Monthly Archives: January 2012

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time

In its deliberations over the past five years, city council has often flouted the rule of unintended consequences.

The most egregious of these is the failure to provide adequate downtown parking. You’ll remember Mayor Karen Farbridge’s glowing description of the revitalized downtown that is vibrant and exciting. Her state of the city address emphasized council’s determination to make the downtown the jewel of the city. Well, that didn’t happen.

Here is part of the tangled web of promises and postponed capital projects. In 2007, the newly elected Farbridge council’s prime project was a new downtown library. However the resurrection of the derelict Loretto convent converting it into a new civic museum took precedent. Five years later, the library remains a figment in the former chief librarian’s mind.

Next came the $34 million wet waste composting plant. Affectionately known as the microbe motel, five months after completion it is still not operational. The victim of this capital project was the proposed $16 million Wilson Street parking garage. It is now badly needed, if for no other reason than to provide free parking for city employees working across the street.

The Federal and Provincial governments in 2009 made an offer the city could not refuse.  A tri-government stimulus package of $74 million was granted with the city’s share one third of it or about $25 million.

To help pay for this and other capital projects the city called its $30 million loan to Guelph Hydro to complete this and other projects so as not to go over its debt limit.

The ensuing chaos on city streets was a three-year and counting sentence to inconvenience and, in some cases, just dumb planning

The effect of lower tax revenue and slow development impacted city budgets.

Underlying all this was the disappearance of the Wilson Street parking garage, downtown library, and the south end recreational centre.

The Farbridge administration has willfully spent money on pet projects that affect the few and afflict the many.

Studying the amount of time a vehicle can idle and telling a mother she cannot skate on the civic rink in front of City Hall pushing he child in a stroller, is mindless.

The huge problem taxpayers face is how to recover from the excessive and misguided spending perpetrated by the Farbridge majority in council.

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Here are the top topics people are talking about in Guelph

It’s not complicated

Why can’t Guelph Transit provide a service that is on-time, safe and convenient? More than $300,000 was spent on a transit consultant in the past year to redefine the route systems, among other service improvements. The outcome so far has riled the riders and drivers alike. Is it not a management problem that runs through to City Hall?

Snowshoes optional

Will the city provide snowshoes for those hardy souls to trek up Catholic Hill to inspect their new $16 million civic museum? Opening the place after five years of construction – the pyramids only took a little longer – in February seems misguided when the landscaping and parking is incomplete. Also adjacent Cork Street is slated for serious rehab. What is the real cost of this enterprise and how many staff hours did it take to complete the project? Another management failure?

Test drive causes odours

No sooner did they ship 65 tones of wet waste into the Watson Road Microbe Motel and odours were detected and the Ministry of Environment notified. Is there a problem here, Bunkie? The good news is Janet Laird, Executive Director of Engineering and Environmental Services, has come out from behind her desk and is on top of the new odour problems. She is the face of the city on this issue. Question: How does a PhD in philosophy become head of engineering?

Why should the taxpayers pay for free parking?

It was revealed that the city is going to pay the legal costs of appealing a Revenue Canada decision to charge city employees, who have downtown parking paid by the city, a taxable benefit. What is difficult to understand is that for three years the city paid the tax owed by employees of more than $454,000.  Would that not be a precedent, a tacit acknowledgement that free parking as a condition of employment is a taxable benefit? No, the city is now arguing about the past three years. How many private employers in the downtown area provide free parking for employees?  All Mark Amorosi, Executive Director of Human Resources says Guelph is right and Revenue Canada is wrong. Listen for the rustle of garnishee’s hitting the paychecks of city staffers who don’t pay the taxable benefit.

How much is that doggy in the window?

Now that the city has expended its opposition to the new Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health $10 million headquarters on Stone Road, people are asking what is Guelph’s real cost? How much were the legal fees, consultant fees, staff time spent to prevent this project from getting off the ground? The city is without a Chief Financial Officer, so is it any wonder that such details may wind up in the circular file?

Strange bedfellow

A lot of folks are wondering why rookie Coun. Todd Dennis joined the Farbridge majority on Council. In his election campaign he promised to reduce taxes and get the South end a much needed recreation centre. Well, those turned out to be empty promises.  Methinks he sized up the new council make-up and decided to side with the Farbridge majority. It may have been an expedient decision but based on his ability to talk the talk, he failed to walk the walk.

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The Microbe Motel gets stuffed

The city is moving 75 tons of wet waste to the Microbe Motel to save: Ta Dah! The microbes.

Seems the temperature dropped below 15 Centigrade in one of the biofilter chambers in the new compost plant, threatening death of the resident bugs. These micro composters have been starved these past few weeks as the plant stopped receiving waste because of odour problems.

But now the holiday is over and it’s back to work.

Soon CUPE will be in the chambers organizing these wee beasties who are required to work 24 hours a day.

Who will save the bugs from these unscrupulous taskmasters determined to force them to munch until they drop?

Join the citizen’s protest group FTWRM (Free The Watson Road Microbes).

Put an end to these intolerable working conditions where microbes must work non-stop round the clock and, do it in the dark.

Next thing you know, city staffers will be asked to work eight hours a day.

When will it all stop?

 

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A funny thing happened on the way to the Super Bowl

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is pushing a bill to turn Indiana into a right to work state. The bill restricts workers right to organize and bargain among other elements.

Many state citizens, members of trade unions and government workers are outraged at Daniels’ attempt to stifle the union movement.

Mr. Daniels ambition to dismantle established workers rights, may have hit a major roadblock. Seems that the Super Bowl is being held in Indianapolis February 4th.  The National Football League Players Association threatening to boycott the game if Daniels pursues his mission.

What delicious irony. Daniels doesn’t dare foul up the biggest game of the year that happens to occur in his own backyard. Perhaps he will learn, first hand, how difficult it is to force something down the throats of the labor movement in his state.

Daniels is being touted as the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa next August. He is seen as a darling to the right following his career as former President George W. Bush’s budget chief.

It was Daniels who estimated the cost of the Iraq war would be $50 billion. The final cost was $800 billion and still counting. When he took over as White House budget chief, he inherited a $126 billion surplus. When he left the job, the federal deficit was more than a trillion.

He was complicit in contributing to George W. Bush’s economic disaster that brought about the greatest recession in America since the Great Depression.

Yet his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate deny job creation programs, put forward by the Obama Administration, to reduce unemployment and stimulate the nation’s economy.

Daniels joins other Republican governors who came to power in the 2010 elections. They have bungled efforts to get the economy growing by introducing ideological self-serving measures that has exacerbated the economic decline of the country.

Rick Scott in Florida and Scott Walker in Wisconsin are two governors who have little support among voters after their draconian measures have not created jobs and have reduced services. Scott has a 26 per cent approval rating and Walker faces a recall election after more than a million petitions were delivered to the registrar of elections.

Perhaps the Republicans need to do some naval examination to re-tool the party.

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So Newt thinks it is despicable to be asked about his personal behaviour

Having been a reporter, one had to feel uncomfortable the other night as CNN’s John King questioned the Republican Presidential Candidate about his crazy quilt marital affairs.

Newt unloaded on the hapless King, adroitly dodging the core questions and blaming the Eastern media Elite for digging into his checkered past as a father and husband. And then drawing himself up in self-righteous outrage, Gingrich called the line of questioning “despicable” and unworthy of being introduced as the first question in the South Carolina presidential debate.

Well as the man said, the best defence is an offense. Newt played that role to the cheers of his supporters in the hall.

Step back a bit. Isn’t it fair game to question the integrity and character of an individual running for political office?  Newt carries more baggage than a 747 when one examines his public career. Fired as Speaker of the House and fined $300,000 for breach of ethics; taking more than $1.6 million from federal mortgage insurers Freddie Mae and Freddy Mac as a historian and denying he was a lobbyist; then as the House Speaker leading the Republican charge to impeach President Clinton for his alleged affair with Monica Lewinsky, he was at the same time boinking his mistress while still married to wife two. The mistress won in the end, and became the third and current Mrs. Gingrich.

One would think that these are character issues and possibly unworthy of a presidential candidate.

But Newt, in his glib way, has convinced the South Carolina Republican voters that he is the anointed one to turf Barack Obama out of the White House in November. Newt knows how to serve up the red meat for the carnivorous Carolinians, many of whom are still fighting the civil war. Blaming a mixed race black President is cannon fodder for the opportunistic Gingrich who can talk but is a straw man with no integrity of substance.

So the Republican Presidential race to the bottom leaves four candidates: Mitt Romney, whose lack of charisma and elitism has him twisting in the wind in the Carolinas and probably the rest of the South; Rick Santorum, who is the darling poster boy for the evangelical and social segment of the divided party. He was soundly defeated as a sitting Senator in Pennsylvania; and Ron Paul, the happy Libertarian warrior who could end up running as a third party candidate and spoiling a Republican return to the White House and possibly Congress.

What a sorry collection. Where is Donald Trump when the party needs him? Or Mitch Daniels, or Chris Christie or Paul Ryan?

You don’t have to look far to analyze their reluctance. That canny former governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, took one look at the national political scene and passed on running for president.

That says a lot for the Republican power brokers who must be wringing their hands in anguish as none of the four remaining candidates stands a chance against Obama in November.

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I get stupidity fatigue reading Macleans’ 99 ways government stupidity spent your money

  • For viewers who don’t read Macleans, there is not enough space to describe how, across the country, our fog-bound, greedy officials make dumb decisions spending your money willfully supporting the most specious of proposals.

One of my favourites was spending by Ottawa to build seven chalets along the Rideau Canal, at a cost of $750,000 each to accommodate skaters in winter. Average house costs in the city are just $360,000.

I can report reading the report is a revealing and tiring exercise.

So then look at the situation in Guelph, where we have a substantial portfolio of home-grown stupidity by our council and staff.

Let me count the ways.

*  My favourite was the nameless city staffer who promoted the idea of selling Guelph’s streetlights to Guelph Hydro. That’s like borrowing from yourself. The taxpayers own Guelph Hydro.  It was a stupid proposal designed to create fresh capital to a council starved for money. That was shifting the debt to another city agency. Try doing that at home.

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*  Picking a fight with partners in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit.  The health board approved a $17 million headquarters on Stone Road and a satellite office in Orangeville. Guelph’s share was mandated to be $10 million.

Mayor Farbridge and her supporters on council decided to challenge the proposal by first withdrawing its representatives from the public health board and then challenging the decision in the courts. The city lost. The cost to taxpayers for this is an unbudgeted $10 million. Why can’t our council get along with their partners?

*            *            *

*  Using $2 million of stimulus money to install bicycle lanes on Stone Road. The other stupid use of stimulus cash was paying $750,000 for a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre.

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*  Then along came the stupid downtown pissoir experiment. Councillor Ian Findlay and Mike Salisbury travelled to Edmonton to check out how that city handles the public calls of nature. The result of Guelph’s six week temporary pissoir experiment was collecting more than 2,000 litres of male urine. It didn’t fix the problem.

*            *            *

*  Spending $300,000 to a consultant to rearrange the Guelph Transit routes to be more efficient and of service to the public.  When started January 1st, the system was a disaster. Passengers complained of route changes, wait times and missed transfers. But hey! The buses were given new logos and the drivers took the heat from passengers. Is that any way to run a railroad, er transit service?

*            *            *

*  The granddaddy of stupidity was spending $33 million on a wet waste composting plant and then being told by the Ministry of Environment that they would not allow plastic bags to be used at the facility. Instead, council agreed, based on a staff recommendation, that another $15 million be spent on a green bin system plus automated trucks to pick the bins up.

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*  For the past five years, the Farbridge Council has used reserve funds to prop up ambitious projects and keep the annual tax rate increases in the 3.5 per cent area. The chickens came home to roost recently when city staff told council there was not an evident pool of money to support the city’s share of a proposed affordable housing project. If the staff doesn’t know where the funding comes from how can such a program even be considered?

Coun. Bob Bell who attended the county meeting to discuss the project, wished there was $2.5 million in the city’s affordable housing reserve fund but said, “ we haven’t put any money in there for about three years.”

So, when Coun. Leanne Piper brags that the city has $84 million in reserves, maybe she should drill down and find out where and how much there is in the reserves.

*            *            *

Finally, the stupidity prize goes to Mayor Farbridge who bypassed her own council bylaws and allowed Coun. Leanne Piper to engineer a coup that saw Coun. Gloria Kovach stripped of her police services post. Then she took the job for herself. Her seven fellow travelers on council supported both moves, 8 to 5.

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Microbe Motel will never be free of odours, operators say

Now they tell us.

Some $33 million spent on a plant to handle wet waste and it doesn’t work. Add another estimated $15 million for green bins and the automated trucks to empty them, and we’re staring at almost $50 million.

Ken Spira has some important information in guelphspeaks comments that will astonish the public who have to finance this project.

How did this happen? How could civic staff and council ever approve this spending without considering that it was too expensive and would not meet specifications, particularly eliminating odours.

Did they not realize that the type of material that was being composted was of varying degrees and quality. Each time they process a batch, the recipe is different. What happens when the temperature drops? Do the microbes munching on the stuff curl up and die or just strike because it’s too cold?

Were there no professionals on city staff to warn of this toxic mix that cannot be controlled, no matter what the operators say. Did the city obtain outside advice as to the experience in other communities in handling a mish-mash of wet garbage? In all types of weather?

Now we learn that a stack afterburner costing $59,000 was roughed in but the equipment was not installed. Another rough in was $25,000 for an acid scrubber that the designer of the Plant, Maple Reinders, did not include in the modeling. The entire cost of the acid scrubber is $392,679.58. The Ministry of Environment (MOE) mandated the scrubber had to be installed.

As this horror story unfolds, the reputation of Maple Reinders is slowly sinking as more facts of cost cutting and design shortcuts are revealed.

The responsibility for this lies with Janet Laird, Executive Director of the environmental services and engineering. It is doubtful that she will be asked to resign as she is too close to Mayor Karen Farbridge.

As former president Harry S Truman said: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

That time has arrived.

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