- May 19, 2013 8:58 AM
Oshawa AG report turns Oshawa upside down
The recent allegations by Oshawa Auditor-General Ron Foster, if true, are not only damaging to the credibility of both financial and administrative decision making at Oshawa City Hall. They have exposed what may be an even more dangerous problem, the possibility of deliberate intervention of senior staff into the political process.
To explain, we need to go back to the months leading up to the last municipal election in 2010. This was a period of considerable turmoil with incumbent Council members on the hot seat over taxes, expenditures and financial decisions. Not the least of those was the purchase of the Cullen Miniatures and the purchase of land for a new Oshawa Works Depot.
Mayor John Gray was being challenged by then Councillors John Henry and Louise Parkes, former Councillor Cathy Clarke, and Oshawa citizens Bill Longworth, Eve Simson and Dale Jodoin. To say the debate in Council and outside was divisive would be an understatement. It was downright nasty. Accusations of financial mismanagement were rife and constant, with most aimed directly at Mayor Gray.
Mayor Gray to his credit did not shy away from taking responsibility for both his decisions and that of Council. He responded by stating that the decisions were correct and followed the professional advice of senior city staff including both the City Manager Bob Duignan and City Auditor-General Ron Foster.
Three years later, we are being told that the advice given by the City Manager was distorted and incomplete. We are being told that while Mayor Gray and Council were taking incoming fire over financial issues, senior staff watched all this knowing full well that they were defending was not accurate. Senior staffs, including the Auditor-General, sat quietly on the sidelines as the Mayor and Council were savaged by internal dispute, public and media criticism, and political opponents. They knew more than was told but chose to let the Mayor and Council swing in the wind.
In the election in October 2010, Mayor Gray was defeated in no small part to the public anger over these issues. If the public had known the full story, would the final result have been different? There is no way to tell that, but common sense tells us it very well could have been.
We also need to realize that the impact of these allegations goes well beyond Mayor Gray and his election. Other members of the past Council were also defeated over these issues, some by very small margins. Twenty year plus veteran Council member Brian Nicholson was defeated by a mere 327 votes out of a total votes cast of 163,479. This margin represents 2-one thousands of the totals (0.002002659).
During the campaign Councillor Nicholson was strongly targeted over the Cullen Miniatures issue due to his public comments defending the City Manager and the purchase. I wonder how he feels today with these allegations that the City Manager deliberately withheld information, misled Council and sat quietly by as he was attacked on this issue.
Councillor Nicholson was known as a harsh critic of city staff and was undoubtedly the best Council member at confronting staff over financial and business reports. He was also the strongest opponent of the Works Depot project. So who would benefit by letting fire storm engulf Councillor Nicholson and other depot opponents? Would a more compliant or inexperienced Mayor and Council advance the depot agenda? Given that other senior staff must have known the real details, why did they too simply sit by as Council took the heat? A lot of questions remain unanswered on this.
One thing I do know for sure is that today’s Council is far more supportive of senior staff and more compliant in approving their reports and recommendations. It is clear that certain senior staff members are running the show and that neither Mayor Henry nor Council have shown the ability or desire to stand up to them.
Hopefully, as a result of this explosive report by the Auditor-General, things will change. But, for John Gray, Brian Nicholson and the other members of the past Oshawa Council no longer in office, that will be cold comfort.
The trust of the taxpayers of Oshawa has been abused. The municipal election process appears to have been manipulated. The City’s financial and real estate dealings are suspect, and the administration as a whole is in total disarray.
Is this what you voted for? Is this why you pay your taxes?