Changing the deck chairs on the Titanic

Posted June 2, 2012

Note: This is a response to a comment from Geo and Craig on guelphspeaks.ca regarding the restructure proposal of city council in 2014.

The restructuring of council is to recognize that Guelph is no longer a small town. The governance structure of council allows the 12-elected ward councillors to run the show. That is what Mayor Farbridge and a collection of like-minded individuals accomplished in the 2006 election.

They formed an airtight majority that still exists today despite some losses in the 2010 election. The result is evident as millions has been spent to make the city into their image of environmental and heritage perfection.

The governance committee of council is headed by the mayor and has commanded the council agenda to reflect what she feels is best for Guelph. It has failed on many counts.

At the same time, the increase in city staff has resulted in the past five and a half years, of FOF’s (Friends of Farbridge) hired in many key positions. This increased hiring of city staff has resulted in blatant politicizing of the 1,200 plus city staff.

Mayor Karen Farbridge is totally in control.

The embryonic proposal will reduce ward representation to one councillor who would work full-time on behalf of the residents to bring better service and prevent absolute control by one person. Also this proposal includes two full-time councillors to be elected across the city. They would share power with all citizens and focus more on managing the city as a whole, instead of the ward collectivized domination that has created the current situation.

The last thing this city needs is another dictatorship like the one we are experiencing.  The heavy capital spending on waste management ($50 million; heritage ($16 million); city hall and surroundings ($11 million not including settlement of the city hall’s original contractor’s $19 million law suit and associated legal costs); and the ongoing effort to reshape downtown (uncounted millions).

Lost in capital planning is the proposed $63 million downtown Library; the $32 million South end Recreation facility; the east side commercial centre; all promises not kept by the Farbridge administration.

Topping it off there is no wiggle room to borrow money as the city debt exceeds its own limit by 25 per cent.

Council has few choices to bring its financial house in order.

Raise taxes and user fees, dramatically increase assessment or reduce overhead by cutting staff and unproductive services.

The majority of this council gives you an idea of its ability to do critical thinking. Coun. Leanne Piper has been quoted as saying that there is $84 million stashed in various reserve accounts.

So her idea of fiscal management is to spend the reserves to overcome the spending mistakes of the past two terms of the Farbridge leadership.

Yeah, let’s crack the piggy bank so we can buy more candy.

Citizens should be reminded that the city has had no senior financial official in place to control finances for almost a year.  The city has just hired a Director of Finance who does not have a formal degree in finance or accounting. Meanwhile the purge of managers continues.

Matters turned south when a Calgary public relations firm was hired to tell residents about traffic blockages; or engaging a lawyer as Integrity Commissioner at $235 a hour to investigate why a group of councillors were refused an air quality report by staff.

He interviewed the Mayor and Chief Administration Officer, Anne Pappert, but no one from the other side.

This is why a change is needed in the make-up of city council to never allow this to happen again.

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1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

One response to “Changing the deck chairs on the Titanic

  1. Gerry, thanks again for all of your work through this blog. I agree that the city is becoming increasing like an onion with its layers of power, and if you pull it all apart you’ll eventually get to the Mayor’s office and the Governance Committee. With all respect, it’s not clear to me that you can achieve political change with structural changes like the ones described. If change does happen, I would be more in favour of eight full time one-councillor wards, or even eight full time city-wide councillors. It’s also not clear to me that being full time would make anyone more or less receptive to the concerns of the constituents, especially if the Mayor and CAO have a lot of informal power in terms of how much support a councillor has come re-election time. It raises the ante in terms of what financial motivations a councillor may have to co-operate, to present the city to the people instead of the people to the city. It comes down the what each and every councillor is made of, their convictions, regardless of the pay.

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