Collingwood resident John Megarry is asking of council the tough questions our lackadaisical local media should be asking. But he’s not getting any replies. In fact, he’s being stonewalled. (You can see the video of the latest council meeting here, with Megarry’s deputation starting at 0:15:22).*
To date, Megarry has made two deputations to council about the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI), but we hope he makes more. He wants to know how it happened, who had secret meetings about it, why the public wasn’t consulted, and why the public was told by council and staff it would cost roughly a fifth to a sixth of what it really cost taxpayers. (In fact, if council was honest enough to add up all the actual costs, the real total would top $10 million, but you can read my comments about that in other posts).
Megarry gave me permission to share his deputations and questions, which he also gave to every council member, to town staff to share for the meeting, and to the local media. Yet despite this, his documents were not included in the publicly-accessible agenda package. Nor were they in the minutes of the agendas for those meetings. It’s almost as if council didn’t want them seen by the public.
Maybe council felt it would be too much work for staff to
censor “fact-check” Megarry’s many questions for public consumption to make sure they aligned with the official narrative. Or maybe they just didn’t want such bright light to be shone under their SVJI rocks. When council passes a motion to approve the consent agenda it includes the following, just so you know that something therein might not walk the politburo-approved orthodox path:
Agenda Items are that of the author(s) and are not verified or approved as being correct.
I believe Megarry’s questions are important enough to warrant further exposure and comment, so here they are. His first deputation is here, and his second is here, both files in PDF. Please read them and then ask yourself, “Why is our council afraid to answer?” and “Why is our council afraid to show these to the public?”
Of course, given the history of secrecy and deception that the majority on council have (aka The Block), few residents will be surprised that a paranoid culture of secrecy, deception, and ignoring the public still thrives in town hall (I documented 70 closed-door meetings during the previous term: 46 about our publicly-owned electricity utility, Collus-Powerstream, and selling it to a for-profit corporation without public consultation; 16 about selling our publicly-owned airport to a corporation without public consultation; and four about blocking our hospital’s redevelopment).
Council’s only response to public concerns so far has been the epitome of Stalinist politics: to pass Councillor Berman’s motion to
censor “fact-check” public comments to ensure they agree with the official storyline.
Megarry asked in his first deputation, February 1:
…how it is possible that the original cost projection of $1.4 to $1.6 million laid before Council by CAO Amin in STAFF REPORT #T2018-06 30 April 2018, (2 months after the Resolution passed by the way,) could have been so outrageously and monstrously wrong…?
Former councillor and former Collus CFO, Tim Fryer, asked a similar question while dredging up proof that the public wasn’t being told the truth about the actual costs. Fryer was also treated by stonewalling. Megarry, however, wanted more than mere answers. He asked council
…to pass a motion to commission an in-depth investigation by the Town’s Integrity Commissioner into the source of those lowball estimates, and an airing of how it came to be that Council ignored or was misled about the high risk of a massive cost overrun. I want to know the derivation of CAO Amin’s cost projection, and whether Council and Collingwood residents were willfully, or deliberately, misled by this woefully lowball figure, and if so by whom.
Further I respectfully request that you order the Town’s outside auditor, Baker Tilly SGP LLC, to return a public report on value for money. Is Justice Marrocco’s report worth over $8 million? (I think I know the answer!) Was there adequate cost control before and during the Inquiry? Was there any oversight? Or did staff merely rubber stamp these massive invoices and sign the payment cheques?
Of course, his requests were simply ignored, as were his questions. And in the meantime, council continues to lavish taxpayers’ money on promoting and pursuing this obsession with events that happened a decade ago. Sure, the money could be better used helping local businesses survive the lockdowns, fix our decaying streets and crumbling sidewalks, repair the Terminals, upgrade the waterfront or do any of a thousand things that actually helped the community, but council doesn’t care.
Megarry was back in front of council on March 9, commenting that, “I believe there was an attempt to silence me and others with the sudden scheduling change last week.” He also said he was, “very disappointed that there is to be yet another in-camera Council session on the J I today. There have been far too many of these, and far too much of Collingwood Council’s business conducted in secrecy.” I agree, and wonder why local media isn’t writing about this continuing cult of secrecy.
Megarry followed his opening comments with seven questions for former CAO John Brown, and ten for former CAO Fareed Amin. Some of these pointedly ask about secret meetings with the lawyer who became the sole-sourced appointee to represent the town, why the town’s procurement process wasn’t followed in appointing that lawyer, about why the public wasn’t informed or consulted about an inquiry, why the publicly-stated estimates for the cost were so low when the town had been warned it would cost a lot more, about the lack of public notice for Saunderson’s motion that requested the inquiry, and why there was no public record of council ever discussing the pros, cons or cost of an inquiry.
They are questions we, the public deserve answers to. But council has instead slunk back into the shadows and silence, abetted by local media too timid or subservient to ask the questions themselves.
Megarry concluded his most recent deputation by saying, “it is past time for Mayor Saunderson to come forward and explain how and why we were so badly misled.” The buck stops at the mayor’s office, but we can’t expect answers, or even credibility, while the mayor is too busy trying to slough off that responsibility while he goes job-hunting for a better-paying position as MPP in Toronto.
At 0:27:10 Councillor McLeod chuffs with self-righteous indignation that she has “trouble controlling my temper” over Megarry’s comments. She takes “exception at the aspersions cast on council,” and continues theatrically that Megarry “besmirched” their reputation.** And then she chastises him with sneering hauteur: “You have offended me greatly.” But, of course, she doesn’t give him any answers to his questions. No one does.
Nor does anyone apologize for the misleading (and possibly sneaky) schedule change that raised Megarry’s ire and suspicions, but they are sure quick to defend it.
At 0:28:27, Councillor Berman meanders around to defend in-camera meetings instead of council being what the public expects: open and transparent. Then he segues off to defend his motion to
censor “fact-check” public comments. Apparently, he is equally oblivious to how the public has reacted to it.
Berman grumbles what sounds like a warning: even having public comments on the record (the consent agenda) could be at risk. “There is not a requirement for a consent agenda in the Municipal Act,” he said, adding cryptically, “We’re not doing anything we’re not allowed to do.” I suppose the whole business of public perception and ethical behaviour is somewhat beyond his ken. I await a future motion to do away with the consent agenda entirely, and replace it with a statement from
Big Brother the mayor that all is well, as long as citizens obey.
You can watch the whole meeting, including the comments from the former CAOs about the SVJI, followed by comments and questions by the councillors desperate to justify the costs in the face of mounting public resentment over the waste. The whole thing struck me as little more than an oleaginous, self-serving whitewash.
Collingwood and Megarry deserve answers.
* Watch the faces of the members of council while Megarry speaks. Those expressions speak volumes about their lack of engagement, or interest in his questions, even to their disdain for being questioned by a mere resident. I can’t tell whether McLeod was smirking, sneering, or scowling as she listens to Megarry’s response to her chiding. Maybe she just had gas.
** From Hamlet, Act I Scene III, Laertes speaking:
“The inward service of the mind and soul
Grows wide withal. Perhaps he loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will: but you must fear,
His greatness weigh’d, his will is not his own”
Although the Bard did coin the word in 1599 (first used in his play, Henry V), I don’t really expect anyone on our council has ever read Hamlet, or anything else by Shakespeare. Reading has never been their strong suit.