Massaging the message – city hall style

Posted July 8, 2012

The spin begins with the announcement that since January 2011 the city’s impetus is to resolve the many legal issues through mediation to avoid lengthy and costly court resolution.

If only it were true.

The story in the papers said that mediation was agreed by the group of Guelph developers who had sued the city for jacking up development fees by as much as 100 per cent. Their claim was $2 million. That mediation started July 7.

City solicitor Donna Jaques stated that the mediation process has been successful claiming there was, “a renewed commitment to working with our stakeholders … and doing business better.“ She added that trials result in acrimony and mediation reduces this.

Really?

The score quoted in the news release failed to include the costs to taxpayers of the alleged successful mediation of disputes in some specified instances. Only that agreement was reached.

One of the disputes settled by mediation cost some $233,000 in legal fees including possibly the cost of the mediator. It was a lawsuit concerning ownership of medals launched in 2008 by the heirs of the World War I hero, Lt.Col. John McRae. The suit was settled in February 2012. The issue was resolved with an acknowledgement recognizing the donation of the McRae medals by the relatives and a small plaque set up at the city-operated McRae House.

Revealing the McRae settlement costs had to be an accident.

If that is an example of resolving a minor legal problem, what can citizens expect the legal costs between the new City Hall contractor, who was fired and the city administration? This is no small legal matter to which an unknown amount of money has been spent already. But the citizens are rarely informed of the costs of legal action.

This dispute involves a $19 million lawsuit by the company and a countersuit by the city of some $5 million. The city has already spent money to settle subcontractor liens against its own headquarters.

This has been one of the most litigious administrations in the history of our city. The former Chief Administration Officer, Hans Loewig, fired the contractor. Two months ago council approved a staff recommendation to settle the matter by mediation.

City solicitor and her associate, Scott Worsfold, paint a picture of peace in the legal valley. It ain’t necessarily so.

The public paying the operations of the city have a right to know when lawsuits are presented, the chief reasons for the suit and terms of the settlement … good or bad.

The administration’s policy of keeping the taxpayers in the dark is another example of mushroom politics.

Question: Why does the city get into so many litigious situations in the first place?

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8 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

8 responses to “Massaging the message – city hall style

  1. Geoff

    So you are saying when the City hires a contractor, and they don’t fulfill their obligation, they should just pay them? Urbacon did a horrible job on the new City Hall, so they cut their losses and got rid of them. Would you rather they pay them the full amount, and then hire some one else to fix every thing they did wrong?

    • Geoff: You are working on the presumption that Urbacon did a “horrible” job. I assume this will be decided sometime this fall when the parties –the city and contractor — attempt to settle the litigation through mediation. As I recall Urbacon was fired because, according to the city, it failed to meet the completion deadline. Then there was the issue of the number of change orders imposed by the city that may have led to the deadline failure. Keep in mind that the dismissal was a political decision based on information from staff. The plot thickens.

  2. Laura

    You should also look into the legal costs of all the recent OMB decisions that the city has lost. Milburn’s on Gordon is a good example. Council voted to take Milburn’s to the OMB on the advice of city staff. How much did that cost us?

    • Laura: I would if I could but that information is locked up tighter than an elephant’s sphincter. Those costs are buried deep in the city’s convoluted financial report. But we are working on it.

  3. geo

    Could we at least have a competent legal staff working for the City so we don’t have to pay twice for legal work since it seems an outside lawyer always has to be hired when ever something real comes up.

    • GEO: This council is one of the most litigious in history. The $10,432 paid to the freelance integrity commissioner is but a spoonful of the outside legal costs this Farbridge administration has employed to solve their problems … or create them depending on your point of view. Trying to make chicken salad out of chicken S–T is a practice of our city administration.

  4. geo

    Instead of paying to bring in an integrity commissioner how about bringing in a forensic auditor and lets see where the city really stands.

    • Geo: Don’t hold your breath on that one. The last thing Farbridge and company want is some forensic auditor sniffing through the books. Think about it, the city has had four financial chiefs in six years and we are now working on number five. The newly elected Mayor and council should immediately demand a forensic audit before any capital projects are funded on their watch. It won’t be a pretty picture. Damage control is a priority to protect the taxpayer’s interests.

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