By Patrick Meagher
CHATHAM — The man with the thick white hair walks in, as he usually does, bringing coffee and donuts. Administrators, who regularly agree to meet with him, bring a lawyer. And that’s not because they’re friends.
John Cryderman has found so much government waste at the municipal level, he’s making local politicians and bureaucracy nervous. He figures he could save taxpayers across the province billions of dollars. “Municipalities are the worst offenders of wasting taxpayer dollars,” he insists.
In his own municipality of Chatham-Kent, Cryderman found that expenses are routinely not explained and sometimes approved behind closed doors. He said that the Police Services Act requires its meetings to be public but in Chatham-Kent an in-camera meeting approved the police chief ramping up his car allowance to pay for a $73,000 SUV, an increase from $37,000. In another case, the municipality almost approved a plan to “save” taxpayers money until Cryderman figured it was actually going to waste millions of dollars and persuaded some councillors to vote against it.
Cryderman is a former police officer, turned entrepreneur — he’s a retail trade industry operator — but these days he spends more time, about 40 hours a week, fighting broken government. He’s found that the image of local politics is true: It’s the Wild West.
Cryderman has been asking questions about municipal finances since 1995. He has filed about 25 Access to Information requests. He’s about to file more. He once complained to the Ontario ombudsman (resulting in forcing Premier Kathleen Wynne to release information on the Clean Energy Act). In late 2016, he presented a 46-page report to the provincial standing committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in Windsor. He said he would like to present the same report to the new Premier Doug Ford, who campaigned on saving taxpayer money.
MPP Toby Barrett (PC Haldimand-Norfolk) calls him the official opposition in Chatham-Kent. “It’s important that we have people like Cryderman,” Barrett said.
Some taxpayers now call the “official opposition” instead of councillors because it’s the only way to get something done. Cryderman resents doing council’s job. “I don’t want bragging rights,” he said. “I want my town back.”
Concerning most of his Freedom of Information requests, the municipality refused to comply or provided inadequate information, he said. He made about 20 appeals, with a $25 cost per appeal, to the province’s Information Privacy Commission that leaned on Chatham-Kent until it coughed up better answers. The commission can mediate a resolution by email or teleconference between both parties. However, if a municipality won’t play ball, the commission will launch a public inquiry, a potential black eye for local councillors that they would rather avoid.
One of the worst cases of waste in Chatham-Kent involved a proposed amalgamation of paramedics with fire services that was assailed as a money saver while improving services. The proposal included hiring 65 new ambulance drivers but Cryderman very quickly saw there were no savings to anyone. In fact, at $70,000 base salary (plus an additional 30 per cent employee burden on the township for insurance, dental cover, pension and administration) for each position over 30 years would cost $300 million, not including indexing for inflation. At the same time, there are available studies showing that outsourcing is much less expensive.
Why would a municipality be so reckless? Follow the money. A municipality that increases its number of employees would naturally expect pay increases for managing a larger number of people, Cryderman argues.
Some municipal misdeeds are common, specifically expense items. Cryderman recalled seeing a $108,000 expense with no explanation. He argued that residents in any municipality are entitled to know how their money will be spent and can file a Freedom of Information request with the municipality to find out. Expect to appeal and have patience.
In one FOI request about the mayor’s foreign travel, the municipality charged Cryderman $1,322 for research time even though one municipal employee didn’t need to consult anyone to compile the information. Noted the Chatham Voice: “Why not just give the information to the citizen who asked for it? Why wait until an FOI request goes to mediation. And why the ridiculous price tag?”
Ineffective municipal politics are a province-wide problem, Cryderman said. Idealistic individuals run for office to change the world and when they are elected, it seems they learn about how much personal gain they can achieve by staying in office and too many firebrands become compromised.
The world of government has become so disconnected from the people, “they’ve become an entity of power unto themselves and think that taxpayers work for them,” Cryderman said. “Under the constitution, taxpayers have all the rights.”
Taxpayers need to understand that they own their municipality, he said. “Municipalities have no right to withhold information from any taxpayer or citizen.”