Monthly Archives: July 2012

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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City survey reveals 87 per cent of respondents don’t use Guelph Transit

Posted July 8, 2012

Is it my imagination or are there a lot of city trasit buses riding around town with few passengers?

The answer my friends pops up another city survey about the percentage of people who are aware of the new  waste collection program using bins. Of the 411 respondents, 98 per cent said they are aware. The city supplied the list of addresses that was massaged by a Kitchener survey company.

The most interesting question in the survey was asking the 411 respondents if they used Guelph Transit. Some 87 per cent they didn’t ride the buses or 357 voted against using public transit.

This is not an encouraging result. Seeing that taxpayers pony-up more than $12 million a year to keep those busses running, one would hope for a bigger bang for the buck.

Judging by the number of beefs raised by riders, there is general acceptance of the transfer point change from St. George’s Square to the new  transit terminal near the train station. Now the business people around St.George’s are complaining about a fall-off of patronage.

Ah! The problem of unintended consequences.

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Some short takes

Posted July 5, 2012

A rose by any other name

Do we really need to be lectured by Virginia Gillham about whether the proposed new $63 million downtown library shouldn’t be called  “a main branch library” but a “Main library?”

Shades of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney trying to define the difference between a penalty for those who do not buy health insurance or a tax. The latter being labeled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The interesting point is where the $63 million is coming from? Can’t wait to see how the Mayor finesses this.

 

City plays hardball with old civic museum.

When James Gordon speaks, Karen Farbridge takes notice. Gordon was one of the spokespersons for accepting a mysterious offer to buy the Dublin Street heritage building to create a “Centre for, arts, culture and new media

In a closed session, council agreed to accept the offer from Tyrcathlen Partners provided its counter offer closed by July 6. Originally listed for $949,000 in May 2011, the city has two offers on the table.

The pregnant question is what will be the end cost to taxpayers who have already spent $15.5 million plus on the new civic museum? Is the old museum selling price $500,000 as originally estimated or $949,000 as listed or somewhere in between?

Will that be paper or plastic?

 

PC: Memories of Downtown Pissoirs

For almost six years, the Farbridge council has attempted to sell the idea that Guelph’s downtown is an untapped gem. Yet despite spending untold millions, it’s the same pee and vomit pond the morning after.

Then the pointy-heads in the administration decided that what really was needed to change the mess was to have people living in high-rise downtown condos. So there has been a flurry of proposals to energize the Mayor’s dream of a vibrant downtown.

The new mantra: If you build it they will come.

Council has the power and the tools to correct this abuse of the public good. Hint: bring the University officials to the table to enforce civility among the student population.  Next would come the police and liquor licence authorities to crack down on licensed premises that permit drunkenness.

Until this situation is under control, the downtown will never be exciting or vibrant … unless you own a bar or are under 21.

 

The chutzpah award for 2012

Remember, after litigation the city was stuck with paying $10 million as its share for the new Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) headquarters on Stone Road?

The health Board approached city council to request approval to lease an additional .78 acre portion of the property already leased from the University of Guelph. The proposed parcel will cost $28,700 a year for 49 years. The reason given was to allow for future expansion of the headquarters to accommodate population growth.

The proposal was defeated 11-1. But it doesn’t matter, the other municipalities have the majority of votes on the health board. Once again Guelph is helpless to stop this waste of taxpayer’s money.

The underlying problem is Guelph should be permitted to operate its own public health system. Unfortunately the provincial Health Protection and Promotion Act forces the city into an alliance that is not in the best interests of its citizens.

Please sir, I would like some more.

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The civic election campaign has started

Posted July 6, 2012

I recently completed a comprehensive survey conducted by a branch of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing partnered with the City of Guelph.

The pitch was that opinions expressed in the lengthy survey would help shape future city services and policies.

The details requested, included views on the environment, city cultural opportunities, and how satisfied they were with the operation and transparency of the city government.

You know how I answered that one.

All these questions, with an incentive draw to win one of two baskets of the city’s offerings, will provide the Farbridge administration with ammunition to fight the next election in the fall of 2014.  And they are doing it without revealing the cost of this questionnaire with the loaded questions. Nor who is on the results distribution list.

Talk about being bought with your own money.

Nowhere are you asked about the cities tattered finances. What are the real costs of the civic museum; the compost plant; settling litigation over the new city hall; legal costs of the losing case against the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health case?

There is no reference to the operation of the city except for one question: “Are your satisfied or dissatisfied with the city administration’s operation and transparency?

Respondents were not asked about the spending and lack of details about costs incurred by the majority of council’s pet projects. No mention of the emphasis on heritage preservation, the environment and all the taxpayer’s money spent trying to remake the downtown.

This survey is designed to shore up the Farbridge majority’s image and management of the public’s business.

It’s another example of a waste of the taxpayer’s dollars.

Their record is dismal when you consider the overhang of millions of dollars in commitments that taxpayers must sustain to balance the city books.

But they don’t care when they promote building a new $16 million park by tearing down a viable strip mall at Gordon and Wellington Streets. Or sneakily getting the chief librarian to announce a $63 million downtown library on the Baker Street parking lot. Already a fulltime fund-raiser is hired to raise another $10 million to equip this new project.

Then the council passes a new strategic plan that will overlap the term of this council.

With a debt that exceeds the self-imposed limit by $24 million there is little room left to finance some $90 million in future projects. The city’s debt has reached more than $118 million. This does not include the money spent to civilize the downtown, a Farbridge favourite project that has fizzled monumentally in the past six years.

This survey is classic Farbridge. When a decision must be made, hire a consultant or conduct a survey. Never allow the blame to shift to your persona.

It’s called escape hatch management.

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Your guelphspeaks editor

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guelphspeaks editor
Gerry Barker

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July 3, 2012 · 10:21 am

Lullaby journalism is alive and well in Guelph

Posted July 1, 2012

On Canada Day morning, I checked out the local daily newspaper that included an insert, a glossy full-colour magazine titled “My Guelph.”

It represents the soft side of the city and is a stepchild of the newspaper with some of its staffers and contributors supplying the marshmallow content.

It is a thinly disguised advertising vehicle masquerading as a city magazine to extract more dollars from the marketplace. Toronto Life it isn’t.

It is yet another example of how critical thinking and investigation of city affairs has disappeared from the print and electronic media.

Another element of lullaby journalism is the Rogers community channel that features soft and flabby coverage of only so-called good news including a misnamed program called “Inside  Guelph.” It is really an extension of the Farbridge Administration’ s tightly wound control of communications.

In our view, the medium is not the real message.

The other troubling aspect is the how Guelph’s print sources of news is controlled by Torstar, corporate umbrella of the Toronto Star, and its suburban publishing operation called Metroland.

Metroland operates the daily Guelph Mercury, the twice weekly Guelph Tribune and now My Guelph magazine.

In the past six years, it is a rare occurrence for the two newspapers to be critical of the city administration including council. For that length of time, Mayor Karen Farbridge and her majority of councillors rarely deviate from the message that’s controlling this city.

Because of this situation, taxpayers do not receive balanced coverage from the corporate controlled print or the television media.

Indeed, questions involving the real costs of major multi-million projects are withheld. As a result, management of city finances has been so manipulated with the apparent concurrence of the outside accounting firm charged with auditing the books.

Running a $174 million operation requires transparent and responsible reporting

For example, what is the true cost of the new Civic Museum? Such questions as how much was spent on the original $12.7 million estimated budget over five years from general funds? There have been vague hints that the cost ballooned to $15.5 million due to unexpected foundation problems. But this was never confirmed.

The real cost of the new $33 million compost plant has been masked with dodging and obfuscation by the staff leadership charged with executing the plan and contract.

Taxpayers have never been informed of the details of the contract signed by the city and general contractor Maple Reinders. This lush contract included two wholly owned subsidiaries of Maple Reinder that won the right to run the plant and procure addition wet waste (feedstock}. This is why the City of Waterloo entered an agreement to supply 20,000 tonnes of wet waste per year.  This side contract was negotiated by AIM Environmental, wholly controlled by Maple Reinders.

Underlying this, is the plant was over-built to meet the needs of Guelph.  It is estimated that our city will never use the capacity of that plant … when it eventually becomes fully operational … for the presumed 20-year lifespan.

Summing up: Guelph taxpayers must guarantee the amount of wet waste to keep the plant in operation daily.  But Aim Environmental has exclusive right to operate the plant and negotiate contracts to bring in additional feedstock.

The city must finance the construction cost. It also must raise an additional $15 million to provide large bins or carts to property owners along with special trucks to remove the contents of the bins. This was because the Ministry of the Environment told the city the plant could not receive the waste in plastic bags. What a surprise!

Was this ever discussed or considered during the contact talks?

Finally, what happens to the tonnes of compost projected to be the end product of the plant?  What is the cost of the heavy trucks coming from other municipalities damaging Guelph streets over time? What is the true operating cost of the plant?

Why haven’t these and a host of other questions been answered by the city administration?

Is lulling you this warm summer into dreaming about cooking the best steak, or advising you how to budget, or advising singles to get into the social whirl, making important matters that affect you, go away? Think again.

The real news is submerged under a barrage of soft pap, served up by self-serving corporate entities that control the message.

So many questions, so few answers.

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