Monthly Archives: April 2012
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.