Collingwood’s culture of secrecy

Soviet politburoFor the past fifteen months, I have been trying to get a copy of the Request For Proposals (RFP) sent out to potential buyers for the purchase of our public utility. For the past fifteen months, the town has fought me, has refused to hand it over, has challenged my appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC). The public is not allowed to see it, even though it affects us and our once-public utility. Even though it is in the public’s interest to know what has been going on.

Why not? After all, the RFP was released in August, 2016, the responses were received that fall, and this council decided to sell our utility to the for-profit corporation, EPCOR, shortly after. All done, of course, behind closed doors with no public input or engagement. So why not release the RFP? It’s not a legal document, it has no bearing on the sale nor the conditions of proposals. The process is completed.

Seeing the RFP now surely has no effect on any of the already-completed negotiations. But the town still says no. The inescapable conclusion is that the town is hiding something. Something devious, unethical, something The Block don’t want revealed to the public.

The public can’t see it simply because of the deeply entrenched culture of secrecy and deception in town hall. This culture is so ingrained in everything this council does that it acts more like a Soviet politburo than a supposedly open, democratic government.

The RFP was crafted by the sole-sourced lawyer hired by the administration (with The Block’s unanimous approval). He sent it out, not the town, and it was not shared with council. This is not merely highly unusual: it was a deliberate act to ensure the secrecy of this document. Not only can the public not learn to whom the RFP was sent, but what it asked for because now the town can hide behind client-solicitor privilege. Very devious.

That’s right: this was set up to deliberately block public scrutiny. But as you already know, the entire process has been done behind closed doors to avoid all public scrutiny and input. As I wrote before, this council held at least 37 (and possibly more) closed-door meetings about the fate of our public utility yet in three years has never ONCE said why they want to sell it, has never ONCE asked for public comment on the sale. An open, transparent government would not behave like that.

Who can forget the promise made by candidate Brian Saunderson – now deputy mayor, in the Connection before the last election:

Ensure all major decisions seek out community input, and ensure there is rigorous staff research and due diligence before any decision is made.

Continue reading “Collingwood’s culture of secrecy”

What became of Better Together Collingwood?

GullibilityRather amusingly, the Better Together Collingwood website is still online. The latest event noted on the site is a rally for Monday March 25, 2013. Its Facebook page also remains intact, although the most recent post there is dated Jan. 15, 2015. But what are stale-dated entries about non-existent activities of a fake association among friends, eh? Well, it seems the only friends left for BTC are at the council table.

It’s amusing because as a group it ceased to be a functional entity the moment the last municipal election was held and Brian Saunderson won his seat as deputy mayor. That’s because the real purpose of the group – in fact the sole purpose – was to get him and his minions elected. Which it did. After which any pretence of it being a community or citizens’ group was immediately dropped. The gullible people who tagged along thinking they were working collaboratively towards a better community were no longer needed and there was no need to string them along any more.

And it wasn’t as if the organizers sent emails or letters to all members or supporters saying, “Thanks for your efforts, keep up the good work.” Nothing was said about how the groups was supposed to make sure their candidates ALSO toed the line and behaved as they had promised. The Block just turned their backs and walked away. They never looked back. They were too busy taking things apart and breaking Collingwood.

Apparently the organizers and site manager(s) were too busy celebrating their victory to bother to attend to the infrastructure they used to get into power. So the site and FB page remains as ironic reminders of how easy it is to fool some of the people all of the time. You joined? You were conned.

BTC’s sites exist to rub people’s noses into the fact that they actually believed in Brian and his cabal at one time. Few would admit to that these days, of course. Not after three years of deception, secrecy and pursuit or personal agendas and vendettas at public expense by this council.

And where, oh where was the local media coverage of this debacle? Oh right: no harm or criticism ever done to your friends.
Continue reading “What became of Better Together Collingwood?”

EPCOR and The Block’s Big Lie

The Big LieFor all their evils and their wrongs, the Soviets did some things very well: propaganda and disinformation. As one writer commented in the Spectator, “Communist ideology dismissed the idea of truth as a bourgeois construct. What mattered was power; and you baptised as truth those doctrines which provided it.” Stalin defined truth as what he said it was.

The Soviets were such masters at it from an early stage that George Orwell declared that history stopped in 1936; after that there was only propaganda. So good were they at it that their methods and techniques were copied by other states and are still in play in the West, today. And they’re not just in what comes from the Trump administration: both are in play right here in Collingwood, alive and active this very week.

Yes, Collingwood has been subject to the sort of propaganda and deception that has its historic roots in Soviet propaganda.

Continue reading “EPCOR and The Block’s Big Lie”

Open vs secret at Collingwood Council part 2

ScamIn the previous part of this story, I provided dates of meetings and events in the terms of the previous council (on which I sat) and the current council. I documented how last term, the sale of one half the share of our electrical utility (Collus) was sold to the municipally-owned PowerStream (now Alectra) through a very well-documented, open and transparent process. I compared it to the secretive, deceptive process used by The Block on Collingwood Council, and the administration.

Last term, residents and stakeholders were engaged and informed. This term we have been ignored, avoided and lied to. Last term, there was a single in-camera meeting during the 18 month-long process, and that was to open sealed bids.

This term there have been at least 37 closed door meetings about the utility in three years to date, and perhaps more than 40. Last term, everything about the process and the public discussions was covered in the local media (even the number of proposals received was reported last term). This term, only the barest coverage exists, in part because the process has been so secretive that there has been little to report (this term even the number of bids received from the RFP has been kept secret).

Keep in mind, too that in July 11, 2016: Council voted 7-2 (The Block vs Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd) to “explore” selling its share in Collus-PowerStream, even though by then they had already, secretly appointed a sole-sourced lawyer to oversee the share sale. At that meeting, Councillor Madigan disingenuously said, “I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties.” He also said, “You can never be in control if you own 50% of anything,” then voted to sell 100% of the utility! Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson said, “By bringing it out in the public, we’re just letting all parties know that we’re kicking the tires and seeing what’s available.” The hypocrisy and deception was – and remains – rampant among The Block.

In this post I will cover the final year for the process in both terms: 2012 compared to 2017. Since this is still ongoing, and likely will continue until the end of this term (Nov. 2018), I will report on the subsequent events in later posts. But even a to-date comparison shows clearly how much the public has been misled and deceived this term.

There were also public discussions about how to spend the money from the sale last term, and a meeting where public suggestions were invited and received. The council discussion about the sale money continued until mid-2013, when the final decision was made. I have listed those dates, below.

Alectra has recently rejected a demand from the town to buy the town’s share for $12.5 million. The Block’s plan to privatize all of it to a for-profit corporation (and next year to follow through by selling that same corporation our water and wastewater services) is in motion. Under their plan, all of the utility will be owned by an out-of-province company with no local representation, no local say, no transparency or accountability, no local control over services and rates. And all done with no public discussion or consultation.

This process has gone far beyond merely unethical. It has the stench of corruption about it. Secrecy always does. Sole-sourced lawyers and consultants were brought in at great expense to taxpayers to push a one-sided agenda. Public consultation was ignored. Requests from our own utility board and from our municipal partner to make public presentations were refused. Secret deals to pay money from taxpayer funds even if the sale doesn’t go through have been signed. The former interim CAO was retained as a “consultant” at taxpayer expense after he allegedly resigned – done at another closed-door meeting. At the very least, a judicial inquiry into the process should be held, but perhaps the OPP Rackets Squad should be called, too, to determine if public money has been legally and ethically used.

Continue reading “Open vs secret at Collingwood Council part 2”

In camera, closed door meetings in Collingwood, 2015-17

SecrecyUsing the agendas posted on the town’s website, I tallied up the number of Council’s in-camera meetings for three specific topics this term: Collus-PowerStream (including the share sale, shared services agreement, advice from Mark Rodger and board appointments); the hospital redevelopment, and the airport (including the request for a letter of intent and possible sale of the airport).

There are several other items listed for in camera discussion that may be related to one or more of these, but since I could not pair them with motions or later news items, and the listed descriptions were inadequate, I did not include them. I did include three closed-door meetings that I have good reason to believe were related to Collus-PowerStream (CPS) issues. These are council meetings only, and does not include any the standing committee meetings.

Of course, I cannot list any of the numerous one-on-one or small group meetings about these issues held in the interim CAO’s office, nor meetings between the town administration and CPS staff. Note that some of these were special council meetings called specifically to discuss the subject behind closed doors:

Airport: 14 meetings:
2015: Jan 5, Feb 2, Feb 17, Apr 7, May 4, Oct 19, Nov 16;
2016: Jan 4, Mar 21, July 11;
2017: July 17, Aug 21, Sep 11, Sep 25.

Hospital redevelopment: 4 meetings
2016: Apr. 11, Aug 8;
2017: Mar 4, Mar 27.

Collus-PowerStream: 37 meetings, plus three potential
2015: 9 definite, 2 possible (of a total 28 council meetings)
Mar 16? property disposition (agenda description is inadequate);
Mar 28? legal advice (agenda description is inadequate);
Apr 7 shared services;
May 19 shared services;
May 27 shared services;
June 15 shared services;
June 22 shared services;
Aug 4 shareholder’s interest, Collus PowerStream board applications;
Aug 24, board applications;
Sep 8, board applications;
Oct 5 Hydro shareholder update review and services.

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Open vs secret at Collingwood Council

How two Collingwood councils handled the utility sale process very differently

SecrecyLast term, Collingwood Council went through a lengthy, open and public process to sell a portion of its electrical utility, Collus. That open process – with full discussion, community involvement, consultation and public input, and local media coverage – resulted in 50% of the utility being sold to PowerStream (an Ontario-based LDC owned by three municipalities, now merged with Alectra). The shared utility is now called Collus-PowerStream. It’s about to be sold to a private, for-profit corporation based in Alberta.

This term, our town has negotiated in secret to sell our public utility and everything has been done behind closed doors without ANY community input. Compare that to Wasaga Beach where this term’s council discussed the sale of their utility publicly many times, invited comments, conducted online and telephone surveys to get residents’ opinion, help public meetings, and in the end listened to public and chose not to sell.

Our current council has used an excessively secretive, deceptive process to avoid ALL public input so it can sell our remaining share in the utility to EPCOR. without ever once telling the public why it wanted to do so.

By comparing side by side the open process from last term and that used this term, you can see just how secretive this group has been. The closed process this term has led to several investigations, ruined reputations, bad faith, broken trust and open hostility this term (local media has not fully covered this story and the process). And make no mistake: this story is about the process, not about whether selling the utility is a good or bad decision.

But it’s not simply the sale: there has been considerable collateral damage this term, including the loss of several highly-respected and provincially decorated staff members, deteriorated staff morale,  and massive expenses incurred from council and administration interference. Not to mention we lost the golden opportunity to be part of and participate in the operation of Alectra, now Ontario’s second largest and most innovative electrical utility.

Because this is a long piece, I will publish it in two posts. Let’s start at the beginning with an overview. I’ll open in early 2011, in the middle of the previous term, and compare it to January, 2015, barely a month into the current term.

Continue reading “Open vs secret at Collingwood Council”

The secrecy and deception behind Collingwood’s utility sale

Shady dealsMeetings held behind closed doors late into the night. Personal vendettas. Kickbacks. Conspiracy theories. Scams and phony reports. Backroom deals. Unethical politicians conniving. Dubious legality. Shady characters pulling strings from the shadows. Scheming. Minions acting like thugs. Cowardice. Hidden contracts. Lies and deception. A deal they can’t refuse. A financial shell game. The betrayal of public trust.

If that sounds like the ingredients for a crime novel, to me it reads like Collingwood Council’s secretive, unethical “process” to sell our public utilities. The public was betrayed by The Block. The process has a stench of corruption about it. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Monday night, The Block voted to sell our electrical utility; only the remaining two ethical and honourable members of council – Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd – voted against the deal. And what a “deal” it is – crafted in secret, without any public consultation or input, and giving away the keys to the candy store to a for-profit buyer. It screws Collingwood. What little we know about it only illuminates the devious scheming that went on behind it. For example:

Other terms of the sale include a 25-year lease of the Collus PowerStream property and operations centre from the Town, job and location guarantees for Collus PowerStream employees, and a contribution of $150,000 towards the Waterfront Master Plan, one of the community’s biggest priorities, as identified in the Community Based Strategic Plan.

Since when does a utility sale become contingent on a “contribution” for an unrelated project like the waterfront? When you buy a car, do you have to “contribute” to the dealership’s coffee fund? Or to the salesman’s kid’s little league uniforms? Sure sounds like blackmail to me. And who signs a 25-year lease for anything, let alone an old, outdated building without any commitment by the owner to upgrade or maintain it?

And will the OEB permit a utility sale to be contingent on a 25-year lease? Or a kickback for the waterfront? My industry sources suggest not.

Council “offered” the share sale to its partner, Alectra simply because the shareholders’ agreement (USA) required it. Alectra already offered to buy it earlier this year (outside the RFP process; the amount undisclosed, but industry contacts suggest the offer was likely $10-11 million) but The Block turned them down. Without saying why, of course. But we know they were already in bed with EPCOR.

The latest price demanded by the town is highly inflated – it includes unrelated items to bump up the asking price by $2-3 million (or more) above the actual value. Why? Because The Block want the municipally-owned, Ontario-based Alectra to refuse so the town can buy it back and then sell the whole thing to the out-of-province, for-profit EPCOR:

If Alectra opts to buy the Town’s shares at the same price as EPCOR has offered, Alectra will become the sole owner of the utility. If Alectra opts to sell its shares, EPCOR will become the sole owner of the utility.

See? It’s already decided. EPCOR wins. The deal was made behind closed doors.

That’s a direct quote from the town’s own media release. This whole deal was connived in secret to sell it to EPCOR, without any public discussion, much less consultation. It’s very dirty; from my viewpoint, it’s negotiating in bad faith with our existing partner. If this isn’t corruption, then the definition has been changed since I was in office.

EPCOR will get $1 million even if Alectra buys it. That’s $1 million of YOUR money paid out as a kickback. Plus the town has agreed to pay a portion of EPCOR’s legal fees. Why? As the Connection reported, that was one of those sleazy backroom deals The Block cut:

If Alectra chooses to buy the town’s shares, $1 million would be transferred to EPCOR for their time during the process. Rodger said the town would pay a portion of the legal fees for the deal, as would the purchaser.

Continue reading “The secrecy and deception behind Collingwood’s utility sale”

The Block are privatizing our public assets

sneakySo Brian and his Block minions want to sell our airport. Our publicly-owned asset. And they’re doing it without even the pretence of the courtesy to tell us why. No public input, no public engagement, no open discussion over it. In the flaccid Connection story, it notes,

In November, 2016, deputy mayor Brian Saunderson asked Clearview Township Deputy Mayor Barry Burton if his municipality was interested in taking over operation of the airport.

As usual, the slavish local media drool over their buddy Brian, but cleverly neglect to point out that Saunderson is neither the spokesperson for the town (and has no authority to make such a request), nor does he even sit on the airport board. Any such request should be made officially by the town to Clearview Council, as a group. And yet the paper has no critical comment about how sneaky and underhanded this process has been. Ah well, local media gave up its credibility years ago.

Now, I know that egregious secrecy on The Block’s part doesn’t surprise my readers by now. In almost three years of their term, The Block have never once publicly divulged the reason for any of their destructive rampages through our community. They – who promised us openness and transparency during the election campaign – have rightfully earned the nickname The Most Secretive Council Ever. And several less printable but equally deserved nicknames, of course. But they just love secrecy and conniving in back rooms. They’re addicted to it, a habit they can’t break.

The Block have not told us why they want to sell our public utilities to a private, for-profit corporation out of Edmonton. They have never told us why they are in a libertarian frenzy to privatize our public assets and utilities without public input. They didn’t tell us why they created a new IT department in town hall, hired three new staffers and are spending two-three times the cost to operate it than we used to pay for in the shared services agreement. They didn’t tell us why they illegally fired the water utility board, or the electrical utility board and replaced them with their own secretly-chosen patsies (or put themselves on the board, instead). They didn’t tell us why they separated the water utility from the effective, efficient, 150-year-old working partnership with the electrical utility (and now the water utility is in chaos). And they didn’t tell us why they threw up roadblocks to stop the much-needed hospital redevelopment.

So no one really expected them to start acting all open and transparent now, over the airport. They are, after all, The Block. They live up to their name at every meeting.
Continue reading “The Block are privatizing our public assets”

Collingwood deserves answers

The Most Secretive Council Ever
The Most Secretive Council Ever has never told the public why it has been so intent on damaging this community. We have never had an explanation why they are so inflexible, so hostile to other ideas, so adversarial to opinions other than their own. We have never been told why they are so focused on their own entitlement and give no thought for or support to the residents and taxpayers in Collingwood.

We have been kept in the dark about their motives and goals while The Block continues its destructive rampage against community institutions through these past two and a half years.

So much hatred, so much anger, so much selfishness, so much secrecy and deviousness in one council. This lowering of standards is unprecedented. But the electorate deserves to know why they were betrayed by the people they voted for, deserves to know why so many campaign promises were broken, why personal agendas and vendettas take precedence over the greater good.

We should and be told in public, not have The Block scurry behind closed doors as it always does when anything important or controversial is raised. And you know the local media will NEVER ask them why, or ask the tough questions about their motives.

So here is my list of things we want to know. I’m sure it’s not complete and you, dear reader, could add more to it.

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Council in panic mode

The Block in panic modeCollingwood Council has graduated from inept bumbling and stumbling to fully-fledged, sky-is-falling, Henny Penny panic mode, it seems. A special meeting has been called to try and do damage control over the Monday night fiasco about the hospital.

The Block divided the community, alienated their supporters, and fostered division and acrimony. No bandage will heal those self-inflicted wounds. So they panic.

The meeting was called today for tomorrow, Saturday, March 4. It is another in-camera meeting – this council LOVES to go behind closed doors to discuss everything and avoid public scrutiny. The agenda says:

4. IN-CAMERA
THAT this Council proceeds in camera in order to address a matter pertaining to:
* a proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board; (a)
* advice that is subject to solicitor/client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose; (a)
Items for discussion: a) Hospital Redevelopment

Deputy Mayor Saunderson spoke about expropriation in his argumentative cross-examination of David Finbow, Monday. I inferred from his comments that the town was eager to start legal proceedings that will oust residents from their property in the vicinity of the hospital. My guess for this meeting: The Block will scream “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” and demand staff start panic-expropriating homes around the hospital. They will then try use that to bribe the hospital board into choosing the current site for its redevelopment.

But why would they propose expropriating ANYTHING until the hospital had made a planning application? Like the two reports that set up the initial roadblocks to the hospital redevelopment, this is another pointless, premature action sure to further annoy the hospital board. It sure won’t make the Ministry of Health look more favourably on Collingwood’s intransigence towards the redevelopment.

And it will mean more legal fees YOU have to pay because apparently a lawyer will be in attendance: “…subject to solicitor/client privilege.” Wasting taxpayers’ money on Machiavellian schemes cooked up in secret has never given The Block cause for thought in the past, so why should it bother them now? After all, tax money grows on trees, right?

Given the notice of motion filed this week by Councillor Lloyd for inclusion in the March 13 council meeting, this will likely be a waste of time, too. He is requesting staff include the hospital in the “employment lands” category, and to support the G&M’s proposed Poplar Sideroad location.

They can’t do both – expropriate and support the greenfield site – no matter how hard The Block try to suck and blow at the same time. They have to decide. It’s a shit-or-get-off-the-pot motion.