Posted December 28, 2012
An educated guess is that possibly as much as 90 per cent of Guelph residents don’t really understand how their city is managed. They know what to do if something goes wrong in their neighbourhood but the city staff response is often misleading or ignored. It’s not the fault of the lower-ranked city staff but the policies created by senior staff managers.
Spending time wading through the city’s own online laundry list of organizational operations directives and strategies, you begin to understand how a small group of elected officials run the city. They are aided and abetted by the so-called executive team, a group of senior managers.
Under the clause “Reflective of the Partnership” (between council and staff), here is the following statement: “Senior management consists of skilled management professionals and are treated as partners in governance.”
There is some argument there considering that some of the current members on the senior management team lack professional and work experience pertaining to their responsibilities.
For example, the taxpayers could ask why we have a senior manager in charge of engineering and planning without any professional academic credentials to support that specific aspect of the job.
Governance is the linchpin of how the city is controlled by a handful of people. Guelph employs the Institute on Governance, a non-profit think tank founded in 1990 to promote better governance for public benefit. Lofty ideals, but why?
There are five basic committees of council. A sixth committee is the all-powerful governance committee chaired by Mayor Karen Farbridge. It’s membership is composed of the elected chairpersons of five committees: Community and social services; Corporate administration, finance and enterprise; Operations, transit and emergency services; the Audit committee and the Planning, building, engineering and environmental services.
A seventh committee is the nominating committee composed of the staff heads of the basic committees.
In short, five individuals, all supporters of the Mayor, control the city. Consider the numbers here. Those six hold key posts in the administration of the city. The Mayor is chairperson of the governance committee.
But there are 13 members of council. The remaining five non-Farbridge supporters are not invited to committee chair positions in the Farbridge controlled management club.
This is despite the Mayor’s stated role to assist all members of council in carrying out their responsibilities. The most experienced member of Council, Gloria Kovach, was unanimously appointed to the Police Services board for a four-year term in January 2011. In the fall there was a coup led by Coun. Leanne Piper to remove her. She was replaced, surprise, by Leanne Piper. This is how this controlling gang goes about its business in Guelph. They are ruthless and will roll over any meaningful opposition, because they can.
First, take a gander at the city’s corporate values: Integrity, excellence and wellness.
What a super-sized platitude. But what does it mean to taxpayers? Is this the kind of value system that meets the expectations of the property owners who pay 94 per cent of the city’s revenues? Shouldn’t one of the values include fiscal responsibility?
Here’s the kicker.
The new Municipal Act recommends that Ontario cities appoint four new officials to monitor performance. The province forced the four positions on the City of Toronto. No doubt caused by corruption, mismanagement of finances and former Mayor David Miller’s handling of garbage strike in midsummer 2009.
The Act stipulated that it was an option for other Ontario cities.
So let’s look at these recommended positions.
Hire an integrity commissioner. Council did that by hiring outside lawyer Robert Swayze.
Hire a lobby registrar to track lobbyists influencing city management. That was ignored because it’s presumed it’s not applicable to Guelph. The caveat is the lobbying by the University of Guelph that employs three members of council. The Mayor is also associated with the U of G although not an employee.
Hire an Ombudsman to investigate any decision or recommendation – – done or omitted in the course of the administration of the municipality. Well, that’s one official this council does not want to approve as it could start to unravel the tight-fisted control of the Farbridge administration. If ever a city needed someone to bring the Farbridge balloon back to earth, an independent Ombudsman who will be independent, is the answer.
Hire an Auditor General (AG)responsible for assisting council in “holding itself and administrators accountable for the quality of stewardship over public funds and for achievement of value for money in municipal operations.” After six years of the Farbridge administration having its way, the time has come for an independent AG to oversee the financial operations of the city.
Of the four, council has only approved one. The Ombudsman and Auditor General positions are supposed to be considered by council before the next election.
Does Guelph need these positions filled sooner rather than later? The 2013 budget has no provision for these positions. But that never stopped the Farbridge-controlled council from moving money from certain inflated budget items to other non-related accounts to pay for unbudgeted proposals.
There is ample evidence that sooner is necessary to prevent the city from falling deeper into the fiscal hole it has been created.