You’d think politicians would learn from the recent investigations into Senate spending and the Mike Duffy trial, that Canadians have no tolerance for the gimme, gimme, gimme of politicians. Canadians don’t like the smell of a sense of entitlement.
A lesson lost, it seems, on our own Collingwood Council. The stench of entitlement is strong at the table these days. And much it emanates from Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey.
Last year, Jeffrey cut the cheese when she decided to pursue personal political ambitions by getting onto the board of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Since the FCM board meets all over Canada – except, of course, in Collingwood – she needed more money in her expense account – limited to $4,500 tax dollars annually for councillors – to attend.
Plus, campaigning for the board – printing those flyers and schmoozing – was too expensive for a mere $4,500 if you still wanted to get in a few bottles of bubbly and some canapes. Better to have taxpayers pay for it.
So she got the Politburo – aka the Ideological Block – at the council table to back her request to add another $10,000 from taxpayers’ pockets every year onto her expense account. That’s $14,500 a year of your money!
Now she would be able to fly, wine, dine and party around the country in style, at your expense, without shelling out of her own pocket. No cold Camembert and stale crackers for our councillor!
And during the discussions about council giving her more money, she stayed at the table, spoke in public in favour of her own entitlement and, yes, voted to give herself more money.
You’d think it couldn’t get much stinkier than that – entitlement dripping with unethical juices and topped with a heaping of conflict – but it can. And it did.
Only a month earlier this year, council cut back her lavish expenses at budget time, to a mere $7,500 extra a year (still a total of $12,000 of your taxes every year for her highness…). But that trimming evidently miffed our wannabe Senator.
It wasn’t enough! After all, it might mean she had to order the cheaper bottle of wine at dinner. Or have the chicken instead of the filet mignon. Only get a dozen oysters on the half shell instead of eighteen! Heavens forbid!
So she got it changed. That’s right. The previous reduction, discussed and voted on in public in the democratic fashion, un-happened. And it changed the town’s previously approved budget. But why should that matter to a group that considers openness and accountability a mere campaign slogan?
The town has a procedural bylaw that governs the way things happen in meetings. It says you cannot re-open a discussion of a decision for a year unless you waive the bylaw with a two-thirds majority of council (section 2.1). Section 4.24 says council needs a motion to reconsider an item already decided and such motion requires a two-thirds majority to reconsider And NO motion shall be reconsidered within 12 months unless new information is brought forward that “might have reasonably affected the debate or the decision.”
But the Politburo didn’t even give a nod to that law. It wasn’t even raised. Council just ignored it. Walked right by and went ahead and did whatever it pleased, despite the law. Starting to notice the stink, yet?
The town’s Code of Conduct – approved by this council – says in its preamble that “Members shall avoid all conflicts of interest…” But, hey, it’s only a guideline, right? Not a requirement…
The Politburo passed the motion below, moved by Councillor Fryer and seconded by Deputy Mayor Saunderson, and also approved by Councillors Jeffrey, Madigan, Doherty, and Ecclestone (Mayor Cooper and Councillor Edwards voted against; Councillor Lloyd was absent). Read it carefully:
WHEREAS the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) represents the interests of municipalities on policy and program matters that fall within federal jurisdiction;
AND WHEREAS FCM’s Board of Directors is comprised of elected municipal officials from all regions and sizes of communities to form a broad base of support and provide FCM with the prestige required to carry the municipal message to the federal government;
AND WHEREAS FCM’s Annual Conference and Trade Show will take place from June 3 to 5, 2016, during which time the Annual General Meeting will be held and followed by the election of FCM’s Board of Directors;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council of the Town of Collingwood endorse Councillor Kathy Jeffery to stand for election on FCM’s Board of Directors for the period starting June 2016 and ending June 2017;
AND THAT the Town of Collingwood assume all costs associated with Councillor Kathy Jeffery attending FCM’s Board of Directors meetings.
Get that last bit? “…the Town of Collingwood assume ALL costs associated with Councillor Kathy Jeffery attending FCM’s Board of Directors meetings.” All costs. No limit, no restrictions.
That’s a blank cheque for our wannabe Senator to party around the nation, wining and dining and schmoozing at your expense without ANY limit on what she spends of your tax dollars. Absolutely open ended, no accountability. And six members of council voted for this!
But wait, the stench still rises even higher. During the debate on giving herself more money to pursue what can only be viewed as a personal political agenda, Councillor Jeffrey sat at the table, spoke in favour of getting the money and voted for her entitlement.
Stinky enough, yet?
Am I the only one who sees that as an pecuniary interest? Am I the only one who thinks voting to get more money for yourself is a self-evident conflict? Am I the only one who sees this as a violation of every concept of open, transparent and accountable government?
Where was the media’s howl of outrage over abuse of position and privilege? Where are the protesters in front of town hall waving signs to “inpeach” council like they did last term?
Can anyone defend this as ethical? Moral? Corrupt is not a word I use causally, but it springs to mind when I consider someone staying at the table and voting for themselves and their own benefit. It’s a word that comes to mind when I think of a block of politicians conniving for their own entitlement at public expense.
This is, in my humble opinion, the most abusive, corrupt, unethical, immoral and dishonourable moment in any of this town’s council’s history. No wonder this council fired its own integrity commissioner: to avoid the barrage of public complaints that would inevitably follow.
And what has Collingwood received so far from our Senator’s high-flying run at being Queen of FCM these past two years? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip. For all our tax dollars turned into wine and cheese, our own member isn’t even named on the FCM website.
Collingwood has become Tammany Hall with our very own Tweed Ring in charge. The stench of entitlement is so strong at town hall you need to wear a gas mask to go there.
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Not surprisingly, the Connection got it wrong. Jeffrey was already on the FCM board: the Block approved her campaigning (and all its costs) in 2015. And although the 2016 budget limited her expenses to $7,500 extra (total $12,000), the new motion violated that (and broke the Procedural Bylaw, too), and gave her UNLIMITED expenses.
The Connection never bothered to ask: what does Collingwood get from this extravagant waste. I suppose the reported didn’t want to have to write a story with the headline “Collingwood Gets Nothing from Expenses.”
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