Time and conflicts in mayoral politics

No time?Being a mayor today, even in a small town like Collingwood, takes time. A lot of time. Time that working people are hard pressed to find in their busy days. I know from the experience of three terms that even councillors who work cannot attend every meeting, every event, every activity they are invited to.

Mayors have to be on call, doing town business and dealing with residents’ calls during every day, and many, many evenings. Even on weekends they have little to no free time outside their mayoral duties.

They have to attend meetings with staff, with residents, local associations, with developers and businesses, and be at the county and on county committees often several times a week. There are also the extras – meetings with school boards or provincial representatives and politicians, even ministers and their staff. Plus there are the additional boards and committees a committed mayor will join – such as the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative that our current mayor chairs.

And then there are the frequent social demands: visits to seniors’ homes, cutting ribbons at business openings, giving congratulations in person for fiftieth wedding anniversaries and 100th birthdays, the mayor’s levee, Legion events and so on. There are the regular media interviews, radio shows and TV broadcasts, too.

All in all, it adds up to more than a full-time job, even though it’s only paid as a part-time effort. It’s very demanding to be the mayor today. A part-time person cannot effectively fulfill that role nor fully represent the town or the council.

We need someone who can do the job without having to beg off from municipal duties to attend to work or to leave town hall to go skiing during budget meetings (yes, that did happen this term!). We need someone who can’t beg off their mayoral responsibilities because they’re “too busy” elsewhere. Someone who doesn’t have to choose between personal work (or play) and representing and attending to the community. Someone who can be called up at all hours and every day to perform those tasks.

We need someone who has the time to live up to the requirement in the Code of Conduct to educate himself by attending workshops and seminars. We need someone who can take off afternoons or sometimes several days to attend conferences like AMO (where municipal representative get to speak with ministers and their staff) without being pressured by employers not to attend, or to cut it short to get back to work.

One of the reasons retirees and seniors tend to get involved in municipal politics is because they have the time to dedicate to an increasingly-demanding job. But it’s also because we want to put a lifetime’s experience to use. We want to apply what we’ve learned in both careers and personal life. And we have the time to do so.

Even deputy mayors have demands on their time that are above and beyond any daily working role. When mayors cannot attend events or meetings, it is usually the deputy-mayor who gets called on to fill in.

Doesn’t Collingwood deserve a mayor and a deputy-mayor who are accessible, available and who can participate fully in the town’s business?
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Corruption and conflict of interest

Culture of corruptionEver get that uneasy sense of deja vu? That some ugly, undemocratic event you’re watching at council, some autocratic, conniving, secret and self-serving act is something you’ve experienced in the past? That those nasty breaches of ethics, those conflicts of interest, those ignored bylaws and broken trust are things you’ve already seen at the table? That you’re going through another round of corruption and conflict in Collingwood? By this very council?

Well, my dear readers, you aren’t alone. On November 14, Collingwood Council once again went in camera and came out with this resolution:

BE RESOLVED THAT Council hereby agrees to nominate the individuals whose names have been put forward to serve as directors on the Boards of Collingwood PowerStream Utility Services Corp., Collus PowerStream Corp., Collus PowerStream Solutions Corp., and Collus PowerStream Energy Corp. for the remainder of the current terms;
FURTHER THAT provided those individuals accept their nomination, Council hereby elects those individuals to those respective Boards and hereby grants the Mayor and Clerk the authority to sign all necessary documents to give effect to that election;
AND FURTHER THAT the CAO shall report back to Council at the next Council meeting to advise if the aforesaid individuals accepted their nomination and were elected to the aforementioned Boards of Directors.

Get that? Council passed a motion to nominate an unspecified number of mystery people to one of the most important boards in this town. The public doesn’t get to know who they are. Our 50% municipal partner in the utility – PowerStream – is equally kept in the dark.

How’s that for openness and transparency? The public has the right to know who is appointed to a public board. Well, not in Collingwood, it seems.

Keep in mind that this motion was prepared in advance so council and staff knew exactly what was going on, knew exactly who was being appointed, knew exactly what laws they were breaking. But The Most Secretive Council Ever wouldn’t discuss it in public.*

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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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