Council’s financial follies part 1

This is the first in what I expect will be a long series of posts about the financial follies and shenanigans of our council.

Another fine messOur council begins its term not with a bang but a groan and the shaking of heads. To quote Oliver Hardy, “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” I’m sure it won’t be the last time I get to say that to this council.

To be fair, the debacle is not the responsibility of everyone at the table – that falls squarely on the shoulders of the four re-elected incumbents. However, since most of the newcomers hitched their horses to the Saunderson Campaign Bandwagon, the continuing debacle is an albatross they too will have to wear this term.

First up, a story in Collingwood Today about the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial inquiry (SVJI) that suggests the SVJI’s skyrocketing costs are just beginning. It notes (sic):

Public hearings will take place from April 15 to 18, April 22 to 25, April 29 to May 3, May 13-17 and May 21-24. The policy phase hearings are expected to take place on June 10, 11, and 1.

(I assume that last number was truncated and should read 12 – and BTW, the story wasn’t even covered in The Connection. Surprise.)*

The SVJI was initially scheduled to begin its hearings last November, but they are running late. Five months late, in fact, and then 25 days of hearings are scheduled from mid-April into mid-June. After that the inquirers have to judge the input, come up with a conclusion, write a report and present it. Likely they will not conclude until mid to late fall. During this time the cash register continues to sing its chirpy song.

Meanwhile the number of documents continues to pile up (more than 400,000 already and more still to come… as I wrote about earlier). So many that the SVJI has had to hire two more lawyers to handle the paperwork. Ka-ching!

Last April, I predicted the SVJI would cost taxpayers at least $6 million, based on comparisons between the Mississauga judicial inquiry and the SVJI. But it now looks like that was a conservative estimate. Its original cost estimate was $1-$2 million, too. Here’s what I wrote back then:

The Mississauga inquiry interviewed nearly 100 people and collected about 35,000 documents and held hearings where 35 people testified over a period of 38 days. And cost the city $6.2 million.

Money grows on trees in CollingwoodThe SVJI has already interviewed more than 60 people (as of early November) and hasn’t even started the public inquiry portion. There are more than TEN TIMES the number of documents involved (so many that the earlier deadline to submit documents had to be extended another six weeks). This suggests to me the SVJI is going to cost us a lot more than we were led to believe. Millions more.

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The towering heights of the SVJI

Mountain of paperworkFour hundred and twenty seven thousand, two hundred and sixty five. That’s how many documents have been submitted to the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) to date, according to a story in Collingwood Today.*

There is no indication if more are expected after that, but it wasn’t ruled out, either.

More than 425,000 documents. The sheer volume is gobsmacking. Let’s take a look at what that might mean.

It isn’t specified if these are single or multiple page documents. We have to assume at least some are more than a single page. For the sake of easy calculations, let’s say 17% of them have two pages. That brings the number of pages up to 500,000. Now we need to do some calculations about just what the SVJI is doing to your tax dollars and the environment.

One typical ream of paper, and a cat (right).

Start with a base measurement: a standard ream of 20-lb paper is 500 sheets. It measures (in imperial) 8.5 x 11 x 2 inches and weighs 5 lb. Heavier weight paper (24 and 28 lb.) result in thicker and heavier reams. I’ll translate those numbers to metric below.**

Five hundred thousand pages is 1,000 reams of paper. That stacks up to 2,000 inches or 166.7 feet (almost as many as I have feet of books in my home). Just a little wider than an American football field. Laid end-to-end it would be 917 feet long. It would weigh two and a half tons  – about what a mid-size pickup truck or SUV weighs.

According to the Sierra Club, that much paper would take 25-50 full-grown trees (an average 8-inch diameter trunk and height of about 45 feet) to produce – not taking into account any other environmental, industrial or energy impacts from cutting trees to produce the paper. Other sites suggest about 16-17 reams per tree (or about 60 trees to make 1,000 reams)

Paper is sold by the box of 5,000 sheets and the SVJI has 100 cases worth of paper in those documents (printed one-sided). The least expensive paper on the Staples.ca website sells for $54 for a box of low-grade copier paper, but it can rise to $70 or more for better quality paper (heavier, brighter). Assuming the town buys in bulk from a wholesaler, they may pay as little as $40 a case.

The image on the left shows to scale 1,000 reams of paper  – 500,000 sheets – measured against the average male (174 cm or about 5’9″).

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SVJI costs continue to skyrocket

BureaucracyAs I predicted earlier, the costs for Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) are going to climb through the roof. And of course you, the taxpayer, are going to pay for it.

Last month local media carried stories that the SVJI – scheduled to begin this month (November) – wasn’t going to meet its deadlines. It was delayed and would not start until the “new year” (apparently not until February, 2019). Bayshore Broadcasting notes in its coverage*:

The inquiry team had hoped they would start this fall, but Inquiry Counsel Janet Leiper tells us that won’t be possible and that it will be the new year before the public hearings can start. She says that’s because the rest of some of the necessary documents aren’t expected until the end of November.

Three more months of lawyers being paid $400-$700 an hour, plus travel and accommodations , plus the other staff, computers, phone, office space… That’s going to hurt the town’s budget but hey, it isn’t Saunderson’s money he’s spending. And it helped him win the election, so he doesn’t care what it costs you.

The piece also noted the inquiry had already received about 11,000 documents and interviewed more than 60 witnesses, some of whom may need to spoken to again. Ka-ching!**

Alectra – the company that came from the merger of PowerStream and other Ontario utilities – has already submitted more than 4,000 documents, sorted out from about 40,000 the company had from the time period in question. But that’s not enough: the SVJI wants more paperwork from more people.

Alectra’s lawyer, Michael Watson, said that could mean sorting through 100,000-200,000 documents from that period.  Big job. So why not do it twice? The Connection noted:

(Judge) Marrocco suggested the company provide the documents and allow inquiry staff to do a search while Alectra does the same.

Okay, let’s do some cost and time estimates on the effort required to search through 100,000 or more documents.
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Robocalls and smear campaigns

Attack ads

Have you received the robocall yet? Many Collingwood residents have, and every one I’ve spoken to thinks they are in appallingly bad taste. And they are right.

It starts out pretending to be a survey asking who you will vote for in the municipal campaign, but after three questions it turns into a nasty attack ad against mayoral candidate John Trude.

As nasty as the candidate for whose campaign it was created. How low, how cheap and immature a tactic this smear campaign is. Well, not inexpensive – these are a huge campaign expense for a small-town candidate. But money is like politics: it gets dirty when it gets into the mud. And this campaign is in the depths of the mud.

Personal attacks like this – ad hominem attacks – are made against people with principles and ethics by those who lack them. These attacks are crass, low-class, vicious and slimy. Do we really want the sort of person who condones them for our next mayor? Someone who can’t run on his own merits, or on the issues, but instead has to attack his opponents through anonymous phone calls?

If nothing more, this shows how unsuited for the position of mayor Trude’s opponent is. Your election choice is so much clearer now. Collingwood deserves the best and the best doesn’t descend to cheap attack ads or sniping at opponents from the shadows.

Airport sold after secret deal, no public input

According to the Connection, Collingwood’s airport – owned by the taxpayers – was just sold to a private corporation after almost 20 closed-door council sessions. Not once was the public consulted. Not once was the public told WHY or even if selling the airport was good for the community. Not once did Brian Saunderson or his Block puppets warn the public last election campaign that they planned to sell our public asset. 

Not once did Saunderson or the Block or the town administration present a business case in the past four years to show that selling it was good, that it benefitted the town, or compare options for keeping it. It was all done in secret, behind closed doors. Just like everything Saunderson and his cabal do.

There it goes. Sold for $4.1 million – which, if I recall the last appraisal correctly, is $2 million LESS than it was valued at last term. And imagine how much more it would have been worth if Saunderson and his Block had not blocked the commercial development there, with it’s 1,000-plus local jobs!

And that won’t begin to pay the costs of the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry. But that’s really why he’s selling our assets: to pay for his vendettas.

Saunderson wants to be your mayor and his minions want to be on council again. Yet they’ve sold another public asset without once informing or consulting the public, even after their numerous closed-door meetings. Is that REALLY the sort of government you want at the table for the next four years? Haven’t you had enough of their secrecy and deception?

Collingwood deserves better.

A response to Don May

In a recent email, Don May took several shots at me and my integrity. I expected this and similar attacks from Saunderson’s followers – and May is an admitted supporter of Brian Saunderson. I won’t bother to respond to his innuendo or unfounded allegations. However, I want to address one thing May said that is correct: he accused me of having a,

…desire to go back to our former governments of the past.

Leaving aside the obvious tautology (what else could a former government be but of the past?), he’s right: I do want to see Collingwood council return to the ethical, open, honest, publicly-engaged and moral government we had before Brian Saunderson and his cabal got elected. Yes, I want to see a council like the many we had before: one that the public trusted and that put the greater good above their own entitlements.

This term Saunderson and his minions have:

  • Put up roadblocks to stop the hospital’s much-needed redevelopment after meeting behind closed doors four times, and hired a high-priced lawyer and PR consultant to chastise the hospital board in public;
  • Met behind closed doors almost 50 times to decide to sell our public utility without once ever coming into the open to explain why, to present a business case for the sale or to ask for public input;
  • Met behind closed doors almost 20 times to decide to sell our publicly owned airport without once ever coming into the open to explain why, to present a business case for the sale or to ask for public input;
  • Raised our taxes four times while giving themselves a pay raise each time;
  • Raised our town’s debt;
  • Quadrupled the cost of the town’s IT services, hired three new staff and plan to hire two more for that department, plus spend millions to upgrade the system;
  • Launched Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry which will cost taxpayers $2 to $6 million and maybe more simply to satisfy Saunderson’s personal vendettas;
  • Voted an unlimited expense account for Kathy Jeffrey to fly around the country wining and dine at taxpayer expense pursuing her personal political goals.

So it’s little wonder any thoughtful person would want to return to the open, accountable and engaged governments of the past.

But May is entitled to his opinions and if he prefers the Putin-esque style of Saunderson, he’s allowed to do so. I just hope that you, dear reader, are somewhat more politically savvy and don’t want to continue the reign of secrecy, deception, public betrayal and abuse of power we’ve had these past four years.

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