Tag Archives: council

Waterfront No-Brainer

No brainerTwo terms ago, the public and media often referred to council as “the gong show” – no doubt from the number of inane comments and witless questions made at the table. One wonders if that nickname should not be revisited for this term.

This week’s gong for inanity goes to Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson for his comments after a public presentation by a local developer about purchasing an unused bit of town land.

Saunderson clearly hasn’t grasped the procedure by which council members should not comment on or to delegations, and only ask questions of clarification. But why should he bother with such a subtle process when he can loudly alert his block of followers at the table how he intends to vote – in case they might stray from the party line.

Saunderson made his opinion about the delegation’s request known before council has received a staff report on it. He even voted against receiving a staff report. Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is already made up… so much for that openness we were promised.

According to the story in The Connection, Saunderson said,

“My concern is not so much around the council table, but from the public. We have our strategic planning process out there and are very much hoping we will move forward with a harborfront (sic) plan as well. My position is I don’t think that timeline is fair to the public or achievable, I wouldn’t be supporting any idea moving forward with this until we’ve done our strategic plan or waterfront plan.”

One can only shake one’s head at this muddled statement.

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Killing Our Culture

No more jazzCollingwood has killed Jazz & Blues at the Station – a popular, long-running, local cultural event second in audience only to the Elvis Festival. It brought some of Ontario’s top jazz and blues talent to play at the Museum. The hundreds of people assembled every Wednesday for the free concert – sometimes more than 400 in a single night, many of them coming from Blue Mountain, Clearview and Wasaga Beach – will be disappointed. As are the organizers, who have been trying unsuccessfully since late last year to get the town to commit to promised funding.

All those people who came downtown for the music then went to local bars and restaurants afterwards, or came to shop before the concert – won’t be giving Collingwood their business this year. They won’t be sitting on a patio on a warm summer night sharing their experience.

One less cultural event to attract visitors and entertain locals.

In previous terms, other councils have helped the non-profit event by funding it to pay for bands and performers.  It’s a tiny expense for a huge return in public relations and public engagement. Some of us at the table last term understood that and made sure the event went ahead.

This council clearly doesn’t give a damn about local events or culture. But it does care about giving itself a raise instead. How open and accountable is that?

This term, council raised your taxes in order to give themselves and staff a raise. This council gave Councillor Jeffrey a $40,000 slush fund to run for a seat on the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) board – a position which glorifies her and provides her with free flights, hotels and meals across Canada, but does nothing for the community.

How accountable was that?

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Good News for the Rec Facilities

Centennial PoolA story in this week’s Collingwood Connection vindicates the decision to build the two new rec facilities last term. According to the story, usage of the two facilities – the new arena at Central Park and the renovated Centennial Pool – is soaring.

Plus as an added benefit, Centennial pool is able to host competitions all year round – and it does. Just drive by it on a swim meet weekend and you’ll see the parking lot full; dozens of families attend, many of them staying here for shopping, food or even overnight. It’s a great economic benefit, not merely recreational. And everyone who uses the pool loves it; swimmers, visitors, seniors who use the therapeutic pool, parents, teachers – they all have positive things to say.

Net operating costs for the two sites totalled $628,000 for 2014. That’s the cost to service thousands of people at both sites over the year. Consider that for many years the town operated the Contact Centre for about 40 members at a cost of $250,000 a year. These sites serve 100 times as many users for about two-and-a-half times the cost. And the Contact Centre couldn’t host events or spectators like the new facilities can.

That net operating amount will continue to be reduced as usage climbs and the town’s revenue increases. And from all indications, that usage will only continue to rise. The number of people signed up for swimming lessons alone is up by 30% over last year.

Plus we now have use of the Eddie Bush arena as a convention, event and trade show venue, which offers not only more revenue but many more spin-off opportunities for local businesses. This coming weekend will see its first use when it hosts a large federal Liberal Party convention.

As expected, the new facilities are very energy-efficient to operate. That was a prime reason for approving them, but it’s good to see that recognized in print. It has proven a wise decision.

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Openness and Transparency?

Closed door policy

Legitimacy is earned through accountability. Accountability is produced through transparency.

Those words are from an opinion piece by Ian Lee, published in the Ottawa Citizen, back in 2008. Important words; words that should be carved above our own council table in large letters.

Although it seems like he was writing about Collingwood Council, Lee was actually writing about the need for more accountability and openness in the public sector, especially about stating expenses and costs of federal government projects and initiatives. Lee wanted to “…ensure the accountability of public policy expenditures to Canadians – who pay the bills – thereby ensuring the legitimacy of our democratic system.”

Prescient words they are, given the current investigations into the Mike Duffy and the Senate entitlement, spending and expense scandals currently in the courts.

But of course, his comments have parallels here, in the local municipal sphere.

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Newsletter frontLast term, when council sent out community newsletters to keep residents informed, the illiterati screamed these were ‘propaganda’ and a waste of tax dollars.* Now this council has done the same thing and these nattering nabobs of negativity have raised their voices and screamed… nothing. Their silence is deafening.

Well, they wouldn’t want to embarrass their friends on council, would they? Even if this council repeats the same practice as those they reviled last term…

Let’s not dwell on the hypocrisy of the sycophants and bloggers, else we will never get further (it would fill pages and pages to recount…). Let’s instead look at the ‘newsletter’ that came in your mailbox recently.

It’s not the same as the newsletters sent last term, you will notice.

The first impression it gives the reader is: dullness. It’s so insipid it makes my teeth hurt. Greyness abounds. It has not a single speck of colour anywhere. Not even in the town’s logo. There are some graphics, but the greyness just reduces them to insignificance. Lettering on the low-contrast grey pictures is almost impossible to read, and the background images are so faint they look like dirty smudges.

Newsletter frontOne may argue that colour costs more to publish, but presentation is everything. After all, this newsletter reflects the town, its staff and council. Surely not even the current council is as drab as this monochrome presentation. It simply sucks the brightness out of the day to unfold it. The additional cost of colour could easily have been paid without affecting taxes had council not voted itself a raise and instead spent your taxes more wisely on communication.

But this piece also reflects on the town’s CAO. After all, the buck stops on his desk.

Last term, the interim CAO read and approved all of our newsletters before they went out because he was keenly aware – as any competent CAO is – how important it is to get both the message and the medium right. I can only assume that, if the current CAO takes his responsibility for communications equally as seriously, that he read and approved this piece. In which case, what does this piece say about his communication skills or his dedication to council and the community?

Since we have it in front of us, let’s dissect the newsletter’s contents, style, spelling and grammar. Channel your inner editor and graphic designer with me for a few minutes.

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Illegal or Just Inappropriate Meetings?

StoogesCollingwood’s three standing committees consist solely of three members of council, each.*

These committees of three each hold regular, published monthly meetings, hear public delegations, address public issues, post an agenda, receive staff reports, vote on issues, have recorded minutes, have staff to record them, and make recommendations back to council.

In other words they are treated identically to any regular council meeting.  Their recommendations are read into the council minutes and voted upon.

Yet none of these committees has a quorum (majority) of council on it.

When one person is absent, as has happened several times since they were struck, the committee consists of a mere two members of council. Three – and sometimes two – members of council can make recommendations about policy, events or issues on behalf of the town that may be approved by council.

Is this democratic? Open? Accountable? Clearly not, if two people can decide issues for the whole town.

More to the point, is it legal?

As I understand it, according to Section 237 of the Municipal Act, to be legal, a meeting requires a quorum of council: in this case, a minimum of five members, and councils cannot alter that requirement (emphasis added):

237 (2) The council of a municipality referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of subsection (1) may reduce its quorum requirement but may not reduce it to less than a majority of its members. 2001, c. 25, s. 237 (2).

According to a paper published by George H. Rust-D’Eye for the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association, November 20, 2014 (emphasis added):

Councillors are legislative decision-makers of the municipality, and, with the exception of the head, who is the chief executive officer, they have no individual executive or ministerial duties. Moreover, they have no authority to act for the corporation except in conjunction with other members constituting a quorum. As legislators, they fulfil a role similar to members of Parliament or the Provincial Legislature.

In a report to the City of London, the Ombudsman noted that,

…having a quorum means a sufficient number of members (a majority in this case) are present to legally transact business.

The corollary seems to me that not having a quorum means the committee cannot legally conduct business relating to the town. Yet each one does.

As I read the various reports and laws, an official meeting requires a quorum. Without it, it is not a legal meeting. But even if it is – what is open and transparent about two or three out of nine deciding what policies or recommendations to make to council?

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The Not-My-Fault Dance

There’s a story in this weekend’s Collingwood Connection about the PUC board meeting this week. The board confirmed that council’s dumping unexpected costs on the utility will mean an unplanned increase in the cost of your water this year. One of our council representatives tried to dance around it as if he wasn’t among the causes of that increase.

This hurtful rate increase happened because council unwisely moved the budgeted cost of hydrant maintenance from the town’s fire service budget – where it had had been for years with no additional impact on taxes – and stuck it on the PUC (without consulting the PUC board), where it will cause rates to rise. That’s in part due to the unplanned $400,000 cost of repairing frozen pipes this past winter, which ate up any of the utility’s spare funds.

I wrote about that budget debacle in early April. This particular move was done to satisfy some hidden political agenda promoted by town hall, not for any real budgeting reason or at the request of the PUC. Some of those at the table did a 180-degree shift when it came back, approving what they initially opposed.

Obviously some more backroom lobbying went on to get that change.

Council still put your taxes up, so nothing was saved. But to make sure those at the table weren’t affected by the rising water costs or taxes, council voted themselves a raise. Plus they threw $40,000 of your taxes at Coun. Jeffrey’s expense account so she could wine and dine herself around the country in pursuit of her own glorious political career.

This rate increase will hurt local businesses, seniors, renters, low-income earners, industry… but not councillors. So much for accountability. L’etat c’est moi.

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Someone’s Paying Attention

Red tapeI was glad to see the Connection is attending and reporting on some of the council standing committee meetings. The media need to be there to shine a light on what seems to the rest of the town as a secretive, unaccountable process. At least the Connection is paying attention.

The story that came out of the meeting is titled, “Lobbyist registry could make things complicated: Collingwood town clerk.” Apparently the EB didn’t think it was worth writing about. The EB doesn’t get it.

Clerk Sara Almas told the committee:

“Not only does it capture developers and contractors, it could include ratepayers and how they interact with council and it could get quite complicated. Municipalities our size have not opted for a lobbyist registry.”

And for good reason: it would increase operating costs and administrative overhead (thus raise taxes again!) without doing one damn thing good for the town. Except that it might perhaps fulfill a promise to the backseat political drivers who pull the strings of some at the table. But for the rest of us, it would be bad news.

Lobbyist registry is a zombie idea: it keeps coming back from the dead no matter how many times it gets killed. It stinks of the ideological rags it wears. It raises its ugly head during our municipal election campaigns – the last time promoted by Brian Saunderson, now deputy mayor. But no matter who brays about it, the idea is a bad one.

Saunderson may not be aware that there was a staff report made about lobbyist registries back in April, 2008, nor that the council of the day rejected creating one in a vote in June, 2008. (He was equally uniformed about a recent staff report on open government when he made his motion to get yet another staff report on same; his ignorance is costing taxpayers money to create such redundant reports…)
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