Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, February 22, 2010


“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
February 22, 2010

This week’s column is about more reckless and irresponsible spending of your taxes, like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and is just another example of why Oshawa has the highest taxes in the GTA.

The issue of the week is Mayor John Gray’s personal approval for taxpayers to fund the MBA degrees for his politically appointed executive assistant, James Anderson, and for Councillor April Cullen, both of whom are studying for taxpayer funded MBA’s in Community Economic Development at Cape Breton University, which is ranked 98 out of 100 Canadian MBA Schools.

Neither of these individuals may be around after the next election with the outraged anger citizens are demonstrating at this wasteful and unethical expenditure which breaches city policy in every way.

Under the city’s corporate training and financial assistance policy, staff and council can use city cash, up to $2,000 in one year and $5,000 over three years, for “cost-effective training and educational opportunities.”

Any extra cost must be approved by the department head and city manager, but John Gray, not the city manager, signed off on both MBAs costing taxpayers $46,000— something he says he’s entitled to do as CEO of the corporation.

In a letter to concerned citizen, Melissa Kata, who has led the charge in illuminating this important issue, Rick Stockman, Commissioner of Corporate Services, stated in a Feb. 10, 2010 letter, “The Council approved “Corporate Training and Financial Assistance Policy” applies to Council members and staff. The policy requires that the City Manager approve any staff applications for financial assistance of the magnitude indicated. The approved candidates are few in number as any funding must be directed at career, organizational development or succession planning.

If approved, the applicant must enter into an agreement to remain with the City for a prescribed period or proportionally reimburse the Corporation if they leave prior to the end of the stated period.

In the case of the identified individual and Councillor, they fall under the Mayor’s Office, and the Mayor authorized the educational expenses in his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer.

If the approval of the councilor and his executive assistant do fall under the Mayor’s jurisdiction, as suggested, don’t you think that the mayor would be expected to give approvals under the same strict conditions as applied to staff?

In this case, John Gray personally approved $46,000 for Councillor April Cullen and his Executive Assistant, James Anderson.

Gray says he’s entitled to disregard established city policy.

This smells like Gray’s personal and private $40,000 spending approval for his own birthday party---the Colbert day.

He’s found a new way of governing our city---like a dictator, he’s making some expensive spending decisions by personal fiat.

Did we elect a mayor who figures he can do whatever he damn well pleases with our money? It seems so!

Besides these MBA’s and the Stephen Colbert Day, he’s driving around in that bright yellow boy toy 426HP muscle car purchased for him at taxpayer expense.

Gray certainly seems to feel a sense of entitlement for himself and his chosen few on council, to live high on the hog at taxpayer expense.

Perhaps what is really at question here is the mayor’s judgment, as this issue has become a lightening rod of citizen anger.

It’s become a tangible symbol of entitlement, over-spending, and unethical disregard for tax payer’s hard-earned tax dollars.

To defend this MBA expenditure is ridiculous and embarrassing, yet some city bureaucrats who have no other choice are forced to clench their teeth and remain silent at the Mayor’s largesse with his council and office friends.

James Anderson, Gray’s executive assistant was appointed by Gray and is not even a city employee.

He is on contract to the city while Gray is Mayor and will depart with Gray, probably in October.

Why is he even considered an eligible candidate to take advantage of the city’s education policies?

While the staff policy extends to council members, it makes no mention, nor should it, of extending this benefit to contract employees.

Nor does it mention any possibility of extending the spending limit beyond the $5000 three year limit which the Mayor’s largesse has greatly exceeded with his $23,000 gift to each of the two MBA candidates.

Tuition benefits are only offered to selected employees by employers when there is a long-term benefit to the employer.

This is never offered to contract employees who are always hired on their existent skills…and politicians should never be elected in the first place if their performance is having to be supported by considerable additional education at taxpayer expense. I have never heard of getting a job and then seeking the training to do it.

Citizen outrage has sparked council candidate Bill Steele to start a rapidly growing facebook group “Invoice for April Cullen and James Anderson---We want our money back now!”

Mr. Steele also sent an email to the press and the individuals involved stating “Your MBA is something that the residents of OSHAWA are opposed to, is abusive to our financial position in Oshawa, and was granted under circumstances that should be investigated.

I strongly suggest that you make the repayment of the $23,000.00 you took for your MBA.

You have refused to explain why the taxpayers should be on the hook for so much money when our City is in financial trouble.

Give us our money back.

I am asking that you please pay the $23,000.00 in full. Arrangements will probably be made (to collect) after you leave office in the fall.”

According to Steele, Rick Stockman, the Commissioner of Corporate Services, said John Gray had never before been involved in such training approvals. He has never signed off on any single training request.

John Gray’s precedent setting single signature approval over ride’s Oshawa's established policy which requires multiple approvals but the Mayor’s single signature approval allows him to gift his friends and council supporters MBA's at $23,000 each while denying council members who don’t toe his line access to this funding.

It must be emphasized, however, that funding degrees for any politicians or political appointees is never justified. We expect these individuals to come to the position fully qualified. Only seminar type instruction on topics needed to fully understand complex issues they’re asked to vote on is justified.

This, despite the fact that Nestor Pidwerbecki reportedly headed over to his Polish homeland at taxpayer expense in recent years to check out their “state of the art(?)” incinerators as research on the Durham Region Incinerator being built on the Oshawa border that both he and Councillor Kolodzie voted for, and which is going to pump considerable health damaging particulate matter into the atmosphere and into the lungs of our children.

I believe the Mayor has shown questionable and faulty judgement in approving wasteful expenditures---the $40,000 Colbert day expenditure that he personally approved without council’s knowledge, the yellow muscle “boy toy” camarro automobile he bought at taxpayer expense, and his statement that city council had no responsibility to inform citizens about the general vote plebiscite---and now funding MBA’s for Councillor April Cullen and his Executive Assistant who is not a city employee but is on contract to the mayor.

It just makes me wonder if John Gray has good enough judgement to be our Mayor and City CEO.

I say, enough is enough!

I believe that all Oshawa citizens owe a big vote of thanks to Marissa Kata and Regional Councillor Candidate, Bill Steele, for taking a lead role in investigating this travesty and exposing it for all to see.

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

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