Monthly Archives: November 2011

$32 million did not solve Guelph’s compost plant smells

It’s troubling to hear about a resurgence of foul odours emanating from the new $32 million composting plant.

This was an accident waiting to happen. More odour complaints were made since November 11 than in the five years of operating the former facility.

As usual, the city waste management team pulled the wagons into a circle and announced it wasn’t their plant, but the stink was coming from other industries in the Watson Road area.

Why do I get the feeling these guys couldn’t manage a two-car funeral?

This project from the beginning has been shrouded in secrecy. This includes the decision to hire the same outfit to build a similar unit as the one in Hamilton that has been the source of scores of smell complaints.

Despite the efforts of the Guelph Waste Management coalition of residents, few details were shared with the neighbours and taxpayers of the operating costs. A deal was struck with the City of Waterloo to take their wet waste that is so convoluted that it would take an Einstein to figure it out. One thing is clear the deal allows Waterloo to control 2/3rds of the plant capacity. The contract was negotiated by a third party.

The plant was built to service a population some 20 years from now. The life expectancy of the plant is about 20 years. This was a gross mistake exacerbated by the city awarding the contract without approval of the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the method of waste collection.

The base operating cost has never been revealed by the city. The impact of the heavy Waterloo garbage trucks rolling regularly through the city was never considered. If it was, that too has not been revealed to the public.

One tires of the lack of openness on the part of city staff and Council. Too much of the public’s business is being conducted behind closed doors.

Let me count the ways.

The reason for firing Chief Finance Officer Margaret Neubauer has never been revealed as the staff hid behind the skirts of the lawyers. The taxpayers are left twisting in the wind as to what happened with this key manager.

Her Council appointed successor lasted one week on the job. One look at the books probably persuaded him the job was a potential career buster.
Imagine it only took one week for a senior manager from Kitchener to figure out the dire condition of Guelph’s finances.

Coun. Leanne Piper’s pet project, the resurrection of the derelict Loretto Convent, has soaked up money like a sponge. After four years, it is still not ready to be open to the public. We may never know the real cost of this project.

More than $10 million has been poured into the Hanlon Business Park but the line-up to build offices and plants there is shorter than a bobcat’s tail.

Now the city is stuck with a $10 million tab as its share for a posh new Wellington/Dufferin/Guelph Public Health complex on Stone Road costing $17 million. The question is where were the three city WDG Public Health Board representatives,including the Mayor, when this project was proposed? MIA! (Missing in Action).

Let’s not forget how city planners choked a major road through the centre of the city by reducing Norfolk Street from four lanes to two. Along with the $750,000 time clock for the Sleeman Centre, it has to be the number one foul up of the $66 million stimulus package that cost the city $22 million.

Can you imagine the chaos if the city had proceeded with a round-about at Norfolk and Paisley?

But this staff and Council have one quality: Chutzpah! The mayor even proudly claimed in her recent speech to the business people that the city had chutzpah.

The translation is one of being nervy, pushy and determined to have their way.

I believe we’ve had enough of that, thank you.


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The financial strangulation of Guelph

In October 2006, a revolution occurred when voters elected Karen Farbridge as mayor and 10 councillors who, for the most part, slavishly voted the mayor’s agenda.

The mayor artfully mobilized this group of single-minded activists and left-wing advocates of social change. A major player in this reform was the Guelph Civic League under the leadership of James Gordon, the NDP candidate defeated in the October provincial election. In 2006, experienced NDP organizers were imported to set up the campaign that would sweep this majority into power.

The stunning defeat of all but two of the previous council (one other, Laura Baily, passed away shortly after the election) allowed the second-place candidate to get the seat. This set up a four-year term of a virtual dictatorship orchestrated by Mayor Karen Farbridge. She was mentored by three people: Former Coun. Cathy Downer, retired executive Ken Hamill and the Mayor’s husband.

Now, five years later, the city faces a financial crisis that has seen a maxed-out debt limit, a slow growth of assessment that averaged 1.3 per cent per year, and a major depletion of reserve funds. The most notable was redeeming the $30 million loan to Guelph Hydro to help pay the bills.

Predictably, the pet projects of this majority of council surfaced quickly. The first was moving the civic museum to the derelict 145 year-old Loretto Convent, all in the name of preserving a heritage building. The final cost is still unknown and shrouded in secrecy. Best guess it will come in about $20 million because of change orders and design alterations needed to reinforce a wonky foundation.

Construction started in 2007 and the building has yet to open.

One cause promoted by the Guelph Civic League in 2006, was the repudiation of the so-call Big Pipe to bring water to Guelph and other major communities from Lake Erie. It was one of the big lies in the 2006 election promulgated by the Gordon followers. It was effective enough to scare middle of the road voters.

Then along came the $47 million waste management and collection deal. It represents another Farbridge and Environmental Executive Director Janet Laird’s monument to make Guelph the envy of waste management in Canada.

If the Guelph Library Board even wants to figure out why their new downtown library was never completed, they can drive down Watson Road and see the reason why.

The folks in the south side of the city can do the same as their proposed recreational centre was shelved because the money was spent elsewhere.

It’s hard to explain why $5 million was spent to acquire two properties adjacent on Wyndham Street. Those commercial buildings are in the process of being demolished and turned into a $125,000 parking lot … the antithesis of the granola and bike crowd.

Let’s talk about the new city hall and justice centre. The Kate Quarrie-led council cut the deals to build the badly needed civic centre. This council depended on staff and did not monitor the construction. Hundreds of change orders were issued to the contractor and the result was many delays in completing phase one … the new city hall.

Former Chief Administration Officer, Hans Loewig, fired the contractor without consulting council, although the Mayor was aware. The inevitable occurred and the contractor sued for breach of contract. Once the staff move into the city hall, work on the converting the old city hall into a courts building started. Because of the delays and the need for expediency, the job was on a cost plus basis … a contractor’s dream.

Wait! It gets better. The head of the Guelph Civic League tells the world that every new house needs “a front porch.” This becomes the mantra of the majority on council and Farbridge mentor, Ken Hamill. The announcement is made that a skating rink and water feature would be added to the front of the new city hall. Cost estimated to be $2.1 million. The staff report that it will cost the city $1.2 million to maintain the “front porch”.

Mr. Hamill said he would raise the money by private donation through a group known as the “rink rats”. The campaign proceeded and the money rolls in but it is not revealed from whom or how long it will take..

Among the donors is the Downtown Guelph Business Association (DGBA) that commits to spend $200,000 over five years toward the project. Problem is that the members were not asked. It was a unilateral decision of the board of directors.

So these Carden Street businesses are forced to be part of the building of the so-called front porch of the new city hall or Market Square, as it is euphemistically called, after suffering for years with continuing construction in front of their businesses.

The sum of all these parts is that your city has a cash problem.

But here’s the skinny. The city is facing three major lawsuits. Urbacon, the original contractor of the new city hall is suing for $12 million. The County of Wellington is suing for support of social responsibilities, that’s $4 million. Then there is the pending wrongful dismissal of chief financial officer, Margaret Neubauer. The alleged defamation of her professional standing could amount to multi bucks.

To make matters worse, the newly hired Chief Financial Officer lasted one week on the job before resigning.

The irony is that Hans Loewig, the CAO of the city since 2007 is gone. He walks away from these lawsuits and financial shortfalls, in which he was directly involved, retiring to Arizona.

Finally, there is the impending judicial determination of whether Guelph has to contribute $10 million toward the proposed WellingtonDufferinGuelph Public Health (WDGPH) headquarters to be built on University of Guelph-owned lands on Stone Road.

The city has asked the province to separate from this health unit and the province has said, through Guelph MPP Liz Sandals, that’s not going to happen. Also the province will not contribute to capital costs of the public health organization. The province pays 45 per cent of the operating costs of the public health unit.

In October, a judge denied the injunction obtained by the city to halt the proposal. In effect the WDGPH is free to proceed.

The bottom line is that an unbudgeted liability along with the impending lawsuits places the city in a financial minefield.

The staff suggestion to sell the streetlights to Guelph Hydro for $7 million is ludicrous and one commentator described it as voodoo economics. The city owns Guelph Hydro. It just passes more debt onto Guelph Hydro to solve its own financial mess.

The opposition in council has a tough role to play in this malaise, one not caused by them but must be solved on behalf on the citizens of Guelph.

Otherwise the financial strangling of our city will continue.


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The dark shadows of Ontario’s education system

When a tornado recently struck Joplin. Missouri, it wiped out the entire elementary and secondary education schools.

Yet with a dedicated community, the children reported to school within a couple of weeks as alternative facilities and the donations of the most unexpected donors restored the continuity of progress for the children.

It is an example of people responding to a basic need: To continue the progression of our children to grow comfortably through education.

Let me start my saying that teachers are the honourable profession.

They are the handmaidens of the growth of knowledge that our children must profess to succeed in our society.

Unfortunately, teachers have become powerless to deal with basic behavioural problems in the classroom. This is because our litigious society has shut down the authority of the teacher in the classroom.

In Ontario, our teachers are protected by union agreements that virtuously protect the less proficient portion of the teacher cadre. There is little consequence once a teacher is confirmed in a permanent job.

Teachers are not able to touch a student – be they four years old or 18 – for purposes of discipline. It does not take long for students, particularly those in high school to recognize they can disrupt classroom instruction and diminish those students who want to learn and are prevented by this juvenile obstructionism.

The peer group pressure without interface with the teachers and parents creates a low-grade atmosphere of failure and lack of productive accomplishment.

The Ontario Ministry of Education, populated by education theorists, and influenced by the powerful teacher’s unions, perpetuates a system that has not provided universal education opportunities to those in urban centres. In areas where poverty, single families and children without fathers exist, the present system fails to match the same opportunities available in more affluent communities.

Teachers are the front line of education. It is too easy to for teachers to shuffle off their responsibilities to educate each child because of a lack of parental control or money.

Without discipline, there is no education in the classroom only on the streets.

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Will that be plastic or green bins?

Word is now out that Guelph’s $47 million wet waste plant may be able to accept waste in plastic bags. That would include diapers and dog poop.

What? Didn’t the Ministry of Environment rule that the city had to convert to green bins when collecting waste for the new $33 million facility on Watson Road? That decision hinged on Ministry approval to operate the plant. The conversion from plastic to bins will cost an additional $15 million.

Now a similar operation in Ottawa may have changed the landscape. In a court decision, the company operating the Ottawa facility, won their point that the plant could accept waste in plastic bags. That decision is being appealed no doubt by red-faced officials in the Ministry of Environment.

In a strange way, this development may provide Guelph with some temporary financial relief. This project is the biggest in terms of capital spending undertaken by the Farbridge Administration.

While the appeals wind their way through the courts, wet garbage in plastic can be accepted in the new Guelph processing plant. That means the $15 million price tag for bins and trucks can be delayed, thereby offering a breather to depleted city coffers.

While the event is temporarily fortuitous for the city, it must remain committed to the bin conversion.

From inception, this project has been fraught with secrecy, misconceptions and lying by omission on the part of the city department responsible and Council.

The operating costs are still not revealed by city managers responsible nor are the impact of heavy trucks on Guelph streets bringing waste from Waterloo.

It is a far better place in which we live without laying claim to operating a “world class” waste management facility.

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Canadian pipeline delay dials up middle class rejection of Barack Obama

In an inexplicable act of political cowardice, the Obama White House announced it would delay a decision on the TransCanada Pipeline Keystone XL through the U.S to Texas refineries until after the 2012 U.S. elections.

The decision represents a partial victory for the U.S. opponents of the Canadian Oil Sands development, including environmentalists and lawmakers in the State of Nebraska, who opposed the route of the pipeline.

Despite the facts that several oil and gas pipelines already cross the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills area of the State, perception surmounted reality. The delay only exacerbates the shortage of jobs in the U.S. that the Obama administration emphasizes as “priority one”.

This decision was made despite solid support of the American Petroleum Institute and operators of refineries in Texas who have signed agreements to receive the Canadian oil. The Obama administration knuckled under and delayed the decision to approve or disapprove for another year.

This is after four years of environmental impact studies of the proposed pipeline.

The decision to delay flies in the face of logic as the U.S. will spend another three to five years importing oil from repressive regimes including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Add the additional price to be paid in the loss of millions in investment, plus thousands of construction and operational jobs.

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead because the same arguments will be used if the line is re-routed.

It was never about the pipeline but an attempt by radical environmentalists to force closure of the Canadian Oil Sands.

The decision by the Obama administration is an economic attack not only on Canada but also against his own constituents who are craving for jobs and a growing economy.

In the 2012 election Obama wins Nebraska but loses Texas, Oklahoma and a number of Southern States that would have benefited from the pipeline construction and safe supply of crude.

He could be looking for a new job in November.

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A sense of entitlement savages America’s morality

Sunday, November 13 marked the moral breakdown among trusted American institutions.

The most dominating news was the growing despair of a respected and revered U.S. University imploding over a scandal of young boys being lured and sodomized by an assistant coach of the football team.

The back-story was the ten-year cover-up by Penn State officials including the head coach, Joe Paterno, the athletic director and even the university president. Testimony before a grand jury revealed that a member of the athletic staff witnessed a ten-year old boy being sexually assaulted in the shower in the athletic complex of the institution.

This individual told his father but not any official or police. This occurred in 2003. This occurred under the very noses of University officials. With knowledge in some cases, of this predator’s activities, of sexually assaulting his charges, the establishment looked the other way.

Charged with the offense is Jerry Sandusky. A judge released him on $100,000 bail with the prosecution failing to demand keeping the man in custody while the investigation takes place. It now turns out that the judge had been a supporter and volunteer of Sandusky’s charity called the Second Mile in which young boys were counseled and mentored.

Sandusky acted like a bull in a meadow of heifers.

But is it any different that members of Congress can legally use non-public information to make investments to enhance their personal fortunes? As the TV news magazine show 60 minutes revealed Sunday night, members of Congress are not required to place their assets in a blind trust, as is the case with the President and members of the Supreme Court.

Three Speakers of the House were named in the report of having capitalized on inside information that preceded legislation. Speakers Dennis Hastert, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner allegedly made money trading stock at prices which would be affected when legislation was made public.

Two of three three denied the charges by stating the decision to buy or sell was made by financial advisors. It’s a shallow excuse and unworthy of these individuals who hold such a high public office.

The question remains that how many other members of Congress line their pockets using inside information?

Attempts have been made to correct this unfair situation to no avail. Why would Congress kill the golden goose?

And people wonder why there is little or no respect for those holding public office.

These two revelations point to a sickness that can only be corrected by cleaning house of those in power. Those who feel a sense of entitlement to abuse their privilege of serving the public feel impregnable.

Is it no surprise that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has reached across the country? Thousands are protesting the elected privileged feeding at the public trough and looking the other way when a predator has his way with little boys.

It will take some brave members of Congress to enact a bill to stop members using inside information to make money. Any elected member of government should place their assets in a blind trust during their tenure in office.

In the case of Penn State, the administration should come under control of the Pennsylvania Attorney General until all the investigations are complete or at the call of the governor.

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Guelph’s golden goose is already cooked

If you believe what Mayor Karen Farbridge says about Guelph’s stature as a great city admired across the country, don’t look further than the books of the city. In honesty, only the accounting firm of Deloitte and Touche gets to examine the books along with a high-powered packet of senior staff managers.

Close your eyes and get ready for the annual shell game of staff presenting a 5.6 percent tax increase knowing full well that Council will reduce it.

This year’s target of council is the old reliable 3 per cent increase. They do it every year because they can get away with it. Don’t let the taxpayers get too restless is the name of the controlling majority of Council’s game.

Since Karen Farbridge became Mayor, every budget tax increase has exceeded the cost of living inflation index by some 1.5 per cent. Chump change you say? Add it up over five years and the exponential cost is staggering.

Do you believe that tax increases since 2006 amount to more than 19 per cent over five years? Do you know that most residential tax rates in the City of Toronto are lower than in Guelph?

Why can’t staff bring in a budget that reduces city tax rates for change?

For two years the downward spiral of managing city finances has accelerated to the point where debt exceeds the Council-imposed limit; taxes are among the highest of any similar-sized city in the country and the city is unable to retain a professional chief financial officer to run the show.

Meanwhile the infrastructure of the city has been chaotic for almost four years. Millions has been spent on major arterial streets being narrowed, bike lanes, a time clock in the Sleeman Centre, the ice rink/water feature in front of City Hall, and replacement of aging water and sewer facilities.

Good stuff the citizen’s may say. A little sacrifice will only makes the city more livable … but for whom?

The latest staff screwball scheme to raise capital is to sell the streetlights to Guelph Hydro for $7 million. Problem! The city owns Guelph Hydro. Isn’t this a thinly disguised way to overcome the city’s debt crisis by giving to one pot and taking from the other? Note that it was Karen Farbridge who promoted selling Guelph Hydro two years ago. The people and a majority of Council axed that idea.

The Farbridge administration is gasping for air and not without reason. Complicit in all this is a failure to level with the taxpayers and tell the staff to get real. We have already sold the golden goose and it’s time for the staff to cut costs.

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Mayor says Guelph is the Chutzpah capital of Canada

It was a wowzer of a speech, upbeat, positive and full of promise. And Chutzpah.

Mayor Karen Farbridge stepped out of the civic shadows to describe her city in three words – creativity, compassion and chutzpah.

It took chutzpah for the iron lady to make that speech. The normally reserved chief magistrate told her businessperson audience, that she is getting calls from all over Canada asking; how does Guelph maintain a 4.1 per cent unemployment rate?

What she didn’t mention is revealing. Contortion of the facts comes to mind.

She failed to tell her rapt audience about why Guelph has the ninth highest debt of all cities in the country, almost double per capita than Kitchener. Nor did she explain that the municipal taxes in the city are also among the highest of similar sized cities in Ontario.

Nor did she explain why a newly hired chief financial officer quit after one week on the job He was the second CFO in six months to either be fired or quit.

Her record in developing manufacturing jobs after five years in office is dismal as the 16:84 ratio of industrial commercial assessment compared to residential remains the same.

With more than 4,500 public service workers in the city, it skews the artificially low unemployment figure. Jobs have been created but they are mostly minimum wage with few benefits positions. Guelph’s civic staff of more than 1,450 enjoys some of the highest salaries in the municipal field plus extensive benefits including unprecedented job security.

The private sector cannot compete with the taxpayer-paid civil service wages and benefits in the city.

The Mayor dwelt on the number of growth collaborative initiatives to create jobs and increase assessments. That was chutzpah! Two years ago an independent consultant warned that Guelph was not friendly to business because of bureaucratic stalling of applications and information.

In this so-called state of the city address, the Mayor failed to tell her audience of the growing debt and unfunded liabilities the city faces. This includes the $12 million in capital to build new headquarters for the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit. She failed to say that she demanded that the Ontario Health Minister provide an assessor to judge whether Guelph must provide the money. Now that’s chutzpah!

Two judges have already ruled that the city has to pay.

Appointing insider Ann Pappert as Chief Administration Officer after a $46,000 headhunter search was chutzpah!

This speech had the eerie quality of Emperor Nero merrily playing the fiddle while Roman burned.

Now that was chutzpah!

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Is Mayor Farbridge Guelph’s Papandreou?

Economic chaos reigns around the world.

It’s no different in Guelph than Greece. Excessive spending has driven the city’s ability to grow and prosper into the ditch. A bureaucracy secured by guaranteed job security controls it.

What’s different? Greece borrowed to support inflated pensions and social benefits. It borrowed from many European banks to support a lifestyle that has driven the country to the brink of default.

Is it any different in Guelph?

The Farbridge administration has borrowed to finance projects and has not considered funding future financial obligations. In the process the majority of Council relied on staff recommendations in almost every major decision that had to be made over the last five years.

A secret funding was the new Guelph Civic museum where general revenue funds over the past four years have met the increased renovation cost of the converting the derelict convent.

For staff today to say it is coming in under the original $12.700,000 budget is ludicrous given the change orders and unexpected foundation problems experienced by the contractor.

Did it really take more than four years to convert this project?

It is a vanity project led by Coun. Leanne Piper who was former chairperson of the Guelph Heritage organization.

It seemed like a good idea at the time but the fall out was the lack of funding for the new downtown library, Wilson Street Parking Garage and South End Recreation Centre.

It must drive Farbridge advisor Ken Hamill and his wife nuts that the Library project was shelved for ten years as a capital project.

What does that tell you about how the inside works?

Management chaos reigns in Guelph.

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The old Lamplighter wonders who owns the streetlights?

A proposal surfaced that the city would sell the Guelph street lights to Guelph Hydro for $7 million.
Staff proposed the City would save $275,000 in electricity fees.
Sounds like a good deal.
Except, the city owns Guelph Hydro and the street lights, as it turns out.
So we are tapping Guelph Hydro for $7 million from a corporate we already own?
What’s wrong with this picture?
It’s no wonder that we have gone through two Chief Financial Officers in six months. This staff has desperately tried to lower the roaring debt of the city by re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Solution: Try cutting costs of operations that have dramatically increased in the past five years.

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