“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
April 5, 2010
Despite voter’s rage about the audacity of Mayor John Gray’s wasting taxpayer money on funding $23,000 MBA’s for his executive assistant, contract employee, James Anderson, and Councillor April Cullen, Councillor Brian Nicholson is still defending the Mayor’s outrageous and irresponsible action.
By doing so, Nicholson continues to expose the sense of entitlement he feels for himself and members of Oshawa City Council. He feels, as the Mayor does, that our tax monies can be spent any damn well way they please. Our tax monies can be used to service the needs and wishes of the politicians and not the city and its people.
In fact, despite the “Accountability and Transparency Bylaw” signed by all members of city council, Nicholson recently proposed a motion stating that such funding in future should be “hidden” in politician’s office budgets so that the tuition funding could continue but that the secrecy of the office budgets would hide such funding from the public. So much for his “respect” for the responsible and transparent use of our city taxes!
Last Tuesday, March 30, 2010, Nicholson published a 1600 word article on his Facebook Page justifying the MBA expenditures and supporting John Gray’s right to spend taxpayer money in this way. He also supported Councillor April Cullen’s and Executive Assistant, James Anderson’s, application for having taxpayers pay their MBA tuitions in the first place.
Nicholson writes his commentary for his “fans” on his facebook page and if someone disputes what he says, it is not long before the critic is cut off from Nicholson’s page so as to not undermine the inaccuracies that Nicholson spins on the page. I, for one, got cut off the page because I disputed Nicholson’s assertion that Oshawa was one of the lowest taxed places in the GTA despite the fact that we all know that we are absolutely the highest taxed place in the GTA and one of the highest taxed places in all of Canada. Nicholson regularly “snows” his readers in untruths, misinformation, and “spins” that disguise the real facts from his readers.
He seems to be tied at the hip to both John Gray and April Cullen as he has regularly attacked critics and opponents of John Gray and has continually stood up in support of April Cullen over the MBA issue as the only member of council to publicly do so. It seems as if all are members of a little three person fan club.
In his statement, Nicholson states, “This MBA controversy has been rife with irresponsible comments. Charges of illegality, conspiracy, corruption, intimidation, theft, and conflict of interest have been made with wild abandon.” Nicholson didn’t mention the most appropriate charge of “gross stupidity” and “irresponsibility” that is being made in press editorials right across the country!
“It is unacceptable,” Nicholson goes on, “when these charges are made by those who may not be aware of the workings of government, but when they are made by candidates for public office, by presidents of local ratepayers associations, and by members of Council, they are not only unacceptable but are deplorable and must be addressed.”
Once again, I guess, Nicholson thinks criticism is unwarranted by those getting centrally involved because, I assume, he feels that they should know “the workings of government,” and thus implies that every government uses, or should use, valuable tax dollars to serve politicians first.
If this is the case, perhaps Nicholson should be very critical of April Cullen and James Anderson for not enrolling in Harvard so that they could screw taxpayers out of close to $150,000 for tuitions. Even top ranked Queen’s and Western would set back the taxpayer close to $70,000 but neither April or James would get a high enough score on the GMAT for these “good” schools. Instead, they enrolled in “bottom feeding” Cape Breton University.
Maybe both Nicholson and Gray support publicly funded tuitions so that they could work on their BA’s at the public’s expense. Who knows? If we keep electing these guys, they may end up with a basic degree sometime.
In one Facebook posting, April Cullen claimed of “saving the taxpayer” about $6000 due to costs she picked up herself...like a summer in Cape Breton Island that she funded herself. She also justified taxpayers paying for her MBA because it cost each of us just pennies per week over her four year term. One amount she said she personally picked up, her summer program in Cape Breton, looks surprisingly like the $1808 she billed Durham Region for Travel. Doesn’t her sense of entitlement blaze through with her statement that she saved the city money on her MBA?
She makes no claim of personal benefit for her MBA, or thanks to the taxpayers, only asserting her many sacrifices and hours she put in on the degree….as if the sorry Oshawa taxpayer would give a damn about that. She does assert that she earned her $116,551 salary, though, because she had her long distanced taxpayer expensed blackberry with her. Thank you April!
In a recent meeting of the Finance and Administration Committee, Bruce Wood, President of the “Oshawa Ratepayer’s Association” made claims that: 1. The Mayor knowingly abused the city Corporate Training and Reimbursement Policy, 2. The Mayor circumvented the policy, and 3. Staff was intimidated into signing the applications due to political pressure and for fear of their jobs.
Nicholson bounced each of these suggestions off the City’s Auditor General who responded he came across no evidence to support any of Wood’s claims.
In his responses, the Auditor General was between a rock and a hard place….pleasing his political masters or giving his truthful opinion about the legitimacy of the MBA funding and process. No senior government employee of any government ever publicly contradicts or admonishes politicians no matter how “wrong-headed” they are. You can bet though that the more professional and dedicated staff were writhing in their beds at night and clenching their teeth at work during the day so as not to say what they really felt about the issue.
Oshawa’s Auditor General is paid about $160,000 annually and is on a renewable term contract. He was appointed by the politicians, acts on the politician’s directions, and his contract will not be renewed by the present bunch if he does not support the actions of the Mayor and Council at every turn. I have not once read a city Auditor General’s report that was at all critical of city operations, departments, staff, or the politicians. He keeps walking that “narrow track” at every turn to protect his future employment.
For a really effective Auditor General, he should be appointed on a ten year non-renewable term and be free to investigate any area of the city operations at his whim including calling sworn testimony and subpoenaing witnesses and making public reports through the press. This would give the office teeth similar to that enjoyed by Sheila Fraser, Canada’s Auditor General.
Right now, Oshawa’s Auditor General, as the job is defined, is a “pussycat” purring at the politician’s lap.
The Auditor General, though, did make one suggestion, that the policy should be tightened up so as to remove any ambiguities. This is simply a political statement that suggests that the policy gives room for the Mayor to make an interpretation of the rules.
I don’t know how much more defining the policy can be. There is a specific form for the purpose that quotes a maximum of $2000 per year or $5000 in any 5 year period. That’s clear to me! It also says that any application exceeding these amounts should also be approved by the city manager. That’s also clear to me! What’s the confusion?
In any case, no matter what the policy, common sense dictates that MBA’s should not be funded for politicians or political appointees. And it is good judgement we expect from our politicians in handling our affairs, isn’t it?
As a conclusion to his letter, Nicholson demanded a public apology from all critics of the MBA funding. I think that apology would be due from every single Oshawa resident except for Mayor John Gray, Councillors Brian Nicholson and April Cullen, and the Mayor’s executive assistant, James Anderson.
They are undoubtedly the only four in this city of 160,000 who agree with the funding, and the rest of us will undoubtedly express our disagreement with our votes come election day, Oct. 25, 2010.
Click here to read Brian Nicholson’s complete absurd statement supporting both the MBA funding and Mayor John Gray's "right" to make the decision to fund these tuitions out of your tax money.
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