Monthly Archives: September 2012

Correction

 

Posted September 14, 2012

It has been brought to my attention that Coun. Leanne Piper did declare a ”pecuniary interest with regards to OMB Hearing -716 Gordon Street by virtue of her employment with the University of Guelph. And did not discuss or vote on the matter.”  The confusion arose from a newspaper report that the council meeting was unanimous in challenging the application by Abode Varsity Living to build two towers for student housing on the site of the Best Western Motel. Guelphspeaks regrets this error and continues its policy to make every effort to correct mistakes.

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With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Posted September 13, 2012

What is it that Coun. Leanne Piper doesn’t understand about conflict of interest as it applies to her employment with the University of Guelph and her position as a councillor of the City of Guelph?

During the July 23rd council meeting, Ms. Piper as chairperson of the committee responsible for water, waste and environment, moved to have council approve a contribution toward a watershed project covering the Grand River area.

This project, in conjunction with scientists from the University of Guelph, is an in- depth analysis of the watershed and its ability to sustain demand for water use and the ability to control waste water flowing into streams and rivers.

Her making the motion to have council approve spending some $240,000 for the project is a direct conflict of interest.

This is another example of Coun. Piper’s disdain for the rules covering conflicts of interest. All she is required to do is recuse herself if a motion or a vote or discussion is introduced involving her employer (the university) doing business with the city.

Recently, council agreed unanimously to reject a proposal to build two student residence towers on the site of the Best Western Motel at Gordon Street and Stone Road. Coun. Piper was one of those councillors who voted to reject the proposal by Abode Varsity Living.

The company appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board that is currently hearing evidence on the project.

On the first day of the hearing, it was revealed that the University of Guelph objected to the proposal on the grounds it would be unfair competition to the development of university residences.  The owner of the property said he was approached by the University to purchase the land, after he made a deal with Abode.

The Mayor had no trouble lining up her troops to reject the proposal on the grounds it was too big for the neighbourhood. Of course, the decision was made on a staff recommendation.

It’s apparent the university has allies on council to support their objection. Three of whom were employed by the university.

One may ask why this sudden desire to build university-owned student housing off campus? Student housing on campus totals some 5,000 units serving an undergraduate population of 20,000. Guess where the rest are going, into neighbourhoods where they are seldom welcome?

So Councillors Leanne Piper, Maggie Laidlaw and Lise Burcher, are you representing the people who elected you or your bosses at the university?

Where was Mayor Farbridge, the one concerned about integrity and code of conduct of councillors, when these obvious violations of the the Ontario Conflict of Interest Act occurred under her watch?

Her silence is deafening.

It’s not that complicated.

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Why is a proposed privately built student housing suddenly a no-no?

Posted September 8, 2012

If I were elected Mayor of Guelph, the first thing I would do is scrap that electronic voting system. I defy anyone, outside of council and staff, to figure out who voted for what when the nano-second vote result is revealed. Sure there has to be a record that the city clerk maintains but trying figure out the electronic result at the time the vote is held is nigh impossible … particularly on the televised council meetings.

This brings up a report about the impending meeting with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) regarding a proposal to build two hi-rise student residences at the corner of Stone Road and Gordon Street. The developer, Abode Varsity Living, has made two attempts to obtain agreement to proceed.

The first plan was submitted to city staff in 2010. A second proposal last December reduced the number of units. The city staff did not take a position on the proposal at that time and Abode turned to the OMB for an adjudicated decision.

Now the story gets murky.

The city and an activist group formed to oppose the proposal, to take part in the 15-day hearing. Known as the Mayfield Park Community Association, it is attempting to raise funds to defeat the proposal. Also the University of Guelph has expressed “concerns” about the project and will also be represented at the hearing.

In August, it is reported that city council voted unanimously to oppose the application. This was based on a staff recommendation that the project was too large and not compatible with the surrounding neighbourhood.

Those councillors who voted to turn this down should not have included councillors Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher and Maggie Laidlaw who are employees of the university. If they did vote, without revealing their ties to the university, that’s a conflict of interest.

At best, they should have recused themselves to maintain the credibility and integrity of council.

Here is a paraphrase of the conflict of interest law that applies in Ontario.

“The goal is to keep councillors from using their elected position to advance their private interests.”

What is hard to figure out is why the objection to the proposal? It’s to be built on the site of a former Best Western motel It is across the street from the Delta Inn complex. It’s across the road from the University and the company has an established track record of building affordable student housing.

On top of that, there are the complaints of nearby residents in areas zoned for single families, who are plagued with homes being converted to student apartments and rooms. This council refused to take action to stop this on the grounds the Civic Rights organization would object.

Please explain: Who is representing the interests of these long-suffering residents? They will not have a voice at the OMB hearing that starts September 10.

The OMB will undoubtedly consider these factors.

The underlying concern for citizens is the cavalier way these three councillors ignored their link to the university when supporting the city’s rejection of the proposal.

The irony is Coun. Leanne Piper’s job as manager of student residences puts her in a direct conflict of interest. That is if she continues to vote on any matter before council concerning her employer, the University of Guelph.

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How the city massages the message to suit its purpose

Posted September 7, 2012

A report published on the front page of the Guelph Tribune carried the headline: “Wet Plant odour test gets green thumbs up”. The piece quoted Dean Wyman, general manager of solid waste resources, who stated the compost plant has passed odour (emanating) testing this summer during a “full capacity” test in July and August.

Well, that’s not true. I am mindful of the old cynical newspaper axiom: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.

There were 25 complaints about odours from the plant during the recent testing period. Wyman states there is no proof of the source.  In fact, he denies that the complaints ever happened. That’s his story and he’s sticking with it.

The real story is the Ministry of Environment (MOE) received a report from the city and its band of nameless consultants claiming there were no “provable” odour problems associated with the plant operation.

The MOE is in the process of evaluating the city report.

Wyman is quoted as saying: “ They should have no issue with it. If they do, they will ask some questions”.

You betcha, Mr. Wyman. There will be questions. These include the city criteria for determining there is no odour problem associated with the plant.

This brings back a similar defence by the city’s solid waste people last November when citizens complained about the odours from the first start-up of the plant. At one point the city pointed the finger at the Cargill operations for the odour problems. They backed off when someone pointed out that Cargill had been operating down the road from the compost plant for 26 years without one odour complaint.

Now Wyman says the plant will be fully operational within “a couple of months” and the city will “sign off” and take full ownership of the plant.

With respect Mr. Wyman, this party’s not over quite yet. People are angry over the creation of this waste management system.

What you failed to explain to the reporter is why the city built, at taxpayer expense, a $34 million plant that has a capacity six times greater than the city’s needs. Then turns over the operation to Maple Reinder Construction and its subsidiary company to operate, market and sell the facility to other municipalities.

Question: Does Maple Reinders have any skin in this game? Is this what the Mayor calls an example of a public/private partnership?

Citizens built the plant blindly unaware of the terms of the contract and cost projections. Then another $15 million was committed to collect our wet waste etc and Maple Reinders makes the money?

Why all the secrecy about this “arrangement”?

Tell us Mr. Wyman, how is the collection system your department has devised really going to work? The bins are phased in over three years. Does this mean that in the first and second years, the plastic bags will still be used? If that is the case, where is that stuff going? The MOE says the plant cannot receive waste in oil-based plastic bags, as is the case today.

Why is it taking three years to phase in the bin system? We both know the answer to that. There is no money available in the current budget and in the next two years.

Where is Guelph’s solid waste going today? The St. Thomas landfill? How much is that costing taxpayers?

Mr. Wyman, your explanation and misleading information does not sit well with many taxpayers.

Did anyone at the Tribune contact the MOE to confirm the city’s version of the facts?

Manipulation of public information is nothing new.  Manager Wyman and the city’s communications tag-team have confirmed: To never let the truth get in the way of a point of view.

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Questions you should be asking your Guelph councillor

Posted September 5, 2012

In the past few years there is increasing evidence that too much of the public’s business is conducted in private, behind closed doors often out of city hall.

There are provincially mandated rules that elected officials must abide when conducting the public’s business. This council ignores the fact that they are stewards of the public corporation and its assets. As such, they are a corporate board of directors with the fiduciary responsibility of governance.

There have been several instances where members of council gather to discuss business in private – out of the glare of the press and public. As a result, we the owners of the Guelph Corporation, really never know what is going on.

The message from the council chambers is carefully managed by a squad of communications employees so as not to reveal policies or background created in private.

This another example of mushroom politics — keeping the taxpayers in the dark.

The classic case of this secrecy and manipulation of the facts is the decision to build a $34 million compost plant. Little is known how the decision was reached, or the terms of the contracts with key contractor Maple Reinders and its subsidiary Aim Environmental Services.

Question: Who decided to build a plant with a 60,000 tonne annual capacity when the city only required processing10,000 tonnes of wet waste per year?

Question: Why hasn’t the city revealed the total operating costs of the plant? Will it ever become a profit centre?

Question: Besides the Region of Waterloo, who else is involved in supplying wet waste to reach the plant’s capacity? And what are the terms?

Question: Why is it taking more than a year to get the plant operating?

Question: What other methods of handling waste materials were considered?

Question: How is Guelph’s waste being processed today and at what cost per tonne?

Question: Why did the city opt for spending another $15 million on a waste collection system using large bins, when it could have converted to a biodegradable plastic bag system costing millions less?

Question: If and when this compost plant becomes operational, what are the plans to dispose of the compost?

Question: What does the city intend doing about the odours the plant is generating after the Mayor promised smell-control would be a priority?

With an estimated $50 million of taxpayer money already committed, these are questions that need answers. And citizens are entitled to them.

Far too many meetings among staff and councillors are held in private.

There is only one answer. They don’t want you to know!

The only way to change this abuse of the public trust is to demand that the public’s business be conducted in the open in adherence with provincial law.

Aux barricades, mes Amis!

 

 

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Latest compost plant test is a smelly one

Posted September 2, 2012

Our $34 million compost plant has flunked its second start-up test.

The test started in July and ended August 9.  Some 900 tonnes of wet waste was purchased from Hamilton to conduct the test.

Now it’s resulted in 25 odour complaints from residents.  The Ministry of Environment (MOE) has been advised and will determine if more modification to the plant is needed or not.

This plant opened a year ago and has been plagued with ongoing problems including an MOE directive that Guelph’s system of doorstep sorting waste into plastic bags could not be accepted at the new plant. Instead, council agreed on staff recommendation to spend another $15 million for waste bins and automated trucks to pick up and empty them.

That’s why the test waste material came from Hamilton.

It is noted that the 900 tons represents 10 per cent of the estimated 10,000 tons that the city would generate in a year. Guelph’s wet waste output is about 192 tonnes a week.

So why did council build a plant with a capacity of 1,153 tonnes a week?

The plant, built with taxpayer’s money, has a capacity of 60,000 tonnes per year.  To help meet that capacity, a subsidiary corporation of Maple Reinders, the designer and contractor of the plant, negotiated a deal with the Region of Waterloo to take its wet waste.

So our city council approved an arrangement where Guelph taxpayers are saddled with a huge debt and operational responsibility to supply waste treatment service to another municipality. The cost of carrying that $50 million at 5 per cent is $250,000 a year.

Now we are learning that this investment may not work.

On top of this, the contract with the Region of Waterloo has a penalty clause that kicks in January 2013. The detail is that it must deliver 20,000 tons of wet waste to the Guelph plant annually or pay a penalty.

So now what happens if the plant is unable to meet adequate production within the contracted time frame?

A year has already gone by without reaching full production or anywhere near it.

With this latest spate of odour complaints, it is apparent that two things are dreadfully wrong. Either the plant construction and/or the design is faulty and is the responsibility of Maple Reinders.

We don’t have to travel far to see a similar compost operation in South London that is under fire for the discharge of foul odours. Citizens are picketing the three-year old plant in protest.

Is this going to happen in Guelph?

Without remorse, this council that approved this dodgy scheme, is silent. Likewise the executive director of the environment and waste management, Janet Laird, must take full responsibility for creating this debacle.

Instead of being on the job in August when this critical test concluded, many of the key players were nowhere to be found.

This management team and council also decided to replace plastic bags with a $15 million waste bin collection system.

The irony is that the province banned petroleum-based plastic bags but allowed biodegradable bags to be used. This rule change was ignored by Guelph planners when reported by the MOE in 2009.

Summing up, we have spent an estimated $50 million on a waste management system that is six times bigger than we need, does not work and we still don’t know the cost to operate.

Not all the odours about this deal are emanating from the plant.

 

 

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