With two unanimous votes, Collingwood town council has taken away a volunteer award from a former town senior staffer and cut ties with a water association linked to the same ex-staffer.
During Monday’s (Jan. 24) regular council meeting, Mayor Brian Saunderson put forward a motion to revoke the Order of Collingwood from Ed Houghton, who was a recipient of the award in 1998.
Saunderson also put forward a second motion to terminate the Town of Collingwood’s membership in the Ontario Municipal Water Association, of which he noted Houghton acts as chief executive officer.
When Saunderson spoke about his motion, he noted the issue was initially raised by the Order of Collingwood selection committee in 2021.
“It has stuck with me since that time,” said Saunderson. “I think this is part of our community taking back its dignity. It’s holding those who wronged us accountable for their actions.”
Houghton acted as CEO of Collus Powerstream from 2000 to 2016 during the time covered by the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry. From 2000 to 2013, he was the director of public works for the town and, simultaneously the chief administrative officer for the Town of Collingwood in 2012 and 2013, when the town was making decisions on how to spend the proceeds from the sale.
The inquiry was called by council in February 2018 to investigate the 2012 share sale of 50 per cent of Collus to PowerStream and the subsequent spending of the share sale proceeds on recreation facilities for Central Park Arena and Centennial Aquatic Centre.
Throughout the inquiry, Houghton's influence in the share sale was called into question and the final report by the commissioner suggested the former CAO had too much influence over the sale while also being CEO of the utility company.
“With Mr. Houghton at the helm, Collus Power – the town’s asset – was in charge of selling itself, and the town – the owner of the asset – had no effective control over the process,” stated the inquiry Commissioner Frank Marrocco in his final report, which was released in Nov. 2020. “This unusual dynamic did not serve the town’s interest.”
During Monday’s meeting, Coun. Bob Madigan said he felt there are major things happening in the community that are taking a backseat while council still deals with Judicial Inquiry fallout.
“I think it’s pathetic, with all the horrible things that are happening in our world today, that we still have to deal with this,” said Madigan. “I look forward to putting this whole Judicial Inquiry behind us and getting back to work, and instilling the trust that people want from elected officials and staff in Collingwood.”
“We have fantastic staff, and this will never happen again. I thank Mayor Saunderson for bringing this forward,” he said.
Coun. Steve Berman noted there is a narrative in town that differentiating between right and wrong can only be decided by a court of law.
“I don’t believe that. I think most would agree we are taught by our parents. I’ll be voting on this the same way I vote on everything else: what is in the best interest of the people of Collingwood?” said Berman. “I believe that supporting this motion is in the best interest of Collingwood.”
Coun. Yvonne Hamlin said she agreed with Berman. She encouraged residents to read the recommendations and report out of the inquiry.
Council voted unanimously in favour of the two motions.
When reached on Monday, Houghton provided a brief comment on his thoughts about having his Order of Collingwood revoked, and council voting to terminate its membership in OMWA.
“Council can do what they wish to do,” said Houghton. “It’s up to them.”
Houghton declined to comment further.
“It’s not something I wish to discuss,” he said.