Monthly Archives: January 2013

How does the city hire outside professionals?

Updated January 31, 2013

How does the city go about hiring an outside lawyer or consultant to provide services not available within the ranks of staff? The trial between Urbacon Buildings Group Corporation and the City of Guelph over the $42 million new city hall construction, is a case in point.

Currently, there are 13 litigation actions against the city.

In addition, 17 disputes being adjudicated by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) are outstanding. In the past year, four OMB issues have been resolved.

There are three other unspecified legal matters to be resolved. Two other legal matters were resolved since 2012.

Added to the list are 19 actions with insurance protection that involve using legal professionals. The report states that two insured matters have  been resolved.

This is enough work to keep a moderately sized private legal firm in business for years at the present growing rate of deputes with the city administration.

The City of Guelph has become a mecca for  lawyers not employed by the city. Most interesting is the high number of OMB disputes that points to the failure to encourage business to establish in the city.

The taxpayers are entitled to know the details of hiring outside experts. Also what provisions in the budget are set aside for settling legal matters? These details are almost never forthcoming. If one trusts the annual audited multipage financial statements of the city, the real costs are not readily available.

Take for example the public trial of the City of Guelph versus Urbacon now underway in Brampton. This trial is scheduled to take five weeks to complete. The judge will then study the evidence provided by both sides to reach his judgment. Assessing the costs and damages will occur next October at a separate hearing.

At stake are claims worth millions of dollars. Urbacon is seeking $19 million while the city is counter-claiming $5 million. The dispute arose when former Guelph Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Hans Loewig, fired Urbacon September 2008 claiming that the company failed to meet completion deadlines.

The city has already spent money in an abortive mediation attempt last fall to resolve the matter. The cost of this process has not been revealed. The two sides failed to agree so the matter has gone to trial.

It is not difficult to figure out that win or lose; Guelph taxpayers are already stuck with extremely high legal costs. And if the city loses, those costs will soar.

So, how does the administration choose to settle or proceed with an action?

Mark Amorosi, Executive Director of Human Resources, Legal and Realty Services, plays a vital role in the analysis and strategy concerning the many legal issues facing the city. And there are a bunch of them.

The city solicitor also gets involved along with CAO Anne Pappert. Where it gets murky is who makes the final decision and does council get involved? Taxpayers have no idea.

One would believe that the Mayor must be involved as well as her governance committee. Does council blindly follow the staff recommendation to hire outside experts and professionals?

Take the case of the hired gun representing the city in the Urbacon case. Derek Schmuck, 55, practises law and resides in Hamilton.

What are the terms of his open-ended contract including his fees? How was he selected? In which area of the law does he specialize? Has he been hired by the city prior to this engagement?

Is he a friend or acquaintance of Mr. Amorosi who also lives in Hamilton? Did Mr. Amorosi hire him?

For all the public knows, Mr. Schmuck may be doing a first rate job defending the taxpayer’s interests. It’s about how he got the job and the process used to hire him.

These are but a few questions to which taxpayers are entitled to know the answers. Spending on outside services has increased exponentially under the Farbridge administration.

The record of obfuscation, lack of clarity in city generated information, and obscured transparency, is the legacy of a tired and arrogant administration.

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How can you trust those empowered to run our city?

Posted January 29, 2013

It started when the Kate Quarrie council approved a contract with Urbacon Building Group Corp.  to reconstruct the Carden street property occupied by the City of Guelph. The contract including razing most of the former memorial arena, construction of the new city hall on the site, and converting the old city hall into a provincial court complex.

The price to do all this was some $42 million.

Then, along came the 2006 election and a new council, led by former Mayor Karen Farbridge took office.

Farbridge supporters, elected on the promise “to put Guelph back on track” dominated the new council.

Among the new council’s first action was to restore the Loretto convent located on Catholic Hill and convert it to a new Civic Museum. The price started at $12.7 million and during three years of construction the price rose to almost $15 million.  The problems encountered in restoring the pre-Confederation building drove up the estimated costs. During the four-year construction there were additional costs, not included in the original budget, but were absorbed from general accounts.

But that was penny ante compared to the looming Carden Street construction of a new city hall.

In 2010 Urbacon was fired for failure to meet completion deadlines. This resulted in a lawsuit by the contractor demanding $19 million because, it alleged, the city authorized change orders that added on to the original contract.

Here’s the dilemma the judge faces in the trial being held in Brampton. Was Urbacon negligent in fulfilling its commitment or was the city guilty of overwhelming the contractor with change orders that prevented completion on time?

After the Urbacon firing, the city hired two contractors, Alberici Construction Ltd and Collaberative Structures Ltd,  to complete the city hall and the old city hall renovations that was part of the original $42 million contract.

The city has never told the taxpayers what those contractors were paid and on what basis? Were the contracts fixed or cost-plus? Were there performance bonuses paid? This is basic to determining what the new city hall really cost. Urbacon sued the city and the city countered with a $5 million suit.

Underlying all this is the external and internal legal costs. The trial now underway is scheduled to take five weeks.  Last fall an attempt to mediate the dispute failed to reach a compromise. More legal costs down the drain.

What taxpayers have to ask is why so many change orders altered the contract? Who decided to make design changes? Who authorized them? Was council in the loop during the time of all these changes? Were the changes priced before sending to Urbacon’s construction organizer? Has the city done a fiscal autopsy to determine what happened and why?

Hopefully some of these questions may be answered in the next few weeks as the trial proceeds. The outcome at this point cannot be predicted, as there is substantial testimony and evidence yet to be presented.

Regardless, the convent restoration and the new city hall project were mismanaged from the get-go. If this had occurred in private business, heads would have rolled before any trial was held and a deal would have been cut to settle.

It is an unhealthy aspect in public organizations that the bills will be paid by the taxpayers regardless of sloppiness, dysfunction or stupidity.

The current administration seems to believe that all its problems can be solved with litigation. It’s great for the lawyers who are continually being asked to bail the city out of its screw-ups and mistakes.

A case in point was when city lawyer Derek Schmuck told  witness Tony Murphy, Urbacon’s former senior project manager: “Nobody was putting a gun to Urbacon’s head to take the contract.”

What? Witness Murphy was only testifying on the period when he was in charge of coordinating the project with the city,. He had nothing to do with awarding the contract as Schmuck suggested. Is Schmuck testifying or asking a question?

Look at it this way: If Urbacon wins judgment; our new city hall could cost more than  $70 million. Or more, if the cost of the two contractors hired to complete the Urbacon contract is revealed.

The underlying problem is there are few checks and balances overseeing these  multi-million dollar projects.

As usual, the taxpayers are kept in the dark.

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Let’s hear it from Nostradamus 2013

Posted January 24, 2013

The Oliver Twist argument -More power please

Mayor Farbridge says her 2007 Community Energy Initiative will solve Guelph’s looming power shortage. It included electricity supplied by renewable energy sources including local power plants.

Nostradamus wistfully asks: How much new power has been generated in Guelph from these sources since 2007?

Chickens come home to roost

Two years ago when Carden Street in front of City Hall was laid waste, businesses fronting the Market Square suffered mightily as customers stayed away. Now one owner is calling it quits saying he won’t recover what he lost during that construction. Is he only the first to throw in the towel?

Nostradamus says: The downtown Business Improvement Area group paying $400,000 toward the city hall water feature and skating rink, created unintended consequences including clogging up the parking spaces.

Why are the people whining?

In a recent column in the Mercury, their freelance writer criticized taxpayers who complain about the way the city is being run. It went on to say that people who object are whiners. The writer is obviously a Farbridge troll trying to defend the indefensible. The last six years has resulted in wasreful and expensive decisions placing the debt load on future generations of taxpayers. We whiners wear our accusations proudly. Guelph’s civic spending is clearly out of control and the scramble is on at City Hall to drive up revenues. Did anyone at city hall consider that first, you raise revenue then decide how to spend it?  It’s called living within your means.

Nostradamus says: The price we are forced to pay is chump change considering what is coming as employee costs soar.

Lost in a time warp

Council last met in mid December 2012. Its next meeting is February 24, 2013. Does the world of Garp, oops! Guelph, stop for more than two months? While staff must manage the store, there is little possibility that real business such as accommodating application to create jobs, will be dealt with until council reviews and ratifies the proposals.

Nostradamus says: Council can stop wondering why developers and businesses steer clear of our city when the administration closes down for two months.

Win a few lose a bunch

It should be known that the huge new Maple Leaf Foods plant being built south of Aberfoyle was originally discussed to be built in Guelph.  What happened? What other enterprises have taken a pass on the city when faced with bureaucratic red tape and delays? Remember the letter sent to council by a planning manager who resigned a couple of years ago? He said that Guelph was not an easy place to establish a business, due to staff confusion and administrative delays. He echoed two city-commissioned independent studies saying Guelph did a lousy job of expediting and attracting new industrial and commercial assessment.

Nostradamus predicts: Has anything really changed?

More stupid Council tricks

Besides getting sucked into paying $24,000 for a city infomercial hosted by footballer Terry Bradshaw and netting zero. Then hiring a Caledon Lawyer to mediate a minor dispute that cost taxpayers $10,400.

We have others. Remember the $230,000 spent on outside legal costs to resolve a three-year dispute over the ownership of the LCol John McRae medals?

Or fruitlessly fighting the never-ending legal costs between the city and our partner and neighbour, Wellington County.

Never explaining why former Chief Financial Officer Margaret Neubaur was fired after three years on the job. Answer, she warned the administration they were mismanaging the city finances.

Ordering special paving bricks for the Market Square from a New York manufacturer that failed to deliver on schedule.

Spending taxpayer money on consultants with the doozie being the remake of Guelph Transit. The result pleased no one and another redesign is underway.

Accepting a proposal ordering staff to save $500,000 in the 2013 budget this year. The idea being to keep the proposed 2.97 per cent property tax increase under 3 per cent. That’s like Jesse James being told to stop robbing banks.

Allowing a third party, Aim Environmental, to sell wet waste from the Region of Waterloo for $141 a tonne for processing when it costs more than $300 a tonne. In its wisdom, the administration has never disputed the unofficial estimates that have ranged to more than $400 a tonne. It’s always better to ‘fess up to the taxpayers.

Nostradamus quotes the words of General Custer prior to the battle of the Little Big Horn: “We gotta get organized”

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A personal statement

Friends and viewers:

Just a note to inform you of a major distraction in our lives as we lost our daughter January 16, 2013 following a battle with cancer. Kerridy MacDonald was only 56 years old and is survived by three adult children, Craig Lindsay, Amanda Lindsay and Taylor Lindsay.

It was a reminder of how fragile life is and how it pulls an integrated family together to meet the crisis in the loss of  a  sister and daughter.

Life must go on and guelphspeaks will continue to be the voice of the people, always open and ready to accept comments and contributions to the blog.

We want to thank those friends and neighbours who responded with condolences and support.

Gerry Barker, Editor, guelphspeaks.ca

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Whatever happened to “Serve and Protect”?

Posted January 17, 2011

When the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) states that it’s not the police’s job to solve disputes between First Nations “communities” and government, whose job is it?

This followed a Superior Court judge who slammed the OPP for not doing enough to stop a Via Rail blockage that stranded passengers the main line between Toronto and Montreal.

This wimpy response to a failure to serve and protect, echoes the actions of the OPP in the infamous Caledonia occupation a few tears back. Then the Six Nations aboriginals blocked roads and defied the police to take control. At the time the Provincial Government under the leadership of Dalton McGuinty, controlled the long-term standoff.

It also is mindful of 2009 in Guelph when urban terrorists occupied the Hanlon Business Park then under development. This was protest to save the rare Jefferson salamander. At least, that was the excuse but the real reason was to disrupt a lawful taxpayer project to build economic strength and create jobs in the city. It was later disclosed that the delay in construction cost the city more than $1 million.

Ironically some of that bunch of anarchists was later convicted of offences in the 2010 G20 meeting in Toronto.

One event in which the Guelph police dropped the ball was when a bus containing invited guests to the sod-turning ceremony at the Hanlon were assaulted with banging on the side of the bus and cursing by a crowd of “activists”. And the police never intervened but videotaped this degrading assault on human dignity.

The OPP are  creatures of the Provincial government and report their activities to the Attorney General. Therein lies the problem. The police are not independent but tools of the elected politicians.

All police in Ontario are sworn to uphold the law, to protect the public, and adhere to the Constitution and Charter of Rights. None of those actions of obstruction and taunting of citizens is a right under the Constitution or Charter.

OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis has chosen to place his formidable force behind the Charter of Rights. That’s a convenient excuse not to stop unlawful blockages of rail lines, roads and bridges.

It’s one thing to protest and demonstrate. It’s not all right to defy the rule of law with its impact on people and the Canadian economy.

Commissioner, instruct your personnel to stop the blockage of the avenues of our economy.

With members of our own Guelph council supporting the “Idle no More” movement, the issues lie with the Harper government and their mishandling of the legitimate First Nations grievances.

But there is a lot of sturm and drang interlaced in the First Nations protests. If they want to be heard then look inwardly how Canadian taxpayers have spend millions to provide support to the First Nations Canadians with often unsatisfactory outcomes.

When a Reserve chief is paid $274,000 a year, tax free, plus the widespread use of nepotism in the reserve structure to manage a poverty stricken community, there are serious questions to be asked. The question arises where does the money given to various Indian bands and reserves go? A full accounting by a third party is required

The entire question of aboriginal and Metis citizenship in Canada is one that deserves serious dialogue between the Federal government, its provincial and territorial partners and the First Nations.

Nevertheless, the Canadian Police Services must maintain law and order. The thin blue line must serve and protect the rights of all Canadians to work, move and enjoy the freedoms as given under the Constitution and Charter of Rights.

Mr. OPP Commissioner, do your job.

 

 

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Guelph’s 2012 Dubious Distinction awards

           Public servant of the year award

Mark Amorosi is the gatekeeper of human resources and legal matters of state at City Hall. His best quote was describing the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System’s $12 billion dollar underfunding of its 268,000 employees’ pensions as an “actuarial deficiency”. Really? Tell that to your employers, the taxpayers, who are liable for guaranteeing defined pensions of its staff, past, present and future in perpetuity.

           Captain Courageous award

Coun. Cam Guthrie took on the Farbridge clan several times throughout the year. Each time, the empire struck back politically eviscerated him because he dared to challenge their authority. His bravery may pay surprising dividends in the future.

            Chump of the year award

Council called in its integrity commissioner to sort out alleged staff abuse by councillors. Five councillors sought information that had been denied them by staff through a Freedom of Information action. Mama Mia! His $10,000 report pointed no fingers and was so warm and cuddly that taxpayers took it on the nose again.

           Pierre Poutine award

Marty Burke, federal Conservative Candidate in 2011, was so ensnared by the Harper Machine, that his own campaign was identified with the robocall scandal.  It is still being parsed and adjudicated by higher powers. The national focus on Guelph is now called the capital of dirty political tricks. So much for the propaganda about low unemployment, dropping crime stats and the city of eternal enlightenment commentary punched out by the Farbridge communicators. Is that what “wellness” is all about?

           Mouse that roared award

Coun. Maggie Laidlaw can be depended on to utter total nonsense when the muse strikes her. Her comment about the city not participating in allowing staff salaries, wages and benefits to be part of a “race to the bottom” when compared to private sector employees. It typifies her devotion to those on the public payroll, like her.

           Grab your wallet award

It was some time ago when anti-big box activist Ben Bennett opposed Walmart setting up shop in Guelph. The 11-year cost of that dispute was in the millions. Now he writes that city council deserves a passing grade halfway through its mandate. Will that be Visa or Mastercard?

           Cha Cha of the Year award

Musician James Gordon is a hardcore supporter of Mayor Farbridge through his organization, the Guelph Civic League. This year he supported an application to sell the former civic museum on Dublin Street to two entrepreneurs for a community arts cultural centre. Trouble was the entire deal was executed in secret and the city is alleged to have ignored another bidder. It could be that the taxpayers were not paid the highest appraised price as required by the Ontario Municipal Act. It pays to have friends in high places.

           Communicator of the Year award

City Waste Manager, Dean Wyman, who can tell people off in a variety of colourful ways. Backatcha , Dean.

           Cardinal Richelieu of the year award

Ken Hammill is not elected officially but has an office in city hall to mentor his protégé, Mayor Farbridge et al. Behind the throne lurks an eminence grise!

             And now for the rest of the story award

The 2013 budget includes spending another $2.6 million on a second entrance to the $34 million organic waste management plant. It will include a weigh scale so that anticipated traffic to the plant is accommodated. Business plan? What business plan?

            If pigs could fly award

Chief Librarian Kathy Pope announced a new $73 million downtown library to open by 2017. She is so confident that she hired a fund-raising specialist to come up with $10 million in donations to furnish the project. It is yet to be designed and built, let alone approved. Maybe library proponent Ken Hammill can scare up a few extra bucks.

            Shades of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow award

Shared by Transit chief Michael Anders and executive director of operations, Derek McCaughan. In the space of a year the Guelph transit system has gone from bad to worse. The tinkering by two outside consultants has created the most expensive, underperforming transit system that satisfies few and aggravates 87 per cent of taxpayers who subsidize the system, but don’t use it.

            A Royal ascent for the Royal city award

Mayor Karen Farbridge, who is entering her 10th year as head of state, sees herself as queen by any other name, one might surmise. She has incredible staying power despite her kingdom being in a financial shambles. This is due to voracious spending on self-serving major projects some of which don’t work as planned.

           If the glove doesn’t fit, you have to quit award

To the genius responsible for designing the Zamboni parking garage for the city hall’s rink. Next time, if there is one, measure the machine before designing the building. That Zamboni didn’t fit.

            Long in the Tooth award

When the relatives of LCol John McRae demanded the city return his World War I service medals, they sued. The case dragged on for three years, with both parties finally agreeing to leave the medals in the McRae House museum with a plaque honouring the donation of the relatives. The outside lawyer hired by the city charged $230,000 for services rendered in concluding a simple solution. Wasn’t anyone watching the store?

            Stepford wives award

To councillors Lise Burcher, Maggie Laidlaw and Leanne Piper who are employed full-time by the University of Guelph and vote consistently together on council concerning any relationship between the city and the university.  Is this is why the city needs a Lobby Registrar to identify those who influence council?

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