Posted November 27, 2012
The Mayor of Toronto impaled himself on his own sword when he pompously refused to listen to an order from the city’s integrity commissioner. Briefly, Ford used his office to solicit money from city lobbyists and friends for his football foundation. The commissioner warned him he couldn’t use city resources for soliciting money for his private foundation.
Instead Ford voted in council not to return the money and was challenged by a citizen activist for breach of the Ontario Municipal Act conflict of interest rules.
To top it off he was not contrite, testified he didn’t read the rules of conflict of interest and gave the presiding judge the impression he was right and everyone else was wrong.
He lost the case. He has 14 days to remain in office then he’s out. He’ll appeal and his stay at city hall will be extended if he wins a stay of the judgment.
What does this mean to citizens of Guelph?
Here we have a different situation. For the past six years, the Mayor and her close-knit supporters have controlled the city agenda. There has been little opposition in council to the actions of this dominating group.
And the fault rests with us, the taxpayers, who let it happen in the polling booths in 2006 and in 2010.
In this unhealthy political scenario, decisions are made behind closed doors of which the taxpayers have little response or control.
One of the more troubling situations is the relationship between the controlling Farbridge council and the University of Guelph. The Farbridge group, has among its eight members, three employees of the University plus the mayor who retains ties to the institution.
Let us assume that university employees Coun. Leanne Piper, Coun. Lise Burcher and Coun. Maggie Laidlaw, are members of the university employee pension and benefit plans. Is it a conflict of interest under the Municipal Act for them to vote on city labour relations issues, including employee benefits, wages and salaries?
If they have been voting in support of increased city staff salaries, wages and benefits in the past six years while serving as members of council, they could be in a conflict of interest according to the Act.
Further, in the past six years the university has been in a massive building program to educate its more than 123,000 students. This building program involves use of city services including water and sewer works, transit, large scale building projects requiring city staff, fire and emergency services.
This has nothing to do with private corporate employee labour costs. There are other members of council who are employed with private companies or are retired. The issue is using their personal power by voting to escalate salaries, wages and benefits for city employees while being members of another public institution’s organized labour group.
In Guelph’s case, the evidence is stark and real. City staff costs have reached a total of 89 per cent of the 2011 city tax levy. That represents a 68.1 per cent increase in Guelph’s staff costs in five years.
The conflict of interest legislation can be harsh on those serving as public trustees. Elected councillors have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to ensure that their interests are protected from outside influences, including the association with the University of Guelph.
While the city and the university are public institutions, only the city has elected councillors charged with the administration of the city and answerable to the taxpayers.
Unfortunately, voters only get a chance to elect councillors every four years. This places an even greater burden on those elected to maintain an open and transparent administration.
Those pious, self-congratulatory propaganda responses prepared by the Farbridge communications staff, is a study in news manipulation. In less polite circles it can be considered lying by omission. And the irony is that we pay for it.
For many citizens, change cannot come soon enough. With two more years of the Farbridge administration running the municipality, all citizens can do is organize and protest further erosion of the public purse.
As for those councillors serving as members of council and employed by the university, they would be wise to declare a conflict of interest and not vote on any issues involving their employer that may impact the taxpayers of Guelph.