WTF. Those three letters crudely but superbly sum up the two-page response made to the two members of council who recently sent out an inappropriate media release, pretending it came from the town. The letter was written by Remo Niceforo, President of Clearview Aviation Business Park. It starts by saying,
Having sought diligently over the past 18 months to obtain an access agreement, this is the first time I have learned (through a media release) of the criteria to be met which might lead to an access agreement.
That’s the first WTF moment. Here’s another:
Your statement that, “the Town does not want to prejudge any negotiations by issuing a statement of intent at this time” confuses me. It is generally accepted in the business community and the courts that a ‘letter of intent’ by its very definition does not prejudge negotiations. It merely speaks to the intent or vision of a particular matter, and identifies a context within which negotiations will occur.
In case you haven’t read the release, you can read it here or read my previous comments on it here. It’s signed by Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson and Councillor Mike Edwards – Collingwood’s own Laurel and Hardy team. You can read the response here. And, of course, you can read my continued opinion about this debacle below.
You’ll note that instead of simply calling the company, talking to someone one-on-one, and explaining what they wanted – i.e. doing their job as elected officials – the two council members chose to send out a vague, meandering, poorly-written (extremely poorly written), confrontational and highly defensive release to the media.
How open and transparent is that?
The release opens with what can only be described as an egregious falsehood:
Collingwood, ON [29 December 2015] – The Town of Collingwood would like to clarify its position with respect to the Regional Airport as a result of some apparent confusion in the media and the public.
This is highly deceptive. The release was not approved by the mayor, nor was it seen and approved by council before it was sent out. It is NOT a town position: it is the personal and private position of the co-signatories.
And I believe it violates in many ways the town’s Code of Conduct, which this council approved and passed into bylaw in September, 2015. That code opens:
Attaining an elected position within one’s community is a privilege which carries significant responsibilities and obligations. Members of Council (comprising the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Councillors) are held to a high standard as leaders of the community and they are expected to become well informed on all aspects of municipal governance, administration, planning and operations. They are also expected to carry out their duties in a fair, impartial, transparent and professional manner.
What is fair, impartial, transparent or professional about sending out a media release that masquerades personal agendas as town business? What is fair or professional about using this method instead of a simple phone call or meeting to discuss the issue?
The code’s preamble continues:
Members are expected to perform their duties of office and to arrange their private affairs in a manner that promotes public confidence and will bear close legal and public scrutiny;
Members are responsible for making honest statements and shall not make any statement when they know that statement is false, or with the intent to mislead other Members or the public…
Well, it may be a confidence game they’re playing, but the public can’t have confidence in their actions. The whole thing is an attempt to mislead and misdirect.
Legal and public scrutiny? This council fired its own Integrity Commissioner last month specifically to avoid having to undergo such scrutiny. And the first thing they do when he’s gone? Conduct themselves in a secretive, deceptive, unethical, unprofessional and immoral manner.
Honest statements? Is it honest when a release pretends to be from the town but is really a personal agenda? Not only that, as the response letter shows, this is the first time in 18 months any mention has been made of these alleged requirements and paperwork mentioned in the release. And in fact, the company followed staff-approved procedures.
Then the release concludes:
The Town of Collingwood, together with the Township of Clearview and the Town of Wasaga Beach, continue to support the annual budget of the Regional Airport, including any operational deficits.
First, the other municipalities provide small grants, but in no way support the airport’s operational deficit. They never have. Second – how can these two members of Collingwood Council speak on behalf of another municipality? They don’t even speak on behalf of their own, yet they presume to speak for other governments. And as I am led to believe, neither of the other municipalities nor the Airport Services Board were asked to comment on, let alone approve, the release before it was distributed.
The code’s section on communications says:
10 COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA RELATIONS
Members will attempt to accurately and adequately communicate the attitudes and decisions of Council or the Local Board, even if they disagree with a majority decision of Council or the Local Board …
a) there is respect for the decision making processes of Council or the Local Board;
b) official information related to decisions and resolutions made by Council or the Local Board will normally be communicated in the first instance to the community and the media in an official capacity by the Mayor/Chair or designate;
c) information concerning adopted policies, procedures and decisions of the Council or the Local Board is conveyed openly and accurately; and
d) confidential information will be communicated only when and after determined by Council or the Local Board.
Let’s look at these items from the code individually:
“Members will attempt to accurately and adequately communicate the attitudes and decisions of Council or the Local Board, even if they disagree with a majority decision of Council or the Local Board…” These two authors did not even share their letter with the rest of council before sending it. This was a personal – and lame – endeavour to cover their collective asses. It didn’t work: they only dug themselves into a deeper hole in the bullshit.
They are not communicating any publicly made decision or publicly expressed attitude of council in this release.
Accurately and adequately: two words one would not use in conjunction with this release. Disingenuous, misleading, deceptive, sly, disinformation, shameful, clumsy… those are far better descriptions.
“a) there is respect for the decision making processes of Council or the Local Board…” How can you respect that process when you don’t even allow council to discuss it? Also, it goes against what the Airport Services Board has three times recommended doing: providing the requested letter of intent. No respect in either case.
“b) official information related to decisions and resolutions made by Council or the Local Board will normally be communicated in the first instance to the community and the media in an official capacity by the Mayor/Chair or designate…” The mayor never even saw this letter let alone designated someone to send it. It is signed by two renegades: Saunderson and Edwards. Nor can it be excused as a letter from the Airport Services Board (Edwards is its chair) because it consistently refers to “the Town”:
The Town’s number one priority at this time is to prevent the wind turbines from being established in the proposed locations, which pose a considerable threat to the future operations of the Regional Airport and any future development.
The Town has granted access to one existing property owner (Genesis Flight Centre), and has not refused to grant access to the airport to other adjacent property owners.
The Town is, and has always been, prepared to consider specific proposals for access on a case-by-case basis. The Town has to date, not received any specific application with sufficient information to assess the proposal.
The Airport Services Board is not even once mentioned in the body, while the “Town” appears nine times. Two council members pretending to speak on behalf of all of council and staff.
“c) information concerning adopted policies, procedures and decisions of the Council or the Local Board is conveyed openly and accurately…” The release contradicts the Airport Services Board’s position, which supported the request and recommended council approve it.
Since this council has conducted all eight of its meetings about the airport this term in secret session, even skulking behind closed doors to avoid public scrutiny this week, there has been no publicly stated policy or procedure about the airport or the letter of intent to share.
“d) confidential information will be communicated only when and after determined by Council or the Local Board…” Again, since all of these discussions were held in camera, it strikes me that even making this personal statement violates the confidentiality of those discussions.*
The code also requires openness in their discussions, a concept that doesn’t seem to have sunk in among the current council:
6 TRANSPARENCY AND OPENNESS IN DECISION MAKING
Members will conduct and convey Council or Local Board business in an open and public manner so that the process, logic and rationale which were used to reach conclusions or decisions are available to the stakeholders.
Since this was all done behind council’s back, over the holidays, in secret, how open and transparent to the public were these two being? How can anyone in the public understand their rationale or logic when it was all done secretively?
Why wasn’t the mayor informed? Perhaps because these two have no authority to send out their own media releases. They certainly don’t speak for the town or for council. But who else did they involve?
9 CONDUCT RESPECTING STAFF
Under the direction of the Chief Administrative Officer or Chief Executive Officer, staff serve the Council or the Local Board as a whole, and the combined interests of all Members as evidenced through the decisions of Council or the Local Board.
Members shall be respectful of the role of staff to provide advice based on political neutrality and objectivity and without undue influence from any individual Member or faction of the Council or the Local Board.
No Member shall compel staff to engage in partisan political activities…
These are important rules: individual councillors have no right to direct staff. Staff serve council as a whole, not the private whims of two wannabe demagogues. This is supposed to be a democratic institution, not a fiefdom.
There is no “political neutrality” here – this was clearly partisan and personal. It solely serves private agendas and personal ideologies, not the greater good.
Were staff coerced into participating? If so, it was done in violation of the Code of Conduct.
If someone argues that the mayor could not sign it or comment on it because she had declared a conflict before previous in camera discussions, thus the deputy mayor had to do so, I suggest you read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (Section 5). No person can declare a conflict on behalf of another. It must be done by the individual and done each time separately. There is no collective declaration for all meetings or eventualities.
Not even giving the mayor the opportunity to make that choice is unethical, underhanded and likely illegal.
You’d think a lawyer would know what the Act says.
Council has one job: to look after the best interests of the whole community. Not grandstanding, not trying to weasel out from under the mess they’ve made for themselves, not finding sly ways to avoid public scrutiny, or bend the rules to their own benefit, not pushing personal agendas or private ideologies or doing favours for unelected buddies. And not screwing around with the truth.
One job: looking out for the greater good. Maybe it’s time this council started thinking about what that means.
Had this been done with proper regard to process and legality, it would have been raised at council and approval received for making a collective statement. In that case, the mayor could have declared a conflict and stepped away. Not giving her that opportunity, and taking personal control of the process, is the municipal equivalent of a coup d’etat.
In my opinion, these two broke many of the rules in their own Code of Conduct by trying to pretend they acted on behalf of the council and town. At the very least, they should be called to account for their actions and made to publicly apologize – to the rest of council and to the public – as well as publicly retract their release.
Frankly, more honourable men would resign for having besmirched their office, council and the town so badly.
* Section 12, CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION, also states:
Under the Town’s or the Local Board’s Procedural By-law, a matter that has been discussed at an in-camera (closed) meeting remains confidential. No Member shall disclose the content of any such matter, or the substance of deliberations, of the in-camera meeting until the Council or committee or the Local Board discusses the information at a meeting that is open to the public or releases the information to the public.
No Member shall disclose or release by any means to any member of the public, any confidential information acquired by virtue of their office, in either oral or written form, except when required by law or authorized by Council or the Local Board to do so. Nor shall Members use confidential information for personal or private gain, or for the gain of immediate relatives or any person or corporation.
This – and the rest of the code – binds both council and members of local boards and committees. Some folks ought to consider that rather more seriously.