Monthly Archives: April 2012
Skating around the issue
Guelph Mercury becomes suddenly assertive
Like bombs bursting in air, the mighty Mercury awoke this week from its long sleep covering city hall to discover events that stirred the editor to publish two critical editorials.
It is an event of historic proportions, as I cannot recall in recent memory, the Mercury being critical of the current administration on its editorial pages. I wrote a column on those pages every third Saturday for five years that was critical of the Farbridge leadership.
Managing editor Phil Andrews took the unusual step of acknowledging there are other voices in the community who articulate the warts of the current administration. To suggest that those critical of public affairs and trust management, address the issues as “a hobby”, is like telling journalism icon H.L. Menken to shut up.
It’s not a hobby Phil, it’s a cause.
People are becoming more concerned about the way their city is being run. There is plenty of evidence that the city authorities massage the news to make them look responsible and innovative.
There are too many instances ignored by the mainstream media that have cried out for detailed explanations from city authorities when things go wrong.
The Mercury lacks critical purpose and it shows. But keep the faith. Things are going to get warmer and more interesting as time wears on.
As Pogo reflected in the Okeefenoki swamp: “We have seen the enemy and they is us.”
Editor – guelphspeaks.ca
Filed under Between the Lines
Hallejua! We have a winner!
The city announced that the vacant post of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) had been filled after the former CFO was fired a year ago. Albert Horsman comes to the city from the Town of Kawartha Lakes where he served as Chief Administration Officer (CAO).
But the title of the senior Guelph staff position is now called – Executive Director of Finance and Enterprise.
The new employee comes to the job with varied municipal experience that is focused on management but does not include a degree in financial accounting.
Indeed the job description makes his position not only to manage city finances but also to seek and create positive enterprise opportunities.
Is this guy a financial manager or a salesman?
Guelph CAO, Ann Pappert described Mr. Horsman’s experience as a municipal finance expert with a background in the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Infrastructure Ontario and the City of Toronto’s financial planning division.
But has he ever been responsible for accounting a city’s finances?
It is another strange appointment to an Executive Director’s post where the titles are longer that an elephant’s trunk, and the job descriptions are buried deep in the bureaucratic bowel known only to the few and not to the general public.
Not wishing the new man any ill will but to paraphrase Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, “this isn’t Kansas, Toto.”
Once Mr. Horsman gets settled in, he will quickly discover the financial picture of the city and the excessive debt currently costing more than $5 million a year in interest just to service the debt. Gradually he will work his way through the voodoo accounting practised by the leadership of this city with the complicity of the independent auditors. The result is taxpayers have had little understanding of the financial mess the city is in.
For example, Coun. Ian Findlay suggested that the 2012 budget be re-opened to permit spending $10,000 to provide a skateboard park this summer. This has been the practice in the past.
Here’s the rub. Why was this expenditure dropped when the 2012 budget was being established last fall? More to the point, where was Mr. Findlay when the decision was made to drop the project?
It was a dumb mistake but the 2012 budget should not be re-opened. That’s like letting the cats among the canaries. Perhaps the money can be found elsewhere.
In conjunction with his fairly modest request, city council is to consider a staff proposal May 30th to spend upwards of $9 million to develop a downtown park at the corner of Gordon and Wellington Streets.
These are really big picture guys.
The project calls for purchase of commercial properties to develop the park while disrupting an intense commercial node at one of the main intersections of the city.
What was the planning staff thinking? It’s not a bad idea to have a downtown park but the staff proposal is ill conceived. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and the project be sent back to staff to investigate compromise and initiate a more reasonable solution without spending millions.Then, out of the blue, comes the Chief Executive Officer of the Guelph Library suggesting a new downtown library costing $64 million that would open in 2017. So confident of this happening, the library has hired a fundraiser charged with bringing in $10 million to completely finish the interior of the building as proposed by the library management.
In steps Coun. Ian Findlay, who expresses confidence the project will meet the 2017 completion. “Not only will there be a library but there will be commercial space available,” he said.
What are these people smoking? There isn’t public money available in 2012 or in the foreseeable future. To promote such a possibility is egregious and willful.
The new Downtown library is a possibility but it requires private participation and limited public exposure.
Welcome Mr. Horsmen to the city of whacko economics.
When help is needed, call in Terry Bradshaw
The decision to pay $25,000 for a five-minute infomercial about Guelph was a perpetuation of the view held by Mayor Karen Farbridge that she is doing a great job running the city.
The weird part was selecting former Pittsburg Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw as the spokesmen in the five-minute video.
The native of Louisiana has transformed himself from football star to TV sports broadcasting. He is an entertaining and opinionated football analyst but what in hell is he doing touting Guelph?
I’ll bet that Bradshaw was never in the city to proclaim its wonders. His part was done in a studio somewhere in another country.
There was one little slip in the presentation in which Bradshaw refers to the Guelph edition of the video as being part of this “nation of ours. “ He wasn’t referring to Canada, folks.
No wonder the Mayor is so proud of the video. She was the supporting star and without a smidge of deprecation, did her patented number that Guelph is one of the top ten cities in the Country.
Her mistake was giving the impression that this was an initiative of the city’s development department. In fact it was an American production company that put it together. The pregnant question remains: How many city staffers contributed to the shooting of the video and at what cost?
The production is classic Farbridge. A person of power, she has come to believe that she is omnipotent as our Mayor. She actually believes this promotion is real journalism. It points to her weakness in believing her own propaganda created at the public expense about what a great job she is doing.
Isn’t ego a wonderful attribute? If only the Mayor would see herself as others see her.
One does not have to look much farther back than last fall when a senior manager resigned and blew the whistle on how Guelph was unfriendly to business both existing and prospective. It caused a stir in the staff ranks as shortly after, his boss Chief Planner James Riddell, resigned to take a position in St. Catharines.
This and other resignations and the dismissal last year of Chief Financial Officer Margaret Neubaur have created a malaise within the staff causing uncertainty and a lack of leadership. Six senior staff positions remain unfilled.
Oh, there is leadership but it has become focused in the office of Mayor. Guelph has been molded and fashioned in Mayor Farbridge’s version of what she envisions as a great community.
Our city was great and has tremendous potential to become a city of all the people and not just the playpen of a minority of politically left activists.
In her blog the mayor quotes a saying from India: “That leaders need to be like elephants. The dogs can bark all they want, they need to keep moving.”
I would hope that the Mayor was not singling me out because my name is Barker.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “Some elephant. So many dogs.”
By Gerry Barker
Editor of guelphspeaks.ca
Filed under Between the Lines
The Farbridge method of managing
The mayor publishes a blog on the city’s website and this current post is eye catching.
Under the heading “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
I guess most citizens would believe the mayor has the cart in front of the horse.
Shouldn’t it read: “ If you don’t manage it, you can’t measure it.”
The Mayor acknowledges that absenteeism among city staff is rising. Is that not the core issue? Shouldn’t senior staff investigate why this is occurring? No amount of sophisticated software is going to solve the problem.
Measurement of the problem has already occurred. Sick leave is increasing annually.
It is understood that people get sick or injured on the job. It’s not about those folks.
Mayor, you are not dealing with statistics. You are dealing with a staff morale problem.
A good start would be to hold sessions with rank and file employees to discover why they book off. Sort the dross from reality and address the basics of man management. Excuse me, person management. Managers, those not fearful of their own jobs, would discover the reasons why their staff is disgruntled and unhappy.
Maintaining staff morale is a tricky and vital task of management. Trouble is there is a huge vacuum of six senior managers whose positions are vacant. They include such core positions as finance, planning and engineering.
For a five-year administration that prides itself in creating policy and strategies, this proposal illustrates a dismal failure in managing human resources.
Buying a $150,000 software package is not going to solve the underlying staff morale problem.
The Mayor states the number of employees (1,500) but is not specific in terms of who is included. The 2012 budget is $174,000,000 and consists of some 85 per cent for employee costs. The Mayor’s blog stated the 2012 budget was $200 million.
Despite not being accurate, employee costs calls for careful and responsible hands–on management.
But then money management was never one of the Mayor’s strong suits.
Service Ontario fumbles customer parking
The other day I had to renew my licence plates. I travelled to the Ontario government complex on Stone Road to do my business with Service Ontario.
In past years I find the staff courteous and helpful.
Driving into the complex there is a short term parking area of six spaces free for 15 minutes.
But it was full.
So I drove down to the area where there were lots of spaces but apparently one must pay to park there.
So, blush, I took a chance knowing that I would only be in the building for about 15 minutes.
As usual the time taken was less than 15 minutes but by the time I got back to my car the Dudley Do-right security guy had given me a ticket for $25. I tried to explain the short-term area was full but he was adamant.
And, if I don’t pay the fine I face losing my licence. Is that a little draconian?
Now I don’t know what wizard in the bowels of the bureaucracy cooked this up but it does not serve the public.
Many citizens attend the Service Ontario offices and should be entitled to short term parking privileges. The employees in the building get free parking but why not the customers?
If Service Ontario were located downtown where there is free two-hour parking, there wouldn’t be a problem. There might even be a staff reduction.
There is oodles of free parking all over Guelph where business is done.
Why can’t the provincial government offer the same privilege to its customers?
Is it any wonder that people don’t trust government?
By Gerry Barker
Filed under Between the Lines
Wagging the dog in Guelph
A spiteful refusal by a city staff member denied a councilor’s request for a report on air quality at the $33 million compost plant.
Chief Administration Officer, (CAO), Ann Pappert, wrote in an email that the request was denied because “it would cause the relocation of staff resources away from existing priorities.
So if I got this straight, staff work trumps that of members of council who were elected as stewards of the people’s trust.
Pappert went on to sat that “individual members of council do not have the authority to direct staff work.”
Now that tail is really wagging the dog.
Using the city’s governance manual dealing with “new projects and initiatives” the CAO harrumphed that the report request should be brought up in an open and transparent forum such as a standing committee or a council meeting. Is it merely coincidence that Mayor Farbridge chairs the governance committee?
Veteran Coun. Gloria Kovach said she had “never experienced anything like this.” She went on to say “this information should be easy to get.”
If one looks back for the past five and one half years of the Farbridge administration, it is easy to understand that information is often impossible to get. If staff stonewalls a member of council what chance do the citizens have?
Far too much city business is conducted behind closed doors or off site.
Perhaps because Coun. Cam Guthrie has announced he is running for Mayor, the staff saw an opportunity to embarrass him.
It is apparent that certain members of the staff have been politicized by the Farbridge administration to the point where it is a civic embarrassment. Along the line, some staff members forgot they are civil servants.
It’s no wonder that the city has six senior managerial positions open and no takers.
Change at 1 Carden Street cannot come soon enough.
Questions for city human resources director Mark Amorosi
In a recent column in the Mercury, Corporate and Human Resources Executive Director, Mark Amorosi, wrote justifying spending $150,000 for attendance management software. The purpose was to reduce the increasing number of sick days being taken by city employees.
It is apparent that this puff piece was aimed at convincing citizens that positive results would be achieved using the software.
Trouble is his column presented a long-winded explanation about how well the city treats its employees instead of answering specifics.
In my managerial days, performance was measured every day. Sure people get sick or hurt, but it’s up to the individual’s manager to keep records and reasons on each employee for which he is responsible.
Employees goof off for a variety of reasons. It’s up to the manager to keep track and take the necessary steps to reduce frivolous absence. That’s his or her job.
In the public interest, guelphspeaks asks the following questions about employee absenteeism:
* Is the $150,000 attendance software markedly going to improve employee attendance?
* What was the cost to taxpayers for employee absenteeism in 2011?
* What were the overtime costs incurred due to absent employees in 2011?
* Is there a record kept by all department heads to determine the cause of employee absence and the frequency?
* If such a record is kept on every employee, what are the triggers that alert management to excessive absenteeism?
* How much does it cost to counsel employees when their attendance record becomes excessive?
* What is the source of “professional benchmarks” that established less than nine days per employee?
* Are city standards of safety in the workplace not designed to avert accidents?
* What is the rate of outside workers’ absenteeism compared to inside workers?
* Are some managers too close to their staff to effectively control absenteeism and its effect on performance?
* Are sick leave benefits so generous as to affect the rate of absenteeism?
* When an employee books off sick is it a requirement to supply a doctor’s note certifying the illness or injury?
* Does the city’s People Practices Strategy serve the community first, then the employees and then the organization, in that order?
Is there a culture of entitlement shared by city staffers? It’s time for senior managers to review the situation and solve the problem in a more conventional manner.
That’s just not complicated.
City staff absenteeism cost some $4,499,820 in 2011
News reports about spending $150,000 on reporting software will not cure the increasing rate of sick leave by city staffers.
Yet that’s the solution presented to the Corporate Administration, Finance and Enterprise committee by Executive Director of Corporate and Human Resources, Mark Amorosi. The purchase is to reduce the increasing rate of sick leave absenteeism.
The city acknowledges that staffers were absent from work on average 10.2 days in 2011. Doing the math, that totals 13,015 lost days last year. That’s up from an average of 9.7 days per employee in 2008.
The city staff consists of 1,276 full time employees. That does not include, the Police with 195 uniformed personnel and 80 fulltime civilian staff plus “some” part-time employees. Add in three senior staffers, the Chief, Deputy Chief and Director of Corporate Services. Then there is the senior officers association composed of inspectors and 11 civilian senior managers.
Sick leave statistics for the Police Services and Fire Department were not revealed.
Estimating the average pay of Guelph civic workers at $45,000 per year divided by paid 270 workdays a year, equals an average daily rate of $166.66.
Now multiply that by 13,015 missed days and the estimated cost to taxpayers is $4,499,820. That’s paying for work that was never done.
Amorosi estimated that the software, when applied could save the city $300,000 and an additional $200,000 for reduced overtime to fill in for absent workers.
Coun. Gloria Kovach questioned where the $150,000 was coming from seeing it was not in the 2012 budget.
Amorosi, admitting that the city’s reserve accounts were too low, said funding would come from the “salary gapping reserve” that he said was very well funded for a city the size of Guelph.
How many businesses could afford to lose 10 days a year from employees who booked off sick?
The first question to ask is why are there such generous sick leave benefits in staff contracts? Are these benefits to be applied whenever at the employee’s discretion?
Somehow, the idea that the public pot is bottomless ignores the financial limits of the taxpayers.
There has been considerable discussion across the country on the runaway salaries and benefits paid to public employees. It ranges from municipalities to Provincial and Federal Governments.
The real question is, are staff benefits too generous and not controlled to the benefit of the taxpayers?
Municipalities have few sources of revenue and must balance their annual budgets. The chief source in Ontario comes from the taxpayers. It is collected by the municipalities and is shared with the Boards of Education.
For Amorosi to suggest that $150,000 should be spent on software to solve a problem for which management is responsible is wasteful and lacks discipline.
As usual, Mayor Farbridge supported the move.
It’s now up to Council to approve this proposal.
Will the Farbridge gang of eight support the committee’s recommendation? Or will the majority of council come to their senses and sandbag this attempt to let management off the hook?
Oh well, it’s only your $4,499, 820.
Filed under Between the Lines
Toronto Maple Leafs – the NHL ‘s annual laugh-in
After a parade of players, the Toronto Maple Leafs still pooped out for the sixth season in a row missing the playoffs.
This once feared professional hockey club has been turned into a team of marshmallows led by men who cared more about their personal bottom line than the fortunes of the team.
There is no pride left. No legacy players. Respect has departed along with responsibility. The team is infected with a corporate culture that diminishes victory on the ice while padding profits.
Leaf Nation is a hollow shell with the backing of a team unable to bring honour and respect. Most important, to consistently win hockey games.
The great mystery is why there is any fan base left.
The Brian Burke experiment is done like a dinner. He waited too long in the season to dump coach Ron Wilson. It was apparent that Wilson could not motivate a Burke collection of has-beens and wanna-bees.
There is a measure of talent remaining on the team but no soul.
Players around the NHL pray: “Don’t trade me to Toronto.”
If only the upstairs guys in the suits could translate their smarts to the three Maple Leaf Sports professional teams, maybe fans could have something to cheer about.
Thank goodness these guys never got their grubby hands on the Blue Jays.
And that team, with 27 wins leading the American League spring training season, appears to have some promise as the season opens.