Monthly Archives: January 2011

Elizabeth Warren Guelph Lawsuit

The announcement that the family of Elizabeth Warren has settled its $2.8 million lawsuit with the City of Guelph and four other defendants, raises a serious question of transparency when public money is used.

The death of this promising teenager when public washroom collapsed on her, was a devastating event not only to her parents but her schoolmates and the community.

Bill Stewart, manager of procurement and risk services, stated the terms of the settlement are confidential.

Why? The public has a right to know how its money is being spent.

It is important to know the proportion of the settlement payment that was divided between the four defendants.

How will this charge show up in the city’s budget that the Guerilla suspects has been buried in the 2010 budget?

This is yet another example of the secrecy surrounding legal settlements made by the city. The cost to the city of the dismissals of Larry Kotseff and Douglas Kennedy, two senior civil servants, was not revealed until a freedom of information request unearthed the details.

Is this part of the new city communications initiative?

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Between the Lines Columns are archived

Gerry Barker’s “Between the Lines” previous columns can be found in the Previous Columns category.

Previous columns are archived starting in November 2006 to the present. Most were printed in the Guelph Mercury but there are a few than were never printed. The unpublished columns are marked so viewers can determine what what was written and not printed for a variety of reasons. The columns are a running commentary of Guelph’s political scene as well as the nation and province.

Here is the current column published in the Mercury January 4, 2011.

Between the Lines

By Gerry Barker

I still marvel at the capacity of the Left to totally control the city of Guelph. Their victory in 2006 earned them the right (bad pun) to do just about anything they wanted.

And they fulfilled most of their political wet dreams. Here are a couple of doozies.

A religious conversion occurred with council cutting a lease to take over the derelict convent adjacent to the Church of Our Lady. Now almost five years later, a new civic museum arises costing city taxpayers an estimated $9 million plus another $6 million from two senior governments. The final cost has yet to calculated.

The decision to build a new wet waste management plant on the same site as the condemned one on Watson Road, whistled through Council with barely any opposition. The bill for this enterprise has now escalated to an estimated $46 million. Bureaucrats have never confirmed the real operating costs. Preliminary estimates are more than triple current costs of $85 per tonne.

It was recently revealed by an independent analyst that Guelph had the ninth highest municipal property taxes in Canada. There were swift denials by the Mayor. Following council’s usual procedure, an outside consultant was hired to study the issue.

Wait! There’s more.  The new council has been asked to approve a $10 million loan to continue development of the Hanlon Business Park.  Prior to the election, the city announced that two companies indicated they would establish in the Park creating some 370 jobs. However, nothing had been signed. The interest cost of this loan is $31,000 a month.

More news. Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig informed council December 23, he will be away until January 18. Heir apparent, Mark Amorosi, assumes the CAO duties. Cost to taxpayers? Those 26 days off amounts to $14,674.

The balance of power around the council table has changed following the October election, so there is some hope that common sense will return to the table.

Four new councillors were elected. Councillor Gloria Kovach has consistently opposed the Left majority agenda for the past four years. The job of chairing the Police Services Board was dangled in front of her. But she was not appointed a committee chairman. It is indicative of Mayor Farbridge’s determination to cling to her agenda at any cost.

The Mayor has gone on the offensive. The “accidental” closing of the committee strike meeting, that was supposed to be open to the public, was labeled as miscommunication by the security guard who denied entry to the press. My information is that the decisions on who should be committee chairpersons was cut and dried before the closed meeting. New members of council plus Coun. Bob Bell, were not consulted or considered for committee chairperson positions.

Then Ms. Farbridge chastised Coun. Bell for remarks he made in the Mercury regarding the reliability of staff reports. She even threatened censure to Bell, as if that meant anything. The intention, of course, is to gag the newbies on council.

The irony is that the Left criticized the Quarrie council of being dysfunctional yet this new council is already rife with palpable distrust, arrogance and duplicity.

Don’t hold your breath Mayor, the opposition has teeth now and there is talent among them to ask the questions the public needs to know.

Carden Street is going to be most interesting in 2011.

Have a wonderful and prosperous New Year.

Gerry Barker is a Guelph resident. Contact him at gerrybarker76@gmail.com

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Are you better off today than four years ago?

Mayor Karen Farbridge didn’t know her campaign manager was using five different aliases to deceive the blogging audience.

What else doesn’t she know?

As a member of the Guelph Police Services board, didn’t she know police were underfunded and undermanned to deal with downtown rowdies for four years?

Did she believe citizens would approve a $32 Million “Taj Mahal” composting plant without revealing the real operating costs or how tonnes of finished product would be disposed?

After four years, how has the Farbridge dream of a “vibrant” downtown worked for you?

Let’s count the ways: The manager hired to make the dream come true was fired; fights, public vandalism; streets used as toilets continue to deter new business and after-dark public participation; and the promised main library was never built.  No wonder 11 candidates are running for council in Ward 1, the downtown ward.

Who is running the store?

Hans Loewig, chief administration officer, appears to be missing in action. His  $200,000 a year salary and extraordinary benefits continues.

Mayor Farbridge has a lot to answer for after promising to put Guelph back on track.  Try driving around the citywide detours to see if that claim came true.

Don’t worry, be happy!  The Mayor’s communications team will have a strategy to fit every circumstance, answer every question and create excuses for everything that went wrong.

Gerry Barker
Citizen, retired newsman and observer of Guelph politics

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The Farbridge Definition Of Leadership

Leadership – the Farbridge definition according to her brochure

Start by re-working an old campaign slogan – “Putting Guelph back on Track” (2006) to “Let’s keep Guelph on Track!” (2010). If it worked before, let’s try it again.

How does the Mayor’s leadership work when the city’s 2008 debt was $59,579,510.97? In 2009, the debt soared to $85,626,995.70. That’s an increase of $26,047,485. Source: Audited statement of the 2009 City of Guelph Finances.

How did her track work for creating jobs? There was a net loss of jobs in Guelph during the past four years due mainly to the recession that council failed to recognize or understand. Only the city and the University added jobs charged to the public purse.

How many of those 237 additional city jobs went to Farbridge supporters?

How much industrial/ commercial development occurred in the past four years? Drive around the industrial areas of the city and see the number of plants that empty for sale or lease.

Ask the people in the east end of the city what happened to the promised commercial development.

Aside from defeating the sale of Guelph Hydro council stripped a $30 million Hydro loan to spend on city projects, what did the city do to create renewable energy, as the Mayor, er the on track engineer claims?

Where was the Mayor’s leadership when a small group of extremists occupied the Hanlon Business Park in 2009 halting construction and causing a $1.5 million additional cost to taxpayers?

Remember what happened in November 2008? It was the beginning of the worst recession in the last 72 years. Yet Engineer Farbridge claims in her brochure “sound financial management … maintained Guelph’s credit rating.”

It gets better; the Mayor’s brochure stated that her leadership developed a “realistic long term financial plan for capital spending.”

Let’s see: She promised a new downtown library; the $50 million project was never built. Her plan to build a $16 million parking garage next to city hall was dumped. The promised south end $37 million recreation centre was shelved.

How long is she going to fool the taxpayers by keeping tax increases artificially low by raiding reserve funds that have been accumulating in recent years? That cupboard is almost bare, friends.

Finally, the audited city financial statements reflect there is no reserve set aside to cover any potential liability of the three lawsuits against the city totaling some $25,570,000.

Good leadership requires a degree of prudence, a condition of which this council seems totally bereft.

Some track. Some engineer.
Gerry Barker, retired newsman and Guelph taxpayer

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The shocking truth about the City of Guelph’s Finances

Fact: In 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis, the city called its $30 million note held by Guelph Hydro. The purpose was to bolster capital spending and meet operational obligations. That money is gone.

In doing so, the Farbridge administration used up its largest reserve fund. It also meant the city, as it had in the past, would not receive interest payments of more than $2 million a year.

It’s the same thing as you and I wipe out our bank accounts to pay the bills and trips to Disney World. That’s not effective financial management.

But the real example of how to run the city into the ground lies in Guelph’s official audited statement. Between 2008 and 2009, just one year, the city increased its debt by $26,047,085.

Here’s the skinny:          The city’s official debt in 2008 = $59,579,910.97
The city’s official debt in 2009 = $85,626,995.70
The increase:                            $26,047,085.27  or 43.7 %
When the $30 million reserve funds are added to the increase in debt, (you’d better sit down for this), this city council spent $56,047,085 in just one year!

So much for the Mayor’s claim that a debt management strategy is in place.

Citizens have the opportunity on October 25 to elect a council that is responsible and will restore the city’s finances while maintaining services.

Failure to add your voice by not voting will mean more of the same for another four years.

Not an attractive option.
Gerry Barker is a retired newsman and Guelph resident

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Jobs Lost

What happened to jobs in the past four years?

While the 10 members of the Farbridge coalition brag about all the new jobs their policies are creating, take a deep breath and examine the facts.

Yes there were jobs created in the city in the past four years. Almost all of them were either in the city administration or at the University. You the taxpayer subsidize these juicy jobs with lots of perks including free parking.

In the last four months, council has announced the following: Canadian Solar, 500 new jobs and the Hanlon Business park, 370 new jobs. Almost all of these jobs will not come on stream for at least two to three years.

The question to ask is why hasn’t council acted to create jobs in the first three years of its mandate? Even when the city’s own consultant stated Guelph was not a friendly place for business, this council blinded by its own invincibility, ignored the advice.

We have a council that is hell-bent on creating monuments to establish the light of their brilliance in spending money on ill-conceived projects including the $16 million civic museum, the $47 million compost plant in which operating costs will be more than triple current garbage disposal costs. Incumbent councillor Maggie Laidlaw, PhD, says her top priority when re-elected is to build the proposed $55 million downtown Library.

Apparently they haven’t learned a thing.

The mindset of this council, with two exceptions, is to run the city’s finances like an open-pit mine where there is no end of material (money).

Now let’s talk about the jobs that have been lost. There were 100’s of layoffs in the city’s manufacturing plants as a result of the recession that started in November 2008. The unemployment rate in Guelph soared above the national average.

It was not as if there weren’t signs of a severe economic downturn. City tax revenues dropped while council approved large property tax increases. Yet this council seemed to ignore the implications of the city’s job crisis.

The thought that keeps me awake at night is facing four more years of this bunch in charge.

Vote for change October 25.
Gerry Barker is a retired newsman and Guelph resident. Reach him at gerrybarker76@gmail.com

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Another white elephant?

The borrowing volume for the downtown and branch libraries  turns out 1.8 million items we lent out in 2009, approximately 430,000 of these items were DVDs and CDs.  That’s right, we have turned our libraries into Blockbusters.  Some of these may be educational but most appear to be movies.

When you look at the data by branch, our branches appear to be thriving.  This makes sense.  People would rather use the library in their own community than travel downtown.

Looking back to 1980 when there were no branches or DVDs  everything lent out then was books\magazines. In 1980, the downtown library lent out 526,000 books.  Today, when you back out the DVDs, the downtown library lent out 488,000 books – 38,000 less than it did 30 years ago when Guelph’s population was much less than today.

So the downtown library lending of books shrinks and the branches thrive.

The city has spent $5 million buying downtown buildings to build a $50 million downtown library so we can lend out DVDs?  Another Farbridge monument in the making.

The miracle is the downtown library can be studied carefully by the new council with a view of making it more practical, less expensive and useful for citizens of all ages.

My thanks to Patrick Quirk for his spadework on this issue.

Gerry Barker is a retired newsman and author. He may be reached at gerrybarker76@gmail.com

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