‘Carpetbagging,’ ‘cover-up,’ ‘witches:’ councillors react to inquiry report
Collingwood town council
Each member of Collingwood council reacted to the findings in the final report of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry
By: Erika Engel Collingwood Today
Members of Collingwood’s current council didn’t hold back as they condemned previous town officials for their ‘malfeasance’ and ‘misconduct,’ detailed in the final report from the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry.
At its first full council meeting since the inquiry report was released, Collingwood’s elected officials took turns delivering their comments on the commissioner’s findings.
Mayor Brian Saunderson, in a prepared statement, did not mince words.
“[Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco] made significant and extensive findings that, I think, support malfeasance, misconduct, and breach of trust,” said Saunderson. “There can be no doubt the residents of Collingwood were victimized and abused and that our community suffered real, permanent, and irreparable harm.”
The mayor pointed out the inquiry report note stating council was never told about Hydro One offering $3 million more for the Collus share sales. And thus, “left $3 million on the table,” in addition to paying close to $14 million for the Centennial Aquatic Centre and Central Park Arena, both of which are Sprung fabric membrane structures built by BLT Construction.
“We have invested tens of millions of dollars over the years only to start back at square one looking into a multi-use recreational facility,” said Saunderson.
The mayor committed to working with residents to “rebuild trust.”
“There is work to be done, and that work began Nov. 2 at noon with the release of Justice Marrocco’s report,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Keith Hull, the lone member on the current council who was also a councillor during the 2010 to 2014 term when the COLLUS share sale happened and the recreational facilities were built, said that council “failed” the community.
The inquiry was called to investigate the share sale of 50 per cent of COLLUS to PowerStream in 2012 and the subsequent spending of those share sale proceeds on Central Park Arena and Centennial Aquatic Centre.
“I bore witness to what transpired,” said Hull, noting the past few weeks have been difficult as he read the report relating to the 2010-2014 council term.
“The council of the day and key senior individuals failed the community, and for that, we have a significant financial burden to carry forward,” he said. “I think we have known for years that we have operated within a system that has far too great a latitude to allow for things that have transpired here in Collingwood. And they are not unique to Collingwood.”
He noted past inquiries, such as one in Mississauga that looked into that city’s procurement practices and allegations of preferential treatment for family members of elected officials, and suggested the findings out of that inquiry, if implemented provincially, might have prevented what happened in Collingwood in 2012-2014.
He said he hopes the findings will be implemented by the province this time.
Hull also called on the OPP to “come forward with a conclusive statement” regarding their investigation into the share sale and Sprung/BLT contract with the town.
The OPP investigation has been ongoing for several years.
For Councillor Mariane McLeod, the commissioner’s report revealed “a litany of malfeasance and misdirection and greenwashing and greed and enabling and willful ignorance and a coverup and just general shenanigans.”
“The entire thing is a finding of wrongdoing,” she said.
She pointed to the pieces of the report that showed the town “shovelled” $700,000 “into the abyss of the Collingwood Public Utilities Services Board for 11 years.” She suggested that ended because “of the questions that were asked and answered.”
She added up a tally of other money spent or lost including the extra money offered by Hydro One, the cost of repairs to the pool building, and the increase to the BLT contract to cover Paul Bonwick’s $750,000 consulting fee.
“If you’re mad about the price of the inquiry, as I most certainly am, think about the price we paid beforehand and would still be paying without these questions,” said McLeod. “Put your anger with the people who ripped us off … and who stopped only when they were exposed.”
Councillor Steve Berman also used his comments to address Collingwood residents.
“Anyone who blames the final price tag on the council who voted for this inquiry in the first place … is just plain wrong,” he said. “Anyone who … maintains this is nothing but a witch hunt. I think Marrocco’s own words show sometimes there are, in fact, witches out there.”
Councillor Deb Doherty said in her 30 years as a Collingwood resident she has seen “town hall operated on cronyism and nepotism. And individuals treating town hall as their own personal piggy bank.”
“People knew … they made jokes about it … but nothing changed,” she said. “How many millions of dollars were lost to the taxpayers of Collingwood over the years as a result of error, indiscretion, and carpet bagging … this council and the one previous that called for the inquiry, puts an end to it once and for all.”
He wondered out loud how much less the inquiry would have cost if documents requested before the inquiry was called were produced or if “the people who took the stand told the truth.”
Councillor Bob Madigan said the anticipation of the commissioner’s report has “weighed heavily on the psyche” of Collingwood residents, and he hopes the town can learn from the past.
“[The report] clearly sheds light on just some of the improprieties that were happening within our great community,” said Madigan. “The actions of those people we put our trust in … left us no choice than to take action and protect our future. And I think that’s what this council is doing.”
Councillor Kathy Jeffery also defended the actions of council last term in voting for the judicial inquiry.
“We answered the call,” she said. “The legal advice we received was that if we didn’t proceed with this inquiry, we were complicit with the actions.”
Councillor Yvonne Hamlin said the report marks the “end of a difficult time” and the beginning of council’s chance to restore people’s confidence.
She said she thought Marrocco’s message to current council was that the road back to public trust is long and arduous, and encouraged her fellow council members to proceed with full and open debate, and in every meeting and every day to “restore faith” in town hall.
Councillor Tina Comi said it was unfortunate the town and staff have “had to endure this process.”
“I hope the town has learned to be good stewards,” she said.
She raised three capital projects – Fisher Field club house, a splash pad, and Sunset Point Playground – that have been part of council discussions during this term.
“I look forward to bringing these projects to fruition free from delay, distraction, or distrust,” said Comi.
Justice Marrocco’s final report is more than 900 pages long, but it is summed up in an executive summary that is 14 pages long. You can find the report online here.