The 50% Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one in the utility board, on council or staff or in the public wanted to give up control over the utility. That was clear from the start. So the maximum we would sell was 50%. Period.

This was all raised in public meetings and council presentations long before any other action was taken: we agreed we wouldn’t sell enough to lose control over our utility. No one objected then, no one raised any concerns at public meetings. So we moved forward. We asked how much someone wanted to pay for their share of the meal.

The town sent out a request for proposal for bids up to the remaining 50%. Get that? We asked respondents to tell us how much they were willing to pay, up to but not more than half.

And all of the respondents – not wanting any of our dry rub and lager, yet wanting to leave the table with a full belly – came back with an offer to buy exactly 50%. No less, no more than half. Half or nothing. All of them did.

That’s right: no one came back with a lower offer. No 10%, no 25%, no 49%. All of them offered to pay exactly 50%.

And given all that, the open process and the responses, the decision council and the board, with the KPMG consultant and the town’s CAO present, made at its in-camera meeting in December, 2011, was to accept a fifty-fifty split from one of the respondents. Equal partners, fairly divided.

And since that possibility had been discussed publicly, and no one objected- no one in the utility, on council, on the strategic planning committee, in the public or in the media – it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when it was announced that was how the cost of the meal would be divided: in half.

Sure, it would have been wonderful if some utility had offered to pay the costs of half the utility but only taken, say, a 10% share. But that’s not a reasonable or realistic thing to expect in a business transaction. And that’s what it was: a business transaction with lawyers and the Ontario Energy Board and councils and utility boards and a strategic planning committee involved. And the public.

Don’t ever forget that the public was involved and informed every step of the way. You can still read the stories in the local media, online.

No conspiracy, no mysterious machinations done in dark corners or secret meetings. It was all done openly, above board and discussed in public long before any decisions were finalized.

I’ve written about this in the past but it seems some folks on council and in town hall are still bent and determined to find a conspiracy lurking in there. They think someone is hiding something and they are obsessive about finding it. Fanatical, even. And they’re wrong.

There’s no needle in the haystack – the haystack being the tottering mound of papers, contracts, agreements, minutes, reports, newspaper stories, and emails that document the whole process. A stack of papers provided by the utility and staff to town hall (in some cases several times over) in which no one can find a conspiracy, no one can find wrongdoing.

Nothing, in fact, has been found to justify the hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars wasted on out-of-town consultants and lawyers, in harassing emails sent to utility staff, in hundreds of hours of wasted effort to pursue what appears a private vendetta, in the damage done to our town’s reputation and our relationship with our municipal partner, in the shattered morale of town and utility staff over the relentless assaults.

Not finding anything hasn’t stopped town hall from digging and digging and demanding and harassing and needling and demoralizing for almost two years. It hasn’t stopped council from going behind closed doors time after time to cook up some new attack, some new conspiracy.

It’s time for it to stop. It’s despicable, it’s unethical, it’s underhanded and it’s simply wrong. The damage already done to our town, to our institutions, to our staff is inestimable. And you can blame council and its vendetta-fueled ideology for that.

It’s time for the administration to get back to doing the town’s business, to doing what they are paid to do, and for council to put aside this childishness. Stop this nonsense and get back to work. It’s gone on long enough, cost far too much and it’s hurt far too many people in its mad rush. We, the people of this town, deserve better.

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