We’re Screwed. Royally.

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Screw the taxpayer!By now you know what I’ve been warning you about all along: Council is selling our public electrical utility. After harassing, bullying and hectoring our utility staff, they decided to simply get rid of a 150-year-old public institution that has served this town so well all this time. We’re screwed.

And you’ve had how much input on this crucial issue? Right: exactly none. And council has no intention of giving the public a say. This is a fait accompli: an autocratic act so despicable that words fail me. These people are truly evil in the fullest sense of that word. Democracy be damned, say The Block. They will do what they want regardless of the damage it does to you, to staff, to our reputation and relationships.

Everything about our utility has been done in secret, behind closed doors, with administrative staff skulking in the shadows, pulling the strings while the Bobbleheads nod in agreement to what they’re told. Never once thinking for themselves, they’ve swallowed the corporate hook, line and sinker. But that line has been tainted with untruth.

This merely ices the cake of the unmitigated disaster this term has proven. Secrecy, lies, corruption, conniving, destruction, vendettas and personal agendas. That’s the sum total of council to date. What a legacy.

And it will get worse. Much, much worse. The screwing of the taxpayer will continue until we can elect an group that isn’t ethically challenged, in their place. Collingwood deserves much better.

I gave you warning this was coming, months ago. The media… didn’t. But we don’t expect anything from them these days, so that’s not surprising.

So how did council inform you they were about to change the entire structure of the community’s public service? That they wanted to divest themselves of our half of the public utility that YOU own? It wasn’t on the agenda for July 11. There was this, however:

THAT By-law No. 2016-051, being a by-law to authorize the Shareholders’ Directive between PowerStream and the Corporation of the Town of Collingwood, be enacted and passed this 11th day of July, 2016.

Did you read bylaw 2016-051 in the agenda? Of course not: it wasn’t in the agenda package. You’re not allowed to see it.

Instead, here’s what they passed, after a lengthy in camera meeting, when the cameras were off, and even the media had left for the night. It was raised with no prior public notice or media watching. The public trust was breached.

Moved by Councillor Madigan, Seconded by Deputy Mayor Saunderson:
WHEREAS Town Council considers it prudent and appropriate to actively explore the potential sale of the Town’s remaining 50% interest in CollusPowerStream;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct Mr. Mark Rodger of BLG and Senior Town staff to commence discussions with and facilitate all associated due diligence and other preparatory work with potential transaction partners for the sale of the Town’s remaining interest in CollusPowerStream and to report back to Council as Town Staff considers necessary.

Voting in favour: Saunderson, Fryer, Edwards, Ecclestone, Jeffery, Doherty, Madigan. The Block and their minions.*

Only two brave people voted against this blatant abuse of power: Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd. The rest are happy, nay eager, to destroy everything good, efficient and dear to this town. And they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In 20 months, everything they and their pet administration have touched has broken or been made toxic. And they haven’t finished yet.**

You were promised openness and transparency. You got sneaky, underhanded villainy. We’re screwed.

Just read this article: Hydro horror stories: tales from rural Ontario.

Residents of rural Ontario are outraged by ever-increasing hydro bills and the constant threat of disconnection. Facing an unresponsive utility provider, Hydro One customers from across the province are speaking out.
In the past three days alone, Global News has received more than 400 emails and messages from concerned Ontarians frustrated by the lack of government transparency and the apparent disregard with which industry regulators treat their concerns.

And this one: Hydro One’s billing practices: You can’t win for losing

Hydro One’s billing practices in rural Ontario are even worse than they appear at first glance. Last week I mentioned that delivery charges for rural customers can be almost as much as the cost of power used… So if you’re not using any power, you pretty much have to shut off the service in order to avoid charges. Of course, then you’ll be dealing with a possible security deposit to get it back on. In other words, you can’t win for losing.

Now imagine it happening here because that’s what this council intends: to sell our utility to Hydro One (they opened secret discussions in 2015!), and abdicate control and responsibility to our local consumers. So what if the rates skyrocket? What does council care? They’ll just give themselves another raise to cover the costs. The rest of us: we’re screwed.

Let me (again) give you a little history: four years ago, the previous council went through the exercise looking at a possible sale and partnership. We held public meetings, sent out media releases, we engaged one of the world’s largest consulting firms (KPMG) to oversee the process, we created a special task force to examine all the options, opportunities, and challenges. We explored, we researched. We had presentations and reports. We did our due diligence and got approval through the Ontario Energy Board for everything we did. All above board and open.

But we deemed it important to the community at large not to lose control of a crucial utility, so we didn’t want to sell more than 50%. Once control is sold, you can never get it back. Once control is lost, we have no say over local hydro rates, or quality of service. We felt that to lose control would screw the taxpayers. Guess what just happened? We got screwed.

We will also lose local jobs when our half is sold. A new owner will move its operation out of town. The only thing keeping the jobs here is our half. But The Block doesn’t care about your jobs or the economy. Only their ideology matters.

Four years after last term’s very open, public process, this council plans to sell our half of the utility – sell our control – without any public input, without any research, without a world-class consulting firm to help guide the process. Because, of course, this council already knows everything, and doesn’t want its petty vendetta watered down by public input or advice. Well, they do listen to the honeyed, toxic words in flawed reports and from obsequious staff when those words stroke their egos.

A story in the Collingwood Connection*** quotes Dep. Mayor Saunderson and Coun. Doherty making inane, uninformed comments about the process. They clearly know nothing about what we did four years ago, or about the energy sector in general. Saunderson said, no doubt highlighting the irony in his remarks:

“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. It’s a quickly changing landscape.”

Bringing it “out in the public”? It was only made “public” when the motion was presented Monday, after the cameras were off and the media had left! After 20 months of secret discussions and closed-door meetings. With NO public input.

The Most Secretive Council Ever doesn’t bring anything “out in the public.” Last term, we had experts, people well-versed and experienced in the electrical sector make public presentations and gather public input. This term? Ambulance chasers and two-person buddy consultant firms and no one else gets to speak.

Couldn’t just one of The Block or its minions ask to read a copy of what was reported publicly back then? Or is showing your ignorance preferable? It was a “quickly changing landscape” four years ago, which is why last council took the steps it did. Apparently, you weren’t paying attention.

Kicking the tires? I know it’s not a requirement to actually read or research in order to get elected, and doing so is anathema to The Block’s know-it-all ideology, but the process was only four years ago! Couldn’t just one of them actually look up what we did? Figure out why we went through the legitimate process we followed? Read something about it?

This isn’t news. Collingwood was ahead of the curve in 2012 when the last council took this initiative. This council is merely trying to ride those coattails and pretend what they’re doing isn’t what we did four years ago. And we’re no longer a small utility: we’re partnered with a huge utility corporation. but apparently they haven’t realized that yet.

The deliberate ignorance of this issue, the deliberate refusal to do the necessary due diligence and actually read the facts instead of swallowing the spoonfed pablum, appalls me. Feckless and reckless is a bad combination. But that’s what we have until 2018.

The board of Collus asked many times to come before council to answer questions and discuss issues in public. But The Block refused to allow them to make representation because it would tell the public the truth.

Instead, The Block fired all of its independent, competent Collus board members and replaced them with with inexperienced, subservient staff who would stop asking for a chance to make the utility’s story public. Truth won’t be allowed to pollute the lies The Block likes to tell about the process, about the people. They can’t have their mythologies questioned.

Remember the shared services agreement? The one between Collus and the town that was supposed to have been updated before the sale, but the person responsible failed to even get it started (you know who I mean…)? In late 2014, it was turned over to the interim CAO and was supposed to have been updated early last year. We’re still waiting. It appeared on this week’s agenda only to be MIA when it came time to approve it.****

What should have taken an afternoon to complete has dragged on over 20 months while the town stripped away the water side, adding greatly to the town’s costs (i.e. you, the taxpayer’s costs), demoralizing staff in the process, and leaving only IT and billing in the hands of Collus to possibly share. How long can it take to draft an agreement for two services? Apparently forever because once again, it failed to materialize. But the town never had any intention of signing it. The Block intends to incur the costs in house – meaning more expenses, equipment and staff for taxpayers – you – to shoulder.

And that vaunted $750,000 a year savings the interim CAO promised us when The Block tore the water utility away from Collus? The one Saunderson boasted about back in March? It’s now an expense, not a saving. I expect it will cost us hundreds of thousands a year (staff, equipment, office space, training, benefits, moving servers to town hall…). It will not save us money. But no one outside The Block and their mouthpieces ever pretended to believe that.

In a word: we’ve been screwed.

This is a scandal. Why, oh why, has no one filed a complaint to the OPP to have this clear and evident corruption investigated?

Collus and its employees deserve better. Collingwood deserves better.

~~~~~
* Here’s another consideration: council already approved looking at alternatives, buried in the 2016 budget that they never actually read. It seems that in the six months since then, nothing has been done. But we have paid the CAO’s salary ($225,000 a year) and the escalating legal bills for that time. What have they been doing to justify the costs? The secret negotiations with Hydro One were held in 2015. Our sly, secretive council doesn’t reveal this stuff to the public, and only discusses it behind closed doors.

** And what about the potential conflict of interest? Mark Rodger is also a broker for utility sales. Don’t you think there’s bound to be a conflict with his handling it? Will he get a commission from this sale? The Block doesn’t care. They shrug off their own conflicts at the table, so why worry about others? But surely the OEB would be interested in this debacle.

*** The EB didn’t even bother to lift the phone to actually ask questions for its lame story. As a former reporter and managing editor of that paper, I am ashamed by its slovenly, inaccurate and biased coverage of local events. Once the paper of record, it doesn’t merit lining birdcages these days. It’s a sorry excuse for a newspaper.

**** We should demand that any cost overruns be billed to the consultants and staff who quoted that figure in the first place, and if they don’t pay, the amount be docked from the salaries of council and the interim CAO. Why should taxpayers pay for bullshit?

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