Marcus Aurelius and The Block

Marcus Aurelius, MeditationsPerhaps the most famous work by any Stoic is the Meditations, written as a series of notes-to-myself by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  I’ve been reading a lot of Stoic works of late, and this remains my favourite. Although never meant for publication, just as reminders to himself, it’s full of wonderful, inspiring comments. And some seem eerily prescient in our current municipal calamity. For example, Book Two opens with these words:

Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil …

While I don’t know if Mayor Cooper or Councillor Lloyd have ever read the Meditations, I suspect they start each council and standing committee meeting with a silent thought that is remarkably similar to those words, even though they were first written between 170 and 180 CE. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it sure reads to me like an uncannily accurate description of The Block: meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, surly… it has all seven of them nailed (however, we might add somnambulant, feckless, secretive and supercilious just for accuracy…)

Now, I know what you’re going to say: “But Ian, The Block have nothing to do with Marcus Aurelius. Or Stoics. Or philosophers. Or thinking about anything other than themselves. They have nothing to say about reason or philosophy because they don’t reason and they don’t read.” Well, I agree, but that doesn’t mean Marcus Aurelius doesn’t have something to say about them.

You can read the entire work of his – twelve short books – in a somewhat dated translation on the MIT classics site. I recommend you consider buying a more modern version, however. Here, for example, are the lines from the Hays, 2002, translation of that piece:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.

It’s not just that The Block can’t tell good from evil, however. Those few among them who can recognize the difference choose only what serves their own interest, regardless of whether it is good or bad for the community. Marcus Aurelius continued with a warning to,

…stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.

Such words of wisdom are wasted on The Block, of course. Those are attributes they have honed to a fine edge within themselves. Hypocrisy is their collective forte.

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Why hasn’t a new CAO been hired?

Block Stress relief kitThe town was supposed to be hiring a new CAO, to replace John Brown, the unpopular interim CAO currently in the corner office. But although he’s supposed to be gone by September (I can hear you cheering now at that thought), that’s barely six weeks away. And we have heard nothing yet from council about his replacement. By now, a new one should have been in place. Announcements should have been made in the local media. But we’ve heard… nothing.

Smells fishy? It’s as if The Block still intends to keep Brown on, to extend his contract for a third time. I can hear you gasping in horror at the thought. I know: even for those who don’t agree with my other sentiments about this council, it’s unsettling to think on it. Brown is arguably the least popular administrator in this town, since I arrived here in 1990. Possibly the least popular person here, period. And he apparently has fewer supporters in the community than even his main idol worshipper, Brian Saunderson (whose remaining community supporters can be counted on the fingers of one hand and still have enough digits left over to flip him the bird…)

At $225,000-plus a year, Brown’s salary is more than the premier of the province is paid, and at least $50,000 and maybe even $100,000 more than another CAO could be getting. Renewing his contract has cost taxpayers at least $100,000 and perhaps double that. Not to mention the costs in legal and consulting fees he has racked up – more than $750,000 to date and more in the pipeline – to pursue his objectives. None of which have benefitted the town or our residents. So you could argue that by supporting and retaining him, The Block have wasted more than $1 million of your money so far. But take heart: they have raised your taxes three times and given themselves a raise three times, too.

I haven’t been able to glean any details about what happened to derail the recent recruitment process, except that The Block interfered with previous practices and as a result, like everything they touch, it is seriously screwed up. Seriously broken. A simple process that they turned into a disaster. Like always.
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The test of integrity

Got insurance?I’ve been complaining all this term that Collingwood’s standing committee system is broken. It is redundant, ineffective and expensive. It continues in use only because it was the brainchild of the interim CAO who The Block worship.

But it is about to come under a test: one that will determine the integrity and ethics of both the system and The Block.

On July 10, the Corporate and Community Services Standing Committee received a report on the services of Fire Marque, an insurance collection agency. The report was requested by Councillor Jeffrey, close friends (as are all of The Block) with one of the company’s salesmen: the former mayor.

What Fire Marque does is to bill insurance companies for the cost of fire department responses to emergencies – costs already paid for by your taxes. As explained on Elliott Insurance:

Fire Marque is basically a collection agency. They’ve enticed the municipalities to sign up with them to collect fire department coverages from the insurance companies’ policies. So after an individual has a fire, the fire department will send off information to Fire Marque about the situation and what it cost the fire department. Fire Marque will then contact the person who had the fire and ask who their insurance company is. Then they basically bill the insurance company for the fire department charges, up to the limit that is allowed under the [homeowners insurance] policy.

Fire Marque keeps 30%, and the rest goes to the municipality, essentially double-dipping. The homeowner or accident victim then faces a potential increase in his or her insurance policies as a result. So the homeowners get hit twice: through taxes and again through higher insurance rates. No, the municipality won’t lower your taxes because they double-dip. You’re still on the hook. Again from Elliott Insurance:

On the negative side, as insurance companies, our premiums are driven by our claims costs. So, if we are now paying for fire department charges that we were not paying for before, our claims are going to go up, and we will have to raise premiums to cover the extra costs. When you look at it from a community wide basis, financially it would be much better for the municipalities to just add a few dollars to our taxes because the same people who pay property taxes pay insurance.

Knowing it could raise insurance rates, homeowners may be reluctant to report a fire until too late.  They may try to put it out themselves rather than risk the rate hike. The very same effect happens with car accidents and home problems already. The new contract could end up putting more people’s lives and homes at risk because they hesitate to call for a service they know they will have to pay for.

Setting aside the ethics of this practice (read the full piece on the linked site and decide for yourself), the double-dipping, the harm to the taxpayer and whether the town should encourage ambulance-chasing tactics, let’s look at the standing committee system again.
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What will the secret EPCOR negotiations cost us?

Shady dealsI was reading about the failed attempt by EPCOR – an Edmonton-based, for-profit corporation – to purchase half of Innisfil’s Power utility (InnPower) last year. Back in Sept., 2015, there was a story in the
Barrie Examiner that noted:

INNISFIL — Town council has approved the sale of 50% of InnPower (formerly Innisfil Hydro) to Edmonton-based EPCOR to create a new ‘strategic partnership’.

At a public meeting to discuss the sale (remember public meetings and public engagement? Those are processes you got last term… this term it’s all about secrecy), PowerStream’s CEO, Brian Bentz commented on

…the “exclusivity clause” in the EPCOR offer, which precludes consideration of other deals for a period of six months…

EPCOR, you may recall, is currently trying to buy the town’s half of Collus-PowerStream. The administration has been negotiating behind closed doors with EPCOR for the better part of a year. Earlier this year, the administration signed a deal to start the buying process. Is there a similar clause in the agreement with Collingwood?

In Innisfil, the public was given a chance to openly comment on the proposal (an event unlikely to happen here in Secretive Collingwood under The Block). Former Innisfil mayor Barb Baguley spoke out about the process (Barrie Examiner):

During the open forum portion of Tuesday night’s meeting, former Innisfil mayor Barb Baguley took exception to the town even considering such a partnership for water and wastewater services and questioned why residents weren’t better informed about the potential partnership discussions.
“The issue of selling any part of it is something I’m really concerned about,” she said. “My question is, if you are going to sell the safety of water and the protection of Lake Simcoe with wastewater treatment, shouldn’t we be talking about that? Shouldn’t we be having a conversation with the public?
“I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. There’s not enough information for people to make a somewhat educated opinion,” she added. “It had not come out that clearly…”
“I don’t think we have to know every paragraph in a contract. We need to know the intention and why we need to do this,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m for or against (a water and wastewater services partnership). I’m saying I don’t understand.

At least the residents in Innisfil were given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. Nothing like that has happened in Collingwood, although the discussions here have been going on behind closed doors since January 2015.

And look the whole public engagement Wasaga Beach has gone through over the sale of its utility this term: open, active and transparent. The complete opposite of what Collingwood has done.

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Assholes part two: Trump and his local mimics

Asshole: A Theory of Donald TrumpBack in 2014 I reviewed a book by philosophy professor Aaron James called Assholes. A Theory. I discussed how his study related to politics and politicians, particularly those who call themselves “A-type” personalities (including one or two on the local council).

Well James wrote another book, really an addendum to this one, titled Assholes. A Theory of Donald Trump. It was smaller than your average paperback, and a mere 130 pages, perhaps 20,000 words long. And since it came out just before the 2016 presidential election, it really doesn’t deal with the startling number of asshole things – the many, many asshole things – Trump has done since then. Perhaps that might come in a sequel. A much larger, longer sequel. A multi-volume work it would have to be, to really do him justice.

I picked the book up this weekend during my visit to Toronto, and read it cover to cover. Sure, it’s a bit dated but it still has meaning in today’s politics. And it relates to our own local council even more than the first book. (Check out the author’s website, too.)

James didn’t merely pen a screed against Trump. That’s been done, is still being done by savvy media and political commentators worldwide. Trump is an easy target for so many reasons, not least of all because he lies often and aggressively and is both ignorant and a clown. Nothing you don’t already know about him. Nothing the whole world doesn’t know about him.

No, this is much deeper than a single asshole, even one that big and that pompous. It – like his earlier book – is reflective of a whole culture of the ignorati that has risen worldwide. Trump is merely the most visible icon of darkness as the intellectual lights go out.

James examines a trend in politics that has seen the rise to dominance of similar assholes in numerous nations. And along with the asshole in charge comes a parallel government and bureaucracy that sees the ignorati, the illiterati, and the anti-intellectuals elevated to power. As we see in the USA, bigoted, theocratic, right-wing dictatorships and oligarchies are emerging in what were once democratic nations. More and more of them are looking and acting more and more like North Korea or Iran these days.
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Brian the comedian

ClownFollowing the success of Collingwood’s Comedy Duo, whose act has taken them on tour across the nation on the taxpayers’ dollar, our Deputy Mayor has entered the ring as our jester-du-jour. And since the Duo’s main act was sidelined recently by not being allowed to keep a snout into the FCM trough, it looks like Brian’s act may be the foremost comedy skit in the council burlesque. Who would have thought a lawyer could also be a clown?

At a recent Council meeting (June 12, 2017) he had the audience in stitches with his new routines. And not just his always-risible English gaffes when he starts his speeches with “moved by me…”! You can watch it on Rogers TV starting at 1:22:23 when he presents a request for a staff report (cunningly not included with the meeting’s agenda so as to keep the element of comic surprise alive when it was presented!).

Watch and listen. Brian uses words like “accountability” and “transparency” like they are something he suddenly discovered and we need to get to them now. Like frickin’ right now. And staff better give us a report about them because these are hot stuff!

Too bad the camera didn’t pan out to catch the baffled looks on the faces of his minion Block members. Heads were shaking and rattling sounds could be heard from them. Blockheads had never heard him use those words before, at least not since the election campaign and certainly not directed at them. The Block stands for secrecy, for scurrying behind closed doors to discuss policy, to making decisions via email not in the public. For conniving and conning, for ignoring the public and blaming everyone else.

Yet after two-and-a-half years in office, here is Der Leader suddenly telling them he wants to see more “accountability,” more “transparency.” They must have piddled themselves in terror. What, they wondered, do those words mean?
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Small comfort from FCM

Fat catsCollingwoodites can take small comfort from the wisdom of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I’ve been told that last week at its annual convention in Ottawa, FCM delegates failed to return our own Councillor Jeffery to their board of directors, possibly saving local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars this term. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay the costs of her personal political ambitions with their hard-earned salaries. One less mouth sucking at the government tit.

Or maybe not. Word is that the councillor is still pursuing her ambitions by trying to get appointed to a committee within FCM, thus justifying still flying all over the country, wining and dining at taxpayer expense. Excuse me, did someone fart or is that just the stench of entitlement?

FCM has a board with a president, past president, three vice presidents and 68 council members. That’s right: SIXTY EIGHT. They are councillors from across Canada, plus the presidents of every provincial municipal organization. And the Ontario Caucus has 16 members itself!

As you can see by last year’s board list, the vast majority of them come from cities: municipalities that can afford the expense. Not many are from small towns like Collingwood, probably because they know they can’t afford the luxury. And even when they can, they send their mayor, not a junior councillor.

One of those other board members, by the way, is from Simcoe County council, so he already represents the region and its municipalities. And his expenses are covered from county revenue.

FCM boards, caucuses and committees meet all over the country, from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories to British Columbia and everywhere in between. Taxpayers have to pony up for flights, meals, hotels and whatever entertainment the delegates’ expense accounts allow. Did I mention yet that The Block put NO RESTRICTIONS on Councillor Jeffery’s spending? No accountability, no oversight, no limits… and no cold camembert and broken crackers for her. Must be nice to have friends in high places.
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We were lied to. Again.

DeceitOn Monday, the Block chose a new representative for the town’s half of the Collus-PowerStream board. They advertised the position in the local media and accepted applications from several qualified local residents. They made it look like they were actually going to follow the proper and legal process for the first time. They went in camera to discuss the applications. And who did they appoint when they came out?

Councillor Deb “What’s a dividend?” Doherty. Yes, the same councillor who complained about not getting a dividend from the utility after she and her colleagues gutted the utility and killed its revenue stream. The same councillor who complained that in the 50% board partnership in which each side has the same number of votes, the other side “holds all the cards,” sets the rules and controlled the purse strings. The same councillor who has NEVER once this term gone to the utility to speak to its staff or find out their side of the story the administration has been spinning.

That’s right: The Block chose one of their own, and arguably the least qualified person among them to hold that position.

What a slap in the face to all those applicants who put their names forward, thinking The Block would act in good faith. Wouldn’t that have been a pleasant change? But of course they didn’t.

They blatantly ignored the public applications. They intended to do so all along. The whole public application thing was a lie. A despicable act of deception.

This is so unethical, so outright underhanded and sneaky it beggars further description.

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Sadly, it’s business as usual

Missed targets
I suppose you expect I am disappointed that not a single one of The Block had the spine, the moral compass, the ethical guts to resign after killing the hospital redevelopment. After all, I called on them all – plus the interim CAO – to resign immediately. Not doing so, I said, would prove everything I ever said about them. They didn’t budge.

Well, my compensation is that I get to say “I told you so.” Again. I suspect I will repeat those words several more times this term.

People only disappoint you when they don’t live up to your expectations. My expectations for this group are low. Abysmal, really, based on the reality of their performance to date. They constantly strive to reach mediocrity, but consistently fail to achieve it. If you expected from them secrecy, conniving, backroom deals, conflict of interest, inflexible ideology and rigid self-interest, then I suppose your expectations have been met.

I didn’t really expect any of them to actually resign. To resign would take courage, commitment and a deeply held caring for the community. Attributes that are most notable in their absence among this group. They would have to take responsibility for their own acts instead of blaming others. I hardly expected them to start doing something so antithetical to their natures now. Hyenas can’t change their spots, can they?

It’s not as if they and they alone killed my faith in humanity. After all, they are not the first politicians to be unethical, and more concerned about feathering their own nests than about the community. Nor will they be the last. There have been other politicians before them who lied to their constituents, who put personal agendas over the greater good, who used their office to conduct vendettas and who handed out sole-source government contracts to friends and family. There have been politicians before them with closed minds who refused to consider other viewpoints or to learn anything. This group won’t be the last of them, either.

Failing to resign, it will be business as usual for them, continuing to lurch and fumble and stumble their way along, tearing down as much of our town as they can along the way.
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The Block killed the hospital. They MUST all resign. Now.

The actions of The Block and the town’s administration have resulted in the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital losing its chance for redevelopment. The province didn’t include funding for the local proposal in its budget. The next opportunity for such funding will be at least a decade away, if one ever comes along.

If any of these people have even a shred of decency, of honour, they will all resign immediately. If any of these people felt even a twinge of shame for misleading the community while they pursued their own personal – and very destructive – agendas, they would resign.

There is a flaccid story about this appalling situation in the Collingwood Connection. In it, the hospital CEO blames the failure on a “lack of alignment” between the town and the hospital board. That’s his polite way of saying – as was made abundantly clear at two public meetings – the Block and the administration continued to put up roadblocks and red tape to prevent the hospital from moving to its preferred site.

Why wasn’t the mayor asked to comment in the newspaper article? She speaks for the town, not the interim CAO. Just more yellow journalism.

And as expected our interim CAO didn’t take responsibility, but expressed “surprise” that the hospital’s CEO would suggest the two were not aligned. No one who watched or attended either of those council meetings where the hospital board was confronted, grilled like felons, shown great disrespect would be “surprised” at this claim of non-alignment. Their only surprise might be at the cautious, reserved language the CEO used in describing this debacle.

They, and they alone, killed the dream.

And right after he received the news, the hospital CEO quit his job. Coincidence? After The Block killed his dream project? I don’t think so either.
Continue reading “The Block killed the hospital. They MUST all resign. Now.”

‘Senator’ Jeffrey gets more money again

Greedy piggyThe Block once again rewarded one of their own by granting Councillor ‘Senator’ Jeffrey an unlimited expense account to wine, dine and party across Canada on the taxpayer’s dollar.

The Connection story is headlined, “Collingwood councillor seeks Federation of Canadian Municipalities seat. That – like so many other Connection headlines – is incorrect. She has held the seat for the last two-and-a-half years, paid for by you, the taxpayer. This is just to extend her entitlement, a blank cheque without the messiness of accountability.

The Block think that your tax dollars should be shovelled into that maw, with no restrictions, no reporting and no accountability to go along with an unlimited expense account. These people just hate the whole concept of accountability that much.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) holds its conferences and meetings all over the country. Jeffrey gets to fly to them, to stay in posh hotels, to eat and drink as she pleases, without once having to show that this in any way benefits Collingwood. Yet there is Councillor Doherty quoted in the paper defending her friend’s excesses:

Coun. Deb Doherty said the town gets great value and Jeffery’s position keeps Collingwood connected at the federal level.

Such great value that when Councillor Lloyd asked to defer the motion while staff prepare a cost-benefit analysis to show what value it had, The Block shut him down. They trembled at the very thought of exposing their friend. They don’t want the truth to come out – that taxpayers are funding Jeffrey’s personal political ambitions with absolutely no benefit to anyone else here.

Such great value that Doherty couldn’t name a single one in public, even though she has attended FCM conferences to support her buddy’s schmoozing for votes. The result of which was a stand-up-comedy-routine report to council, but no concrete evidence of benefit to the town.
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The DM’s height of hypocrisy

There’s a story in this week’s Connection with the misleading headline, “Town asks hospital for public meeting”. The online version has it as “Collingwood asks hospital for public meeting.” Neither is correct. The “town” wants nothing of the sort. The mayor – who speaks for the town – has never expressed that on behalf of council. Actually, she voted against the request. But the real headline is buried in the opening: “Collingwood’s deputy mayor wants council and the hospital to put out a united front on the redevelopment plan.”

Well, it’s clear to see why the Connection is being called “Saunderson’s campaign headquarters” these days, don’t we? Saunderson does not speak for the town or for council and the paper should know that.

This is the same deputy mayor who was disrespectful, adversarial and confrontational towards the hospital on March 2 at a public meeting. Now he wants to be buddies. Not going to happen.

And at the next public meeting a few weeks later, the interim CAO was even more adversarial and confrontational. But it seems Brian has conveniently forgotten those meetings or the public’s reaction.

This is the height of hypocrisy: pretending that they want to make kissy face with the very people they showed such open dislike and disdain for. The only “united front” he wants is for the hospital board to bend to his will, and stay where it is.
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Collingwood deserves answers

The Most Secretive Council Ever
The Most Secretive Council Ever has never told the public why it has been so intent on damaging this community. We have never had an explanation why they are so inflexible, so hostile to other ideas, so adversarial to opinions other than their own. We have never been told why they are so focused on their own entitlement and give no thought for or support to the residents and taxpayers in Collingwood.

We have been kept in the dark about their motives and goals while The Block continues its destructive rampage against community institutions through these past two and a half years.

So much hatred, so much anger, so much selfishness, so much secrecy and deviousness in one council. This lowering of standards is unprecedented. But the electorate deserves to know why they were betrayed by the people they voted for, deserves to know why so many campaign promises were broken, why personal agendas and vendettas take precedence over the greater good.

We should and be told in public, not have The Block scurry behind closed doors as it always does when anything important or controversial is raised. And you know the local media will NEVER ask them why, or ask the tough questions about their motives.

So here is my list of things we want to know. I’m sure it’s not complete and you, dear reader, could add more to it.

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This man should resign

Interim CAOCan a municipality operate effectively with a toxic relationship between the mayor and the CAO? Can staff avoid being involved in the confrontation? Can the public expect the best service and support from its leaders if the two top people are at odds?

Clearly not. A story in The Connection reinforced just how bad things have become in town hall between the mayor and the interim CAO.

Once you read it, I believe you will agree with me: the interim CAO must go. Now. Right now. He is an embarrassment to everyone. This behaviour is intolerable. It doesn’t matter that he is The Block’s darling. He should resign or be placed on administrative leave without delay.

I asked why he was still allowed to work for the town back in 2016. I asked it again earlier this April. I will ask it again: why is this man still working for Collingwood?

This story reflects badly on the town. This term, Collingwood has already suffered considerable embarrassment, a tattered reputation, hostility and disdain from our municipal partners and neighbours, and we have an adversarial position against our airport, utilities, and hospital. The buck has to stop somewhere. 

Is he behaving like this because our mayor is a woman? Or is he this aggressive to everyone? Did he behave like this in the other municipalities where he worked? The mayor should contact them and find out. But it’s Collingwood where he is now and it’s Collingwood that has to deal with him. He should go. 

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More council secrecy, more council scheming

SchemingOn Monday’s council agenda there are again two in-camera topics that reinforce just how much little respect The Block have for process, ethics, the public, legality, openness and transparency. The Block will – again – secretly discuss privatizing our water and wastewater services to the out-of-province, for-profit corporation, EPCOR, and also secretly discuss appointing new directors to the Collus-PowerStream board.

Both should be discussed and decided in public. Both should have had public input or consultation. But why should The Block change habits now?

The backroom, sole-source EPOCR deal is so shady it could have been a script for The Sopranos. No public input, no public discussion, no RFPs. Make ’em a deal they can’t refuse. It doesn’t get any dirtier than this.

The result has already been decided behind closed doors. The taxpayer is screwed. Again.

As for the board appointments, the town’s own policies, procedures and bylaws require all board and committee appointments to to publicized and open to residents. These appointments were handed out like party favours, instead.

And all applicants MUST signs an application stating they are eligible residents. Unless of course you are one of the nudge-nudge-wink-wink cronies of The Block. Then they just appoint you without the muss and fuss of legal process. And they’ve done it TWICE this term already (after first illegally firing the former utility board). Looks like they’re doing it again.

Of course, you’re not surprised. You’d only be surprised if they did something ethical, something for the good of the community for a change.

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