Another Secretive, Self-Serving Committee

CouncilThis week, Collingwood Council passed a motion to appoint the Block Five to a new standing committee. The standing committee system, you will recall, is a system of secretive committees that operates predominantly out of the public eye, with limited council attendance, and often without even media presence. Committees conduct town business beyond the pale of accountability. Here’s what they passed (in a 6-3 vote*):

THAT Council approve the Striking Committee recommendation and appoint the following members to the Environmental Services Standing Committee: Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson, Councillor Tim Fryer, Councillor Cam Ecclestone, Councillor Kathy Jeffery, and Councillor Deb Doherty.

Saunderson and Fryer are, as you might also suspect, two of the three striking committee members.

This is the same group of five that voted to remove the long-standing CEO of COLLUS from the Collingwood Public Utility Services board – a man with 35-plus years experience in water services and highly respected across the province for his expertise, talents and his management skills – and replace him with the town’s interim CAO, a man with (as far as I know) little to no experience in those services and no vested interest in the community’s long-term sustainability or well-being.

It’s the same group that previously voted to extend that interim CAO’s contract by another year. Coincidence? Hardly.

Over the past several months since taking office, council has let – perhaps even encouraged – the relationship between the utility board and its staff, and the town’s administration deteriorate significantly. It has allowed a once-productive and mutually-beneficial relationship to grow into a toxic, confrontational environment. The head of the water services, another staff person highly-respected around the province, fled for a better working environment in another municipality.

Consultants were brought in to provide what clearly seemed to outsiders as pre-determined, very negative but erroneous reports about the utilities. Critical comments and responses about the inappropriate and even false conclusions, and the incorrect data used were ignored or buried. This was, metaphorically, Collingwood’s burning Reichstag: the self-created excuse to justify the Block’s subsequent slash-and-burn actions (although outsiders were able to discern the self-serving political motives behind these reports, this group took them at face value).

Then, in a move calculated to destroy the solid, 150-year-old working relationship between the utility services and the town, the same Block Five voted to dissolve the utility board – a group with decades of combined experience in utility services, politics and law – and replace them with a group of inexperienced, novice and ideologically-motivated politicians – themselves. Self serving? Don’t ask….

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Nailing Collingwood’s Door Shut to Business

DohertyCouncillor Deb Doherty seems eager to cement this council’s already ugly but deserved reputation for being hostile to business. This week she made a motion to re-open the always-contentious sign bylaw, apparently in order to impose draconian restrictions on business signs

THAT Council direct Staff to review Sign By-law 2012-110 with respect to sign height and any other revisions or amendments as deemed appropriate by the Chief Building Official; AND FURTHER THAT the report be presented through the Development and Operations Standing Committee not later than August 31, 2015.

Sign bylaws are necessary, but always contentious to debate. Municipalities want to limit clutter. Business owners want the freedom to erect signs that attract customers, advertise their products and generate revenue. Our bylaw is already strict enough: over the years it has proven a fair balance between control and liberty. Why fix what isn’t broken?

But apparently Ms. Doherty wants to tighten the screws on businesses. And I suspect most of council – the rest of the Block Five who vote as a clump, for sure – will follow her lead.

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Reincarnation as a Consultant or a Psychic?

 

A wag met Nasrudin. In his pocket he had an egg. “Tell me, Mullah, are you any good at guessing games?”
“Not bad,” said Nasrudin.
“Very well then: tell me what I have in my pocket.”
“Give me a clue, then.”
“It is shaped like an egg, it is yellow and white inside, and it looks like an egg.”
“Some sort of cake,” said Nasrudin.*

NasrudinShould I have the chance to do my life all over again, I’m not sure which career I would prefer most: a psychic or a consultant. One takes money from people because he is scamming them. The other takes money from people thinking he is helping them. I just can’t remember which is which.

I think if I were a consultant, I’d specialize in writing strategic plans for municipalities. That way, I’d only ever have to write one report, at the start, then I could recycle it to everyone else with minimal changes.

A psychic is, well, just someone who makes stuff up and gets paid for it. Other cultures call them liars, con artists, hoaxers, investment bankers. You don’t have to be very creative at it.

A consultant, however, is really a cook who works with words and ideas. Once you have the recipe just right, you only need scale it for the audience to sell it over and over. Toss lightly with a selection of local and generic photographs, get the mayor to write an introduction, and serve warm.

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The Antis at Sunset Point

ChipperThere are always those who don’t want change. Any change upsets them. Anything that’s new, different, exciting, challenging or just unusual bothers them and want it stopped. They want a steady state, where nothing happens, nothing changes, nothing is new. Stop growth, stop development, stop change.

Some of them are the ‘last in’ crowd – the recent arrivals who don’t want any more newcomers because newcomers will change things, and they will change the reasons the ‘last-in’ group came here. They want to be the last ones to arrive and to shut the door after themselves. They want things to remain as they were when they arrived.

Some are long-time residents who think the world should have stopped in the 80s when the shipyards were still operating. They don’t like what Collingwood has become since then. They don’t like having more than one phone exchange. They don’t like homes on the waterfront. They don’t like turning lanes on First Street. They don’t like having Thai, Japanese or Indian food restaurants because they’re too ‘foreign’. They want time to freeze and things to stop changing so damned fast. If it was good enough for their grandparents, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

And some are simply antis – people who are anti-everything. Anti-anything they didn’t think of first. Everyone else’s ideas are bad and they will protest them, write petitions, send letters, complain on social media

And some of these folks live at Sunset Point, across from the park. Last term these Antis protested the upgrades to Sunset Point Park – upgrades that made it more attractive and safer. They claimed the upgrades would reduce the amount of green space (grass cover), although the landscape architect made a presentation showing the upgrades would actually increase grass cover. They didn’t like the new sidewalk aimed at reducing traffic conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians because, well just because. They didn’t want the dreary old washroom/ice cream stall building to be upgraded, cleaned up and improved. They didn’t want a restaurant there with a patio. They didn’t want to encourage outsiders to use the park.

Go to Sunset Point any warm summer weekend and it’s packed with people. Visitors love to come there for a picnic. Buses arrive. Families gather. Kids and dogs play. People swim. It’s lively, exciting, fun. Plus the new restaurant is busy and successful, with its patio packed. Visitors love it. So do a lot of residents.

Sunset Point Antis hate it. They want it to be their park, and theirs only. They don’t want anything done to the park, even safety upgrades, without their permission. They don’t like anyone else’s success. And they most certainly don’t want to encourage any more visitors to use their park. “Keep out of our park,” they moan.

So what if this is a tourist town, so what if our economy depends heavily on visitors, on people enjoying themselves, having a good time, having good experiences and good recreational and dining? The Antis just don’t want them here. Why, they ask, should outsiders have a good time, when they come here?

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What’s Up With Tim Fryer?

Fledgling councillors may be excused for gaffes, gaucheries and solecisms they make in their first month or so in office. They’re new, inexperienced, dazzled by their recent election success, so we cut them some slack. And there are all these shiny things to distract a councillor: procedure, voting, reading, motions, shuffling paper, approving minutes, showing up…

But after more than six months, one expects them to know what they are doing and get down to the business of the municipality. And we expect them to have read ALL the relevant legislation, policies and codes that govern them.

Councillor Tim Fryer doesn’t seem to have done that. And you’d think a guy who campaigned on having 35 years of municipal experience would know better.

Monday night, Fryer declared a conflict of interest over the opening of Third Street into the commercial land west of High Street, because, in his words, his sister was a member of the corporation run by his brother-in-law, and the business of that company was being discussed. Wait a second…

In at least four previous votes this year involving his brother-in-law’s company, Fryer did not once declare a conflict. He voted on several issues (even going in camera to discuss them) that affected and benefitted that company. So why the change now? A sudden burst of conscience?

Calling a conflict on this issue is tantamount to admitting all of his previous votes were improper. But were they?

Not according to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. Sisters, brothers and in-laws do not pose a legal conflict. The Act says very specifically that only spouses, parents and children count for conflict:

Interest of certain persons deemed that of member
3. For the purposes of this Act, the pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent or the spouse or any child of the member shall, if known to the member, be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the member.

Yes, I know, some folks think they know better than the law, think they can interpret it to suit themselves, and believe you should declare a conflict when any relative is involved. That’s codswallop: councillors have to obey the law, not what some NINJA* blogger or coffee shop gossiper says is right or wrong. Those folks are only pushing their own, narrow, private agendas of spite and malice.

Legally, as per the Act, Fryer did not have a conflict.

However, if you, as councillor, feel there is an ethical conflict that should be addressed, and that by declaring a conflict you are making the proper ethical choice, then by all means, stand away from the table, But you have to do it consistently. You can’t decide to be part of discussions and votes on some issues surrounding your sister’s company, and not others. You can’t decide to vote when something matters, but cop out when you think it’s trivial. Conflicts aren’t based on the phase of the moon.

If it represented a conflict of interest this week, were all of his previous actions where he voted for his sister’s company now proven unethical?

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It’s Official: Collingwood is Closed for Business

Close for businessAs I predicted, Collingwood Council officially closed the town to business, growth and development, last Monday night. And just for good measure, council sprinkled the ground with the salt of malice, just to further deter a particular developer from building here. Which sends a message to everyone about how this town respects and values development.

Anyone who doesn’t think this is about ideology or doesn’t know this is a personal and petty vendetta hasn’t been paying attention to local politics this past decade.

The process of closing our municipal doors to business started earlier this year when council raised our taxes and our water rates while voting themselves a pay hike – knowing full well this would hurt our businesses and seniors. But hey, they got a raise, so what do they care? And they tossed $40,000 of your money to councillor Jeffrey so she could party hearty out of town. She deserves warm camembert and caviar while cavorting around the country, doesn’t she?

Then, the development and operations standing committee voted to defer the sale of the weed-infested, near-waterfront property known as Block 9 until the end of the Age of Mammals or thereabouts. After that, all but two members of our bobblehead council agreed to the deferral.

According to the story in the Connection:

“We defer selling the property or making the decisions with regards to selling the property until the completion of the waterfront master plan and the waterfront master plan will be started in accordance with the direction from council,” said planner Nancy Farrer. “We anticipate that it will be started as soon as the strategic plan is finished.”

That strategic plan is the one Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson promised sincerely he would have in the public’s hands within the first 90 days of this term (it’s been 209 days now and counting…). The plan has nothing to do with individual property sales or micromanaging town resources. The mandate for it didn’t even mention the waterfront master plan. And don’t expect to see anything from the committee until very late 2015 at the earliest.

Since council – rather cunningly – hasn’t even raised this nebulous “waterfront master plan” as a project for 2015, it won’t even get started until mid-2016 at the soonest. If the delays in the strategic plan are any example of council’s dithering, the waterfront plan will be delayed for many more months, if not years. If it ever arrives…

There is no logical reason to assume the fabled waterfront plan will get started immediately after the strategic plan is complete. It’s far more realistic to assume any development and growth in town will be delayed until the invisible pink unicorns arrive – because council can continue to use it as an excuse to avoid making decisions and hampering growth.

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Resting, Relaxing and Rising

BreadI’ve been reading of late about gluten. How it works, how it develops, why it matters. Gluten is the key to good bread and pasta (the gluten-free fadists notwithstanding, gluten-free anything is an aberration that should be shunned by anyone not diagnosed with celiac disease*).

I’m learning more about how gluten links with itself to form the chains necessary to make our food, and how to improve it in my cooking. The Canadian Grains Commission tells us:

Gluten is a protein composite that accounts for 75 to 85% of the total protein content in bread wheat. Gluten component proteins are found in the endosperm of mature wheat grain, where they form a continuous framework around the starch granules… Gluten forms when water is added to flour and is mixed. During mixing, a continuous network of protein forms, giving the dough its strength and elasticity. By holding gas produced during fermentation, the protein network allows bread to rise.

Key words: “Gluten forms when water is added to flour and is mixed.”

At one point, I tried adding extra vital wheat gluten to my doughs to help create a better crumb when I felt it was failing, but I’ve learned that is unnecessary with the typical unbleached white flour I use. With the mixes of whole grain, rye and heritage flours, however, it might help. But it seems the best remedy is mixing and time.

Recent books on baking bread and making pasta have provided me some new insights into gluten in both bread and pasta, which are, of course, related by their common component: flour. Gluten – the wheat protein strand that gives dough both its plasticity and elasticity – is essential to both bread and pasta. But it doesn’t automatically develop to its fullest without human intervention.

The Big Bake Theory adds:

…there are ways of controlling gluten to obtain the optimal amount of gluten development for the particular baked good you are working with. These include:

  • Extent of mixing
  • Type of flour
  • Amount of water
  • Presence of fats
  • Other such as pH, salt, temperature…

Humans have been eating wheat and its gluten for at least 10,000 years. Approximately 1% of us has celiac disease, a severe intolerance to gluten. Another 3-6% have a lesser intolerance. The other 93% of us can digest wheat and gluten with no ill effect, as we have done so for ten millennia.

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Collingwood Turns a Blind Eye to Hydro One Sale

ostrich likeIt would seem that much of Ontario, and many of its stronger municipal councils, are voicing opposition to the province’s ill-advised plan to sell Hydro One to a private, for-profit group, and are writing to the premier to protest.*

The popular sentiment is that selling an essential utility like hydro – that brings the province almost $340 million annually – makes about as much sense as throwing your paycheque out the car window while giving the car keys to a total stranger. It will only make us less competitive and less attractive to business and industry. It will hurt small business and our competitiveness.

Once Hydro One is in private hands, we lose all control over this essential service. We will never be able to recapture it. But the Wynne government is determined to give us long-term pain for a short-term gain, and in the process push us closer to an American-style corporate control of our resources. This is from a government that recently decide what the province needs most right now is more MPPs – more snouts at the trough to waste our tax dollars – instead of more teachers or nurses or someone actually productive.

It’s another example of the (G)Liberals blundering into policy swamps for which they have no maps or guides. While I have never agreed with the inconsistently-cobbled-together Tory energy policy, at least they never threatened to sell a public utility. Clearly the (G)Liberals have ceased pretending they are working for the greater good and are cruising on an agenda we voters and taxpayers were unaware of at the time of the last election.

And where, you ask, is Collingwood Council in this debate – a debate that is crucial to our future? With its head in the sand.

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Connection Got It Wrong

Block 9The story in this weekend’s Connection about Block 9 underground parking incorrectly suggests council is doing something right when it was actually trying to do something wrong. But they tried to take credit for doing good when their efforts at malice failed.

I expect mistakes like this from the Enterprise-Bulletin because it doesn’t have anyone on staff with a history that goes back very far (aside, that is, from the generally bad, mistake-prone writing that makes it painful to read…), but not the Connection.

The story notes:

After a short in-camera session, council voted unanimously to allow the developer to build underground parking on property on Huron Street.
Assaff owns block 11 of the former Shipyard lands at the corner of Heritage Drive and Huron Street, and under the master plan for that site, underground parking is allowed.

Let’s leave aside the dubious legality of going behind closed doors over parking for a moment (which the media didn’t question…) and discuss the parking issue.

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Block Nine Revisited

Block 9

I went down to the harbour today to take a couple of photographs of the piece of town land known as “Block 9.” I wanted to show my readers just how little a piece it is and what condition it’s in now. The aerial photo above shows the property outlined in orange (the photograph is several years out of date, but the property lines remain the same).

The photograph below shows the land from the northwest corner, looking southeast. Notice the water that has collected because the land lies much lower than surrounding properties and has no drainage (no, it isn’t a swimming hole: it’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes). Also notice the hoarding along the south that extends along Huron Street in front of the private property, but only to the eastern edge of the town property:
Block 9

Here’s a photo looking southwest from the northeast corner. the building on the right is the new Bank of Montreal building. Notice the hoarding on the left does not extend across the border of the town land, so the public can see this dreary piece of untended, public property. Shouldn’t the town be forced to live up to the same property standards the rest of us have to obey?

Block 9

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Creating a New Citizens’ Group

ProtestRecently, I’ve been told that what this town needs is a new citizen’s action group. I imagine it will be a group of residents concerned that the precedents set by the last council might spread to this one. That’s clearly a worrisome trend to some folks. Like progress, good ideas must be nipped in the bud.

What this town needs, it seems, is a group of citizens who will eagerly file OMB challenges to stop any chance at growth, development, prosperity and jobs before they become endemic. Citizens who will fight to retain our brownfields, to ensure we have store closings, half-finished developments and the slow withering away of the downtown.

Citizens who want the town to work aggressively against businesses, event promoters and developers for the long-term failure of this community. Citizens who demand council be at loggerheads with anyone who wants this town to grow and prosper or, gods forbid, open a business here. Scare them away. Close the door and keep them out.

So I’ve been thinking about what we might call this group and the causes they might stand for (and against). I’ve come up with a few ideas, based in no small part on reflecting on the groups that masqueraded as ratepayers’ groups in our past:

CARECitizens Advocating to Repeal Everything. In the next four years this council has plenty of time to revisit every decision the last council made – and I’m sure the bigger decisions will come back to the table in short order to be reverted or repealled. But why stop there? Why not repeal the whole Official Plan so we could remake the map of Collingwood from scratch? This group would be dedicated to the proposition that, just because a decision made by the last council wasn’t wrong or improper doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It might even go right back to repealling the town’s name and changing it back to Hens & Chicken Harbour. One might even think the majority of this council already belong to this group.

I had thought to call this RDROEDDFPResidents Determined to Re-Open Every Damned Decision From the Past  – but it’s too hard to remember.

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Sit on Your Hands

Sit on your hands and don’t do anything. That’s in essence the advice in the editorial of the Enterprise-Bulletin, June 3. It’s a strongly anti-business message: telling the business community, the municipality, developers, and everyone around us that Collingwood is, once again, closed for business.

Which coincides with the anti-business attitude of several members of the current council, but is hardly good for the community’s economic health.

The editorial concludes:

By all means, let the waterfront plan and the strategic plan pursue their course and hold off any decision’s (sic) on Assaff’s Block 9 ask until after that time…*

Hold off developing a commercial area on private property until when? Until the fabled “strategic plan” is completed? That will be presented to council in late 2015 if we are lucky and all the planets align. The writer offers no rationale for this bizarre suggestion, but readers understand it’s a tugging of the forelock to the Deputy Mayor who spoke openly against the proposal to sell a piece of vacant town land this week, in order to allow a commercial development to go ahead.

By the time this council gets around to reading the strategic plan report, assuming it even arrives this year, the construction season will be long over, pushing any progress into spring 2016 at the earliest. And what if council doesn’t agree with it and send sit back to be rewritten with conclusions that meet council’s preconceived expectations (or administrative staff’s – as with the flawed report on the shared agreement with Collus)?

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