One man’s opinion: Was there a conspiracy to merge Guelph Hydro instead of selling it?

By Gerry Barker

August 13, 2018

As many viewers know, guelphspeaks.ca has been a severe critic of the proposed merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra Inc, the parent corporation of Alectra Utilities.

I call it the steal of the century.

The onus of this multi-million dollar giveaway lies with those 10 members of council who, on December 13 2017, voted to approve the merger. The truth, as it is gradually coming out, is that the council majority had already taken the bait and decided to approve the complex deal months before it took shape.

Despite late hour protests by citizens, including 22 who appeared before council expressing the need for more truthfulness, clarity and delay until the people understood what was at stake. Protests denied.

We have yet to be told how much GMHI cost the city over five years.

What did ten councillors know that we didn’t?

As a public service, here are the names of the ten: Mayor Cam Guthrie, Councillors Dan Gibson, Andy Van Hellemond, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Christine Billings, Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Mark Mackinnon, Karl Wettstein.

Councillors Phil Allt, James Gordon and Bob Bell voted against the approval.

In my opinion, there is no public record of discussions by members of council to accept the terms and considerations of this merger. The public, those people who actually own Guelph Hydro, were totally ignored by the majority of council in making the decision to merge with Alectra Inc.

So what is the truth and consequence of this decision? In my opinion, it was a conspiracy to bail out the multi-million dollar financial losses incurred by the former administration operating Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) that included Guelph Hydro.

It took more than a year to finally be told the extent of the failed GMHI scheme.

Those losses and wasted resources were a stain on the city’s account books. The council realized that not even the financial resources including the credit rating of the Corporation of the City of Guelph could sustain and repay the losses.

Since early 2015, the administration has quietly worked behind the scenes with accountants and lawyers to extricate itself from the GMHI disaster in creating a system of power self sufficiency and incorporating it with a geo-thermal hot and cold water delivery to a small number of to commercial and hi-rise residences.

City council was frequently blinded as GMHI business was conducted in closed sessions for more than four years. The public, including this writer, had no clue as to what GMHI was doing.

That is, until May 16, 2016 when Chief Administrative officer, Ann Pappert signed a report along with CEO of GMHI Panaj Sardana, that revealed parts of the looming scandal that would have a disastrous impact on the city’s finances.

In mid-July 2016, a staff report provided additional information that gave more insight into what had occurred in the five years that GMHI operated in almost complete secrecy.

The plans created under the leadership of former Mayor, Karen Farbridge, were flawed and executed without the proper and necessary checks and balances.

Until the May 16 report there were many people, city staff and elected officials, who knew what was unfolding and never said a word.

The players

Let’s be frank, this could not have happened without the support and loyalty to the former mayor. Included were key staff members and some councillors who served on the GMHI board of directors. These included Lise Burcher, June Hofland, Karl Wettstein and Todd Dennis. Wettstein is not a candidate this year, Hofland and Burcher are candidates and Mr. Dennis is no longer associated with council.

It is important to note that former CAO Ann Pappert was also the Chief Executive Officer of GMHI for four years. The closed session meeting of council December 10, 2015 was when the four senior managers received the salary and bonus payments totaling $98,202. Ms. Pappert, Deputy Chief Administrative Officers Derrick Thomson, Al Horsman and Mark Amorosi were knowledgeable of the GMHI operations and problems.

Today only Derrick Thomson remains with the city as CAO although he resigned in January 2016 to take another position then returned in June to take over as CAO.

Not one of those councillors associated with GMHI, spoke up about the GMHI operations. In my opinion, they committed the highest form of dereliction of their sworn fiduciary responsibility. In fact, they were all paid extra for participating on the GMHI Board.

Coun. Karl Wettstein declined to participate during a council meeting discussing the   GMHI situation on the grounds that because he received remuneration for his membership on the GMHI board, he declared a perceived conflict of interest based of his financial connection.

But that didn’t stop Coun. June Hofland and Mr. Wettstein from voting for the merger of Guelph Hydro.

The extraordinary part of approving the merger is that those ten councillrs couldn’t have known what they were approving. The agreement was still being negotiated and it wasn’t completed until February, this year. That’s when a written proposal, containing 19 documents was available on request. Some of which had major redactions, Alectra Inc. and Guelph Hydro presented it to the Ontario Energy Board for approval.

No date has been set for the OEB to conduct a hearing and make its decision. There are four interveners who will ask the OEB to reject the proposal. A spokesperson for the board estimated that the hearing will not be held for up to 12 months.

Based on that statement, no decision will be made before the October civic election.

Entering from Stage Left, the SOC

The framework for this abortive, agreement hatched for the most part in closed sessions, was created in the fall of 2016 by the council-appointed Strategies and Options Committee aka SOC. It was originally co-chaired by Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson and Guelph Hydro Chief Executive Officer Pankaj Sardana. There were three other members on the committee who we’ll call civilians.

There were no elected officials on the committee.

The structure of the SOC changed as Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong replaced Mr. Sardana. Two other members were replaced. This change occurred prior to February 2017 when council made a major decision, in open session, to remove the option of selling Guelph Hydro from further discussion or negotiation.

So why was council told to dump the option of selling the $300 million profitable, publicly-owned power distribution systems serving 55,000 customers?

I have learned that there were at least two neighbouring municipalities that expressed an interest in buying Guelph Hydro. Because this was discussed behind closed doors, we’ll never be told who they were.

The reason that the SOC was instructed to stop selling the crown jewel of Guelph remains a great, untold story of backroom intrigue and arm-twisting.

But the reason is clear that the massive debt accumulated by the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., along with Guelph Hydro, chaired by the former mayor, had to be dealt with on the city books.

For the record, this merger is to get rid of that debt by giving away Guelph Hydro and its assets to Alectra Inc for almost nothing. You don’t have to hold a PhD in accounting to figure this out.

How did the city get out of this hole created by a former administration without borrowing money from a recognized lender such as a bank or credit union?

Welcome to Trader Joe’s

The answer friends is they made a deal with the devil and traded Guelph Hydro and all its functioning assets to Alectra for a tiny share of Alectra Utilities’ profits of just 4.36 per cent but only sharing in 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profits.

Voila! The trade kicks the accumulated debt of Guelph Hydro controlled by GMHI. The merger agreement states:

“The purchase by Alectra Inc. of all the issues and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro held by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. a wholly owned corporation of the City of Guelph.”

It’s important to note that Alectra Utilities is a subsidiary of Alectra Inc. This corporation is the so-called “purchaser” but Guelph only shares in the profits of its ubsidiary corporation.

Here’s the brutal truth. Alectra Inc. once approved as the new owner of Guelph Hydro, is dropping that brand name as soon as the OEB approves the merger. Here’s another possibility, Alectra Inc. can sell the assets of Guelph Hydro to the highest bidder and walk away with millions.

Mayor Guthrie keeps saying that the city is giving nothing away when asked about the proposed merger.

Did you know that the city admits it has spent YTD some $2.6 million of your money to sell this deal to us. The head of the city’s communications department was the key driver of the campaign to convince us with slanted polls and town halls where few people turned up.

Then just before the vote to approve the merger, the city announced that it was receiving an $18.5 million “special dividend” from Guelph Hydro as soon ad the deal is approved.

So our council is so smart to believe that getting $18.5 million of our own money is a fair trade for a $300 million corporation that the citizens happen to own.

Alectra Inc. is virtually getting a very valuable asset for nothing. The city negotiators were even willing to give Alectra the Hydro reserve cash but they declined.

And why not? They just got the whole enchilada for Pesos on the dollar.

Can you imagine this happening in a private corporation?

Those remaining eight councillors running for re-election will have to explain why, why did they fall for this grand theft Hydro?

It’s insulting and deplorable that in the new Working Together community report addition to the city website, the claim is made that city assets have increased by $13 million and the debt has been paid down by $24.4 million.

It only goes to prove that there is a sucker born every minute. Only we are the suckers who have experienced the malfeasance of those councillors who approved this deal.

In my opinion, there is strong evidence that this is a major cover-up that has the odor of conspiracy to defraud the citizens of a valuable asset to settle the mismanagement of the previous administration.

I believe there are grounds here to have an investigation by the Ontario Attorney General to determine if there is evidence of a crime being committed.

This isn’t going away.

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After four years Karen Farbridge is alive and well on the city’s website

By Gerry Barker

August 5, 2018

Contained in a new glossy addition labeled “Working Together” that can be found on the city’s website, we discover the omnipotent presence of the former mayor circa 2007 to 2014.

The following outlines some of the projects and policies of the former mayor. In fact there is a large presence on this new section of the city’s website. Today, we only address some of the topics of interest and concern of citizens in Guelph. There will be more coverage in the next few weeks, exclusively in guelphspeaks.ca.

So you thought when Karen Farbridge was defeated in 2014 the voters rejected her and her policies.

Nope. She’s still present and on the record according to the Guelph city website’s “Working Together” a new remake featuring the Guthrie years as Mayor

Any presumption in early 2015, that new Mayor, Cam Guthrie, would keep his word to end the so-called “Guelph Factor” and keep property tax increase no greater than to the Consumer Price Index. That flew out the window March 2015 when city council passed a property tax increase of 3.96 per cent. The CPI rate at the time was reported to be 1.99 per cent.

It was the beginning of an administration headed by a Mayor who is now described as Farbridge ‘Lite’, and with good reason.

In December 2015, the administration’s greatest test however fell upon the administrative professional staff. Four top city managers were granted, in closed session, huge increases totaling $98,202. Within four months, CAO Ann Pappert, Al Horsman and Derrick Thomson had resigned. Only Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Mark Amorosi remained.

The senior management was gutted and the city council struggled to maintain some form of leadership. CAO Pappert left May 26, 2016. Former senior manager Derrick Thomson resigned in January 2016 to take a job in his town of residence. He was recalled and took command of the professional staff in June 2016. Former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman left in August 2015 for the CAO’s job in Sault Ste Marie.

The Sunshine List showed that Ms. Pappert received $263,000 for five months work and Mr. Horsman received $181,000 for his eight months tenure in 2015.

The lady remains a featured player in the Grand Royal City Opera

After reading the details on the city website, one would believe that former Mayor Karen Farbridge was still in charge. Even though she has been gone for almost four years, her imprint remains on the official city website. Yikes!

This can only be described as the current city councillors giving the middle finger salute to the people they work for and are responsible to.

The following is on the city’s website today:

“In November 2008, Mayor Karen Farbridge and Guelph City Council committed to the development of a new ten-year Economic Development and Tourism Strategy for Guelph — Prosperity 2020.

Prosperity 2020 will support the City of Guelph’s vision of being “the city that makes a difference”, and the strategic goal of having “a diverse and prosperous local economy.”

The Phase 2 Economic Development & Tourism Strategy will provide direction, priorities and performance measures for the transformation of Guelph’s economy over the next decade and beyond.

Here are the members of the Mayor’s Prosperity 2020 task force.

Karen Farbridge, Mayor, City of Guelph
Frank Valeriote, Member of Parliament, Guelph
Liz Sandals, Member of Provincial Parliament, Guelph
Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President, University of Guelph
Mark Goldberg, President, GlobalTox International Consultants Inc.
Mike Bouk, Executive Director, Ag-Energy Co-operative
Lloyd Longfield, President, Guelph Chamber of Commerce
Kevin Hall, Vice President (Research), University of Guelph
Dave Smardon, President/Director, BioEnterprise Corporation
Don Drone, Director of Education & CEO, Wellington Catholic District School Board
Kathy Bardswick, President & CEO, The Co-operators Group Limited
Michael Annable, Industry Representative.”

 

Let’s update the ten-year program titled “Prosperity 2020.”

What did the task force accomplish in those ten years? Also where are most of them now? Are we better off today?

Well, it’s what they didn’t accomplish is the real question. It’s fair game for citizens to question why this is still posted on the city website’s new feature presentation ‘Working Together.’

So let’s review how ‘Prosperity 2020’ has affected the quality of life in our city in the past ten years.

First, economic development means creating jobs, increasing industrial and business assessment and creating a balance of property tax revenue between residential, industrial and commercial expansion.

That has not changed in 12 years under two Farbridge and one Guthrie Administration. At a ratio of 84 per cent residential and only 16 for industrial and commercial assessment, it has not altered since 2001 when Karen Farbridge was first elected Mayor.

By any measure that does not mirror economic development. Instead, the load keeps falling on the shoulders of those property-taxed owners who have experienced huge increase in taxes on their properties.

The average assessment ratio in Ontario is 60 per cent residential and 40 per cent industrial and commercial.

Think about this: If the ratio increased from the present industrial/commercial figure of 16 per cent to 30 per cent, the effect would be less dependence on the residential assessment. But three administrations, in 18 years, failed to accomplish anything to correct the imbalance.

Just look at why the city administration failed to increase the economic development revenue ratio. The city website remains a mortuary of the Farbridge administrations that has cost we citizens millions.

Taking a trip down memory lane

* Remember the $23 million Urbacon cost overruns?

* The $15 million GMHI? District Energy and geo-thermal plants?

* Natural gas generating plants that were never built?

* Waste management debacles including buying trucks for auto pick-up of bins??

* Spending $5 million to buy two buildings on Wyndham Street to turn the space into    enlarging the Baker Street parking lot?

* Overbuilt organic wet waste processing facility costing $34 million?

* The Detroit recyclable fiasco?

* Closing lanes on major roads to allow bicycle lanes?

* Intensification of residential complexes with little open space and parking?

* The lack of parking downtown?

* Failure to clean up the downtown possessed by druggies, drunkenness, panhandlers and the homeless?

* Failing to build affordable housing for the less fortunate working poor?

* The renovated railway bridge on Wyndham Street that had large trucks crashing into it.

And don’t forget the high increases annual taxes paid by the residential owner and user fees charged for city services. The city is so desperate for revenue that it inflicted a one per cent levy on property taxes allegedly to pay down the $500 million infrastructure deficit. Then Council approved an additional one per cent levy on properties for “City Buildings.”

Truth to tell it was a move to start funding the $63 million South-end Recreation Centre. The two counncillors sponsoring the motion were Mark MacKinnon and Karl Wettstein. Both represent Ward Six. Some $3.5 Million has already been spent on plans for the $63 million recreation  centre in Ward Six.

Until citizens realize that their 2014 vote was wasted when the new mayor capitulated to the demands of the seven-member progressive bloc who are dedicated to preserving the Farbridge legacy.

Otherwise, what more proof do you want that if anything there is a ton of Farbridge’s ill-conceived and executed action plans that have left an indelible historical imprint on the history of our city.

This study of the Farbridge unabridged legacy is far from over, more to come.

Perhaps a website content purge is in order.

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Say hello to Guelph Tomorrow, the new people’s participation association

By Gerry Barker

July 29, 2918

Please Note: There is a lot of material in this lengthy piece. It is part of the long march of electors to voting day, October 22. Check out Guelph Tomorrow’s website opening in mid August for reliable updates and information.

This is composed of like-minded citizens who reject the policies of the past three councils that have conducted the people’s business chiefly behind closed doors. The city debt has never been higher. By taking development fees from other projects, public buildings have been financed outside the box of financial management. Millions have been lost on failed energy and environmental projects such as the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc’s failed projects.

The reserve funds have been depleted to a point that the administration will not reveal. In 2009, Coun. Leanne Piper was quoted that the city held $70 million in reserve funds. Would she care to update us on that one?

This occurred over the past 12 years because we the people let it happen. We elected ward councillors in the majority who collectively, were controlled by a mayor and professional staff. The former mayor who bragged that she was turning Guelph into a world-class leader in waste management and other environmental projects drove the agenda.

It’s time to elect and support individuals who are politically in the centre of the political spectrum. Guelph Tomorrow will assist those councillors running for the next four years to ensure that our municipal management must be conducted with transparency, with active accountability and open government.

This means shutting down the closed-session meetings of council that suppress public participation. It includes a quarterly summary of the financial status of city operations distributed through the Hydro mailing system.

Most important is to stop the annual property tax and user fees increases that are crippling the city and exceeding the inflation as set by the Consumer Price Index currently running at 2.5 per cent.

When was the last time you received a financial statement from the city?

For example, under the current Guthrie administration property taxes alone have increased by an estimated 17 per cent in four years.

To pay for all the mistakes, the Guthrie council approved giving away Guelph Hydro lock, poles, wires and most of the staff for a tiny dividend from the acquiring corporation.

It is a recipe for disaster, especially for lower income folks, those on fixed incomes and functioning below the poverty measurement.

In 12 years, the majority of a highly-organized political organization that operated below the public’s radar has shattered the public trust.

This group manipulated the agenda to promote their misguided and unreliable projects.

Let us count the legacy of political Action and its impact on the citizens.

Start with the Community Energy Innovation plan that was the mother ship of such leftist failed projects.

The Organic Waste Processing Facility cost $34 million and has yet to turn a profit. It imports wet garbage from Simcoe County and the Region of Waterloo, both of which are paying less per tonne than the basic operating costs.

Reason? The facility was overbuilt to the extent that its capacity was six times the needs of the City of Guelph. This is an example of a leftist dream that has resulted in the city having the highest waste collection and processing in the province.

The kicker? Don’t expect to get compost even though you paid for it

The $23 million over budget cost of the new City Hall complex took the end cost to $65 million. The settlement to the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group, was $8 million following judgment by a Superior Court judge.

The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. built a district Energy scheme that included installing a geo-thermal piping system to supply hot and cold water to five nearby buildings. Coupled with other zany projects costing the citizens according to the KPMG audit some $60 million in shareholder equity.

The list of wasted funds is extensive. What it has accomplished is forcing Guelph taxpayers and citizens to pay for it. The result is the city has become one of their most expensive places to live in Ontario.

Guelph Tomorrow’s mission:

Transparency, Active Accountability and Open Government in all city operations.

The No Frills plan to reform and change our city to be less proactive and more reactive to measure and control management through the council and not the professional staff.

That’s why this election is so important.

Just recall the recent announcement that the city was entering a Public Private Plan to redevelop the Baker Street parking lot into a $350 million mixed-use project including a new downtown library of some 88,000 square feet.

Plans call for shovels in the groun in 2024 and occupation in 2028 barring any delays, heritage or environment problems. By just calculating the effect of inflation on the cost of the project over ten years is easily an estimated 30 per cent or more than $105 million.

Guelph Tomorrow is in favour of affordable development but not long-term schemes designed to ensure re-election of city councillors including the Mayor.

The attached No Frills reform package is necessary to halt spending on projects that bind future councils.

First, we have to clean up the mess and rebuild our city with fair taxes and fees we can all afford today but not tomorrow.

The No Frills Action Plan for the People by the People

Here is the Guelph Tomorrow No Frills Action Plan to return common sense and councillors’ fiduciary responsibility to the administration.

No Frills means hiring an Auditor General to supervise the internal auditors.

No Frills means the city auditor will complete a full audit of city finances before submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal h\Holdings Inc. and removing Guelph Hydro from GMHI returning it to the city as a separate department

No Frills means halting capital spending until the audit of the city finances is completed.

No Frills proposes a new senior management structure to change with a City Manager heading the staff with Directors in charge of major departments.

No Frills recommends that a reorganized administration will include an executive management team composed of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, City Manager, City Clerk, City Solicitor, Chief Financial Officer, Director of Public Services, Director of Environmental, Engineering and Planning. The City Manager acts as chair. Ex officio would include the Chief of Police, Fire Chief and Director of EMS.

No Frills recommends that the first responder departments, Police, Fire and EMS be amalgamated into the Public Safety Department. Chair would be rotated every two years between the three heads of divisions.

No Frills means stopping the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities.

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. and removing Guelph Hydro from GMHI, returning it to the city as a separate department.

No Frills means Guelph Hydro board of three members will be elected for four years.

No Frills encourages public participation in all areas of the administration.

No Frills means that the status of finances in all reserve accounts and the purpose of each and be revealed to the people.

No Frills means evaluating all polices including NGO subsidies and donations.

No Frills recommends on the advice of the Executive Team to restore the committees of council with members receiving a stipend based on attendance.

No Frills means scrapping the protocol allowing closed-session meetings. Only those conditions for such a meeting are to be used according to the Ontario Municipal Act.

No Frills means a review of the purchasing and procurement system by the CFO and Internal Auditor filing their report to the Executive Team.

No Frills mean freezing all salary and benefits until the city audit is completed.

No Frills means ordering a staff rationalization review by an independent authority.

No Frills means reviewing all by laws by the City Solicitor and reporting finding to Council.

No Frills means investigating to change the University “B ed Tax” law in lieu of property taxes.

No Frills Communication Plan

No Frills means publishing a summary of the city’s financial status every three months including budget variances.

No Frills means freezing all communications, contracts and systems.

No Frills means the General Manager of Commications will conduct a weekly media news conference at City Hall.

No Frills means recognition of staffers for operational excellence as recommended by Department Directors.

No Frills means that any closed-session meeting conducted under the Ontario Municipal Act must be summarized by the Mayor or designate within 24 hours.

No Frills fixes of Property Taxes and User Fees

No Frills means freezing property taxes to 3 per cent for 2019 and 2020.

No Frills means immediate elimination of the 2 per cent property tax levy.

No Frills means eliminating the storm water levy on Hydro bills returning it to operational expenses.

No Frills means freezing all user fees pending a review by the CFO.

No Frills mean freezing all planning and development approvals pending a review by the Director of Environmental, Engineering and Planning.

No Frills steps to fix procedures, protocols, and governance issues

No Frills means dismissing the Integrity Commissioner.

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal holdings Inc. andf removing Guelph Hydro from GMHI returning it to the city as a separate department

No Frills means dismissing the closed-session investigator Amberlea-Gravel of London. Replace with the Ontario Ombudsman’s services.

No Frills means review of the Council Code of Conduct.

No Frills means staff accountability at all levels.

No Frills means rewarding and encouraging staff performance and efficiency.

No Frills means courtesy and civility, at all levels of the administration, is required.

No Frills means that complaints by the public must be dealt with expeditiously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An obituary of the death of a beloved, old friend

By Gerry Barker

July 27, 2018

Today, the closing of nominations to our October civic election, we mourn the passing of an old friend, Common Sense, whose existence has been with us for many years. His age was lost in bureaucratic red tape that has taken over our lives.

His memory will remain with us and have cultivated valuable lessons such as:

* Knowing when to come out of the rain;

* Why the early bird gets the worm;

* Life isn’t always fair;

* And perhaps it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies such as:

* Don’t spend more than you can earn;

* Adopt reliable strategies including adults, not children, are in charge;

* Just getting out to vote.

Our old friend’s health began to deteriorate rapidly when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Here are some reports that evidence the loss of individuality and accountability:

* The case of the six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for                                     kissing a classmate;

* Teacher faced with dealing with disruptive children with few methods                             of disciplining the noisy classroom disruptions;

* The Ontario government decreeing that no child can fail because it                               might destroy their self-esteem;

* Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing their job while failing to do theirs by applying discipline to their unruly children.

* Teachers are warned not to hug or touch their students.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and his son, Reason.

He is survived by his five stepbrothers:

* I know my rights

* I want it now

* Someone else is to blame

* I am a victim

* Pay me for doing nothing

Common Sense lost the will to live as churches became businesses and criminals received better treatment that their victims, even when incarcerated.

In many Ontario towns and cities, Common Sense lost the battle by elected officials conducting the public’s business behind closed doors with the complicity of senior professional staff.

Starting to ring some bells?

Common Sense’s legacy has been destroyed by apathy, ignorance, and it’s not my job to be uninformed and aware.

Public participation is the prescription for true freedom, freedom of expression without executive reprisal, freedom to be an individual, to live with the rule of law, to work, love and pray for a better life for your family. Having the freedom to accept those things you cannot change or control. Freedom to remember and honour the people you love and those who came before us in both war and peace.

Unfortunately, not many attended Common Sense’s funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, joinm the majority and do nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The time has come to make a difficult decision

By Gerry Barker

July 23, 2018

Some 15 years ago, my wife, Barbara, and I moved to Guelph.

It marked a turning point in our lives as both being retired we wanted to be closer to our children and grandchildren. Since 1990, we had wintered in Sarasota, Florida chiefly to be with my mother and stepfather. We no longer enjoy that respite from the winter months.

My step0father, Boyd Fitzpatrick, was the publisher of the Olean Times in upstate New York. My mother was a former editor of the Aurora Banner and a national newspaper award winner.

Holy Hannah! I was in a family of newspaper people. You can bet the family discussions were interesting, stimulating and lively for a pair of younger Canadians.

When we set up shop in Guelph, (my wife was born here), I was approached by a neighbour, Ray Ferarro, a city councillor. Ray wanted me to meet the new Mayor Kate Quarrie. At that point I became very interested in civic politics. I had covered city councils during my 23-year career at the Toronto Star and 11 years as the publisher of the Bradford Witness and Topic Weekly.

The experience taught me that municipal politics is the infantry of political power in Ontario. It is closer to the people and affects them more than the provincial or federal layers of government.

Living in Guelph, I quickly learned of the power centres and interests in all corners of the city. Public political activism was in the ascendancy and the city was rapidly changing.

I was saddened when Kate Quarrie and most of her council was defeated in 2006. I felt she represented the political qualities of centrism. She was a good mayor and the right person to lead the community at that time.

The result was the beginning of a left wing socialist group led by Mayor Karen Farbridge that controlled the public’s business for eight years.

In the fall of 2006, I wrote a letter to the Mercury supporting Ms. Quarrie for re-election. The letter was turned down as being too political but the managing editor said the paper would publish a commentary on the editorial page once a month. Now retired, I received $25 for each column called “Between the Lines.”

Following service in the army, I grew up in the businesses as a reporter working for the Toronto Star, covering fires, accidents and council meetings in various communities in the former York County. The 24/7 job demanded that I carry a camera, and know how to use it. I learned fast and was primarily self-taught.

As a reporter-photographer I pulled off some great beats against our archrival, the Toronto Telegram. It was an exciting and stimulating experience that kept me on the job. Every day there were new challenges as the Star was the best paper in the country in terms of news coverage.

It was a newspaper that was well respected but also hated. My grandmother, Byrtha Louise Stavert lived with my mother, Dorothy, in Aurora. My association with the hated Liberal Toronto Star, grated on both of them who were die-hard Conservatives.

My Grandmother was the campaign manger for the Conservative leader R.B. Bennett representing the riding of Calgary Centre. His party won making him Prime Minister but he was never in his own riding during the campaign.

I was immersed in the newspaper game and loved every minute of it.

My columns in the Mercury eventually were published every three weeks and between late 2006 and 2011 I became a thorn in the side of the Farbridge administration. I was let go and formed a blog titled guelphspeaks.ca. Today, the blog is followed by hundreds of followers who read my posts, usually published twice a week.

Did I mention the blog was ad-free and could be accessed by anyone?

In 2012, with some like-minded people we founded GrassRoots Guelph Inc. By now, I had written many posts, highly critical of the Farbridge administration. With the help of a couple of financial professionals, we assembled facts taken from the city’s published financial data that pointed to mismanagement of the people’s treasure.

These facts were presented to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The Minister aid the claims w should be handled locally by the two parties. Shortly after, she resigned and announced she was running for Mayor of Brampton.

In March 2014, along came Urbacon Buildings Group. The fired general contractor of the new city hall complex was thrown off the job in September 2008. The company sued the city for $19.2 million for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract and the city counter-sued the company. There were other lawsuits made.

The judgment stated the city fired Urbacon illegally. In June 2014, Justice Donald MacKenzie released a detailed judgment ordering that costs were to be assigned by October, the month of the civic election.

When the dust settled, the new city hall complex cost $23 million more than the $42 million contracted in 2006.

Coun. Cam Guthrie defeated Mayor Farbridge.

The Farbridge supporters were furious and blamed GrassRoots Guelph and guelphspeaks.ca for the outcome. We graciously accepted responsibility.

Yes, these have been exciting times and I have enjoyed being a part of it.

Then, because I was critical of the method that four senior managers were given a total of $98,202 in raises divided among them, I was sued. The decision by city council in closed-session, December 10, 2015, was never revealed to the public until the provincial Sunshine list came out March 2016. Guelphspeaks compared the 2014 Sunshine list of public employees who earned more than $100,000 and discovered the amount of the senior staff increases approved by council in 2015.

A former employee sued me for defamation in November 2016. The case has yet to be adjudicated so I cannot comment at this time.

Recently, several residents urged me to run for mayor.

I discussed this with professional advisors and my wife. I concluded that at my age it would not be fair to the people of Guelph if I were unable to devote the time and energy to be head of the community for the next four years.

Accordingly, I will not be a candidate for office in the October civic election.

I will continue to produce posts in support of true reforms as outlined in the Guelph Tomorrow “No Frills” statement of changes needed in the administration of our city. I feel these changes are necessary to serve the public better and manage our city operations more efficiently with transparency and accountability.

The public trust has been severely damaged by the Guthrie administration and must be restored.

I sincerely thank all those folks who indicated support for my candidacy.

Don’t worry, I’m not going away but will continue writing and commenting about our civic administration.

After all, Barbara and I are taxpayers with skin in the game.

 

 

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The illusion of progress, decoding the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment

By Gerry Barker

July 20, 2018

Gee! And all this time we were told the proposed downtown main branch library was only going to cost $53 million. It has now morphed into an 88,000 square foot facility in the proposed $350 million Baker Street redevelopment plan.

Instead, the city staff, buttressed with the signatures of eight senior managers, convinced city council to approve the huge redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot. The public library being the anchor of the development.

Costs were estimated to range from $315 million to $360 million but staff said the real costs have yet to be determined. The inflation factor for the next six years will boost today’s average cost of $350 million by at least 15 per cent or an additional, estimated $52.5 million.

Then there is the strange inclusion of some $29 million that the city claims it has already invested toward the redevelopment plan. Some $22 million of that is the Wilson Street Parking garage now under construction adjacent to city hall. Why is that capital being assigned to the Baker Street plan?

It was announced that “green” private developer from Ottawa, the Windmill Development Group, had been selected to be a 3P partner – Public Private Partnership over four other private proposals, Windmill’s design proposal was accepted and will create a huge downtown complex complete with hi-rise residential, commercial retail, possibly a Conestoga College campus.

The “green” reference is because Windmill will create “innovations in land use, water, air, energy, design, waste management and smart building technologies to create healthy, high performance green buildings and communities and underground parking.”

Wow! That’s a lot of green

Let’s get real. This project will not even put a shovel in the ground before 2024, six years from now. Why is this lame-duck city council approving this now without knowing the real cost in today’s dollars?

What is the cost sharing arrangement?

What is the city’s financial and legal exposure in this proposal?

The staff is pushing this today when it is apparent that the first book or video taken from the proposed downtown library, under perfect conditions, will not occur until 2028.

Comparing it to the length of time a major similar development has taken to complete is the new Guelph Police Headquarters.

Council approved spending $34 million on the project in August 2014. Almost four years later the job is still not finished. Perhaps I missed my invitation for the open house.

Early in the process the police issued reports of the progress of the renovations to a vital public safety HQ that continued to function. But there has been no report on the costs and whether it is going to come in on budget.

If this is any example of completing complex buildings then this could easily be a ten-year project to complete.

The Baker Street redevelopment can be an important addition to the downtown but we need more specific information, not just the potential news of more jobs, more money spent and more property tax income.

Let’s skip the gravy and get to the beef

This announcement’s urgent approval smacks of politics to demonstrate how progressive and action oriented the city council is under the leadership of Mayor Guthrie.

It’s another ram job by the mayor in this election year to enhance the image that he is doing a great job, when in fact his track record has failed to come close to the promises he made in 2014.

The capital spending deadline in an election years is mid-August.

The risk is that this city council is committing future councils to a multi-million dollar spending on a project that will be costly to cancel now that it has been approved bu council. Financing, beginning today and extending for the next ten years will daunting regardless of who is in power.

When is the Guthrie administration going to tell the truth about all those closed-session meetings concerning management of the public’s money, that have shut out the public?

As the British paratroopers dropped in Holland in WW 2, their objective was to take and hold the bridge over the Rhine.

It turned out to be a bridge too far.

It’s a lesson in failed strategy that city council should consider.

Most councillors, if not all, will not be around to see the Baker Street redevelopment completed.

It is their bridge that is too far.

 

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Introducing a No Frills blueprint to change and control the people’s business

By Gerry Barker

July 16, 2018

The following is a detailed Action Plan to return power to the people that has been denied, covered up and mismanaged by successive councils and administrative staff.

Guelph Tomorrow is an organization created by concerned citizens to return democracy and accountability to the civic administration of the City of Guelph.

The people’s hope and expectation, following the election of Mayor Guthrie in October 2014, have been drowned in hypocrisy, blatant cover-ups, secrecy and disdain for the public trust.

The Guthrie record is clear. He capitulated authority of the public trust to the professional senior staff that perpetuated the failed policies of the two previous administrations.

Are you better off today after four years of this Guthrie administration? His record in just two instances, escalated property taxes by more than 3 per cent annually plus 2 per cent special levies. He gave Guelph Hydro, worth $228 million, away for peanuts. The value contained in the 2016 Guelph Hydro financial statement, is just the tangible assets, not including cash on hand or goodwill.

Now we learn of his “action plan” to elect friendly supporters to councillors positions to gain control of council and continue more of the same.

In my opinion, Cam Guthrie was like the month of March; “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Don’t be deceived any longer. The city council needs an election enema to stop the political wrangling, control by individuals whose performance has been dismal.

Now it’s our chance to change the administration to serve the needs of ALL the people not the few who have controlled our city for 12 years. It’s a situation that mirrors the recent demise of the Ontario Liberal Party in the provincial election.

In Guelph, the disenchanted Liberals, disdained their own candidate and turned to electing a candidate with no election experience representing a Green party with no power. Mike Schreiner espoused the same policies that drove up the debt in Guelph under the previous administrations. Mike Shriener ran as the Green Party’s Ontario Leader. He is now the boss of a party of one, Mike Schreiner, MPP.

Small guess: Mike will be wooed by the Liberal seven-member cause that needs an eighth member to be recognized as an official party in the Ontario Legislature. That will make all those Guelph Liberals happier than Doug Ford cutting the gas tax.

Here’s’ the people’s No Frills Action Plan developed by a team of fellow citizens familiar with the tawdry history of 12 years of administrations.

Guelph Tomorrow

Presents

The No Frills Action Plan

No Frills means leadership, transparency, accountability and responsibility to all the people p

No Frills Priorities

No Frills means that the city auditor will complete a full audit of city finances before submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs

No Frills means halting capital spending until an audit of the city’s finances is completed

No Frills proposes a new senior management structure change to have a City Manager heading the staff, with directors leading the major departments

No Frills recommends that the he city administrative structure will include an Executive Management team composed of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, City Manager, City Clerk and Department Directors. The City Manager will act as chair

No Frills means making every effort to kill the Guelph Hydro-Alectra merger

No Frills means using common sense, arresting spending and encouraging public participation

No Frills means reviewing the status of all reserves and clarify each for its purpose

No Frills means evaluating policies involving all subsidies, donations, and employment contracts

No Frills means eliminating the Committee of the Whole system of conducting public meetings

No Frills on the advice of the city manager, restores the committees of council with appropriate honourariums for councillors serving on committees based on attendance.

No Frills means no closed-sessions council meetings unless there are legitimate legal reasons to do so

No Frills means a complete review by the Director of Finance and the internal auditor of purchasing and procurement systems

No Frills means freezing all salary and benefit increases pending review of pay systems

No Frills means ordering a staff rationalization review by an independent authority

No Frills means reviewing all bylaws to update and remove those not applicable

No Frills means Investigating areas of increasing revenue including the University of Guelph’s ‘bed tax’ deal in lieu of property taxes.

 

No Frills Proposed Communications Plan

No Frills means reporting a summary of the financial state of the city every three months

No Frills means freezing and reviewing all communications contracts and systems

No Frills means the general manager of communications will conduct a regular media briefing weekly

No Frills pledges publishing a monthly report of the administration’s hits and misses and introducing personality profiles of council members and staff using the Guelph Hydro mailing list to distribute

No Frills means that the mayor or designate following a closed-session must release a summary following the meeting within 24 hours

 

No Frills proposed fixes of Property Taxes & User fees

No Frills means limiting property taxes to a 3 per cent increase for 2019

No Frills means an immediate elimination of the 2 per cent infrastructure levy on property owners

No Frills means eliminating the storm water levy on hydro bills

No Frills means freezing all user fees until the financial review is completed

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.

No Frills means freezing all residential planning until a full review is completed

 

No Frills action to fix procedures, bylaws and protocols

No Frills abolishes the Integrity Commissioner, cancels the Closed Session investigators, Amberlea Gravel of London

No Frills means freezing all consultant contracts until proven justified

No Frills means a complete review of the Council Code of Conduct

No Frills means banning any closed sessions involving political strategy issues

No Frills means staff accountability

No Frills means rewarding and encouraging staff performance and efficiency

No Frills means reporting regular financial performance with a clearly defined base line

No Frills means public accessibility to the people’s house and its services

Join the crusade for change at Guelph Tomorrow.ca.

 

 

 

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