Michael Blair Responds to John Trude’s Press Release

Michael Blair
Rexall founder Michael Blair is now retired and enjoying life in Collingwood
–photograph courtesy Simcoe.com

Rexal founder, retired corporate executive and Collingwood Mayoral Candidate Michael Blair offers his comments on statements made by fellow Mayoral Candidate John Trude.

Mayoral Candidate John Trude issued a release just before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend that has triggered discussion on a number of items he feels are important issues leading into the home stretch of the 2018 Municipal election race.

Michael Blair is also running for Mayor of Collingwood. Mr. Blair was quick to comment on issues raised in Mr. Trude’s news release:

1. Open and Accountable Government: I (like Mr. Trude) believe the number of in camera or closed to the public sessions was unnecessarily high. I appreciate that during negotiations Council may wish to meet in camera to discuss negotiating strategy. However, once the deal was reached, the Town could and in my view should have released the minutes of those meetings to the public. The Town will from time to time have an in camera meeting to receive legal advice in order to protect legal privilege. Legal privilege is a right, not an obligation. The Town could simply waive privilege and let voters know the nature of the advice the Town received. In a public company, the Chairman can decide to have in camera meetings. As chairman of the board of many public companies over many years, I can state with confidence that the number of in camera meetings held under my Chairmanship in my career was fewer than the Town of Collingwood held during Mr. Saunderson’s tenure as deputy Mayor.

I am also concerned that Mr. Saunderson himself does not appreciate the level of disclosure of conflict of interest the Town is entitled to require. For example, Mr. Saunderson voted in favor of a Plan of Subdivision in favor of Van Dolder interests on Mountain Road despite the fact that his partner, Anne Marie Cummings, was acting for Van Dolder in an unrelated legal matter. I do not believe Mr. Saunderson had a pecuniary interest in the Plan of Subdivision, but as a practicing lawyer we expect him to provide complete disclosure of actual, perceived or potential conflicts. Given his law firm has a large local practice, I am confident that the potential for conflict is very high and either the Town will be deprived of Mr. Saunderson’s leadership or his firm’s clients will be deprived of his legal skills, or more likely, both.

2. Regional Cooperation: I don’t see the disagreements regarding the sale of the airport or the sale of Collus as significant indications of a lack of regional cooperation. The airport was Collingwood’s to sell as was the interest in Collus. The Town heard from its regional counterparts and proceeded to act in what Council saw as the interests of the Town. That is their duty. With respect to the hospital, I believe Mr. Saunderson made a minor error in judgment in June 2016 when he supported a motion to promote the Hume street location as the preferred site for the new hospital. Within days of that motion, the trustees of the hospital decided they preferred a Poplar Street location. I do not believe Mr. Saunderson meant to interfere or delay the new hospital program. Rather, I believe his efforts were intended to promote the hospital. His error, in my view, was not speaking with the trustees before passing the motion supporting the Hume location. This could have been avoided but is not evidence of any improper intent.

3. Hospital Redevelopment: See 2 above.

4. Sole sourcing: I am not totally familiar with the “sole sourcing” decisions but I disagree with them in principle. There are few items where there exist only one source and Council has a duty to taxpayers to negotiate the best price for the items the Town purchases or contracts. Even where the Town received competing bids, I am concerned that either through inadvertence or a lack of knowledge, the Town accepted bids that were far higher than any reasonable person with knowledge of construction costs would accept. The new Bus Depot is approximately 600 square feet of ordinary construction. Altus Group publishes building costs for most Canadian regions and is a useful guide as to what construction costs should be for various types of buildings. I attach a copy of the 2018 Altus Group report. In my opinion, the Bus Depot cost should not have exceeded $250,000 which is generous for that size of building with its obvious features. Altus suggests GTA costs for somewhat comparable construction rarely exceed $300 per square foot. The $250,000 figure exceeds $400 a square foot in recognition of the need to accommodate Town’s insistence on certain “Heritage” construction specifications and the fact that it is a very small project with little profit opportunity. I understand the cost to the Town of the Bus Depot exceeds $457,000. I am also concerned that the Gathering Place construction cost far exceeds any reasonable amount. I have walked the site and believe the construction comprises about 40 logs and related piles driven into a foundation, with large stones included in quite normal landscaping and a reasonably long walkway. I built a 3,000 square foot log home in the Forest in 2008 and the total cost for the log framing and the concrete foundation was less than $400,000. I understand the cost to the Town of the Gathering Place exceeds that amount.

There are minor items the Town buys from time to time where they are many sources and where the costs of a Request for Proposal outweighs any benefits. Those items should be purchased without competing bids but the purchases should not be systematically directed to any one vendor. In addition, when sourcing consulting services, the Town should obtain the best possible advice which may well preclude competitive bids in terms of the cost. As a former McKinsey & Company, Inc. associate, I have a lot of experience with Fortune 500 paying very high prices for McKinsey advice where other firms could provide advice at a lower cost. Their choices reflected the complexity of the issue and their confidence in the consultant. The lowest price is not always the most economical.

As a closing comment, Mr. Trude’s press release argues against Mr. Saunderson but provides little support for a vote for Mr. Trude. Voters need to know what to expect if he is elected, not why he believes Mr. Saunderson is deficient in any way.

CLICK HERE to read earlier story on Michael Blair’s announcement to run for Mayor

CLICK HERE to follow Michael Blair on Twitter

CLICK HERE to view John Trude’s comments and news release dated October 3, 2018

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