Budget Bullshit

Greedy pigThe first question you have to ask after following Collingwood Council’s sloppy and inept budget process is “Where did the money go?”

Then the second question you have to ask, “Are they really that dense?” Yes, but let’s start with the first question.

Back when he promoted dismantling the water utility from its partnership with Collus-PowerStream (CPS) and taking the utility under town control – a process that has proven a disaster for the town – the interim CAO promised we’d see a savings of $750,000 a year. But now the town is trying to privatize those water services by selling them to a for-profit corporation from Alberta, that “savings” vanished from the recent budget. Where did it go?

In the 2017 budget, that promised “savings” wasn’t even raised by The Block, in part because they were all so bemused and befuddled by the parade of numbers they couldn’t keep up with any of the current stuff, let alone savings promised more than a year ago – promises they swallowed hook, line, and sinker.*

Where did it go? But that’s not all you should worry about in the budget.

There is a $280,000 “contingency” for running the IT services that used to be provided by CPS via the shared services agreement. That’s just the start of the IT expenses, by the way; it’s only the amount required to cover the remaining six months of 2017 after CPS stops providing the services (end of June). And it doesn’t count the costs of the administration hiring its sole-sourced consultant out of Barrie to manage the transition (and who may be given the management contract without an RFP). Nor does it include the cost of hiring the third person that will be required for the full transition, or the cost of all the necessary hardware and software.

Here’s what CPS charged the town for those IT services the past five years:
Year Supervision Technical    Annual Total
     /Oversight  Support
2016 $34,718.52  $114,090.02  $148,808.54
2015 $27,774.84  $101,435.87  $129,210.71
2014 $27,097.44  $108,129.66  $135,227.10
2013 $26,436.43  $110,554.53  $136,990.96
2012 $25,666.44  $119,700.42  $145,366.86

So a little basic math tells me that the town plans to spend almost double for half a year what CPS charged for a FULL year. And a full year of great service that went above and beyond any contractual agreement. How is that good fiscal management?

This is but a snapshot of how inefficient and expensive this mess has been so far. It’s going to get a lot messier and more expensive next year. But these extra costs weren’t raised during the discussions because of The Block’s slavish kowtowing to the administration.

Add that $280K to the mysteriously missing $750K and you have MORE THAN $1 MILLION of your taxes wasted or missing in this year alone. Imagine how much MORE it will cost us when the town takes over the billing and the mailing services at the end of 2017 (currently provided by CPS). We’ll need MORE staff, more hardware, more software… more unnecessary expenses sloughed onto the taxpayers.

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Empathy and The Dog Allusion

Coming to empathyEmpathy, writes Martin Rowson, is one of the things that make us human, make us civilized, allows us to interact without tearing one another’s throats out. Without it, we’d have no civilization; we’d be like the beasts of the fields. And we’d have no dogs or gods, either. Empathy is what makes us own pets and be religious.

That’s one of the thought-provoking ideas Rowson tosses around in his book, The Dog Allusion (Vintage Books, London, 2008). The title, as I’m sure you are aware, is a pun on Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.

Rowson has a lot to say about religion – and not much of it flattering, but generally he’s not as acerbic as Dawkins or Hitchens. Religion, however central to his arguments, is not the book’s sole focus. It isn’t a comprehensive screed against religion or even a paen to atheism; rather it’s a series of essays on various topics into which religion often is cast. The book hasn’t received a lot of attention or garnered many reviews from what I can find, but that may be because most of his readers are likely already on his side of the philosophical fence. It may also be that he meanders. A lot. Still, he offers up a good set of arguments worth pondering, even for the converted.

I am not here to wade into his comments on religion quite yet, however, but rather to comment on his notions about empathy – about which I agree, at least somewhat. I have often felt that the single most important attribute in a politician is empathy. Without it, the political road leads to all sorts of tyrannies and egocentric self-entitlement. Without empathy, politicians raise taxes, utility rates, user fees without consideration of their actual impact. Just like they do here in Collingwood.

Having dealt with numerous politicians in my day (and been among their ranks, municipally, for more than a decade), I sometimes think having intelligence would be a better place to start listing desirable attributes. After all, the first thing every politician should have is the wit to understand the consequences of their actions. Yet so many don’t have it. SO many act as if they were the centre of the universe and their actions have no impact on others. But let’s not talk about The Block right now. That’s just depressing. Let’s talk in general terms, first.

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Committee system still broken, still in use

The real purpose of The Block...
“A committee,” wrote Sir Barnett Cocks, former Clerk of the UK’s House of Commons, “is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”
How very appropriate those words strike us as we gaze at Collingwood’s ineffective, severely broken standing committee system. The brainchild of the interim CAO, and the very model of his business style, it has been fervently embraced by The Block. Yet to outsiders, the committee system has been a bureaucratic quagmire of redundancy and ineptness since its inception.

It was a mistake to continue it after the first meeting, when most observers realized it didn’t work. But despite its flaws – evident to everyone but The Block – the committee system is still in use, stumbling along two years later like some cranky steampunk wagon with mismatched wheels.

Look, for example, at the “Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee” (SISC) agenda for January 23. Notice all of the motions for action are in reality just procrastination:

RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…
RECOMMENDING THAT the Strategic Initiatives Standing Committee support and refer the following Staff Report to the next regular meeting of Council…

Every single report, every single presentation, every public delegation has to return to the full meeting of council to repeat and reiterate everything it said to the SISC. And yet EVERY MEMBER of council sits on the SISC but are powerless to act. So they have to repeat it to THEMSELVES!

Yes, that’s right: they have to recommend that they pass the report on to THEMSELVES to deal with at a different meeting! A perfect model of bureaucratic confusion evidently derived from Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
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Will the Block’s hypocrisy never cease?

HypocrisyLast term, when they were raising their pitchforks to storm the bureaucratic castle, the members of today’s Collingwood Council – those we disparagingly refer to as The Block – were loudly castigating the former council for having once done a sole-source deal with the company that was the only Canadian supplier of a product in the whole country. Some said we should have gone further afield, to American sources.

We were evil, they told their cadre of supporters, for not going to tender, or other process like an RFP. The Block’s leader and now Deputy Mayor, Brian Saunderson pledged his word in print to the public that, if he was elected, he would…

Change the purchasing policy to ensure there can be no sole sourcing of any contract for goods or services over $25,000, no exceptions.

He promised everyone he would do it. NO EXCEPTIONS, he said. Just elect me and watch me fix things. Two years later… and we’re still waiting for him to keep his word.

Meanwhile, the very first contract The Block approved, February 2015, was a sole-source contract for taxi services to Councillor Fryer’s brother-in-law. And ever since then, it’s been one sole-sourced contract after another, handed out by this council like party favours.

Apparently the words “no exception” mean the rules can be changed when it suits The Block’s purposes. But they don’t call these “sole sourced” any more. To avoid the public shaming that might follow, they call them “non-standard” purchases. How devious.

Almost every consultant (there’s only one exception that I know of) the Town has hired these past two years to produce the Block’s self-serving (and frequently erroneous) reports has been sole-sourced. The $700-an-hour lawyer overseeing the sale of our utility (and the inevitable privatization of our water utility) was sole-sourced. The people doing the IT assessment for the town were sole-sourced.

On the agenda for Monday, January 30 are no less than THREE more sole-sourced items. One is a truck ( $172,175.00 plus HST). One is for a new membrane for the water treatment plant ($130,576.00 plus HST). The third is for two buses ($846,075.74 plus taxes). More than $1.14 million in sole-sourced purchases in a single evening.
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Collingwood’s casino roulette

I want you to read the following motion carefully. Take your time. It was passed by the former council in March, 2013 in response to the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation (OLG) coming forward with a proposal to locate a gambling (“gaming”) facility in Collingwood:

WHEREAS a properly developed Integrated Destination Resort which includes but is not limited to a world class accommodation hotel, executive meeting and convention facilities, a large seating capacity theatre, restaurants, spa and boutique casino could benefit the economic growth of the community;
AND WHEREAS Council of the Town of Collingwood may be interested in becoming a host municipality for a gaming facility conditionally upon thorough review and discussion with appropriate parties;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council of the Town of Collingwood hereby directs staff to advise the OLG that Collingwood does not support a standalone 300 slot machine gaming facility in the C7 Region;
AND FURTHER THAT Council hereby agrees to pursue negotiations with:
1) Private sector operators on acceptable Integrated Destination Resort opportunities and locations; and
2) The OLG to draft an acceptable revenue sharing agreement, that could be considered by Council and potential private sector operator(s);
AND FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to prepare a report on how best to engage the public prior to any final decision to host a gaming facility in our municipality.

The debateNow tell me: what does it say? Does it say the town will consider a serious, large-scale proposal only when and if one is presented? Yes. Does it commit the town to anything? No. Glad you understand that, because The Block sure didn’t. Maybe because to get what it says you need to actually READ it.

And that motion was passed FOUR years ago. The Block have had more than two years to do something about it. They’ve let the OLG make plans and prepare RFPs all this time without saying a word and now they act surprised. The only ones not surprised by this inaction are, of course, you, dear reader.
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The Block torpedoes the hospital, again

Stupid peopleWhen their sole-sourced consultant’s report failed to give The Block the high ground to oppose the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital’s redevelopment plan, the weasels on council and in the administration decided to undermine the hospital from a different direction. And they hired another consultant.

That’s right: wasting $30,000 of your hard-earned tax dollars on one sole-sourced consultant to “peer review” the CG&M’s already peer-reviewed report wasn’t enough. So they hired a second consultant because the first didn’t say what The Block wanted. How much that second consultant cost taxpayers has not yet been revealed.

The first consultant’s report just weakly suggested more information might possibly maybe sort-of be useful. I’m told few of The Block actually read it and even fewer understood it. But because it didn’t say what they wanted, it had to be supplanted by another scheme. Another report. Back to the conniving board: hire someone to say what they wanted to hear.

At the latest meeting (Jan. 23) of the “Secretive Initiatives Standing Committee” they had a report tabled at the end of the agenda called the “Employment Land Analysis Update.”  Its contents were cunningly not included in the online agenda package, so as to avoid revealling their hand to residents ahead of time.

And that, my dear readers, is the latest, stealthy salvo in The Block’s war on the hospital.
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Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives

IneptitudeThe word initiative derives from the Latin word initiare “to begin.” Since 1600, it has meant “introduce to some practice or system,” “begin, set going.” While any sort of action or engagement, positive or negative, can be classified as an initiative, generally one refers only to positive enterprises when describing political or social initiatives.

I know, I know: you immediately want to interrupt and say, “but Ian, The Block don’t do anything positive, and you cannot talk about a council’s initiatives when none have occurred.” I agree, but bear with me.

It’s true that, when measuring the positive actions begun for the benefit of anyone but themselves, Collingwood council comes up woefully short: mene, mene, tekel upharsin so to speak. There simply have been none and likely won’t be any this term. This council is better described with one or more of the 44 antonyms for initiative: lethargy, indifference, indolence, apathy, diffidence, staleness, dreariness, lassitude, insipidness… they have no interest in your or my good, just their own.*

A short while ago, I wrote Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1, a post humorously (but truthfully) describing council’s sorry list of “accomplishments” for the first half of its term (forbidding you from throwing birdseed on your driveway is their main intellectual effort). Aside from my sarcastic poke at their rampant ineptitude, as you, dear reader know, there were no real accomplishments.

In that previous post I promised to present you with a list of “the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest.” And I started to. The list was long. So very long.

To be frank, after I began that post, I found myself unwilling continue. There were simply too many dreary, petty items, too many malicious actions, too much skullduggery and self-interest to expose again. I became depressed in the process of categorizing and explaining all the malevolence and evil. All that self-serving, nest-feathering, the witch hunts and vendettas … it could drive one to drink.
Dilbert, of course...
While I don’t mind writing another sententious “Malleus Politici” (and the Muse knows they deserve it) this became an extended, overly long and increasingly bitter rant even for someone given to near-hypergraphia. After some contemplation, I decided to take a different tack. I thought what I should do is to list some of the initiatives taken by other municipalities and compare those with what Collingwood has or has not done in that vein. See what positive approaches others have taken in dealing with the problems, issues and challenges in their municipality and measure ours against that.

Alas, we again fall woefully short. But if you have been reading this blog, you already know that. Still, the exercise is educational. The list as follows is neither complete nor in any order aside from what came to mind at the moment of writing.

Continue reading “Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives”

Council is privatizing our utilities

Water costs
Collingwood council and its administration are planning to privatize both our water and electricity utilities. All, of course, without consulting you, the public. Some members of council have even stated – with a straight face, mind you – they would ask for your input at a later date. A date long after it’s too late for public input to matter, of course.

They have already engaged in negotiations with outside companies to take over our utilities, all the while pretending they were just “kicking the tires.” They appointed their lawyer to oversee the sale. Consultants made reports painting the existing situation with faux negativity, from early 2015.

In 2012, the former council determined (after considerable public discussion and public consultation) to sell only 50% of its share in the electrical utility, not 100%, and not water, because that would mean a loss of control over services and rates, loss of accountability and openness, plus additional liabilities. This council is determined to give away those controls, reduce accountability and transparency. It will cost taxpayer millions. And they’re doing it all in secrecy.

“I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties,” Councillor Madigan said last July – facetiously I assume, because by that time, more than 18 months of in camera discussions had been held. Surely he was awake through at least one of them.

Council has acted in bad faith and conned the public about this ever since it took office. No one expects them to be honest or open about it now. Their plan was made evident in 2015 when The Block fired the existing water utility board (a group of talented professionals with considerable experience in water) in violation of the town’s procedural bylaw, and replaced them with five members of their own group – none of whom have any experience in water or wastewater (and none of whom have any talent). That signalled their intentions.

A recent request for proposals (RFPs) for the sale of the town’s share of the electrical utility was sent to utility corps – including, people in the industry lead me to believe, EPCOR, in Alberta. These RFPs belie that pretense that this is just “kicking the tires.” It’s always been a full-blown conspiracy to privatize our utilities. You don’t send out RFPs to corporations just to see if they’re interested. You do it because you intend to sell. Once started, the process is irrevocable. And inevitably expensive.*

But electricity is only part of the plan. All along it’s been a bigger picture: to sell both electricity and water/wastewater services. And let the taxpayer pay for the fallout. As Food and Water Watch documented (in the USA):

Investor owned utilities typically charge 59 percent more for water service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled the water rates of the 500 largest community water systems in the country and found that private, for-profit companies charged households an average of $501 a year for 60,000 gallons of water — $185 more than what local governments charged for the same amount of water. Investor owned utilities typically charge 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled sewer rates survey data from dozens of states and found that private ownership increased sewer bills by 7 percent in West Virginia to 154 percent in Texas.

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The PowerStream deadline looms today

Our Council Blockheads at workBig day for Collus-PowerStream today: the deadline for acceptance of PowerStream’s sale offer for the remaining share of our utility expires this afternoon. And of course Council will finally deal with it at the special meeting called for noon, today, mere hours before it expires. Nothing like waiting until the last moment. They’ve had a month to deal with it, but that’s our council: inept and procrastinating until the end.

Like I wrote in December, if not accepted, this will trigger the shotgun clause in the shareholders’ agreement and force the issue (see below). Council could have avoided the deadline and the shotgun by simply agreeing to waive the right of first refusal and the shotgun clauses as PowerStream requested before submitting its bid, but no one in The Block was bright enough to realize the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.

The Block will be like flies stuck in amber: frozen by their failed ideology and innate stupidity; unable to respond effectively while the deputy mayor and the interim CAO try desperately to spin the issue as PowerStream’s fault instead of a debacle of their own making. That’s been the storyline fed to council and the public for the past two years and they’ll stick with it despite it having been exposed here as a poorly written fiction for a long time now.*

As evidence of their ineptitude, any bids for the share received from the RFP sent out last fall are supposed to be discussed at council’s January 20 meeting. Two weeks after today’s deadline. That’s a true Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment.

And if you’re a council watcher, you’ll recall the gormless Blockheads mouthing bromides about “kicking the tires” and “getting public input” – all the while scheming and conniving behind closed doors (where they will be, again, today). And now they’re stuck. They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind. Ain’t karma a bitch?
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Thank you and Happy New Year

Twenty seventeen will arrive one second later than expected, thanks to the addition of a leap second added to balance the atomic clocks with the Earth’s actual time. One more second for my readers to browse, I suppose, although 2016 was such an awful year that few folks want it to stay around any longer. One more second of Donald Trump or Brexit is unbearable for most of us, but there it is.

For my readership, however, 2016 was good; the number of visitors was up 15% overall from 2015 and continues to climb. Thank you, everyone: I hope my humble scribblings entertained and maybe even informed you. At the very least I hope they opened the door for conversations. And this year I met and conversed with several regular readers, and even received a gift basket as a thank-you for exposing the ugly underbelly of local politics. First time that has ever happened.

To date, I have written 918 posts (this is 919) with over 1.4 million words in them. The longest is post more than 8,700 words. I know, I know: I’m a yappy bugger but writing is what I love to do and when I can bolster it with research, why, I’m in intellectual heaven. That count doesn’t include the words I pound out for my work, for my novels (several in the works, none likely to see publication), for my published articles, what I write on social media, or my Machiavelli blog, or my correspondence. Several tens of thousands of words were written outside this blog. That’s why this blog is called Scripturient: having a strong urge to write.

A lot of readership in 2016 came from my posts about local issues: the unethical, immoral or even illegal behaviour of the group of seven on our local council we call The Block (so named not simply because they block vote, but because The Borg was already taken and much over-used). Sadly, much of that activity was either ignored or glossed over by the local media. But I believe it’s important the public is made aware of the shady dealing, the secret meetings, the conniving and scheming, the nest-feathering, the personal agendas and vendettas of this group. They are aggressively destroying so much of this great town, and as a result of complaints they are under investigation by the Information & Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsman and the Ontario Energy Board. And possibly the police (if rumour proves true). Our reputation with our neighbours and developers has never been lower. But I digress.
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The vulgar crowd

HoraceProfanum vulgus. The vulgar crowd. Not, however, as you might suspect, an apt description of the remaining few supporters of The Block that rules Collingwood Council. While perhaps appropriately described, to me that small handful are better described as naïve, gullible and even intellectually vulnerable, moreso than merely vulgar. But that’s not what this post is about.

Odi profanum volgus et arceo. The words open the first ode in Horace’s third book (Carminum Liber Tertius): I shun the profane crowd. Or the uninitiated crowd. The rabble, or mob. As A.S.Kline translates it:

I hate the vulgar crowd, and keep them away:
grant me your silence. A priest of the Muses,
I sing a song never heard before,
I sing a song for young women and boys.

True, the poem has a subtle political context that might make one think of the Block and their disingenuous election campaign, as Kline translates:

It’s true that one man will lay out his vineyards
over wider acres than will his neighbour,
that one candidate who descends to
the Campus, will maintain that he’s nobler,

another’s more famous, or has a larger
crowd of followers: but Necessity sorts
the fates of high and low with equal
justice: the roomy urn holds every name.

The poem is really about the equality that death brings everyone and the pointlessness of our base pursuits. That roomy, capacious urn at the end of the line is where we all eventually end up regardless of our status and wealth. Horace also contemplates how little riches and rank offer in comparison to his small Sabine farm, and says how content he is with his lot.

But as usual, Horace isn’t that simple; the poem has more to contemplate than just one notion. I’m trying to understand it all and the choice of words in the translation matter.
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Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1

Blind leading the blindAs we reach the end of our Council’s second year in office, halfway through its mandate, it is time again to assess the collective performance and list the accomplishments of our elected officials.

To avoid accusations of egregious negativity, I will list council’s accomplishments first. And to avoid further accusations of meandering through overly long diatribes (mea culpa, I do ramble a bit…), I will split this post into two pieces. The good (this post) and the bad (a subsequent post).

For a historical comparison, you might wish to refer to my analysis of council’s first year prior to reading this piece. It will give you some context. And maybe a reason to drink, too. It was that kind of year.

So here it is: all of the remarkable achievements and accomplishments of Collingwood Council by the end of its second year:

  1. You can no longer toss birdseed onto your driveway or patio.
    Now don’t be misled into think this legislation isn’t a significant achievement. Consider the ramifications of having people toss their birdseed willy nilly around their property. It would be chaos. And it might attract squirrels. The very notion that squirrels might get at the birdseed makes some folks at the table apoplectic. It must have taken hours and hours of in camera discussion and secret negotiation to get this passed. Given the calibre of the minds at the table, this is The Block’s greatest intellectual accomplishment this term and could possibly be council’s most fondly recalled legacy for decades to come.
  2. Public discussion, input or consultation has been shut out.
    Democracy is far too messy already to allow the public to hear what council is saying about major policies and operations, so everything worth discussing has been moved behind closed doors where public scrutiny won’t embarrass anyone at the table. And why should the public be allowed to comment on things that affect them? Better they don’t know and so they can’t respond. That way the oily gears of governance and patronage won’t be slowed down by having to deal with messy public input or media oversight. So what if it’s your utility, your airport, your taxes? The Block will decide what’s best for us without asking our opinion. You don’t matter: only their opinion matters. And just in case you thought you could complain, The Block fired the Integrity Commissioner. Why have public scrutiny when you avoid public input? And forget those election promises of openness and transparency. You knew they were just kidding, right?
  3. Our reputation is ruined and our relationships with our municipal neighbours is in the dumpster.
    Utility boards have been alienated. The hospital and medical staff enraged. Developers infuriated. The OEB is investigating council. The Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating council. The Ombudsman is investigating council. PowerStream hates us. Collus hates us. Clearview hates us. Wasaga Beach hates us. New Tecumseth hates us. The airport users and developers hate us. The hospital board hates us. It can only be a sign of strength to stand alone. The Block has proven Collingwood can go it alone without regionalism, support, allies, partners or friends. The town’s strategic goal has been to emulate our governing Blockheads and be friendless and mirthless. And in this endeavour they have been highly successful. You don’t think that’s impressive? The Block and our administration put unstinting effort into making Collingwood is the North Korea of Ontario municipalities. Imagine how little we’d care about Kim Jong Un if he had international friends or was a competent ruler. He’d be like us. And now we’re just like him. Well done!

There you have it. Everything this council has accomplished this term. Three major accomplishments that in olden days would merit a rousing song from a bard, and plaques or even bronze statues scattered about the community.

With the positives safely out of the way, in an upcoming post I will examine the downside: the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest. But so as not to keep you in too much suspense, here’s a quick preview of all the things council did wrong, all of their evil, malicious and underhanded actions to date this term:

  1. Everything else.

See you next post.

Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 2

Keystone councilAs promised, here is the second part of the Gong Show analysis from December 12th’s council meeting. Like I said earlier, it’s perhaps more like a Keystone Cops or Abbott and Costello skit than the TV show.

As always, you can follow along on the Rogers Community TV broadcast, starting at 2:16:30. Laugh aloud at the zany, misinformed antics of your elected representatives as they fumble and stumble their way through an agenda of items they clearly have no clue about. You should start with part 1 of my review, if you haven’t already read it.

And by the end of this post you can decide which of these titles best suits our Blockheads:

  1. The Most Secretive Council Ever
  2. The Most Inept and Ineffective Council Ever
  3. The Most Devious Council Ever
  4. The Most Disrespectful Council Ever
  5. The Most Corrupt Council Ever
  6. The Most Underhanded Council Ever
  7. The Most Petty and Vindictive Council Ever
  8. All of the above.*

So first take a look at a letter that appeared on the consent agenda of the Strategic Initiatives Committee from Dec. 7 (SIC is one of those dysfunctional and inefficient council committees created by the interim CAO, yet embraced by Blockheads at the table with no experience in process or politics who prefer to flail and fumble rather that govern efficiently). See page 96 for the letter, which says in part:

Please accept this letter as confirmation that Collus PowerStream will not be renewing its existing computer rental agreement with the Collingwood Public Utilities that expires December 31st, 2016.
With regard to the existing equipment, the Board of Directors at our November 25th meeting authorized me to offer a one-time payment of $23,920.00 plus any applicable taxes for the attached listing of user workstation equipment and associated accessories (keyboards, mice, cables etc.) we are currently using and are interested in acquiring.
We ask that you please confirm acceptance of this offer by end of day December 15th, 2016. This will allow us sufficient time to make alternate arrangements prior to year-end for replacement hardware should the Town choose to not accept this offer.

Some key concepts here to keep in mind:

  • The board authorized the request and amount offered;
  • The agreement to rent equipment ends Dec. 31 at the same time the shared services agreement ends;
  • CPS needs to know by Dec. 15 and it’s already Dec. 12;
  • The offer is more than three times what the equipment is worth.

Simple, right? Apparently not for everyone.

Some history: Collus always provided the software and the technical support for the town’s computers as part of the shared services agreement. The agreement ended in 2014 but was extended until the end of 2016 so the interim CAO could present an update agreement. It still hasn’t been done.

The town (in this case the water department) purchased the hardware and rented/leased it back to Collus (later Collus-PowerStream, CPS) for just under $22,000 a year to provide a revenue stream to the town. With the unrelenting harassment of the utility and its staff by The Blockheads and the administration, CPS wants to get as far away from this viper’s nest as possible. CPS offered to buy the remaining hardware – mostly used notebooks, monitors, mice, cables and keyboards – from the town. And end another revenue stream to the town from the utility.**

used computersNow, keep in mind that this is all equipment CPS is using, not another town department or service. Whenever a department needs computer equipment, that department head purchases it. No department head has asked for any of this equipment, not least of all because it’s old and used and they can get new with a signature on a slip of paper.

And it’s all at least 3-4 years old (which means the laptops may not even be up to running Win 10) and may not be in the best shape after daily use for that time. Much of it would normally be replaced with new equipment in the next 12-28 months as per the town’s hardware replacement cycle.

But our Blockheads are apparently experts on IT, even though some of them can’t even configure their own home wireless without IT intervention.

And don’t forget: the shared services agreement to provide IT services to the town ends in January, 2017, before that vaunted mid-month report from the consultant. Second, the recent PowerStream offer to buy the Collus share has a deadline of Jan. 6. If accepted, there will be no relationship of any sort between the utility and the town. And if not accepted, PowerStream will invoke the shotgun clause and the whole shebang will unravel 30 days later.

This where the fun starts – be prepared to laugh and roll your eyes. And to shake your head in wonder at the pettiness of our Blockheads.

And then gasp in disgust at the backstabbing and deviousness that happened a mere two days later. Of course, you won’t read any of this in the local media. You’re welcome.
Continue reading “Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 2”

Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1

The Gong ShowHas there ever been a more inept, ineffective group at the council table in Collingwood? Certainly not in the 26 years I’ve been here. Not in the dozen years I covered it for the media, not in the 11 years I served on council have I seen anything so comical.

Rogers TV really should put a laugh track on their broadcasts of council meetings. They could call it the Gong Show – had that name not already been taken by a more serious TV show.

But until then, you should watch the December 12, 2016 meeting. You’ll roar, you’ll chuckle, you’ll guffaw over the zany antics of our madcap councillors as they flail about trying to understand what they’re doing. It’s funnier than a Marx brothers’ skit. And it will take more than just this one post for me to cover this slapstick madness. So here’s part one…

Start at 53:14 into the show (I’ll deal with the pointless waste of tax dollars on a peer report about the hospital that says nothing at another time). This is about a letter on the consent agenda (A8) from Collus PowerStream about the final closure of the IT services provided to the town. It says:

We are hoping that we can agree to a very early discontinuation date. We understand, the Town has created specific IT job descriptions with the intention of recruiting for those positions in the very near future. In addition with your recent acquisition of an outside IT consulting firm we believe it is time to operate independently.

At 53:28 Deputy Mayor Saunderson reads the motion, saying, “Moved by myself…” (here’s your first big chuckle of the night: none of the Blockheads know that it should be “moved by me…“! Yuck, yuck, yuck… I guess they don’t teach English in law school…) and then says the town will utilize (why use the solid one-syllable “use” when three bloated syllables will do?) the IT services provided by Collus PowerStream “up to June 30, 2017… or until mutually agreed upon earlier.”

Yep: lotsa laughs already. The Blockheads gutted the shared services agreement and their interfering this term will cost taxpayers at least $1 million more a year starting in 2017. But now they’re in panic mode because they didn’t plan for this.

The agreement actually ended some time ago (end of 2014, I believe), but on the promise of an updated agreement coming, it was extended to January, 2017. So Collus-PowerStream has no obligation to provide ANY services (including billing for water) in 2017. And last Friday PowerStream put in a bid for the town’s share of the utility with a deadline of January 6. After that, there will be no Collus-PowerStream left, just PowerStream. With no obligation to the town whatsoever.

Not to mention that this council and administration have connived behind closed doors to sell our share of our utility without any public input. The administration sent out RFPs trying to find a buyer (ignoring PowerStream’s first right of refusal in the contract…). Hardly conducive for continued relations.

The town already sole-sourced the IT services this fall to a Barrie company (and again without public input). So who do they think is going to going to do the work to complete the transition? And after two years of harassment, bullying and a $500,000 morale-destroying witch hunt cooked up by The Blockheads, everyone at Collus wants to get free of any relationship with the town as soon as possible. January is late enough to be in this viper’s nest.

But The Blockheads press on, oblivious.

Continue reading “Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1”

Collus share bid received

My sources tell me PowerStream submitted a bid to purchase the town’s share of the Collus-PowerStream utility, late on Friday, December 9. While the amount was not stated, I am told it is a “very fair” bid. This is so far going as I predicted in my earlier post.

PowerStream paid $8 million cash for half the share in 2012 (with another $6.4 million coming through Collus from notes and recapitalization), but since then The Block and town administration gutted the board (twice), joyfully ruined the shared services agreement, and happily took away the water side thus reducing the utility’s revenue considerably. Done over two years of secret conniving behind closed doors.

IT services is hanging by a thread – town hall pulled the plug and secretly contracted (apparently sole-sourced without RFP or RFQ) with a Barrie company to do the work. And council approved Collus buying the remaining hardware so the cord has been almost fully cut. The IT relationship with Collus and the town is likely to be cancelled by January 1.

For many years, the town got exemplary IT service at a hugely discounted cost from Collus. The new contract with the out-of-towners will cost taxpayers tens of thousands more every year, but hey, it’s only money, right? Your money, of course, but what do our Blockheads care about you?

All that’s left is billing for the water side, still done by Collus, but thanks to town administration and our Blockheads, is about to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars more a year when the share sale goes through.

Given the Block’s active and aggressive devaluation of the utility since the 2012 sale of 50%, I doubt the book value of the utility is more than $5 million now. However, PowerStream may offer more than that if for no other reason than to end the harassment and bullying and get away from the town as quickly as possible.

The deadline for the town to accept or reject the bid is, I believe, Friday, January 6, 2017, just under a month away. And that’s with the sword-of-Damocles shotgun clause hovering over their heads. Not very much time for a council whose term has been showcased by flailing inaction, and gormless dithering to make an actual decision. I bet the Blockheads do what the administration tells them to do, just like they always have.

Continue reading “Collus share bid received”