Monthly Archives: February 2012

Let them eat chocolate almonds at the Cutten club

If you ever wonder how our elected officials use public money to entertain themselves and their guests, look no farther than the Mayor’s office.

Seems the Cutten Club is the watering hole for politicians and senior staff. Apparently it is a favourite of Mayor Karen Farbridge whose favoured treat are chocolate almonds.

Didn’t Marie Antoinette spout the famous phrase that led to her ignominious end during the French revolution: “Let them eat cake!”

Here we are three centuries later with a Mayor who exercises her power to the extent that voters are treated with disdain while she munches on chocolate almonds.

But I digress.

Recently Mark Amorosi, Executive Director of Human Resources and Legal Services, notified a Guelph blogger that the city would no longer respond to requests for information from “any personal blog website.”

Amorosi went on to say that the city interacts with “legitimate media outlets” that follow the Ethics Guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ).

So now Mark Amorosi is the propaganda minister of Guelph. He decides what and who will have access to the public record. He is judge, jury and executioner of the public’s right to know.

It appears that while Amorosi used the CAJ as the benchmark of who should have right of access to public information, he couldn’t have read the Ethics Guidelines. If he had he would have read the following:

“News organizations- including newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television – provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. As such we (CAJ) seek to include views from all segments of the population.”

“Personal online activity, including emails and social networking should generally be regarded as public and not private.”

Gerry Barker edits guelphspeaks. I am a taxpaying resident of Guelph who has spent most of my life as a professional journalist.

Now I wonder if Judge Amorosi will approve my blog as a “legitimate media outlet” and have access to the public records.

Not that I would ask Mark Amorosi for anything given his track record of stonewalling, lying by omission and bending the facts.

This all started with a simple request from a fellow blogger for the travel expenses incurred by Coun. Maggie Laidlaw on a trip to Italy allegedly on behalf of the city.

You already know the outcome of that request.

Judge Amorosi has spoken. The city will not respond to any request for information unless you are on the  “legitimate outlet “ list.

What are they afraid of? Why this ham-handed attempt to muzzle legitimate commentary about a publicly funded city government?

So much for the Farbridge promise of transparency in her administration. That promise went off the rails five years ago.

This not the end of the beginning, it is the beginning of the end.

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Market Square opens after two years of discontent

It was heartwarming that some 250 citizens recently attended the official opening of the Market Square, the oddly named area on Carden Street that fronts City Hall and the provincial courthouse.

The occasion was poignant when members of his family and young hockey players remembered Nicholas Lambden, who died as a result of being hit on the head by a puck while playing on an outdoor rink.  Through the Nicholas Lambden Children’s Foundation, the family raised $400,000 for the Market Square rink.

While it is a feather in the cap of Mayor Karen Farbridge, it remains the artful use of political legerdemain to deflect any criticism after two years of destruction of business optimism in the area.

The rink and wading pool costs come to mind. Originally priced at $2.1 million, the project grew like topsy as a pavilion was added plus public washrooms and a parking garage for the Zamboni.

Enter the Rink Rats who volunteered to raise more than a million dollars toward the rink cum reflective pool. Spearheaded by the Mayor’s friend, Ken Hammill, the group unveiled a “donor appreciation window” during the occasion.

We wonder if the amount included the $400,000 that was pledged by the Downtown Business Improvement Area members whose board of directors approved the donation without approval of the members. Many of these same businesses suffered while the Market Square was being developed.

The Provincial and Federal government tossed in $500,000 each, their share of the stimulus funding for the rink project.

The irony is that the city staff estimated it would cost more than $1.2 million a year just to maintain the facility. The original staff proposal was to equip the rink with two Zambonii. Now the new garage is almost too tight to fit the resident Zamboni. You know whose pocket all this will be coming from.

Comingled with this project financing was the rebuilding of Carden Street with paving stones imported from the U.S. plus street-scaping and the usual digging to replace pipes and conduits.

While the work is essentially complete, there remains a bitter taste by many downtowners. Most feel the city management bungled the project.  Remember at the height of the construction the saga of the city managers in charge being called the three stooges and the uproar that followed? Threatening a lawsuit by the city solicitor, cooler heads prevailed.

The handling of this and other projects in the past three years by the city has left a legacy of suspicion and non-confidence on the part of the public.

By the way Mayor Farbridge, how much did the rink and environs really cost?

Will that be one Zamboni or two?

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How the truth gets bent in the world of words

Our daily newspaper each year selects citizens to sit on its Community Editorial Board (CEB). Invitations go out and the final groups of successful candidates earn the right to speak their opinions in the public prints.

Since the newspaper, following the re-election of Mayor Farbridge’s majority Group of Eight, turned its point of view to the left of the political spectrum it attracted a number of commentators who espouse radical and far-left beliefs.

Now the newspaper has every right to pick whomever it chooses for the CEB.

But don’t try to sell readers on the squirrely ramblings of the disaffected and sometimes articulate spokespersons and their opinions on how our society must change. It’s arrogant to the majority of readers who will never share these beliefs.

Doubtless the chiefs who are in charge of the two Guelph newspapers feel they are obligated to allow different points of view to be expressed on their newsprint. After all they own it.

Where does this leave the reader? Probably confused, depending on your understanding of the facts.

This week, Matt Soltys, a member of the CEB wrote in the Mercury his revised version of what happened in the summer of 2009, when a so-called group of activists stopped construction in the city-owned Hanlon Business Park.

Soltys was named in a $5 million city-sponsored lawsuit against these urban terrorists whose action cost the city more than a million dollars in delayed construction, legal and police costs. The suit was dropped last month. The capper came in August 2009 when city dignitaries were exposed to insults, expletives and spitting by this same group when they attended the official opening of the park. Guelph police videotaped the assault.

For Soltys to claim now that this group of urban terrorists had the support of thousands. Really? How was that conclusion reached? Did his group hire a polling company to prove they were right and the rest of us were wrong.

But the plot thickens. Move now to June 2010 and black-masked rioters destroyed shops and police cars in downtown Toronto during the G20 meetings. It now appears that at least two of those involved in the Hanlon Park occupation have been convicted to leading and encouraging the rioters to disrupt the world leaders’ meetings.

Last year, Ben Bennett, the individual paid by the unions to stop Walmart from coming to Guelph was a member of the CEB. We now know how that worked out for him.

Then we have Susan Ratcliffe, whose recent diatribe about preservation of heritage properties went over the top, is another CEB contributor.

Finally we have Shawn Van Sluys, executive director of Musagetes spouting his philosophy of the role of art and culture in a city in transition. He cautioned the first task of his organization is to determine IF the city is in transition.

Why is Guelph such a magnet for these people who have no political base, no power but create a lot of noise to make their point?

But do they have a political base? Interestingly the Guelph Civic League through its subsidiary 10 Carden Street, plays a behind the scenes role in supporting Musagetes and fellow travelers.

The irony is that Mayor Farbridge, who is indebted to the Guelph Civic League has to keep hands off. To associate with urban terrorists and out-of-town activists is not a recipe for smart politics. And right now, she needs all the support she can get from the great majority of Guelph taxpayers.

Sorry Matt, your version of what happened in 2009 is a myth and the taxpayers paid the price.

 

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How big U.S. banks drive gas prices up at the pump

 

What is the relationship between what a gallon/litre of gasoline costs when you fill it up and the U.S. banks’ $700 billion bailout in 2007?

It’s not as complicated as one would believe.

The cost of crude oil in 2011 ranged between $80 and $100 U.S. a barrel.  Yet, the consumption of petroleum products, specifically gasoline, dropped in the U.S. to the same levels as 1997.  There is similar evidence the same occurred in Canada where we have more crude oil that we will ever need.

But the price of gasoline in 2011 rose by almost 50 cents a gallon (.27 cents a litre). So consumption goes down but prices went up.

What happened?

It was not because supply caught up with demand or visa versa. It happened because relaxed regulations in the U.S. allowed the big banks to speculate in the oil futures market … very profitably.

Here’s how it works and is still working today.

The big boys including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase, Duetshe Bank, Barclays, bought oil futures as speculation, spending millions to manipulate the market. These are the same banks that received some $700 billion of taxpayer’s money in 2007 to avert a financial meltdown. It was one of which they were principally responsible with the packaging of low-grade U.S. mortgages and selling them as securities to investors all over the world.

That happened under President’s George W. Bush’s watch. And we know the rest of the story. It became a major global financial disaster in which many countries are still trying to recover.

Now these same banks are engaging along with some multi-billionaires to manipulate the crude oil futures markets. The extra gasoline cost to ordinary citizens averaged $600 in 2011.

Can you now image the position of these modern-day robber barons are in with the threat of Middle East disruption of oil shipments, due to the Iranian/Israel confrontation?

This will play into the hands of these huge financial speculators who will drive the price of gasoline to more than $4.50 a gallon in the U.S. and $1.50 a litre in Canada.

How can this be when there are abundant supplies of crude oil and available refinery capacity?

Supply and demand has nothing to do with it.

You will pay more because the banking gnomes on Wall Street and in Europe will milk the situation to the hilt for personal gain.

Until our governments step in and introduce price controls on gasoline and other derivative products, North American consumers will, once again, be the saps who pay.

Oddly, the Republican Party in the U.S. fosters the myth that expanding oil supply will drop prices at the pump. As long as they and their adherents promote this myth, get ready for much higher gasoline prices in North America.

There are forces that are formidable to prevent fairness in the supply system. The American Petroleum Institute representing the major oil companies and the major banks involved, has spent millions lobbying to protect their interests and not the taxpayers.

Citizens should rise up and protest the terrible drain on their pocketbooks by voting with their feet during the primaries and the general election in the U.S. next November.

It’s your money.

 

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Questions about a social collective now active in Guelph

In an commentary by a member of the Guelph Mercury Community editorial board, an outfit called Musagetes has encamped in Guelph to bring together a plethora of social and political activists, artists, architects, facilitators, designers and creative researchers..

Musagetes describes itself as “an international philanthropic organization that initiates artistic programs in mid-sized cities undergoing a transition of some form.“

After reading the Musagetes Manifesto, I must confess there are some questions that require answers before the average citizen can comprehend the four page document.

For starters, the author of the piece is Shawn Van Sluys, was not identified in the Mercury story as the Executive Director of Musagetes.  The omission leaves a large credibility gap in the narrative.

Van Sluys says that Guelph is now the home of Musagetes. While normally one may be flattered that the “international philanthropic organization” would choose Guelph as its global base of operations, the question remains: Why Guelph?

Allow me to assist you with this aspect. There is linkage between an outfit named 10 Carden Street that is a spin-off from the Guelph Civic League. You may recall that the province of Ontario Trillium Foundation awarded a $135,000 grant to Ten Carden to promote public participation in civic politics.

There is no mention of the source for Musagetes funding.  Who is paying the bills? What are the sources of revenue? Names of Guelph residents supporting Musagetes? Is the foundation recognized as a registered charitable organization by the Canada Revenue Agency?

Van Sluys says Guelph (along with Sudbury and two European cities), are the target communities he claims are in transition. Musagetes hopes to assist in stimulating artistic endevour and accelerate the transition of the city.

Why all this talk of policy and a grandiose plan to define “what is in transition in Guelph?”

One does not to look too far to see the path of transition in the city: It’s down the financial rabbit hole.

For five years we have endured wonk-driven policies, mismanagement, social engineering and blunders that would make John Galt blush.

We don’t need outsiders coming to our city to engage in imposing esoteric solutions to alleged problems that are not a priority.

Their timing could not be worse as the huge $118 million debt is already exceeding the lawful ceiling and has placed limits on what city council can do.

While there may be some merit in what Musagetes may offer the city, there are too many questions about its bonafides to judge whether such a contribution to our society is meaningful.

As a public service, I suggest reading the Musagetes Manifesto (www.musagetes.ca) to get a handle on the organization’s purpose and mission.

You be the judge. Don’t take my word for it.

 

 

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Gazing into the belly button of Guelph politics

By Gerry Barker

Having written volumes about how our city functioned within the past six years, some conclusions have been reached about the future prospects of our civic society.

Guelph historically has been benign when it comes to voter participation in election campaigns.

That changed in 2006 when Karen Farbridge was returned to the mayor’s post along with a majority of councillors who accepted her leadership and proposals. It was a sweeping victory driven by a well-run and well-funded campaign, aided by professional organizers.

The defeated mayor, Kate Quarrie, ran a campaign that failed to recognize the public build-up of resentment against her and her council. Only two survived the onslaught.  Even though the Quarrie council was responsible for a new WalMart store that opened days before the election, it failed to ignite support.

The next four years saw the Farbridge majority council increase the city debt by more than $56 million with grandiose projects that played into the council’s self interests.  These included the $33 million compost plant and the new civic museum. The city’s $25 million share of the $74 million tri-government stimulus program was partially offset by calling a $30 million loan from Guelph Hydro.

These are just the tips of the crushing debt the Farbridge administration has created in five years of office. Revenues did not meet spending because of the anti-development attitude among many members of council coupled with the multi-million dollar unbudgeted costs.

These are known facts. It’s the unknown costs that voters must fear.

In 2010, Mayor Farbridge was re-elected with a reduced majority and she lost three members in her previous majority caucus. Actually it was four as re-elected Coun. Bob Bell joined the five councillors who did not support the Mayor’s policies. Getting even, the Mayor publicly lashed out at Coun. Bell for daring to challenge her authority.

Only 28 per cent of Guelph voters bothered to cast their ballot in 2010. It was the year that the two local papers shifted allegiance to the Farbridge administration. The move was subtle but nonetheless biased.  I know because my columns were the skunk at the garden party regarding the shift.

For five years I have been writing a column on the Mercury editorial page. My association became challenged just before the 2010 election when I was told I could not write a column that was biased against “you know who.” Following the election my columns, mostly critical of the Farbridge council, were regularly challenged or dropped altogether.

I wasn’t surprised when informed by e-mail that the column was finished. The added touch was that I should feel free to submit letters to the editor or the occasional guest column when the muse sparked.

That’s like putting the bull out to pasture and denying conjugal rights.

I have no regrets and my association with the Mercury editors remains amiable, as far as I’m concerned. They were only following orders,

The creation of guelphspeaks.ca has provided a platform that I can post almost daily to keep my viewers informed.  The daily growth of those viewing the blog has been phenomenal. It gives me confidence to feel that the great majority of voters is awakening and is starved for what is really going on.

The goal of guelphspeaks is to publish not only comments and opinion submissions by others, but to add more voices to build relevance to the blog.

The 2010 election remains a wake-up call for voters to ensure that competent, credible candidates are elected in 2014. Those prepared to represent all the people and return financial stability to the city hopefully will put their names forward.

Make no mistake, the city’s financial situation is crippling and will impact future councils for many years as they unravel the mindless spending of this administration.

Guelph has a great future as a bustling community with urban amenities and good paying jobs and services.  Unfortunately, the financial hole that has been dug by the Farbridge administration will delay the potential of this fine city.Step one starts today.

I urge citizens to become engaged in civic government. Question the slanted press releases from the city hall communications group. Question ward councillors about the issues and why they voted the way they did.  Express yourself through guelphspeaks.ca or letters to the editor.

Use your voice; study the issues and then we may begin to make change.

Guelphspeaks is your blog.

 

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The high cost of retaining historical artifacts

Some legal cases take time to reach a conclusion. Even those cases that are never heard in the courts.

Scott Tracey in the Guelph Mercury spelled it out in his column how a dispute between the city and the descendants of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the Guelph born physician who served  and died in the first world war, and wrote the famous poem: “In Flanders fields the poppies grow.”

The dispute arose when the family members demanded return of seven medals housed in the McCrae house museum. The city refused and a lawsuit was launched against the city in 2008.

It was announced February 8 that a settlement had been reached. The city would issue a press release acknowledging the gift from the McCrae descendants and install a plaque at the McCrae Museum.

Is this over?

Not really. Questions are now being raised when city solicitor Donna Jacques said the legal costs for this three-year marathon negotiation were $233,000. An outside law firm engaged by city to make its case billed this amount.

It is noted that none of the funds went to members of the McCrae family. Only the lawyers got it.

The elongated negotiations were conducted behind closed doors so the public was never informed of what was happening. More to the point, how did such a simple settlement take so long and cost so much?

It is yet another example of mismanagement by the Farbridge administration. The cost of legal services, both in house and hired guns, is buried in voluminous data that the average taxpayer cannot decipher.

To obfuscate the truth is the mantra of this bunch.

Get ready for the other shoe to fall when the new city hall breach of contract suit comes to trial and/or settlement. Also fired treasurer Margaret Neubaur will have a wrongful dismissal case pending. Also the public washroom collapse will impact legal costs as will civic museum and compost plant cost overruns. Toss in the disputes with county councillors, and the province, and the costs of legal and staff soar.

The good news is the medals earned by this brave soldier remain in the house where he was born so the public may remember his service to his country.

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