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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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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Strategic planning: what we missed

Strategic planningThe July 2016 issue of Municipal World has an article on the process of implementing strategic plans. It’s called, Getting from Here to There, and it’s written by a trio of experts including the president of a company specializing in municipal strategic planning, a strategic planning professional in the public sector, and a CAO from Alberta. In the short, two-page article, it outlines pretty much everything Collingwood did wrong in its so-called strategic plan – which was neither a plan nor strategic.

Experts, schmexperts, eh? Who needs experts? Not Der Block! I mean, aside from all the out-of-town buddy consultants and ambulance chasers the town’s administration has hired at great expense… can you really think of a better use for several hundred thousand of your tax dollars than paying people to tell you what to think? Neither can I…

Because The Block cancelled its collective subscription to MW in early 2015, it won’t read the advice of experts in this and any other field. Thus it will avoid polluting its myopic ideology with information, process, education, and peer advice. After all, when you already know everything, what need is there to learn what others do?

Besides, when you want outside advice, the administration will happily buy some for you that matches your own ideology.

But for my readers, I’d like to examine the process as outlined in the article and compare it to Collingwood’s. Keep in mind that what The Blockheads risibly call a “community-based strategic plan,” I usually refer to as a poorly defined, committee-based wish list. But let’s move on to the comparison.

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Bumble, Fumble, Stumble and Mumble

EcclestoneCouncillor Cam Ecclestone did an unusual and unexpected thing this week at Collingwood Council. He spoke. Normally, the intrepid but mute councillor is too busy to open his mouth. Like his colleague, Councillor “Sponge Bob” Madigan, he takes seriously his duty of holding his chair in place in case gravity ever lets go, while laboriously turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. At both tasks, these two excel beyond normal expectations. Yet this meeting, they stepped out of character.

Take a look at the Rogers recording of the Monday night meeting, starting at 1:35:00. Read the story in the Connection, too (the EB didn’t even bother to write it up…). It’s entertaining, in a sad sort of way. The title of the piece refers not to some comical law firm or accounting agency, but to my interpretation of the missteps and sidesteps taken in this little dance.

A novice to the Collingwood table, Ecclestone is noted mostly for his unique, naive approach to the procedures and rules of meetings: he ignores them. When not speaking out of turn, he is usually frantically trying to figure out where in the agenda the rest are. But for the most part, he stares fixedly into space, clearly in a meditative state. Or is that vegetative?

During the election campaign, Ecclestone alleged he had been a “head of council” previously, as well as chair of various political committees (see here for a video of him making these claims) and in the private sector was “very responsible for managing committees.” He claimed to have “learned a lot about the political system.” Except, it seems, the basic rules of procedure and meetings. Well, process is probably overrated. Learning, too.

At 1:35:05, Ecclestone declares he has a “prelude to an actual notice of motion.” No, he has a motion to waive notice so an actual motion can be presented. There will be no notice. That’s what the waiver is all about.

He then starts to read the motion, but quickly backs up to begin again with the proper process of first identifying the mover and seconder. He calls it the “procedure bylaw” at 1:35:14, rather than the correct “procedural bylaw.” But I’m sure that’s just a minor brain fart, and we’re all subject to them from time to time.

At 1:35:34 he beings to speak; out of turn of course, and has to be interrupted by the mayor, bringing him back to the proper process and explain to him what he’s doing. The motion to waive passes, and at 1:36:38 he reads the actual motion: to ask council for $5,500 (1:37:20) to go to Japan and represent the town for the 35th anniversary of the Katano-Collingwood Sister City relationship. Whew. That was like pulling teeth, if you don’t mind the metaphor.

Sister City relationships, as you will soon read, seem to mystify The Block. They can’t figure them out, as if they were some sort of complex, difficult alchemy. Nor, it seems, can they figure out the crafty mechanics of a timeline. But I’ll come back to them. And watch how they eat their own.

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Collingwood’s comedy duo

Abbott (top) and CostelloAbbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Pegg and Frost. Wilder and Feldman. Jeffrey and Doherty. Great comedy duos of our time. Such memorable moments they have given us.

Who can forget the timeless Abbott and Costello skit, “Who’s On First?” Or Laurel and Hardy’s “Soda Fountain” skit? W.C. Fields and Jody Gilbert doing “The Diner Skit” in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break? Or Jeffrey and Doherty in “How I Spent Your Tax Dollars Partying at FCM” at the last Collingwood Council meeting?

You can watch the skit here on the Rogers’ broadcast of the meeting. It starts about 1:52:58 and runs on for a laugh-a-minute pace until 2:21:05. That’s almost 30 non-stop minutes of side-splitting hilarity!

And to think, regular delegates only get a maximum of 10 minutes to entertain council. But when you’re part of The Block, you get to keep them in stitches three times that long! Oh, the lovely, lingering stench of entitlement.

And it’s well worth it, for you comedy fans. You’ll howl, you’ll guffaw, you’ll roll your eyes and snicker as our crazy comediennes stumble and fumble through their lines to justify why Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey was given a blank cheque by The Block for her unlimited expense account. Now she can fly her solo act all across Canada, wining and dining in style at your expense. After even a few minutes of this uproarious skit, you’ll want to throw money at her, too!

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Dirty politics takes its toll

Ed HoughtonBy now you probably have already heard that the CEO of Collus, Ed Houghton, has ‘resigned’ after 39 years of excellent, dedicated service to this community. It’s a huge loss to us, and we should be collectively embarrassed and ashamed at how it happened.

Forced out is more like it; the inevitable result of another evil act by an evil group determined to destroy everything good, effective and efficient in this town. And they are succeeding all too well.

Ed is only the latest casualty in The Block’s ongoing war on our utilities and their staff. The continued, unrelenting harassment finally drove him away. The COO of the water side, Marcus Firman, left in 2015 for much the same reason. And there have been others, too.

Many of those still at Collus and in our water utility are actively looking for work in less hostile, more progressive municipalities. After all, there’s only so much of this unmitigated bullshit and interference one can take. Morale at both utilities is extremely low and no one wants to be the last one left.

You’d know more about it if The Block didn’t have the local media in their pockets. An unbiased investigative reporter would have exposed it all. But you’ll have to settle for my reports, and frankly I am not unbiased about The Block and their malfeasance. Nor should you be. All of this has already wasted several hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars for out-of-town consultants and lawyers whose reports are used to justify the destruction.

Most of this has been conducted in secret, The Block plotting behind closed doors, for the past 18 months. And there’s no end to the damage in sight.

By the end of this year, maybe even by the end of the summer, I expect Collus will no longer exist: the utility will have been sold to Hydro One (secret negotiations are already underway). After which, your electricity rates will be “harmonized” up another 10% or more. Many of the remaining staff will leave. A century and a half of good service and low rates will be gone.

The Block will use the proceeds from the sale – plus millions from our reserves and debentures – to build the Taj Mahal rec centre in Central Park and turn the keys over to the YMCA. Your taxes will go up, of course, to pay for it.

And you, the residents and taxpayers, won’t have a say in it. How’s that for open, accountable government?

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Rules for The Block, different rules for us

Application formEver apply to sit on a town board or committee? If so, you’ll be familiar with the form to the right. It’s the town’s application form. Click on it to see or download the full form. Everyone who wants to sit on a town board of committee must complete and sign it.

Everyone, that is, except the people The Block appoint to the committees and boards they want to control. One set of rules for The Block, another for the rest of us. How very accountable and transparent.

In June, The Block illegally (not to mention unethically and immorally) “fired” the democratically appointed members of the Collus PowerStream board and replaced them with their own selection of tame staff, ones they could cow into submission. I wrote about this naked power grab earlier.

(I say illegally because there is no mechanism in the town’s Procedural Bylaw to remove appointees, and it clearly states their term is concurrent with the term of council. So to me, it seems they have broken the law. But laws don’t apply to The Block, do they? They’re above such petty considerations. Besides, you’d have to be a lawyer to really understand what they say, anyway…)

The town’s policy has (as long as I’ve lived here and for the entire three terms I served on council) is that all appointees must fill in the form and go through the selection process. Except, it seems, when you’re a Block toady. Then you just get parachuted into the position and screw the public input. We don’t need no steenkin’ rules… laws are for losers.

But wait. It gets more interesting…

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The definition of evil

EvilI try to choose my words carefully. Words have power, words can create emotions, words linger and stick with us. Words matter. Words can be tools of great precision and effect. So when I hear or read them being abused, misused or simply inappropriately chosen, my hackles rise. I want to make corrections. I want to insert my idea of the better choice into the sentence. My Facebook followers know how I react (and react too often…) to misplaced apostrophes, misspellings and improper verb tense.

It’s the aging editor in me, I suppose, plus my passionate love of writing and of language. I grant that my skills in writing and editing are rustier than in my halcyon days, but my inner editor still raises its head from time to time, demanding recognition. So I try as best I can these days to choose my own words in part to avoid hearing that shrill voice.

I don’t, for example, swear casually very often. Not from some prurient reaction to “bad” words, but simply that swearing has potent emotional impact and if you use it casually, it loses its power. People cannot recognize whether you’re angry or happy if you toss frequent invective into your everyday word salad. Swear only when you want to express very strong emotion and it’s very effective. Swear constantly and you simply show bad language skills.

I also don’t use the word evil casually. Far too many people use it when they mean inconvenient, annoying, abrasive or controversial. Sometimes it’s something accidental or unintentional they label evil. That’s just hyperbole, part of the social media trend use superlatives to grab attention.

I’ve heard it used in relation to natural disasters like tornadoes and floods, but while the results may be tragic and appalling, weather is neutral; neither good nor bad. I want a more precise use of the word.

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Power, naked ambition, and corruption

Collingwood sinking...No matter how many times you watch the film, Titanic, the ending is always the same: the ship hits the iceberg. Sort of like watching Collingwood Council these days. They just keep hitting the iceberg. And hitting it and hitting it and hitting it.

But unlike the Titanic’s crew, our feckless crew is doing it deliberately. Their goal is to sink the ship. And they’re doing a bang-up job. Literally. Of course, they don’t plan to go down with the ship themselves: that’s the fate left to our town institutions and facilities. They’re just doing the steering. Into the iceberg.

Although the epithet says power corrupts, I think the corruption had set in among them long before the Block came to power. But their naked ambition, their arrogant disregard for the greater good, have never been so blatant as found in the agenda for next Monday.

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Yellow Journalism

Yellow journalismHere’s an interesting approach to developing good relations with your print media advertisers: take their money, publish their full-colour advertisement, then challenge their content, their integrity and their claims in a story that doesn’t present all the facts.

Then wonder why your other advertisers may be nervous about this tactic… and wonder why print media is in trouble.

That’s just what the Collingwood Connection did recently. They accepted and ran an ad last week from Collus/Powerstream – an innocuous, non-political, full-colour ad that modestly promoted the utility and its partnership with the town – then challenged it in an piece this week (the original, online piece was later updated, as I understand it, after complaints were made to the writer).

Not surprising if the folks at the utility are seriously pissed off at the Connection and feel betrayed, either. (update: I’ve been informed that the ad ran twice and wasn’t cancelled and ran twice… but I didn’t see it in the paper where the story ran…)

As Wikipedia tells us, yellow journalism is…

…a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. By extension, the term yellow journalism is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.

Is it ethical or professional not to ask the basic questions reporters are taught to ask: who, what, where, when and why? Or to rely on unnamed sources? Those practices certainly look like yellow journalism to me.

Now, anyone who has followed local politics is aware of this council’s unrelenting attacks on our utility services and their staff. And you’re probably aware that the utility’s side of the story has never been covered in any local media, even though pretty much everyone in town is talking about it.

Local media seem content to look the other way and pretend it’s not happening. Investigative journalism? Not welcome here…

You also know how council broke the water service away from the electrical, and what a miserable dog’s breakfast that situation is now. The 150-year old mutual service relationship was torn asunder, and in almost two years the town has failed to craft a new one, although it should have taken an hour at most… but this council never intended to renew the agreement.

The experienced, respected professionals on the water utility commission were tossed overboard and replaced by a group of ideologically-motivated, inexperienced and inept councillors and pet staff. After, of course, deciding to so so without public input at a meeting behind closed doors.

And yes, they refer to themselves as “Our Group.” I, personally, prefer the term “Politburo” since it better captures that Stalinesque odour about them, but let’s use their own appellation for this post.

Since then, staff morale in water has plummeted. I’m told the utility is in chaos, the unions are squabbling, everyone is complaining, resumes have been sent out by the dozen, and no one is happy. Except for “Our Group,” of course. Another story whitewashed in the media.

Having basically destroyed one utility, “Our Group” has actively and aggressively pursued doing similar destruction to our electrical utility.

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The 50% Solution

Wings'n beerImagine you want to go out for dinner with a friend. Get some wings and beer. You like mild dry rub wings, and a nice, crisp lager. Your friend likes sticky and spicy, with a dark stout. The restaurant will bring out the food and drinks split according to your wishes. And your bill.

That means whoever pays for the meal gets to decide what you both get on the table.

You can’t afford to pay for the whole meal yourself, and you don’t want your friend to pay for it because you don’t want to share a basket of hot and sticky wings and a jug of Guinness. You want your own meal: you want half the food and half the beer, the kind you like. So you know you can’t pay less than 50%, otherwise you’ll give up control of the meal.

And if you pay more, you’ll end up with more than you need and your friend will feel unsatisfied. So you ask your friend what percentage of the bill they want pay before you order.

Your friend feels the same way. Your friend wants a fair share, a full meal, and doesn’t want anything less, and certainly doesn’t want to pay for your food, either. So your friend offers to pay half the costs. Fifty percent. Split right down the middle. That way you both get the wings and beer you want, no fighting. Both walk away from the table happy.

That’s the logic Collingwood used when it decided to sell half of its power utility, Collus, to Powerstream. Sure, the process was a little more complicated than that, but it still boils down to the same thing.

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The Leadership Crisis

The Leadership CrisisIn his latest book, The Leadership Crisis, Gord Hume defines seven characteristics – the Seven Cs – of great political leadership*. See how many you can recognize as attributes within our own council:

  1. Competencies, including people, organizational, business and strategic.
  2. Character, and its traits, values and virtues; integrity.
  3. Commitment, including aspiration, engagement, perseverance and sacrifice.
  4. Charisma, that unquantifiable attribute that political leaders either have or don’t.
  5. Communication, through effective messaging that inspires, informs and influences.
  6. Context, an understanding of what’s going on around them.
  7. Culture, and how to develop, create, change and advance that culture

I think you can see for yourself that these traits are notable by their absence in most of our council. Just take any one of the seven – say, communications. How can a council that conducts so much of its business behind closed doors communicate well, if at all? And how does it communicate? Only through poorly-designed, improperly formatted ads in a newspaper no one reads and via a dull “newsletter” riddled with mistakes but no news.

Culture? There’s more culture in a cup of yogurt than in all of council. Competencies? How can a group that refuses to learn from its peers and hand over control of policy making to staff be competent?

One can, of course, learn and grow on the job, assuming one breaks out of the ideological shell that cocoons them. Which, in 18 months in office, still hasn’t happened. But, like winning the lottery or being struck by a meteorite, there’s still a chance for it to happen. A very slim chance, but we must be optimistic, despite the odds.

There are many books on leadership on the shelves these days. What makes Hume’s book different is the context of leadership within Canadian municipal politics.** You can read an excerpt of the book here. As Hume writes on his website:

Ego, ambition, fear, doubt, passion. Politicians may have a fervent belief in the rightness of their position or a visceral dislike for another person, party or platform, but these should always be tempered by the need to inspire collective action to move any agenda forward.

Hume’s books are among the most thought-provoking, engaging books I’ve ever read on municipal/local politics. It’s sad to note that perhaps only one or two (at most) on our own council will read this book. It is another important publication on municipal governance they will actively ignore. This council already stopped subscribing to the Municipal World magazine because they already know everything – despite most of them being new to the position – and doesn’t want their preconceived views polluted by advice from peers or experts. So exhorting them to read it will fall on mostly deaf ears (I have hope for two of the nine…).

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