Another Secretive, Self-Serving Committee

CouncilThis week, Collingwood Council passed a motion to appoint the Block Five to a new standing committee. The standing committee system, you will recall, is a system of secretive committees that operates predominantly out of the public eye, with limited council attendance, and often without even media presence. Committees conduct town business beyond the pale of accountability. Here’s what they passed (in a 6-3 vote*):

THAT Council approve the Striking Committee recommendation and appoint the following members to the Environmental Services Standing Committee: Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson, Councillor Tim Fryer, Councillor Cam Ecclestone, Councillor Kathy Jeffery, and Councillor Deb Doherty.

Saunderson and Fryer are, as you might also suspect, two of the three striking committee members.

This is the same group of five that voted to remove the long-standing CEO of COLLUS from the Collingwood Public Utility Services board – a man with 35-plus years experience in water services and highly respected across the province for his expertise, talents and his management skills – and replace him with the town’s interim CAO, a man with (as far as I know) little to no experience in those services and no vested interest in the community’s long-term sustainability or well-being.

It’s the same group that previously voted to extend that interim CAO’s contract by another year. Coincidence? Hardly.

Over the past several months since taking office, council has let – perhaps even encouraged – the relationship between the utility board and its staff, and the town’s administration deteriorate significantly. It has allowed a once-productive and mutually-beneficial relationship to grow into a toxic, confrontational environment. The head of the water services, another staff person highly-respected around the province, fled for a better working environment in another municipality.

Consultants were brought in to provide what clearly seemed to outsiders as pre-determined, very negative but erroneous reports about the utilities. Critical comments and responses about the inappropriate and even false conclusions, and the incorrect data used were ignored or buried. This was, metaphorically, Collingwood’s burning Reichstag: the self-created excuse to justify the Block’s subsequent slash-and-burn actions (although outsiders were able to discern the self-serving political motives behind these reports, this group took them at face value).

Then, in a move calculated to destroy the solid, 150-year-old working relationship between the utility services and the town, the same Block Five voted to dissolve the utility board – a group with decades of combined experience in utility services, politics and law – and replace them with a group of inexperienced, novice and ideologically-motivated politicians – themselves. Self serving? Don’t ask….

Water is perhaps the most important issue a town manages. It’s so important that provincial legislation makes politicians personally liable for water quality. So liable that, since Walkerton, municipal officials – elected and staff – can be personally sued and even jailed for not ensuring our water quality meets provincial standards.

And into the hands of the inexperienced and inept Block Five we must now trust our water quality and our safety.

One has to ask why Councillor Tim Fryer had himself put on the board, especially after he initially declined to serve. Fryer was the accountant for COLLUS and the utility services for 30-odd years. He has significant potential for ethical and moral conflicts here with former colleagues. Whether he had a good or bad relationship with them, it strikes me as highly unethical for him to serve on a board that will oversee employees he formerly worked with.

Accounting, by the way, doesn’t substitute for experienced in actually dealing with water quality and infrastructure issues.

The Block Five’s ideology is based on power and control. That’s why this standing committee has all five of them on it, unlike all other standing committees which have just three members of council. And you’ll note that there isn’t a single voice appointed to that board that could challenge their ideological stand. Their control is absolute. And since none of them has any competence in utility management, that is truly frightening.

But don’t be fooled: this isn’t their initiative (they’re not that smart). The Block Five has been backing the administration’s private agenda in this ever since they got elected. For reasons I cannot fathom, town administrative staff have led the charge to dismantle the previously beneficial and friendly relationship with the utility service, although doing so in no way benefits the town or us, its residents.

The Block Five apparently supports that because it dovetails with what their political masters want. Perhaps we should start referring to them as the Collingwood Politburo (another apt political metaphor…).


* The mayor, and councillors Lloyd and Edwards voted against it. I was pleased to see Councillor Edwards speak up against this change, because despite his popularity in the returns, he doesn’t stand for or advocate much at the table. It’s nice to see him show some spine after almost 12 years on council. One, however, has to wonder why Councillor Madigan votes with the Politburo at every turn instead of defending our residents from their avariciousness.

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