Monthly Archives: July 2011

Three Stooges comparison draws fire from Guelph city solicitor

It’s like something out of Dumb and Dumber. Frustrated business folks on Carden Street, fed up with the five-year construction happening on their doorsteps, singled out the city staffers responsible.

Within two hours of the comic comparison involving the staffers overseeing the various construction projects to Larry, Curly and Moe, Coun. Leanne Piper, in a frump, decries the description and defends the staffers. Next came a threat from the city solicitor that a libel suit was being considered.

Hasn’t she got enough to do with the $23 million in pending lawsuits against the city than to launch this silly response? Let the three named staffers tackle that one. Yeah, like the good name of Guelph has been besmirched.

Then along comes the Mayor with an op-ed piece in the Mercury thanking citizens for their patience during the “unprecedented work on our aging buildings, roads sewers and water system.”

In her tripartite tribute, the Mayor went on to thank the contractors charged with doing the work.

The third thank you goes to the men and women on the “engineering team” and those employees charged with coordinating multiple contractors.

Mea Culpa.  Things don’t always go according to plan, the Mayor admits.

Mayor, the bottom line is that your administration has mired Carden Street in a sloppy 60-month construction mess that is far beyond reason.  You talk out of both sides of your mouth by crowing that downtown is to be the jewel of the city and a vibrant place for all citizens.

Then your solicitor threatens a lawsuit when people complain about chaos affecting their businesses.

It’s almost as if the city wants rid of the Carden Street merchants to spiffy up the so-called Market Square with its $2 million rink and water feature. A project by the way, that all of them were forced to contribute $200,000 through the Downtown Guelph Business Association.

You’re expecting maybe a Holt Renfrew store across the road?

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They should have hired Noah

Noah built his Arc to save the animals from the great flood in 45 days and nights.

It’s been 1,320 days since Norfolk between Waterloo and Woolwich, has been torn up, dug up again, and again, blockaded and forced motorists to detour endlessly. Today the contractor has raised the manhole covers to accommodate the second and final asphalt coating.

God would not be amused.

It’s a boon for suspension specialists as motorists bring their cars in after wrecking the shocks and springs hitting the raised covers.

There have been more middle finger salutes on that stretch than in the rest of the city combined.

The street’s redesign is predictably proving to be a disaster. What was once a four- lane road with bike lanes is now squeezed into two lanes.

Throw the cyclists and buses into the mix and you have Guelph’s version of carmageddon.

Noah would have turned this main street into Guelph’s Autoban.

Where is there a good carpenter when we need him?

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Wait, wait, and wait for it!

It’s a multiple-choice questionaire

Guelpspeaks offers readers a quiz on events in our city.

It’s not exactly Jeopardy! But fun.

Answers are found below.

During the announcement that Guelph Chief Administration Officer Hans Loewig was stepping down before the end of his contract, he did what?

1.   Checked his golf handicap.

2.   Remembered to pick-up bratwurst from the deli

3.  Promised to stick around to school his successor.

4.  Fire the Mexican gardener at his Phoenix hacienda.

The Guelph City staff reported to the finance committee recently to ensure

Council’s closed-door sessions are as open to the public as possible. What happened?

  1. Mayor Karen Farbridge ordered anchovies on her pizza.
  2. Coun. Maggie Laidlaw brought a bigger handbag to scoop the uneaten sandwiches after the closed-door meeting.
  3. Chaired by the Mayor, the report was endorsed by the governance committee
  4. Baseball bats are no longer allowed in the closed-door meetings.

Last summer when the staff senior management was reorganized, why was it necessary?

  1. Hans Loewig missed a putt on the 13 at the Phoenix County Club pro-amateur.
  2. Mark Amorosi calculated that there should be less garlic in the mayor’s pizza.
  3. Mayor Farbridge was in Europe psyching up for the fall election.
  4. Somebody had to make decisions before the election.

Why did the environmental department under chief Janet Laird, miss the provincial ruling that it would not accept plastic in a compost plant under construction?

  1. She was too busy studying Aristotle.
  2. Her new role of being in charge of city engineering was above her pay grade.
  3. The province changed the rules in the middle of negotiating the building of the new compost plant.
  4. She always felt that managing garbage was beneath her dignity.

How come the intermodal transit terminal on Carden Street cost $11.4 Million while city officials maintained it would cost $8 million?

  1. Too many Red Bulls consumed during communications planning informing taxpayers of the real number.
  2. Manipulation of the numbers was necessary to convince senior government auditors of the need for stimulus bucks.
  3. The transportation committee of Council went on vacation.
  4. Former treasurer Margaret Neubaur knew the truth but she is no longer around.

Answers

Number 3 – Mr. Loewig seemed more than willing to assist his successor take over as CAO. Given that his periodic absences during his tenure as CAO didn’t seem to be a burden on the city administration, why stick around now?

Number 3 – After more than seven years in office, the Mayor agrees that closed-door meetings must be limited in scope of subject matter and pass the test of transparency and public scrutiny.  She must have bitten her lip to agree to that.

Number 4 – It was apparent that Mr. Loewig was unable to carry on his duties in a consistent manner. The senior management was reorganized into an executive committee of four major department heads to fill the top management void. This was necessary to maintain continuity prior to the fall election.

Number 3 – It’s difficult to imagine a department head holding a PhD in philosophy ends up as environmental chief in charge of waste removal management and engineering. Dr. Laird has managed to steer the city into mega projects that are complex and expensive. Sometimes a door opens … and closes.

Number 2 – It was smoke and mirrors to impress senior government auditors of the scope of the project thereby getting more dollars. It didn’t work because the auditors refused to include in the grant application the $3.4 million it cost for purchasing lands around the project.

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Top Ten reasons why Guelph is out of money

Number 10.  Spending $80,000 for offices in the new city hall for new staffers.

Number 9.   Spending $2 million dollars on elevated Stone Road bike paths.

Number 8.  Spending $45,000 to search for a new Chief Administration Officer.

Number 7.  Spending more than $16 million to resurrect a 150-year old Loretto convent for a civic museum that the Roman Catholic Church wanted to turn into a parking lot.

Number 6.  Promising to build a new $53 million downtown library on the Baker Street parking lot, instead bought three properties on Wyndham Street for $5 million.

Number 5.  Spent $32 million on a new composting plant only to discover an additional $15 million was needed for special bins and trucks to transfer waste material to the plant.

Number 4.  Facing an unprecedented number of lawsuits yet to be litigated and potentially costing taxpayers more than $25 million for which there is no budget provision.

Number 3.  Called in a $30 million note owed by Guelph Hydro to pay for capital projects including its $22 million share of the $66 million federal/provincial stimulus program.

Number 2.  Allowed anarchists to occupy the Hanlon Business Park site in 2009 halting construction and costing more than $2.5 million. It has yet to see a new business established there.

Number 1.  With revenue producing assessment growing by 1.5 per cent per year, does it make sense to increase spending by 3 per cent over the $167 million budget? That’s $5 million each year.

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When it comes to whoppers, Guelph officials have no fear

In a recent column in the Mercury, Scott Tracey revealed the real cost of the intermodal transit terminal on Carden Street now under construction. City officials have been maintaining that the cost of the multi-use terminal was $8 million.

Seems officials did not include the cost of assembling the land on which to build the terminal. That was $3.4 million paid to Greyhound and CN Rail.

So the real cost is $11.4 million, not $8 million.

Tracey used the euphemism “massaging” when describing the artful dodging by officials of the real cost of the terminal.

Sounds more like a whopper to us and such manipulation of capital projects costs has become all too prevalent. Taxpayers are duped by these practices.

Another example was the revelation that the Downtown Business Association committed $200,000 toward the city hall rink project. What has that got to do with improving business downtown? The 450 members of the Association must pay a special levy with their taxes to support business improvement and development. Now that includes skating rinks.

The civic museum project is well over budget and counting. No one will own up to the extra costs. Another is the cost of the new compost plant. There have been so many versions of the cost of this project, that it’s impossible to figure the end number. Even worse, the city has never owned up to the actual operating costs.

Finally, what are the costs of developing the Hanlon Business Park that has yet to see a business?

Trying to get city officials to own up to actual costs is akin to having a molar removed.

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Why Guelph fights the proposed Public Health HQ

It all started when the Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph Public Health unit announced it had cut a deal to build a $17 million facility on University of Guelph leased land on Stone Road.

The health unit is a consortium of the three municipalities, Dufferin and Wellington counties and Guelph. About 59 per cent of capital and a portion of operating costs are paid by Guelph taxpayers. The Provincial government picks up a 45 per cent share of the operating costs.

First some background. The proposal includes a facility to be built in Orangeville to service the northeast area of the health unit’s catchment area.

Mayor Karen Farbridge and two other members of council served on the Joint Public Health board administered by the County of Wellington. When the joint board approved the proposal last year it is reported that Guelph’s representatives were present.

The Province, through Guelph MPP Liz Sandals, has stated it would not contribute to the capital costs generated by the Public Health board. Ms. Sandals has criticized the city’s determination to get out of the present arrangement and operate its own public health system.

Here are some questions:

Did the Mayor and her fellow board members understand and acknowledge the need for a new Public Health office in Guelph and one in Orangeville?

Why did the public health administrators strike a deal with the University on Stone Road before there was agreement to proceed? Or was there?

Was this a terrible failure to communicate on the part of the partners and health board administrators?

Why is Guelph seeking a permanent injunction preventing the Board  of Public Health to build a permanent home for the Public Health authority?

The answer is simple: It’s about the money. Guelph’s finances are so tight that it cannot afford to spend $10 million on the proposed facility or any other capital project such as the downtown library and Wilson Street parkade.

The city is living operating on tax payment cash flow and the Mayor has already stated that it will need to dip into the tax stabilization reserve fund when the 2012 budget is created.

A series of unintended consequences has put the city in a dire financial position.  These include the city’s maxed out debt ceiling has; cost overruns on the museum/convent project; major pending lawsuits involving Wellington County, the merchants on Carden Street and the original contractor of the new City Hall.

The only way out of the fiscal bind is to raise revenues and cut costs.

Yeah! Like that’s going to happen.

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Weekend tales when the moon is full

A Milton motorcyclist runs a radar speed trap Sunday afternoon, speeds away weaving through Hanlon traffic and misses the turn on Wellington Street and ends up dead in a Hamilton hospital. The entitlement syndrome rises again as some believe they are above the law.

A guy spits on a Guelph Police cruiser downtown Saturday night and fired his second spittle in the face of the officer. As a result he was charged with mischief causing damage under $5,000 and assaulting a police officer. Moral of the story: Keep your spit to yourself.

A 71 tear-old motorist flashes his light to warn drivers on Wellington Street in Guelph of a radar speed trap and is nailed for an expired licence sticker and invalid driver’s licence. He was fined $435. Question: Did this “Samaritan” carry any insurance?

Finally, there was the Danish woman visitor in North Battleford, Sask., who went into the woods to relieve herself at a campsite.  A camper who thought she was a bear shot her. Fortunately, the guy was a lousy shot and although he hit her, the wound was treated in hospital and she was released.  Relations between Denmark and Canada are strained.

Speaking of cops, Rupert “Nero” Murdoch is playing fiddle while his empire burns. Two top British police commanders have resigned and his favourite Brit Editor in Chief has been detained for questioning in the ongoing hacking scandal. The question is, when will the scandal migrate to North America when Murdoch’s NewsCorp operates the Wall Street Journal, The New York tabloid Post and Fox news among others.

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