Reviewing what the city administration won’t tell us about our business

By Gerry Barker

May 19, 2020

Opinion based on facts

In my 14 years of commenting and publishing about the Guelph administration, it occurs it may have all been in vain. It was the record of waste of public money on unsupported schemes to fit personal agendas. It was a period in Guelph’s history.

It was known as the age of the radical environmentalists controlling the city of Guelph.

In 2018, it climaxed with the election of Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Ontario Green Party, representing Guelph. He was a party of one in the Ontario Legislature.

Schreiner’s smashing victory, as reported to Elections Ontario, cost $119,864.14. It was believed to be tops in Ontario. His contributions totaled $58,090.43. That came up short of the total claim of $119,864.29. In his financial report, there was some $92,000 unsupported or identified in his campaign report

Regardless, let’s hit the launch button and review the nasty collection of secrecy, leading to mismanagement and complicity of basic operations practised by two administrations.

Fiddling with the new City Hall project between 2007 and 2008

It started with the election of Karen Farbridge and a large majority of city councillors. Recall that it was the Kate Quarrie council that approved spending $42 million to build a new city hall and renovate the old city hall into a provincial offenses courthouse.

Little did we know that eight years later when the bill was $65 million, the result of a $19.2 million dollar lawsuit brought by the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group, for wrongful dismissal.

It was September 18, 2008 when Mayor Farbridge, frustrated over the delays in completion of the project, ordered CAO Hans Loewig to remove them from the site. This was enforced by Guelph police. It was a sad day when pique overcame reason.

Later, new Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert addressed some of the details and what steps were being taken to complete the project. She did not mention the 19.2 million lawsuit filed by Urbacon. She resigned in May 2016 and was paid $263,000 for five months work. It should be noted that in 2008, she was hired as a Guelph’s new Director of Community Services at a salary of $129,148.

Using other people’s money is the mantra of the city’s administration

In 2009, the city participated in a tripartite deal with the federal and provincial governments to spend $100 million on projects ready to start. The city then piggy-backed on top of its share spending additional city funds on unknown projects,

$2 million building dedicated bike lanes on Stone Road plus a new $75,000 time-clock in the Sleeman Centre.

Wasting money of an organic waste processing facility

In 2010, there was construction of a new $34 million organic waste processing, wet, solid waste facility. Built by Maple Reinders, who also were awarded a contract to operate the facility through a subsidiary company. The end product produced since 2011, was organic compost but was never distributed or sold to citizens of Guelph.

They only paid for a plant that had a capacity of six times greater than the feedstock produced by the city.

See if I have this right. The city finances a plant that is run by the builder and receives nothing in return because the contractor sells the finished product to nameless customers. It did not take long for other municipals, including Kitchener, to boost volumes and, we presume, profits.

Who makes these deals that totally ignore the public’s interest?

Last year, there were stories about world-wide surplus of recycable materials, the result being that the value of recycable materials faded fast. Guelph is no different. I am told that increasing quantities of recycables are being sent to the landfill.

In the midst of this, the city entered into a contract between the Rizzo Brothers in Detroit and the City of Guelph. While terms were not revealed, Dean Wyman, General Manager of solid waste resources, told city council that an addition shift was needed to cope with the increased volume of exchanging waste.

Rizzo agreed to truck recycables to Guelph and pick up solid waste destined to the landfill. It didn’t take long to discover the Rizzo materials were mostly garbage and not the promised recycables.

It was later revealed that the deal cost the city a million plus and Mr. Wyman left for a job in Edmonton.

These events were never covered in the main stream media.

2014- Mayor Farbridge is defeated by Coun. Cam Guthrie

In just over a month, the new mayor discovered the financial state of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. These included Guelph Hydro, the Guelph Junction Railroad, and the District Energy Program that was a disaster.

It took some four before an audit byKPG accountatiing firm revealed a shareholder’s liability og $66 million and counting. Ut was swaxeibws as ab “impaired asset.” Could cover the payments to lenders, ever.

It was, at the time, the greatest loss by a municipality in the province.

As they say in show business, the house lights faded to black and secrecy dominated any information. Nobody was told what was happening.

Mr. Guthrie conducted a total of 84 closed-session meetings in his first two years in office. He was a man with grandiose ideas and projects. He announced that the city was entering a Public Private Participation project involving the Baker Street parking lot.

The key element was a new downtown library as the anchor for the development.

He was following the Trumpian technique of changing the narrative to get the public interested in something else

GMHI?

$34 million later and still no compost for citizens

The paper published artist renderings of the Baker Street proposal that the administration praised as revitalizing downtown.

Two events occurred in 2016-17. The first was the Mayor’s announcement that the Baker Street project was dead. The city announced the appointment of a special committee to investigate the option of disposing Guelph Hydro. The Special Options Committee (SOC) was composed initially with CAO Derrick Thomson and Pankaj Sardana, Guelph Hydro CEO as co-chairs plus three civilian members.

The investigation started in a series of closed-sessions that denied public participation of a major asset until February when a leak occurred.

First, what options were included in the SOC mandate? There was a merger with

another muncipally-owned Power distribution system. Then the option of dealing Guelph Hydro to a large power distribution corporation; the selling of the utility on a first-come basis.

The SOC committee was restructured with co-chair Mr. Sardana by Guelph Hydro chair Jane Alexander. Mr.Puccinni resigned. Later, we learned he protested the selling of Guelph Hydro that had been decided in closed-session.

No reason was given following the leak.

The whole process was operating in a closed-sessions vacuum. But things were happening and some six months later the Mayor announced the merger with Alectra Utilities and Guelph Hydro were almost complete. The city staff was employed to set up town hall meetings and phone surveys to support the merger.

The only thing missing were the details.

I sent an extensive questionnaire asking the opinion of councillors and why they would support it. I did not receive one reply. However, the mayor replied and among other things, said the merger was a give away of Guelph Hydro with a 2016 book value of $226 million.

Regardless, despite 22 delegates’ submissions to slow the process to allow public participation, city council by a 10 to 3 vote, agreed to the merger with no discussion.

Here’s my opinion. GMHI was in a bind with a loss of $66 million in lost shareholder value. Also, the debenture holders – Guelph Hydro Electric Sytems Inc, operators of Guelph Hydro, loaned GMHI more than unsecured $90 million, in debentures.

To make this work, the city would declare the $90 million Hydro loans as an impaired asset of GMHI. It had to maintain GMHI as a city asset and write it down over time.

This opened the door for Alectra to receive the assets of Guelph Hydro without paying a penny.

The city also had the $66 million GMHI impaired asset to also be written down over the years.

.Today,a GMHI lives and the promised annual share of Alectra Utilities profits are delivered to GMHI. How much was that dividend in 2019

.That’s only part history of major league bungling of our administrations.

 

 

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How 24/7 news coverage by cable news channels and computers, led to the death of the Guelph Mercury

By Gerry Barker

May 11, 2020

Opinion

 

The following are is a part excerpts from the guelphspeaks files, January 26, 2016

Fallout from the Mercury closing still reverberates through the community

The impact of the closing of Guelph’s daily newspaper flies in the face of the city’s claims that Guelph is Number One in Canada for jobs. It bolsters the argument that Guelph’s large number of civil servants who depend on the public purse, skews the claims that the city is number one in terms of jobs.

Truth: Guelph’s assessment ratio between residential and commercial/industrial has not changed since 2007 rating 84/16. Claiming leadership in creating jobs does not pay the bills but property assessment determines the revenue the city receives.

The 2014 election results spawned changes in the operation of the Mercury. Monitoring the diminishing advertising linage over a few months, it was apparent that the newspaper was financially hurting. A basic problem was the lack of local advertising that was placed in the twice-a-week Guelph Tribune.

Guelphspeaks saw the writing on the wall and predicted the closing of the Mercury in 2014.

We’ll miss the Merc, a paper that reported and commented on the life of our city six days a week.

This has created a giant news-hole that will be gone forever.

The decision fell directly on TorStar, owners of both the Tribune and Mercury.

What happened in Guelph four years ago is now happening to the Toronto Star that is facing diminishing advertising linage and has been selling assets to cover its news operations.

The Internet and the social media giants are eating the newspaper’s lunch by siphoning advertising from the print media. As a retired newspaperman , I am fearful of the demise of a great newspaperWelcome to publishing’s Age of Aquarius.

This happened four years ago in Guelph when Metroland publishing, owned by Torstar, exchanged a six day a week daily newspaper for a twice a week tabloid that enlarged its puppet role as subservient to the city administration.

The guardian of the public trust is dead and the torch is handed to the Internet and social media to exploit.

Folks, truth and open government have left the building.

Using public money, the city paid the Mercury Tribune a fat advertising contract for publishing “City News” that is not news at all but is paid advertising.

The M-T also dropped its Tuesday edition and now publishes Thursday, loaded with advertising inserts. Besides it free.

As I am in the December of my years, I feel like a Model T in the age of computerized SUV’s.

Regardless, the important thing is to demand the truth and accountability of the administration.

I will continue monitoring city hall and commenting on how they are communicating and being transparent.

Meanwhile, I will kick back and pretend I’m watching the Leafs and Raptors while I sip my Martini.

Ye gads! That’s the last of the gin!

 

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Guelph’s management of the Covid 19 pandemic is crumbling our way of life

By Gerry Barker

April 27, 2020

Opinion

How is the city shutdown working for you?

President Trump calls the U.S. response to the Covid 19 virus as a war.

He says he is not responsible for the late entry of the Covid 19 pendemic in America.

The United States’ late entry into World Wars 1 and 2 reflects the action of the current president in the 20th century. The U.S entered the conflict in world wars I and I1 years later than Britain, Canada and the commonwealths. Those nations were fighting the Axis fascist armies all over Europe and in the Far East.

The braggadocio of Trump only exacerbates his abject failure ignoring the early warnings of his own intelligence agencies.

The growing pandemic currently at 51,000 Civid 19 related deaths, in the U.S., is resident on Donald Trump’s reputation.

Meanwhile, how is Guelph doing?

The draconian measures imposed across the country mirrors our national image of respect of our government leaders and recognizes the worthiness of obeying the necessary shutdown of our community.

Yes, we are different from our southern neighbours. For example, Canada is one of 11 highly developed nations in the world that have universal health care for all citizens.

The one exception is the United States, bragging it has the finest medical system in the world but it still costs more than $30,000 to have a baby in most states.

The ghost council meeting

Monday, April 20, city council met that prevented the public from attending. It was a surreal meeting with public participation only allowed by registered delegates to participate by telephone.

On Monday night, councillors were forced, by telephone, to answer the questions by the registered delegates. For once it worked, as councillors were forced to respond to questions by the Bell brigade. In normal times, delegates are given five minutes to present their case. Most often councillors do not respond

I recall the night council voted to give Guelph Hydro away. There were 22 public delegates who presented sound reasons to delay the decision so the public could assess the proposal. Dead response.

Last Monday, my favourite response to a question was stating that cutting staff positions was needed. Coun. Phil Allt’s follow-up response referred to the American Marshal Plan that rebuilt a ravaged Europe following World War II, 75 years ago.

“I’m more interested in a Marshall Plan than slash and burn. The new relevant measures were passed by council unanimously,” he said.

There you have it, The Allt Plan to rebuild Guelph. It helps when we learn the city has a new credit facility of $50 million to handle the short fall of revenues. The cost of delaying property taxes and other expenses until the end of July is already approved to cost $9 million.

The band-aid approach to managing our money

It was necessary to defer property taxes and a number of other items to keep the city running. But questions arise:

What is the status of the reserve funds and are there any that can be used to slow the bleeding of revenue, some of which may not be recoverable?

Has the city suspended capital spending?

Are the citizens entitled to a deferral of electricity, water, wastewater and storm water deductions, as are the property taxpayers?

Is council holding any closed-session meetings during the shut down?

Are all city subsidies and donations suspended, including Guelph Transit?

Are all pending infrastructure and construction contracts reviewed and suspended until the pandemic threat is reduced to allow projects to proceed?

The federal and provincial governments have introduced programs to subsidize employees laid off. Why are city taxpayers picking up the tab of continuing to pay permanent employees? These are not slash and burn actions but prudent measures to reduce costs during this record-breaking pandemic.

As usual, Guelph resident, Pat Fung, made suggestions to reduce municipal staff to ameliorate primary expenses of the city operating budgets.

Guelph’s largest industry, Linamar, has layed off the staff in 19 plants. It is the largest property taxpayer in the city.

Contrast that example with the University of Guelph that has the benefit of an archaic system applied to every University and Community college in the Province for 37 years.

Here’s the deal: The U of G, the largest property owner in the city, pays $75 for each registered student in lieu of property taxes. It is estimated to be $1.7 million per year. The $75 rate is unchanged since being introduced by the province.

The university is not only sitting on a goldmine in undeveloped land but is the landlord of commercial and residential lands along Stone Road. These leased lands provide a regular stream of cash to the university

So why are the taxpayers also subsidizing the university? The city provides police, fire and EMS services, the hospitals, chiefly Guelph General, Guelph Transit, public health, bike lanes, water and sewer infrastructure, construction, and repairs to support the growing university and facilities.

I’d be curious to learn more of Coun. Allt’s “ Marshall Plan” for Guelph.

Is the Mayor missing in action?

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Covid 19 fallout – City lays off 601 most vulnerable employees, the casual and part-timers

By Gerry Barker

April 20, 2020

Opinion

Last month when City Hall was shut down along with other facilities and businesses the permanent staffers was told to go home but they would be paid regardless.

The city was shut down to stop the spread of the Covid 19 respiratory virus

Now this represents a jumble of rules applicable to layoffs, retirements and separation. It’s anyones guess who and how many are still receiving their money, paid by those taxpayers.

But the city layed off 601 part-time and casual employees. They will now be eligible for Employment Insurance. The taxpayers still foot the bill. All those property taxpayers who pay for their city employee’s benefit may also be in a position not able to pay mortgages, vat and credit card expenses.

That decision did not include the first responders, Police Fire and EMS who carried out their responsibilities. Their risk of getting the Covid 19 virus was extremely high and they carried on despite a shortage of protecting safety equipment that the medical teams were wearing.

The shortages of this vital equipment seriously affected the medical staff as Ontario was not prepared for the onslaught of the Covid 19.

Ontario responded by shutting down the province to stop the spread of the disease. But it has become obvious that the most vulnerable citizens are those aged more than 70, many of whom are living in nursing homes.

The Bobcaygon nursing home tragedy in which some 28 residents have died. Other nursing homes in the province are coping with the threat of exposure to Covid 19.

In Guelph, there appears to be little information about the disease’s infiltration into our community including the city-owned Elliot senior facility.

It should be noted that the medical front-line staffs have also faced the risk of being infected and they have carried on.

This is the essence of courage and nobility.

In early February, I was a pre-Covid patient in the Guelph General Hospital. I suffered a serious lung infection and placed in isolation. I cannot praise the medical staff enough for the care before Covid 19 struck.

A few days before I was discharged, an echo cardiogram test revealed I had a faulty valve in the aortic chamber of my heart.

I was sent to St. Mary’s hospital in Kitchener for assessment of an operation called a Tavi. The cardio team decided to reschedule the assessment until April 27. Stay tuned.

After being quarantined at home for six weeks, the status reports missing are the Covid 19 effect on Guelph and surrounding communities in Wellington County.

Where is our Mayor?

The Mayor seems to have disappeared and the print media does not report the Covid 19 status and its affect on the city.

There has been no Covid 19 reporting. Could it be that the Medical Officer of Health for Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin, decided not to reveal the daily status to the quarantined public?

But the bills must be paid and there is a property tax installment for many citizens coming up at the end of this month. Has the city made any provision to allow deferment of taxes with no late payment charges?

Two major Canadian municipalities have stated the financial situation is serious. The Mayor of Vancouver said his city is within two weeks of insolvency.

His concern was shared by the Mayor of Mississauga, who said diminishing property tax revenue leave few options left to balance its books as mandated by the province.

She did say the city reserves were in good shape but most were dedicated for specific expenses.

The option of transfering capital funds to operational funds to shore up city finances is not an option.

Talk to us Mr. Mayor

Whoever is in charge of the city administration should be informing the citizens of the financial status and what they are doing about it.

This current council used closed-session meetings. The previous administration, regularly used reserve funds to balance its books.

One glaring example was the more than $5 million taken from three dedicated reserve funds. It was part of the $23 million contract overrun. A wrongful dismissal lawsuit was brought by three general contractors who were ordered off the site before the project was completed.

Council also has used developer fees for city capital projects.

Instead the administrations philosophy of doing whatever it chooses is amoral and possibly illegal.

Meanwhile, the citizens, businesses, schools, city services, excluding the first responders and and medical services’ personnel are struggling to treat the Covid 19 victims.

For some five weeks of the city shutting down, the fact is the first victim is the truth in the war battling the Covid 19 virus.

With reduced taxes, how does Guelph pay the largest portion of its operationl budget with the full-time staff sent home?

There are three choices: Borrow from the bankers, take money from the reserves or raise taxes.

Why aren’t those in charge talking?

The problem is we live in a news-less environment in Guelph where the tiny number of news gatherers are dependent upon news releases from city hall’s team of communicators.

It does matter to question the catalogue of decisions that mask the details of a pandemic that affects every citizen. Those who face financial stress living in almost total isolation, not knowing how to pay the mortgage, put food on the table or pay ther bills’

Worse is not knowing when it all ends.

If the newspaper is uncomfortable reporting this, why not use more public money and report the status of the Covid 19 virus in the Tribune’s “City News” eve ary week?

Let the finger pointing begin.

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How the Trudeau government has lost focus dealing with its senior citizens who have lost thousands in their RIF investments

By Gerry Barker

April 8, 2020

Opinion

Here is a personal observation about how all Canadians are being asked or ordered to change the social aspect of their existence to stop the spread of the Covid 19 virus.

Every day I watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outline in broad terms what the government is enacting to meet the stringent demands of social isolation to, mitigate the spread of the virus.

Indeed, the government has taken important steps to not only support those workers who have lost income, but is exploring plans to assist graduating university and college students who face the no-summer-job opportunities.

Not so clear is the effective checking of returning Canadians who traveled the world and the southern U.S. Also, refugee claimants who walk across the border demanding entry into our country.

The most devastating damage the Trudeau government has inflicted in the past four years is the denial of Alberta oil and natural gas to markets outside of Canada other than the U.S.

The policies of theTrudeau government to stop Western Canada’s prime fossil fuel interests are a key element of the Canadian economy.

Blocking new markets for Canadian crude

These policies include spend $4 billion to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline right of way. This was to get western Canadian oil to the blue water markets around the Pacific rim.

Other pipeline expansions were denied including the Canada East line to St. John, New Brunswick where there is a port to export Canadian fuel to new markets from the North pole east.

Here’s what a lot of people are not aware. That pipline stretched from Alberta to Ontario and was used for years to transport natural gas to Ontario. The owner, TransCanada Pipeline offered to give the unused pipeline to the federal government.

Then trouble. Former Premier Kathleen Wynne denied allowing the pipeline to cross Ontario. Quebec chimed in. The result was that oil from Saudi Arabia was the chief supplier of oil to most of Eastern Canada.

For her part, Premier Wynne’s government went on a wind and solar power producing binge that will cost Ontarians thousands over the next 15 years.

Here’s why. Her plan to subsidize electricity power costs for five years was a political decision. It didn’t work. Her government was wiped out in June 2018.

To drive home the effect of this decision is that 60 per cent of Ontario’s power is generated by two nuclear plants.

The result was changing Ontario’s energy generation to wind and sun has been a disaster.

What does this have to do with Covid 19?

In 1980, Bill Clinton’sclosest advisor told Democratic presidential candidate Bill : “ It’s the economy, stupid.”

Today, 30 years later, an important income for many Canadians, who are facing a second implosion of a major Canadian economic commodity, was legislated by the Prime Minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau.

Then the government introduced what was called the National Energy Plan.

It was a disaster that weakend the economy of Western Canada and eventually the Prime Minister resigned.

Albertans were furious and the rise of the Reform Party became a reality.

Two wrongs don’t make it right

I applaud the Trudeau government with initiating programs to support workers, graduating students and repatriation of Canadians returning from overseas..

But there is one class of citizens who have been left out of being helped. Canadians. It is those senior Canadians who have seen their Registered Income Finds and RRSP’s lose value.

I withdraw more than the minimum over the year. Come July, the monthly withdrawl is reduced by 20 per cent. I know it becomes a tax credit for the current year but it fails the test of producing income when needed for maintaining a lifestyle.

It’s a diminishing source of investment. It is a fixed design that dictates annually the minimum the owner must withdraw. If you exceed that limit then the CRA withholds its share.

I have always been puzzled about this. It is an impediment to the owner of the RIF. Really who cares? The government will collect taxes when you die on the remainder of the RIF balance.

I sent a letter to our MP, Lloyd Longfield, four years ago and never received a reply.

Now the situation has changed. The RIF values for those Canadians who invested in securities have substantially evaporated.

Perhaps the Trudeau government should suspend forcing RIF holders paying taxes until the economy grows and investments recover.

This is an outdated system. RIF owners need revision to allow them to access funds when needed. The Government will tax that amount exceeding the mandated amount for the year.

It’s not like we are asking for money. We pay taxes on our income each year. Each year that includes the RIF income. We cannot spend the funds witheld for taxes when we need it.

Your comments are welcome.

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The City of Guelph was forced to reveal spending $90,000 to support a private lawsuit by a former employee alleging defamation

By Gerry Barker
March 8 2020

Opinion

On February 5, two days before being hospitalized, I published a post that outlined the history of a three and a half year lawsuit. The City refused my request to disclose the cost to the citizens of Guelph.

Tony Saxson, a reporter with Guelph Today, made a request under the Freedom of Information Act and revealed that the City’s cost to support the lawsuit was approximately $90,000 to the date of disclosure.

This revelation of $90,000 spent over three and a half years on supporting the defamation lawsuit brought by Amorosi, defies the pledge by the Mayor and his council. Whatever happened to accountability to all citizens, transparency of all administration responsibilities, and operation of an open government?

Who has been aware of the $90,000 cost to the taxpayers, so far?
• Not the four judges in the case
• Not the taxpayers
• Presumably the lawyer who was billing the city
• Presumably Amorosi
• Presumably the Chief Administrative Officers from 2015-2019, Ann Pappert and Derrick Thomson

Superior Court Judge, Cynthia Peterson, said in her denial of our motion to dismiss the lawsuit that it was almost “too close to call.”

If she had known the details of the city’s involvement and the cost to citizens, would she have ruled differently? She ruled against our argument that it was in the public interest.

This whole episode was an abuse of the public trust. The administration in 2016, and since, was complicit in using its resources to build and fund a private citizen’s defamation case against me.

Bottom line, it has cost me $86,000 in legal fees yet I have never been found guilty of defamation.

How many readers could defend themselves against a city-funded attack against them for having the audacity to challenge mismanagement of the public purse? This was a secretive deal to shut me down, using a surrogate to cripple me financially.

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