The Block’s worst abuse of power yet

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Abuse of powerI warned you. I warned you The Block would blame others for their own evil acts, that they would scheme and connive to sell your assets behind closed doors, and they would find a way to keep the much-disliked interim CAO on, no matter what the cost to taxpayers. I warned you they would lie, scheme in secret, and behave unethically in order to get their own way. 

And I was right. They did it all, Monday night, behind closed doors.

This week, the town issued a media release that can only be described as the most flagrantly disingenuous statement this municipality has ever made. It says:

In order to ensure the process carries on uninterrupted, Council voted to direct the municipality’s legal counsel at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, and CAO John Brown to continue negotiations with EPCOR and prepare the required draft agreements.

The Block intend to keep paying the sole-sourced lawyer (who, I understand, has already billed the town around $500,000) and its unpopular interim CAO (whose salary is higher than that of the premier of Ontario!) in order to continue the vendetta against our publicly-owned utility, Collus-PowerStream.

These are the same people who not long ago promised they were only “kicking tires” and would get public input before they made any decisions. They lied.

The release adds:

If this process takes longer than expected, the Solicitors recommendation approved by Council allows staff continuity on this matter.

In other words: they intend to keep the highly confrontational John Brown on the payroll even though he was supposed to retire next month – because it was recommended by his buddy the sole-sourced lawyer who is also being paid by the town (he was hired by the interim CAO without any RFP or RFQ). It’s a circle jerk. And The Block are making taxpayers – you! – pay for it. I’ve told you all along: from the very start, they intended to keep his snout in the public trough until the end of this term. The staff who were happily counting down the days to his departure must be mortified.

The release goes on:

This will ensure that Collingwood, and its citizens’ interests are protected given that the existing 2012 Unanimous Shareholders Agreement (USA) limits Council’s ability, for all practical purposes, to engage in detailed public input and disclosure, before Council makes any final decisions on the Town’s remaining hydro shares.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a bigger collection of bullshit in one paragraph than this. Even Donald Trump’s lies barely match it for disinformation. This act is the worst abuse of power this town has ever known, even in a term in which such abuses are regular occurrences.

First, The Block aren’t protecting “citizen’s interests.” They never have and never will. They are promoting their own personal agendas: to punish everyone and everything involved with the successes of the previous council. And, in at least one of them, to lash back at former colleagues and staff in the utility. This has been their private vendetta since day one.

Second, The Block are trying to pretend that suddenly they can’t engage the public when in more than two-and-a-half years they have not made the slightest attempt to do so. They connived about this behind closed doors without once ever discussing it in public, let alone ask for public input. They never intended to engage the public, right from the beginning. The USA is simply a canard. And a lame one at that. Nothing prevents anyone at the table from saying in public why they intend to sell our public utility, nothing prevents anyone from asking for public input. But The Block just have to blame someone else because taking responsibility isn’t in their nature.

And third – the “final decision” has already been made. It was made in secret months ago. Now they’re just polishing up the paperwork. I told you a year ago they would sell to EPCOR.

When the town sold 50% of its share in Collus in 2012, it was done through a very public process. Public meetings were held, public input was sought. The reason for the sale were made public right from the start and it was discussed by council in public at all but the final step when the sealed RFPs were opened. A committee of senior staff, politicians, advisors, lawyers and sector experts was put together to make sure it was done right. Everything was reported and published in local media.

This collaborative business model and the public process were approved by the boards of both Collus and PowerStream, by the councils and administrative staff of the three municipal owners of PowerStream (Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill, plus approvals from Barrie and Aurora) and the council and staff of Collingwood. It was overseen and approved by lawyers representing the two boards and those representing the four municipalities, as well as by the world-renowned consulting firm, KPMG. It was examined and approved by the Ontario Energy Board and then by the NGO, Energy Probe. The finances and payment structure were approved by treasurers in both utilities, in all four municipalities, and those at the OEB. It was highly praised by municipalities and utilities across the province and touted as a model of co-operation for similar future agreements throughout Ontario.

Some of the most experienced and most respected people in Ontario’s electrical sector were involved in the process. Many dozens of people in all areas of management, legal, finance and governance at municipal and provincial levels scrutinized it, read over the details, questioned it, argued over it, debated it and weighed the pros and cons, before it was approved. And they all agreed it was a good deal. 

But now, a group of six inept, inexperienced, ideologically motivated Blockheads, guided by a $700-an-hour sole-sourced lawyer and the interim CAO who himself lacked experience in the utility sector before this term decided that all those people made a bad decision. A handful of people fixated on their own bizarre conspiracy theories are trying to undo it.

How did these people become so misguided? How did they become so morally bankrupt, so utterly unethical and dishonest that they feel compelled to blame others for their own wrongdoing? That they would try to justify the inexcusable lack of public engagement by this transparently shameless attempt to fool us? Is it some collective character flaw? Is it some genetic virus that they all contracted because they breathed too much of each other’s stale air in closed door sessions? Or are they simply incapable of doing what is right?

Why did this group work so hard to alienate our partner, PowerStream instead of working with them? Why did they never allow PowerStream or our own utility board to speak in public at council? Why did none of The Block ever engage our utility partner in dialogue? Not ONE single member of The Block has ever gone to our utility or to PowerStream to discuss ANYTHING with the staff there. But in their ignorance they think they know more about the utility and its operation that its staff  and the industry experts do.

The Block and the administration have, instead, done everything in their power to destroy that relationship, and to alienate the staff at both companies. They broke the excellent shared services agreement, removing the utility’s revenue stream, then whined about not getting a dividend from the utility. They took the cost-effective and friendly IT services out of Collus and created a new town department, hired new employees and bought new equipment – which now costs the town more than double what we paid Collus to provide. They removed the water and wastewater utility from the efficient, cooperative 150-year-old partnership with the electrical utility, created new office space, hired new people and then illegally replaced the experienced water utility board with their own, inexperienced members. They illegally fired the experienced members of the Collus-PowerStream board and replaced them with  inexperienced lackeys.

And now they’re selling the remaining share of our public utility to an out-of-province, for-profit corporation who will not be accountable to you, will not have to report to or answer to the public. And they’ve done it all without even the courtesy of once telling us why. We’ve never been told why they refused PowerStream’s offer (a generous one, my industry sources tell me) to buy the share themselves.

None of this, not one bit of it benefits the public, or the municipality. It stinks of corruption. There’s public money at stake – these backroom deals need to be investigated. And why is the local media silent about it?

If you think this has to stop, if you think it is unethical and immoral to sell our utility without public input, then I suggest you complain to the Ontario Energy Board about the secrecy, about the lack of public engagement, about the abuse of power. Do it now. The OEB can put a stop to this. They don’t want private corporations from outside the province poaching public utilities.

This is a shameful chapter in this town’s history. I have never seen such underhanded, unethical, dishonest behaviour in any local politicians before, certainly not in such numbers. It will take many years after the next municipal election to rinse the foul taste of The Block from our collective mouths, and – once they are all tossed out of office – a long time to rebuild our town’s shattered reputation. But we will never be able to regain our utility or control its rates and services once The Block sell it to a for-profit corporation.

This term has been one disaster after another, and it’s still going on. The Block continue to lie to us, continue to betray the public trust, continue to abuse their power.

Collingwood doesn’t simply deserve better: we NEED it.

~~~~~

PS. If you want to read the whole, sordid history of The Block’s assault on our utility and its staff, to see just how disingenuous and destructive this group is, just type Collus PowerStream in the search box on the right and read the posts

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