Council is sending the town’s chief administrative officer to the EPCOR archives to sift through records kept by the electricity distributor when it purchased the utility formerly known as COLLUS PowerStream.
In a 6-3 vote on March 15, council voted to have CAO Sonya Skinner request access to records the town asked EPCOR to retain as part of the sale of the utility in 2018.
According to Mayor Brian Saunderson, the records could include financial statements and old emails from when the COLLUS family of companies was running the utility with PowerStream.
“We don’t know what they’ll include until we proceed,” Saunderson told CollingwoodToday. “When we struck the detail with EPCOR we specifically asked that they retain any information and records they got with respect to the COLLUS family of companies and the operation of those companies.”
Though COLLUS companies came under scrutiny during the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry process, particularly the details of the 2012 share sale of 50 per cent of the electrical utility to PowerStream and the subsequent operation and employee structure of COLLUS Solutions.
“It was much broader than that,” said Saunderson of council’s request.
He said “a lot of the issues” that led council to sell the rest of COLLUS in 2018 and to call the judicial inquiry were the result of “us having difficulty getting information from the COLLUS family of companies.”
“We did not have access to information about the operations of that company,” said the mayor.
He expects the documents will contain financial records and possibly emails not previously provided to council when requested.
“The emails we got during the 2014 to 2018 council were heavily screened,” said Saunderson. “We were wondering if there were other emails out there.”
Once access to the documents is granted by EPCOR to Skinner, there’s no guarantee the documents will be made public.
“If they are sensitive in terms of business operations … I would imagine [EPCOR] may require they not be made public,” said Saunderson. “Granting access doesn’t necessarily mean we get control over them or they become public. It just means we’re entitled to see them.”
The motion asking Skinner to go look through the documents came from Coun. Steve Berman during the March 15 council meeting without prior notice on previous council agendas. He asked council to agree to waive notice because of potential time sensitivity.
Berman said he found out during closed sessions that there was information available for the town to look at, and said he wanted council to ask the CAO to look through it and come back to council if there’s anything further she wanted to pursue. Council recently had in-camera meetings with former CAOs John Brown and Fareed Amin.
“I really have no idea what we’ll find,” said Skinner during the March 15 meeting. “In the simplest assumption, there would be books of past minutes, maybe some audited financial statements … I think potentially – and much more scary – would be a room full of 27 boxes of various types of different correspondence and electronic records of thousands of emails.”
She said staff could look at the types of records that exist and what it might take to read those ones that seem most relevant.
Coun. Kathy Jeffery said the motion was a “low cost” option to continue to fulfil council’s promise to “turn over every stone.”
Councillors Tina Comi, Deb Doherty, and Yvonne Hamlin voted against the motion.
Doherty said she didn’t see how the town could gain further by applying staff time to sort through the documents.
Comi said there was both a direct and an opportunity cost by tying up staff time in this action and she didn’t want to spend more money on the inquiry.
Hamlin said she’d rather see other potential problems identified in the inquiry get the attention.
“I certainly would be bringing forward some other matters that I think are important and have a lot of potential problems associated with it that I wish we could look into or that I wish the inquiry could look into,” she said.
Councillors Bob Madigan, Mariane McLeod, and Deputy Mayor Keith Hull spoke in support of the fact-finding mission to dive into the documents retained by EPCOR.
“I think our public deserves more and they want more,” said Madigan.
Coun. Berman said his intention was to rely on the CAO for next steps, but to direct her to access the records the town asked EPCOR to keep.
“It seems we’re having a referendum into who wants to complete their due diligence on what happened in Collingwood and who wants to just put it behind us and move on,” said Berman.
He noted the exercise will only cost “a little bit” of the CAO’s time.