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Vote flipped again; Sarnia asking Bluewater Power to cut costs

Troy Shantz A controversial decision by Sarnia council that was already reversed once by city staff has been flipped again.
City Hall
City Hall

Troy Shantz

A controversial decision by Sarnia council that was already reversed once by city staff has been flipped again.

On the advice of an outside expert, the original 5-3 vote by city council to request that Bluewater Power trim its operating costs was upheld Monday.

Council accepted the recommendation of parliamentary procedure expert Denise Labelle-Gelinas to amend the official record, which means a letter will now be sent to Bluewater Power asking the utility to reduce its operating costs by cutting staff travel, advertising and promotions.

Council approved that move in 5-3 vote on June 1. But the city clerk’s office issued a statement two days later saying the meeting, carried live on Zoom, suffered from “technical glitches” that led to voting confusion.

Coun. Dave Boushy, who is heard to say “agreed” on the audio when the vote was taken, had actually said “disagreed,” the clerk’s office said after consulting with the councillor.

The city’s acting clerk reversed the vote, which created a 4-4 tie and caused the motion to fail.

Councillors already demanding greater accountability from Bluewater Power cried foul, calling the move undemocratic and lacking transparency. So an outside opinion was sought.

After reviewing what happened, Labelle-Gelinas said neither council members nor the deputy clerk asked for clarification of Boushy’s vote at the time. The motion passed 5-3, the meeting continued, and the decision should have stood, she said.

If his vote was miscounted, Boushy said nothing about it during the meeting, and he said later he didn’t know what had happened.

Sarnia is the largest shareholder of Bluewater Power, which has warned its dividend to taxpayers could be reduced by $200,000 because of COVID-19.

In response, Coun. Mike Stark sought spending cuts and detailed financial information from the utility, which is 86.5% owned by Sarnia.

The company provided a 100-page audit, but did not divulge manager salaries and benefits, information Stark believes taxpayers have a right to see.

Bluewater Power CEO Janice McMichael-Dennis has said the company is not subject to the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act.

At the June 1 meeting, Councillors Boushy, Stark, Terry Burrell, Nathan Colquhoun and Brian White voted to ask the utility to cut costs.

Mayor Mike Bradley and Councillors Margaret Bird and George Vandenberg voted against it.

Coun. Bill Dennis, who is married to Bluewater Power CEO Janice McMichael-Dennis, declared a conflict of interest and did not vote.

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