. And learning. Toss this one in the bin.

ii. direct staff to revise the Procurement Policy to reflect more stringent guidelines and procedures reflective of other municipal, provincial and federal procedures; specifically articles on sole sourcing amongst a more robust review;
Answer: One of the very first things this council ever did was to approve a sole-source bid for a taxi contract, to the company owned by Councillor Fryer’s brother-in-law. So it’s do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do with this lot.

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322 reasons why we’re better off with PowerStream

$322. More. Every year.

$322. That’s how much MORE the average consumer household using 750 kW/month pays a year when connected to Hydro One, compared to the same household connected to Collus PowerStream. That means YOU will pay that much more, thanks to Collingwood Council. The Block, in particular.

And it could be higher, if you have, say, electrical heat, air conditioning, electrical stove or dryer, or a family. A lot higher.*

This council has been in secret negotiations to sell our utility to Hydro One, knowing that your bills will skyrocket. Not only will it mean higher utility bills, but you have no input into the fate of the utility YOU own. Input is not being allowed by the Most Secretive Council Ever.

In fact, they have only ever discussed our utility and selling it behind closed doors this term. Dozens of times. Until last week, of course, when they publicly announced their plan to sell it. Anyone else see this as corruption and breach of public trust?

Last term, when half of our ownership in Collus was sold to PowerStream, it was all done in public, with public input. How quickly things changed under The Block.

If you’re a senior or otherwise living on a fixed income or with typically low wages, you’ll need to come up with at least $26.80 a month more, or you’ll have to cut it from somewhere else. Like your food. Medicine. Clothes. Or heating in winter.

Plus don’t forget to add in the entirely unnecessary but burdensome tax increases this council has already put through TWICE this term. All part of The Block’s war on seniors.

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Thick as a brick

You really have to watch Rogers’ coverage of Collingwood Council, July 11, 2016. Start around 2:08:00. That’s when the discussion about the upgrades to the brick at the Collingwood Curling Club begins.

Another comedic episode full of zany antics and madcap mayhem brought to you by The Block. Be prepared to howl with laughter as Councillor Ecclestone attempts to justify hiding public information from view.

Let’s pause for a moment to remind readers that these upgrades and repairs were approved last term, in 2014 and should have been completed by now. But this council and administration dropped the ball for almost two years.

The former building department official who oversaw the project when it was supposed to go ahead provided a report on the status of the building and proposed repairs in early 2015. The administration sat on the report while the snooze button kept being hit until mid-2016. But I digress.*

Finally, the work got approval to go ahead, two years after it was first proposed and approved. But better late than never, eh? Who cares if costs have risen in the interim? It’s only taxpayer dollars! There’s millions of them where they came from!

Push ahead in the video to 2:09:45. That’s when Councillor Ecclestone speaks. Be prepared to drop your jaw and guffaw aloud. He says:

In the future, I don’t think we should be making public the 15 percent, uh, contingency. I think that it, you know, doesn’t need to get out there, cause I think once you put that in there, the company then can, fffff (sic), go for the full bundle, right? So I’m just thinking that in the future we should just keep that, uh, um, not announce it to the public.

Is he kidding? Hide information from the public in an open bidding process? This is someone who claims to have been the “head of council” previously. Yet here he appears thicker than the brickwork about to be repaired.**

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The raison d’etre

Maxine“Why do you do it?” A voice asked me, momentarily distracting my attention from deciding between the firm and silky tofu in the grocery store. I looked up to find a woman close to my own age in front of me. Well, perhaps she was a teensy bit older by about 20 years, but once you cross 60, age differences between seniors seem smaller. To my aging eyes, at least.

I couldn’t easily disengage since her cart was wedged up against mine, and because I needed to find my way to the sweet potatoes across the aisle, I responded, hoping to soon untangle without appearing rude.

“Why do I do what?” Always answer a question with a question, or so I was raised. Well, maybe not raised. I think I read about that tactic in a book. I was raised to be seen and not heard, which I suppose is why I’m a writer not a singer. My parents heard me sing once, and that ended my musical career pretty toot sweet.

“Write those things. Online. You know, all those nasty things about council. Why do you do it?” I didn’t think explaining about my writer-versus-singer upbringing would satisfy her, so I took another direction.

“Well, first I don’t think they’re always nasty. Sometimes they’re funny. I hope. You can never tell about humour. Didn’t any of them amuse you, at least a little?”

“I don’t read them all. Not online. I don’t have a computer,” she replied.

“Well then how do you know about them?” I asked in my best Sherlockian fashion.

“My son prints them out and brings them to me. Not all of them. Just the ones he wants me to read. The ones about the people I voted for. The nasty ones.”

Well so much for my career as a satirist, and cultural commentator. Didn’t really connect if no one read it. Maybe I could take up singing after all. You know, busk downtown. With a ukulele. But I couldn’t start my new career until this new critic finished with me. So I responded.

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We’re Screwed. Royally.

Screw the taxpayer!By now you know what I’ve been warning you about all along: Council is selling our public electrical utility. After harassing, bullying and hectoring our utility staff, they decided to simply get rid of a 150-year-old public institution that has served this town so well all this time. We’re screwed.

And you’ve had how much input on this crucial issue? Right: exactly none. And council has no intention of giving the public a say. This is a fait accompli: an autocratic act so despicable that words fail me. These people are truly evil in the fullest sense of that word. Democracy be damned, say The Block. They will do what they want regardless of the damage it does to you, to staff, to our reputation and relationships.

Everything about our utility has been done in secret, behind closed doors, with administrative staff skulking in the shadows, pulling the strings while the Bobbleheads nod in agreement to what they’re told. Never once thinking for themselves, they’ve swallowed the corporate hook, line and sinker. But that line has been tainted with untruth.

This merely ices the cake of the unmitigated disaster this term has proven. Secrecy, lies, corruption, conniving, destruction, vendettas and personal agendas. That’s the sum total of council to date. What a legacy.

And it will get worse. Much, much worse. The screwing of the taxpayer will continue until we can elect an group that isn’t ethically challenged, in their place. Collingwood deserves much better.

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Reputation, reputation, reputation

Bad reputationReal estate agents and retaillers have a saying: Location, location, location. But for politicians that can be amended to read: Reputation, reputation, reputation. The reputation of the whole community hinges on that of its politicians. After all, the tree is known by its fruit.

Remember the Rob Ford scandals? Talk show hosts around the world used them to turn Toronto into a jokefest. People who had never visited, or never even heard of Toronto before knew about it through Rob Ford’s antics. And although it tarnished Toronto, Ford acted as if it didn’t matter. As Cicero wrote in On Obligations (De Officiis; also known as On Duties):

To disregard what the world thinks of us is not only arrogant but utterly shameless.

But centuries before Cicero, the Greek philosopher Isocrates wrote:

Guard yourself against accusations, even if they are false; for the multitude are ignorant of the truth and look only to reputation. In all things resolve to act as though the whole world would see what you do; for even if you conceal your deeds for the moment, later you will be found out. But most of all will you have the respect of men, if you are seen to avoid doing things which you would blame others for doing.

So this reputation thing is hardly new. We’ve long known that doing the right things builds it, doing the wrong things destroys it.  In Chapter 21 of The Prince, more than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote:

“Nothing makes a prince so well esteemed as undertaking great enterprises and setting a fine example”

He understood that reputation was precious, and that to build it, the ruler needed to set a good example. In Chapter 8, he criticized the ancient Sicilian leader, Agathocles – not for deceiving, then murdering, the citizens, but because his actions stained his reputation:

“It cannot be called skill to slay fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without moral obligation. Such methods may gain empire, but not glory… his barbarous cruelty and inhumanity… do not permit him to be celebrated among the most excellent men.”

Betrayal, lacking a moral compass, faithless, cruel… that sounds all too familiar in our local politics.

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