Their secret emails, redacted

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More secrecy at councilA Freedom of Information (FOI) request I recently filed shows just how devious and secretive some of our council and administration are. You can read the entire series here. The cover letter is here (it is instructive…).

In late July, Council approved sending out a request for proposals (RFP) to sell our share in our publicly-owned electrical utility (without any public consultation or input, of course). On July 25, the clerk – on behalf of the interim CAO – sent an email to council members asking for input (with, of course, no public discussion or input allowed):

Further to the direction provided to Mark Rodger with respect to his exploration of our potential share sale, John Brown would like to invite any member of Council to think about other items you may wish considered in a share bid (besides price). If you have items please send an email to John or set up a meeting to discuss.
Other items could include retaining a local presence, commitment to customer service, treatment of existing employees, etc…

I can find no directive from council made in a public session to get this information: it appears to have been dreamt up solely by the administration. The tail wags the dog.

This, of course, should have been discussed in public so residents could hear what their elected representatives believed was expected from a sale that no one in the public has so far been allowed to comment on or question. But that’s not the style of The Most Secretive Council Ever. Instead, they determine policy about a public asset in secret through emails rather than open, honest discussion at the table.

Illegal, immoral and unethical. But not surprising from The Block. As I expected, some of the emails were redacted to the point of being useless (thus cleverly avoiding public scrutiny and criticism):

Access Decision: Records No. 1-5 and No. 10-13 will be released to you in full. Records No. 6-9 will be released to you in part as per the exemptions listed on the Index form provided. These records remain confidential at this time and under the review of the Town’s solicitor. In addition, should this preliminary information be released it could potentially affect the economic interests of the Town as it relates to the potential share sale of our hydro utility.

The “economic interests” of the town? The RFP has already gone out. revealing the comments would not affect the wording since it’s already gone out, and anyway, the OEB will make the final decision about any deal.

Consider what damage The Block has already done to our town’s economic interests: trying to subvert the hospital redevelopment, holding up the airport industrial park, spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on outsiders for reports and legal advice solely to pursue vendettas and private agendas, ruining our relationships with municipal neighbours, with local developers, destroying the morale of our water and electrical utilities, jobs lost… everything they have touched this term has been a toxic disaster. They have turned our town into Chernobylwood…

For those councillors who didn’t want to commit themselves to writing (fearing, possibly, that FOI requests would expose their comments to public scrutiny, or simply being unable to cobble a coherent letter together…), they could meet in secret with the interim CAO:

Meetings with John can be arranged through Cindy Strong, as copied above.

Councillor Lloyd was the first to respond, writing to the clerk:

With all due respect, I find it ironic that administration would be asking for this information at this time. Perhaps we should follow the example of last terms procedure, when clear criteria were laid out in public in an open and transparent manner and approved, prior to any sale. I have no further input.

Last term the possible sale was openly discussed at the table, there were public meetings and information sessions, a strategic committee was formed to work with a renowned, world-class consulting firm (KPMG) to determine and make public the goals of any sale. There are documents, minutes and video records to examine how it was approached. Openly.

Remember openness? It’s a cornerstone of democracy. We had it last term.

But although Lloyd’s response was sent to the clerk, the interim CAO just had to respond instead. And he did so with what strikes me as condescension and sarcasm (not the sort of behaviour we expect from a chief executive). He copied all of council (reproduced here with all his original spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar intact):

Councillor Lloyd ,
again , you have misunderstood the message .
However I note your lack of interest in participating as a member of the Collingwood council in deciding what ,if any , interest ,other than cash ,council might hope for /expect from any potential interest expressed through councils direction to mr roger

Lack of interest? That strikes me as an insult to Lloyd’s integrity. Lloyd replied:

John,
The only one who is misunderstanding my message is you. Perhaps you should take the time to review the process and criteria laid out last term before you make such derogatory comments about my lack of interest.
Councillor Lloyd

And the interim CAO again responded with what seems yet more sarcasm and condescension:

Kevin
I had no intention to be derogatory. I was simply interpreting your comments as I understood them.
You were referring to “process “and the intent of the clerks opportunity related to “detail”.
Perhaps any future misunderstandings or the potential to misunderstand could be avoided if you would stop your refusal to communicate with me , and resist issuing widely spread e mails of a critical nature in the absence of your full understanding of various matters (gained through communicating ).
Kevin this was (is) an opportunity for your inclusion in the interest of the towns citizens , not an opportunity for criticism of the administration or council for a direction they approved .
I hope we can get over this obstacle you have created in effective communication between us in the best interest of those we serve and those we both work with in doing so .
As a post script, I know the previous process very well and I do not agree with your view of it

Apparently the interim CAO believes that any opposition to him is not in the town’s interest. After watching two years of this council and his administration, I think the opposite is true. Only staunch opposition may save us from them.

And although the interim CAO shared his own emails chastising Lloyd with the rest of council, when Lloyd does so, it clearly annoys the interim CAO:

I had thought to be respectful and keep this issue between the two of us.
You have chosen to share it , which is your right .
You may want to share this too .
John.

I would call this attitude insubordinate and unprofessional. But I’m not on council to challenge him.

In record 4, Deputy Mayor Saunderson opts for a private meeting. This is the man who promised during his election campaign that we would have public input on every major decision. Now he scurries into the corner office for secret meetings about a public utility. Well, who finds that surprising nowadays?

Councillor Doherty’s response was heavily redacted:

Good morning John,
Thank you for the opportunity. This request leads me to assume that the process is progressing quickly,which is a good thing.
Two items on my “wish list” would be:
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
My $0.02 anyway. Let me know if you have any questions.
Deb

But it is noteworthy that the councillor who earlier told media her group only wanted to “kick the tires” is happy about the process moving well past that stage – without any public consultation and all conducted in secret.

Mark Rodger, the lawyer who is trying to get the share sold (and may have a conflict of interest over doing so), responded to Doherty:

Deb,
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
Thanks for the input.

Ah, these folks do love to avoid public scrutiny, don’t they? But that brought a rebuke from the interim CAO, who apparently must control everything himself, even emails:

Mark,
Another input into the next step .
Can you contact me before you reply ( if you were intending to reply , as I was not envisaging you replying to individual comments).
john

Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey took a break from partying around the country at your expense to write this:

Good morning Sara. Thank you for the opportunity to have additional input as we delve into this matter further.
Your suggestions are valid ones for me: retaining a local presence, maintaining/increasing local jobs, meeting or exceeding our current standards of customer service. It is also important that the potential shareholders be able to
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
(redacted line)
Cheers

No doubt she managed to get it written between her servings of champagne and warm brie… ah the life of a jetsetter with unlimited expenses, unaccountable to the public…

These councillors have no experience or education in the energy sector; they are not on any local board or committee related to energy, they have never sat in on a Collus board meeting and The Block never spoken to Collus staff about anything related to their business. Anything these councillors can suggest will only be of a generic nature. Piffle, most likely.

If so, why redact them? Simple: The Block cherishes secrecy. Even inconsequential content cannot be exposed to public scrutiny.

Redacting their comments only strengthens Collingwood’s well-deserved reputation for being secretive: for not releasing complete records. It goes together with charging excessively to retrieve records in order to deter inquiries. This a transparent attempt to foil public scrutiny.

Councillor Edwards found his spine and echoed Councillor Lloyd’s sentiments:

Good morning Sara,
I would like to suggest that the criteria or conditions of bidding on a possible purchase of our shares include those items that were established for the initial sale of up to 50% of our shares in Collus. I believe a lot of thought and expertise went into that process and would be of benefit now. I cannot remember all of those items but there should be a record on hand as they would have been included in the packages given out to potential buyers.
Thank you,
Mike

Bravo. I had hoped it meant he would stand up for things in future, but apparently it was only temporary. To his email, the Deputy Mayor sent his own email, addressed to the interim CAO alone, with just this:

?????

Somehow I expected something vaguely more literate, maybe the use of a noun or even a verb, but it is what it is. And the interim CAO responded (to Saunderson, alone):

I was going to reply ( I had a memo written to him explaining it ) however I forwarded it to mark and will provide the context to him.
I intend to send an e mail to mike suggesting he should come in and meet so that he better understands.
john

Mike Edwards was on the board of Collus, was on the last council that went through the lengthy, public process to sell 50% of the share. He sat in on the presentations, on the consultant’s reports and in the in camera sessions where the decisions were made. To suggest he doesn’t understand strikes me as an attack on his integrity. Not to mention condescending.

And what is it with Saunderson and Brown and their little snickering tete-a-tetes about other councillors like school kids? Why is the interim CAO discussing his correspondence to another councillor with the DM? This level of disrespect flatters neither party, but sure says a lot about them.

So then the interim CAO chastises Edwards and suggests he better come in for re-education:

Mike,
Things are quite different from the last councils exercise resulting in the 50% sale.
If you would like to drop in I will explain to you .
John.

Edwards meekly agrees and put his spine back under his bed:

John,
Will try to drop in next week. Likely Tuesday or Wednesday. Mike

Flogging will continue until morale improvesI suspect that in that meeting he was verbally flogged, told his place, dressed down, condescended to, and reminded never, ever to speak his mind again. Behave like the rest of The Block, or you won’t get your warm milk and cookies. When we want your opinion, we’ll tell you what to say. And, no doubt, tail between his legs, he scurried away.

There were no emails from Councillors Fryer, Ecclestone or Madigan. Perhaps they met the interim CAO in private (they do love their secrecy…). Or perhaps they simply had nothing to say. The latter two are masters at that particular art.

I hoped that Fryer, who was CFO at Collus when the first share sale was conducted, would speak up. He is well aware of the process, the openness and the public consultation, the lengthy discussions – regardless of whether he agreed with the sale. The ethical thing to do would be to speak out and correct the misrepresentations. Set the record straight. Be honest about the process.

But ethics and honesty were never big in The Block’s vocabulary. Or even there.

Mayor Cooper does not seem to have responded, but given the exacerbated animosity between her and the interim CAO, I’m not surprised.

This is another example of how your council and this administration conduct business. Important discussions that should rightfully be held in public, openly and transparently, are done behind closed doors and via emails. They do everything they can to avoid public scrutiny and exposure.

Collingwood deserves better.

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