Posted October 21, 2012
By Gerry Barker, editor guelphspeaks.ca
Often when reading the reports of city management my eyes begin to water in disbelief.
How can a well-paid and professional city staff admit with a straight face, that they failed to notice the rising costs of using outside lawyers?
Katherine Gray, city service, performance and development coordinator, says hiring outside legal services historically costs some $400,000 annually. This year she estimates the cost will be $850,000. Whenever the word “estimate” is mentioned, duck!.
Two things have caused this doubling of costs. One is that departments, other than legal services, have hired outside lawyers without going through the city’s Legal Services department. The other is “an explosion” in appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
Hmmm! It’s a given that the staff should manage their departments within budget restraints. One would expect that executive management would be aware of other departments bypassing legal services to hire their own outside lawyers.
Why is there no check on this basic requirement to control external legal costs? The man overseeing legal services is Executive Director, Mark Amorosi, who stated: “there are some policies that do restrict our ability to be agile in the moment.”
Perhaps there should be less agility and more attention paid to controlling costs.
Somewhat belatedly, the staff is recommending that budget practices be changed so that all legal costs go through the Legal Services department.
Joe and Jill taxpayers must scratch their heads wondering why this is not common business practice. Of course those costs must go through the Legal Services Department. And a request must be accompanied with a business plan to justify the need.
How else can outside legal costs be controlled?
The increase in appeals to the OMB reinforces the claim that Guelph is a tough place to do business. A senior member of staff, who resigned last year, said the city has turned off potential commercial and industrial operations hoping to come to Guelph. The enquiries were bureaucratically stifled to the extent that potential business took a pass on the city and went elsewhere.
A few years ago I interviewed Lloyd Longfield, CEO of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. He was effusive about potential Asian industrialists considering the city to establish plants and create jobs.
Wonder whatever happened to that?