Utter contempt at council

Utter contempt for residents and taxpayersUtter contempt. That’s what The Block showed for process at council, on Monday night. And for ethics. And for you, the residents. Utter contempt.

But when they want to give benefits to their friends or themselves, boy do they rise to the occasion. Which of course they did, Monday. Anything for a buddy, no matter what negative effect it has on residents. No matter how it will exacerbate ill will in the community, or create bad feelings towards town hall. No matter what it will do to your insurance rates. As long as their friend gets his, who cares?

As I predicted last post, had proper policy and procedure been followed, what should have been a dead issue was returned to the council table by Councillor Jeffrey – she of the unlimited expense account and adipose sense of entitlement. If she or any of the Block had even the slightest regard for procedure and the standing committee system, the Fire Marque report would have died there. Should have died there. But The Block have so far failed to show any respect for anything that gets in their way, so of course she wouldn’t do as as a more ethical councillor would. Democracy be damned.

I told you so.

Besides, the salesman for Fire Marque is the former mayor: a close buddy to all of The Block. Doesn’t matter to The Block if the contract is bad for the 20,000-plus homeowners and renters here. Screw you is The Block’s attitude towards residents. If it’s good for their friends or their in-laws, it gets passed.

Doesn’t matter to The Block if the very idea of charging people for emergency response to accidents was rejected unanimously last term as an unethical practice. Doesn’t matter to The Block if you already pay for fire services through your taxes and the contract is unethical double dipping. Doesn’t even matter it if violates the province’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act. It benefits their buddy, so it gets passed.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a sole source contract and their leader, Brian Saunderson, promised there would be no sole source contracts this term. “No exceptions,” he said. By my calculations, The Block have handed out more sole-sourced contracts than all of the previous councils for the past 25 years COMBINED. The word hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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How to piss off The Block

Calvin & HobbesThere’s an easy three-step process anyone can follow to piss off the seven-member Block on council (as well as the town’s administration):

  1. Do something good for a change;
  2. Accomplish something for the community’s benefit;
  3. Don’t involve The Block in the process.

And that was just what was done last Thursday when our MPP Jim Wilson made a motion on the floor of the Legislature to have the province fund the redevelopment process for the General & Marine and Alliston hospitals. This isn’t the cost to build, but rather the costs involved in going through the lengthy and expensive process: legal and planning costs, studies, consultants, reports and, of course, the inevitable challenges to the plan at the Ontario Municipal Board (yes, The Block will likely order the town to file an OMB challenge…)

Kudos to Jim for his support and his efforts on behalf of the community. His motion passed. The costs for the process won’t be coming from hospital operating costs or foundation donations meant for equipment and services. That’s no small amount given that the estimate for the bureaucratic process is around $9 million.*

Compare Wilson’s efforts to The Block’s and the administrations roadblocks and resistance. Positive versus negative. Pro-community versus self-interest.

Now given this was a big announcement and very important to the community, Wilson arranged for a local presence to show its support on the day of his motion. All local politicians, hospital board and staff were invited to attend. Arrangements were made for transportation, for a tour of the Legislature, and for lunch there. And guess how many of The Block and town staff attended?

None. Not the interim CAO. No one from the planning department. Not even Councillor Jeffrey – the council rep on the hospital board – bothered to attend. That pretty much sums up the arrogance and the disdain The Block feel for our hospital and for our community. NONE of them went down to Queen’s Park even to fake their support.
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Madigan to chair do-nothing committee

MadiganA story in last week’s Connection has the headline, “Madigan named chair of Collingwood development, operations committee.” Councillor Madigan has the dubious honour of chairing a standing committee that does nothing of value, has no decision-making authority and – like the rest of the standing committees – is redundant, ineffective and inefficient.

Which is an absolutely perfect fit for a loyal Block member. It makes them look busy without allowing them to meddle in anything important, and lets them boast about their engagement without actually doing anything or engaging anyone. The emperor’s new clothes at its finest.

Congratulations are in order. He gets to direct a committee whose sole task is to forward every issue, every report and every delegation to the full council where everything must be repeated and re-read to get anything done or a decision made. The eye-rolling and snickering are just staff’s way of saying how much they appreciate having to go over the same material twice for an audience in which few understand it no matter how many times you tell them.

And just look at the terrific media coverage standing committee meetings get… All right, that’s another joke. They get almost none because their main task is to procrastinate, defer and delay. Hardly makes for good copy, does it? Even the sycophantic local media strain yet fail to make it less snooze-worthy (the above-referenced article being a prime example).

The standing committee system has been broken ever since it was implemented. It adds a thick layer of red tape to everything. But since it is the brainchild of their beloved interim CAO, The Block treat it like a divine commandment handed down from above. They cannot even imagine the barest possibility of contemplating the notion of going against their interim CAO even when he leads them into the bureaucratic quagmire or into such bureaucratic dead ends as the standing committee system.

Just think of all the successes they’ve had under his guidance. Collus-PowerStream, IT, the water utility, the airport development, the hospital redevelopment, the utility boards, staff morale, the town’s reputation, the water pipeline… oh wait. Those are all failures. Abject, dismal, soul-crushing failures. But I’m sure The Block doesn’t see them the same way the rest of the community does. In their eyes, these are successes and damn those who say otherwise.

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Sadly, it’s business as usual

Missed targets
I suppose you expect I am disappointed that not a single one of The Block had the spine, the moral compass, the ethical guts to resign after killing the hospital redevelopment. After all, I called on them all – plus the interim CAO – to resign immediately. Not doing so, I said, would prove everything I ever said about them. They didn’t budge.

Well, my compensation is that I get to say “I told you so.” Again. I suspect I will repeat those words several more times this term.

People only disappoint you when they don’t live up to your expectations. My expectations for this group are low. Abysmal, really, based on the reality of their performance to date. They constantly strive to reach mediocrity, but consistently fail to achieve it. If you expected from them secrecy, conniving, backroom deals, conflict of interest, inflexible ideology and rigid self-interest, then I suppose your expectations have been met.

I didn’t really expect any of them to actually resign. To resign would take courage, commitment and a deeply held caring for the community. Attributes that are most notable in their absence among this group. They would have to take responsibility for their own acts instead of blaming others. I hardly expected them to start doing something so antithetical to their natures now. Hyenas can’t change their spots, can they?

It’s not as if they and they alone killed my faith in humanity. After all, they are not the first politicians to be unethical, and more concerned about feathering their own nests than about the community. Nor will they be the last. There have been other politicians before them who lied to their constituents, who put personal agendas over the greater good, who used their office to conduct vendettas and who handed out sole-source government contracts to friends and family. There have been politicians before them with closed minds who refused to consider other viewpoints or to learn anything. This group won’t be the last of them, either.

Failing to resign, it will be business as usual for them, continuing to lurch and fumble and stumble their way along, tearing down as much of our town as they can along the way.
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This man should resign

Interim CAOCan a municipality operate effectively with a toxic relationship between the mayor and the CAO? Can staff avoid being involved in the confrontation? Can the public expect the best service and support from its leaders if the two top people are at odds?

Clearly not. A story in The Connection reinforced just how bad things have become in town hall between the mayor and the interim CAO.

Once you read it, I believe you will agree with me: the interim CAO must go. Now. Right now. He is an embarrassment to everyone. This behaviour is intolerable. It doesn’t matter that he is The Block’s darling. He should resign or be placed on administrative leave without delay.

I asked why he was still allowed to work for the town back in 2016. I asked it again earlier this April. I will ask it again: why is this man still working for Collingwood?

This story reflects badly on the town. This term, Collingwood has already suffered considerable embarrassment, a tattered reputation, hostility and disdain from our municipal partners and neighbours, and we have an adversarial position against our airport, utilities, and hospital. The buck has to stop somewhere. 

Is he behaving like this because our mayor is a woman? Or is he this aggressive to everyone? Did he behave like this in the other municipalities where he worked? The mayor should contact them and find out. But it’s Collingwood where he is now and it’s Collingwood that has to deal with him. He should go. 

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More council secrecy, more council scheming

SchemingOn Monday’s council agenda there are again two in-camera topics that reinforce just how much little respect The Block have for process, ethics, the public, legality, openness and transparency. The Block will – again – secretly discuss privatizing our water and wastewater services to the out-of-province, for-profit corporation, EPCOR, and also secretly discuss appointing new directors to the Collus-PowerStream board.

Both should be discussed and decided in public. Both should have had public input or consultation. But why should The Block change habits now?

The backroom, sole-source EPOCR deal is so shady it could have been a script for The Sopranos. No public input, no public discussion, no RFPs. Make ’em a deal they can’t refuse. It doesn’t get any dirtier than this.

The result has already been decided behind closed doors. The taxpayer is screwed. Again.

As for the board appointments, the town’s own policies, procedures and bylaws require all board and committee appointments to to publicized and open to residents. These appointments were handed out like party favours, instead.

And all applicants MUST signs an application stating they are eligible residents. Unless of course you are one of the nudge-nudge-wink-wink cronies of The Block. Then they just appoint you without the muss and fuss of legal process. And they’ve done it TWICE this term already (after first illegally firing the former utility board). Looks like they’re doing it again.

Of course, you’re not surprised. You’d only be surprised if they did something ethical, something for the good of the community for a change.

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Shoulda, coulda, woulda

Coulda, shoulda, woulda...Two and a half years of calamitous mismanagement. Council motivated by wild conspiracy theories, maliciousness and personal vendettas. A rudderless, ruthless administration flailing and fumbling its way from one catastrophe to another. The town’s reputation ruined. Our municipal partners and neighbours alienated. Secret discussions determine the fate of our assets while the public is excluded from the process. Taxes and costs rising and sole-sourced contracts handed out like party favours. Ethics tossed out the window and the municipal air redolent with the stench of entitlement.

And the term is barely half-way through. What a disaster.

Any commentary or discussion on our council’s actions, morality and behaviour this term must come with a litany of things we know they should have done, things they could have done, and what would have resulted – had they followed process, law or even acted ethically.

You could have done better. Anyone else could have done better. Just imagine what you, dear reader, would likely have done in their place, what things you could have done differently. Pretty much everything if, of course, you had either a modicum of common sense or a shred of decency in you.

Of course, we always second guess what those in power are up to. But face it, it would be difficult if not impossible to do worse than this lot has.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda: what might have helped keep this government on track, and act on behalf of the people who elected it, instead of being the self-centred, ongoing train wreck it is now. How different things might have been if only they shoulda, coulda, woulda. These are some of my list, not in an particular order; I’m sure you will have your own:
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Why is this man still working for Collingwood? – part 2

Why is he still here?Almost a year ago, I posed the question: why is the interim CAO still working for Collingwood? After his behaviour and aggressive, disrespectful grilling of the hospital board chair and foundation head, March 27, 2017, that question has even more significance.

And, you might ask, why hasn’t council dealt with it? After all, his behaviour reflects on them – and poorly.

The interim CAO’s relationship with the mayor is at best strained, at worst abrasive and unproductive. In a recent email she accused him of bullying and suggested he resign. Councillor Lloyd has made similar comments and recently blocked his emails. The last time the interim CAO’s contract was extended (at $226,000 a year), it was a 5-4 vote, suggesting a loss of confidence in him even among his former supporters.

How can any CAO operate effectively if at odds with one or more of his bosses? If he or she doesn’t have the full respect and support of all of council?

I have been copied with emails sent among residents and even some sent to the local media and council chastising the interim CAO for his behaviour, calling his tactics bullying and aggressive. This is not the way the town’s top bureaucrat should be seen by our residents. It is not the way ANY top bureaucrats should behave anywhere. Or should I say misbehave?

In an email sent to the mayor and council, one writer commented: “The CAO should be instructed to be more deferential to the Chair during the meeting. We did not regard his conduct to be very professional last evening.”

One letter to the local media about the evening noted in general the tone towards the bureaucrats at the meeting: “Nobody likes to be lectured to by high-priced consultants or government officials, especially when it appears to any reasonable person that the real motive is to further slow down and obstruct the hospital decision-making process. And making matters worse, we all know that it is us, the taxpayer, who is paying for most of those speakers and their underlying work.”

There were more remarks I won’t repeat, but they continued the general sentiment.

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Dividends for dummies

DividendsA dividend, as defined by the Business Dictionary, is “A share of the after-tax profit of a company, distributed to its shareholders…” This is reiterated in the description from the Oxford Dictionary: “A sum of money paid regularly (typically annually) by a company to its shareholders out of its profits (or reserves).”

So in order to pay a dividend, you need to make a profit. Otherwise all your revenue goes to operating expenses, salaries and taxes. And a dividend isn’t paid to just one person or shareholder: if one shareholder gets one, then every shareholder gets one. Dividends are NOT automatic, are NOT paycheques.

Now say you were a shareholder, and you stripped the revenue stream away from a company you own shares in, and in doing so, you reduced its profit to zero, and say you also caused it greater expenses – say by forcing it to pay more for legal advice or transportation and accommodations for out-of-town shareholders – would you still expect a dividend?

Common sense tells us no. No profit: no dividend.* But common sense is an uncommon attribute at our council table.

On March 13’s agenda, there was a letter from Collus-PowerStream saying the board had decided not to pay a dividend for 2015, and would decide about 2016 after it examined the company’s audited financial statements. (on the Rogers TV broadcast, it starts at 0:18:13, just after the lengthy, self-serving “community” announcements… go past Councillor “Sleepy” Ecclestone’s painful “moved by myself” grammatical error to 0:22:22).

This, course, sent The Block into a tizzy. At 0:22:37 Sleepy again does another “moved by myself” gaffe to introduce a motion to request “an explanation of why the board has chose (sic) not to declare a dividend…” and to “express our concern and disappointment.”
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The Blame Game

Blockheads playing the blame game
Remember The Name Game – that song from the Sixties that had those crazy lyrics: Shirley! Shirley, Shirley/ Bo-ber-ley, bo-na-na fanna/ Fo-fer-ley. fee fi mo-mer-ley, Shirley! Not the most intellectual lyrics of the era, I admit, but not forgotten and clearly suitable for local tastes. In Collingwood town hall, for example, they even sing their own version, The Blame Game:

Bloggers! Bloggers! Bloggers!
Bo-ba-loggers, bo-na-na fanna
Fo-fer-loggers fee fi mo-mer-loggers, Bloggers!

And so on. It’s part of the “not my fault” mindset that infuses The Block and the administration this term: blame everyone else for the mess you made yourself. Sort of like being in a five-year old’s heaven: it was broken when I found it. Not my fault! I wasn’t even in the room. She started it. I don’t know how it got in my pocket. Someone musta put it there. I didn’t do it! Wah, wah, wah!

It has been sadly amusing watching The Block and the administration fumble and bumble and stumble along their rocky ideological road, while eagerly pointing their fingers at everyone else as the source of their misfortunes. They never once take responsibility for their own decisions and actions. But instead of extricating them from the quagmire, all this flailing about and blaming others has only stuck them deeper in it.

Here are some of the people, groups and services The Block blames for the misfortunes they have done to themselves, the town, its staff and our reputation this term. You can see how many opportunities have created for themselves in this song:

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The OPP investigation after 48 months

Inpeach council!
Forty-eight months ago a very small group of disgruntled, angry residents – some with burning ambition to take a seat on council themselves – complained to the OPP, allegedly about decisions made by the previous council. Decisions and people this group didn’t like. Decisions they thought – without any proof – were shady. People they thought – again without any proof – were corrupt.

Both conspiracy theories have long since been proved wrong. But they damaged reputations and lives, while others used the fallout to further their own dark goals. All done without the slightest twinge of guilt. 

From summer 2013 through the election, we witnessed a vicious, coordinated campaign to discredit and defame members of the former council: sycophant bloggers, biased media pushing their friends’ agendas, staged protests (who can forget the “inpeach council” sign?), ambitious candidates mouthing righteous platitudes and empty blandishments, virulent social media campaigning rife with gossip, rumour, whispers, allegations, and outright lies.

It worked. People were fooled. But not now. After four years, and no OPP report, people realize they were hoaxed, and many think they know by whom. 

The OPP must have been mortified at having to investigate a clearly politically-motivated, baseless complaint. So much so that shortly after the flurry of bad publicity, the “investigation” vanished, as if the police were too embarrassed to mention it again.  It hasn’t resurfaced.

The law says the OPP is required to investigate any complaint. The police talked to people. They examined bank accounts, businesses, connections. They interviewed town staff and collected records.

In the past four years, nothing has been uncovered to incriminate anyone.

Nothing.

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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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