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.