Monthly Archives: November 2012

How Big Bird stole the U.S. election

Posted November 8, 2012

The fallout from the Republican ranks is hilarious. Caution, they do not take defeat lightly. Here’s a compendium of the Legion of Losers or how greed, money, and arrogance failed to elect Mitt Romney and his Tea Party running mate, Paul Ryan.

My favourite dumbkiss is Senator Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the U.S. Senate, who pledged in 2009 that his primary job was to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. Mitch, how’s that working for you?

Take real-estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump, please. Romney reluctantly accepted his support on the stage of a Las Vegas Casino. He looked like he had just swallowed hemlock that, in retrospect, may have been an election night alternative. Who is the Donald’s brain surgeon? Time for a transplant.

Former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, business czar and author, accused the Department of Labor’s employment statistics for September, claiming they were rigged in the president’s favour. And 5 million Alabamans believed him.

You have to feel sorry for all those billionaires and millionaires who ponyed up more than a billion dollars to elect Romney. The winners? TV and radio stations across the swing states. Never has so much been given to so few in the name of self-righteousness.

Take the billionaire Koch brothers who put their money where Mitt and his Republican fellow travelers were. These willful characters tried to buy an election that was not for sale. Thank-you notes to follow.

Bill Reilly, the Fox News commentator’s post election mildly racist comment about the white folks in America being in the minority. Bill, the stats show there were more “white folks” who voted for Obama than Romney. Memo to the GOP: Go back to the drawing board.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart commenting about Republican political guru Dick Morris who predicted a Romney sweep. Post election interview with Morris said he was covered with mud because of his failure to predict the outcome. Stewart: “That’s not mud.”

Remember Karl Rove? He was a commentator on Fox News. Rove was famous for engineering the election of George W. Bush. Well, mastermind Karl struck out Tuesday night insisting that Romney had won Ohio, even after the President had been declared the overall winner.  Guess the magic dust didn’t work this time.

What happened to CNN? It used to be a middle of the road news operation. Now it’s populated by latter day Republicans (I can’t help myself) whose conservative bias filtered through the noise. Don’t bother, you know who they are.

The Libertarian Tea Party remains a force but its strength is waning as the Republicans form the circular firing squad to establish blame.

Grover Norquist is the author of the no-tax increase pledge that was signed by most Republican members of the House of Representatives. The Tea Party members of the House will be under the gun in the next seven weeks as the end of the Bush tax cuts and several cuts to entitlement programs, kicks in January 1, 2013.  Will that be Orange Pekoe or cyanide?

Marty Maroun owns the 84 year-old Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. He spent $34 million to foist a proposition on the Michigan voters that would require them to vote statewide, to approve any new bridge linking the two countries. His proposition failed by a wide margin. Even when you are a billionaire, aged 85, there is never enough.

And then there is Florida. Two days after the election, the result is still not determined. This time, the rest of the country does not have to wait for Florida to count the ballots. This is what happens when you elect a multi-millionaire executive to be governor. In defeating multi-millionaire Romney, did the country dodge a bullet? Wake me when it’s over.

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Come-on baby, light my fire

Posted November 8, 2012

In a post “State of the City” interview, the Mayor spoke of burning garbage to generate electricity and heat building from the thermal energy produced from … an incinerator.

Five years ago such a suggestion was ignored when the Farbridge dominated council approved a five-year “Community Energy Initiative”. This decision is responsible for the millions spent today to process wet garbage into useable compost, and recyclables sorted and sold to refining facilities.

Back then the technology for controlling emissions from an incinerator was readily available. Several examples were given of successful waste to power and heat operating in the northern part of Europe.

But the environmentalists on council stubbornly shunned the proposal.

The mayor indicated that only that garbage that is not processed in the city’s current waste plants would be used in the Incinerator.

Is the mayor doing a Mitt Romney here?

First in 2007, she refuses to consider the incineration option. Now she muses it might be workable.

Did this administration blow an opportunity to use our garbage to power our homes and businesses?

Some $50 million spent processing garbage later, there’s some political smoke being blown here.

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Welcome to FarbridgeWorld, where the sun never sets and apple pies grow on apple trees

Posted November 7, 2012

Mayor Karen Farbridge recently delivered her “ State of the City” address to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

In the interest of those of us who wouldn’t pay the 15 bucks to hear the lady speak, guelphspeaks offers a condensed observation and comment.

Ms. Farbridge is no shrinking violet when it comes to patting herself and council on the back. This speech was an echo of previous versions, some six years of them.

Her recent address was a rambling, jargon-filled description of how the council and administration has done a superb job managing your city.

She even admitted, “the average person finds it difficult to know what local government does and how to engage with it.” That’s right out of the elitist handbook. So the uninformed are relegated to the back of the bus, so to speak, while the Mayor and her crowd of toadies, crank up the esoteric rhetoric and social engineering policies.

The creation of the Farbridge communication team is supposed to clarify and inform the citizens of what the administration is doing. What happened? Does the failure to communicate the message rest with the media or the mission?

When the Mayor speaks, the buzzwords flow like water.  How about “innovation” and its cousin, “innovative.” Her address is peppered with words such as “bold”, “robust”, “strategy” and its second banana, “strategic”, and “vibrant”.

It reminds me of the old saying: “All hat and no horse.”

When she speaks about the strong financial position of the city, it is because of council’s strategy to squirrel money away in a wide variety of reserves. This gives them the flexibility to draw from one reserve to pay for a need in another. The administration counts on using these mini banks to suit its purposes.

This gives management a lot of flexibility.

More to the point in 2011, the legal department encountered a 100 per cent increase in outside legal fees due mainly because other departments hired outside counsel without the legal department’s knowledge. The charges exceed $800,000.

Perhaps the new internal auditor will detect more of these missteps as she works her way through the labyrinth administering your city. One of the problems lies with the 450 pages of the official city financial statement. It is complex and needs clarity so the average taxpayer is able to understand.

This is a hallmark of the Farbridge administration. She quotes the old expression about dealing with voters: “Tell them what they want to hear.” The outcome is they become docile and “don’t connect the dots”.

Well Mayor, despite the lack of information to which the public is entitled, the people are starting to connect the dots with your stewardship of their stake in the City of Guelph.

In her address, the Mayor keeps talking about challenges of the future. She says the city is just not a “vending machine” that takes in money and supplies services.

She seems to be bent on creating FarbridgeWorld, a new super community that spreads beyond its mandate, to meet the challenges that are not in her purview of responsibility.

An example is the Guelph Wellbeing Initiative. Did the Mayor and her council supporters take a step too far? She admitted during her address, that citizens asked why the city was engaging in areas that were not within its jurisdiction?

Her response is classic social engineering. “Community-based accountability is at the heart of Guelph Wellbeing Initiative.”

To sell this, the Mayor invited a select group of 10,000 to call her office. There was no report how that went. It was a dumb idea and no wonder the Farbridge communication team is silent.

But here’s the bottom line issue that the Mayor nor her council supporters don’t talk about.

Since 2006, Guelph has added some 600 employees as of 2011 for a total 2,030.

Almost all of these employees belong to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Service (OMERS). Here’s the rub. There are 268,000 municipal employees in the province who are members of OMERS. This pension fund is underfunded by an estimated $9 billion by the end of this year.

Mark Amorosi, Guelph’s Executive Director of Human Resources and Legal Services, describes this as an “actuarial deficiency” that will be overcome within ten years.

The way OMERS defined pension works is the employee and municipal employer contribute a 50-50 contribution each payday. That locks in the employee with a guaranteed pension for life.

Now keep in mind that the taxpayers of Guelph are obligated to guarantee the OMERS-entitled pensions of its retired employees. OMERS requires the municipality to maintain the retiree’s pensions.  Regardless of economic conditions, war or pestilence, taxpayers must guarantee the employee’s pension.

Let’s take an example of how this affects Guelph’s taxpayers.

Recently the Chief of Police retired. His pension of $135,000 a year, indexed at 2 per cent is guaranteed for his lifetime.  That’s an estimated 20 years. Now enter the new police chief.

The taxpayer obligation has now doubled. We are now responsible for guaranteeing two people for one job. The new chief’s salary and benefits for as long as he holds the job, presumably until he reaches 65 years is the city’s responsibility.

It gets better.

The average age of OMERS retirement is 58 years.

So now the second police chief retires at 65 and a new chief steps in.  Taxpayers are now guaranteeing the pensions for two retirees but pay the third individual to do the job.

In the space of potentially ten years, Guelph taxpayers are potentially on the hook for three individuals working the same job.

If OMERS remains underfunded and is unable to pay those pensions, then the municipalities are on the hook, big time.

So when the mayor hires more and more people to carry out her agenda, what is the long term impact on property taxes and, if you will pardon the expression, our wellbeing?

The exponential growth of city staff, not only in numbers but increasing higher salaries, wages and benefits, is creating daily future liability for Guelph taxpayers

So when the Mayor speaks of the wonderful job she and her council supporters are doing to meet the challenges of the future, be wary, very wary.

This administration is reaching out beyond its mandate, has incurred long-term liabilities that will affect this city for many years.

It has to change. When the 2013 budget talks begin at the end of this month, the staff is to produce cuts that will bring the property tax increase to 3 per cent.

With staff costs taking 89 per cent of the city budget, the place to look for meaningful cost reductions lie in that area.

Just asking.

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A letter from Ken Spira, President of the Guelph Waste Coalition

Posted November 2, 2012

Edited and Reprinted with permission

Importing waste from the United States into Guelph is just wrong in so many ways.

The Material Recovery Facility (MRF) was built like the new Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF), is far too large for our needs, now and in the future.

The original multi-million dollar MRF was injected with additional millions of our tax dollars in the recent past to increase its efficiency.  This resulted in processing more material (recyclables) using fewer people and layoffs resulted. It is suspected that laid-off staff was likely given jobs at City Hall where they are handing them out like candy on Halloween.

To keep the MRF running for a full shift with the people who could not fit into City Hall, we have been importing waste from municipalities throughout Ontario. According to a Ministry of Environment (MOE) odour survey, the increased volume that the residences south of the facility thought were coming from the adjacent organics facility.

It is hard to distinguish exactly where the odour of burning taxpayer’s cash is coming from at the Dunlop Drive facility. However the MOE has spent plenty of time with the best equipment to track it down. According to its latest report, odours are coming from the MRF building as well as the transfer station. Both the MOE and neighbours are not happy about it.

The recommendation by the MOE is that we taxpayers install odour abatement systems in both the MRF and Transfer building. This is similar to the multi-million dollar bio-filter and stack in the new Organics facility that apparently is to control odours in the building.

A new private facility just opened in Cambridge and has taken a good chunk of Ontario’s recyclable waste that was going to our facility to contribute to our odour issue.

Even though we were likely charging less than our costs, we are no longer competitive with the private sector despite the millions sunk into the MRF facility. Being that city staff thinks we can’t be outdone by the private sector, we the taxpayers must dig a little deeper to install odour abatement systems and lower our price to attract waste feedstock away from the Cambridge facility. After all, we have to make it worth the trip for the Americans to drive past the Cambridge facility and bring us their smelly waste.

I don’t know about you but I think something else stinks at the Guelph Waste Innovation Centre other than the imported garbage. It may be the burning of our tax dollars!

Ken Spira

Guelph

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How the uninformed attack the facts

Posted Nov 1, 2012

In the last few days, individuals have attacked guelphspeaks and its editor. Charging that I make all kinds of mistakes, subvert the truth and misrepresent the facts

Jeepers! If only they would stop hiding behind a pseudonym to call your faithful observer a liar and other bad things. Guess they don’t understand the laws of libel in this country, or maybe they do.

Normally, guelphspeaks tries to create a marketplace of opinion that is well founded and informed. Sure we get some off-base stuff with profanity and just crazy material. That goes into the cyber bin.

So today, this nameless individual persisted in calling me a liar because I referred to the capacity of the Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF) as 60,000 tonnes per year. I was sent a list of sources stating the plant was designed to handle only 30,000 tonnes per year.

Reading through the provided sources, I discovered a common thread running through four of the five pieces. Most of them lauded Maple Reinders for its design and construction of the Guelph OWPF.  One award was for the OWPF being designated as a Gold Seal project, “promoting construction excellence and professionalism.”

Well, I certainly hope so.

Is this a pre-emptive strike by Maple Reinders to deflect criticism of its role in creating this overbuilt facility to meet its own agenda? More important what is the hidden city agenda?

Of the five references provided, the only one reprinted from the Guelph Tribune February 16, 2010, focused on the project that was approved by council.

But here’s the rub that insults taxpayers. There was no business plan prepared for this large capital project. This has been acknowledged by the city.

On July 19, 2012, the city’s appointed consultant on the OWPF, Golder Associates, reported the following:

“Operating under the authority of ECA No. A170128, dated February10, 2011, the OWPF was approved to accept up to 60,000 tonnes per year of organic, non hazardous waste (including amendment materials) from residential, industrial, commercial and institutional sources located within the Province of Ontario.”

I think that’s pretty clear.

But there’s more. Maple Reinders is telling everyone the plant cost $28 million. Not so, the final number has not been revealed because there have been modifications. Recently the Guelph Waste Management execs asked for another $2.1 million for twinning the weigh scales at the site.

If that isn’t a reason to have a business plan, I don’t know what is.

Another revelation is how the facility was financed. Council approved using the $4,688,000 from the Federal government as the gas tax rebate. Guelph residents had already paid that refund at the gas pumps. Instead of spending it to improve roads and transportation, it went into the $34 million Dunlop Street garburator.

Gulp!

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