Was Sandra Cooper in conflict?

An opinion by former Mayor Chris Carrier:

There has been a lot of talk about last Monday’s council meeting, especially around the issue of conflict of interest. Councillor Tim Fryer declared a conflict and recused himself from the discussion and the decision. The stated purpose he gave was that he receives compensations (a per diem of $300) for every meeting he attends as a representative of that board. Mayor Sandra Cooper stated that it was her belief she did not have a conflict of interest. I have taken a little time to speak to a number of people and most seem to believe that Councilor Tim Fryer was correct in that it was indeed a conflict, but I’ll get back to that. It should be noted that Tim had participated in discussions about the shared services agreement prior to Monday’s meeting and had never declared a conflict prior to Monday evening. I wonder when he changed his view that it was a conflict and what new information he received to make him recuse himself from Monday’s discussion and decision? Perhaps our paid media folks could get the answers to those questions?

Mayor Cooper sits on both the COLLUS-Powerstream Board and the Collingwood Public Utilities Services Board (CPUSB) a municipal services board. The shared services agreement discussed is between COLLUS and Powerstream a private company (Ontario Business Corporation not a municipal department) and the Town of Collingwood. As a Director, Sandra was paid $2,700.00 in per diems to attend those meetings last year (2014). I do not know if she was paid other expenses as she chooses to try and hide that information from we the public. She also received $3,000.00 in per diems from attending CPUSB meetings in 2014.

So is there a conflict and if so why is there a conflict? What has changed in the last few years?

COLLUS before COLLUS-Powerstream was also an Ontario Business Corporation but was wholly owned by the Town of Collingwood and Collingwood Council was the sole shareholder. The only agenda at the board room table were agendas that were Collingwood focussed. When the Town of Collingwood’s previous council sold 50 percent of COLLUS, the focus was on an expanding company involving several owners whose interests may not have been in our best interest (well not a Collingwood focus anyway). So yes there is a pecuniary interest, a conflict, as you cannot wear 2 hats when making a decision at the council table. Note: Sandra is the only member of Collingwood Council to sit on this Board.

In 2012 the previous council decided to rewrite the by-law (By-law 2012-96) that established a Utility Services Board. Essentially the rules were written in such a way that the Board (CPUSB) was not answerable to Council, nor were the staff working for the water and waste water divisions, they were answerable to the COO (former position held by Marcus Firman now vacant) and that position was answerable to the Board. Agendas were not posted in 2014 (see their web site) only minutes of the meetings. So how could the public attend meetings? The answer to that is simple, they couldn’t. What is also interesting is the Board is able to establish its own rules without oversight by Council. They are exempt from the Council created Procedural By-law but have created their own rules. How many meetings, including sub-committee meetings and whether or not sub-committee meetings attendees receive financial compensation? According to the 2014 per diem sheet, they did and still do. So to summarize, you write your own rules and essentially your own cheques! So is there a conflict of interest? Hell yes!

My challenge goes out to the remaining members of Council, the CAO and the Clerk. YOU ask the Integrity Commissioner to investigate and rule on this and not leave this up to a member of the public to do it. Let us know definitively whether there was a conflict or not. I am not interested in attacking Mayor Cooper on this, even though I believe she was wrong on both counts (2 conflicts) and she should NOT have voted on this matter. I am more interested in making this a teachable moment about what many of us believe; that the previous council changed the rules on how the utility was governed when they sold off 50% of this community owned asset. Those decisions had consequences, including putting council members who are paid board members in an outright conflict of interest.


6 thoughts on “Was Sandra Cooper in conflict?

  1. Nobody;
    Without expressing any opinion on this topic, you and your readers might wish to know that the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act lists a number of exceptions to the duties of a council member otherwise set out under that Act.
    Subsection 4(h) provides for one such exception:
    “Section 5 does not apply to a pecuniary interest in any matter that a member may have,…
    (h) by reason only of the member being a director or senior officer of a corporation incorporated for the purpose of carrying on business for and on behalf of the municipality or local board or by reason only of the member being a member of a board, commission, or other body as an appointee of a council or local board;…”.

    • Hi Leo, Happy Canada Day and thank you for your comment. I did review the MCIA (Municipal Conflict of Interest Act) before I submitted my comment. I also reviewed the file you had sent a few years ago about the Conflict of Interest decision regarding the Orangeville members of council who sit both locally and at the County level who were deemed not to be in a conflict of interest. The “teachable moment” with the latest Collingwood decision comes with the nuances of every conflict decision. There may be similarities to other decisions that the Courts have ruled upon but there may also be some significant differences that someone other than local should review. In our case I believe the Integrity Commissioner or even the Ontario Ombudsman could review the circumstances of this decision and provide advice to our council and other councils facing similar situations. Here as you know an independent consultant was hired to review the costs associated of service costs provided by COLLUS Solutions Corp. and determined those services could be provided internally and save about 702 thousand dollars a year. Before the sale of the 50% of COLLUS to Power Stream when we the community owned 100% of the local distribution company, the profits of the operating companies were decided locally how best to reinvest those profits. Now Sandra is but 1 member of a Board who answers to Power Stream which owns 50% of our local distribution company. I think that change of ownership affects the relationship in such a way that Sandra (my opinion) has a conflict; she is wearing 2 hats not one. The CPUSB (Collingwood Public Utilities Board) governance model changed so radically in 2012 that the staff in water and waste water answered to the COO (Chief Operating Officer) and the COO answered to the CPUSB. Council oversight was all but removed. The Board wrote their own procedural rules and were able to create a scheme that established sub-committees that allowed themselves to be paid per diems of 300 dollars for these meetings. I think an independent review is worthwhile especially when one member (Councillor Tim Fryer) declares a conflict of interest and another member (Mayor Sandra Cooper) remains adamant there is not a conflict. I have read a number of decisions relating to the MCIA and this decision once again has what I believe enough unusual aspects to it that an independent review is warranted.

  2. Oh what a surprise former mayor pissy pants thinks the current mayor who kicked his ass in the last election did something wrong again.

      • Well written Chris. I was, and I am, confused that 50% of our utility was sold. I was always under the impression that, in selling any shares it is vital to sell less than on half….selling perhaps 49% so as to maintain controlling interest.
        That said, I agree with Nobody’s comment to Sour Grapes…..an idiot !!!!
        I also agree with you, was it a conflict of interest on Sandra Cooper’s part not to declare a conflict of interest……….HELL YES !!!!!!

    • Sour Grapes, your comment is full of partisan loyalty but I get that. The election results have nothing to do with my comments or my thoughts on the matter. Significant changes were made to both COLLUS and the CPUSB last term. Councillor Tim Fryer declared a conflict whereas Mayor Sandra Cooper did not, on the same matter. For the benefit of all of us it would be beneficial to have the Integrity Commissioner review the matter. My understanding of governance and conflict leads me to the conclusion there was a conflict of interest and Sandra should not have participated in the discussion or vote. Both of them had participated in earlier discussions on this matter so why no declaration before but one now for Tim. I do not know the reason but it is a teachable moment on the nuances of conflict of interest and should guide current and future council members that some decisions may have implications they are unaware of such as a conflict on future public policy decisions.

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