Updated February 6, 2013
More than six years ago, I was invited to write a column in the Mercury. When I parted company with the paper in the fall of 2011, I had written more than 70 columns that were reflections of the civic political scene as seen by an independent taxpayer. Early in 2011, I started a blog on the Internet called guelphspeaks.ca. Since that time I have produced some 250 posts or articles on the website.
In general terms the content has been critical of the city administration. There is no shortage of issues to be revealed, examined and challenged. The city has been run by a majority of councilors who slavishly support Mayor Karen Farbridge’s policies and management.
I have been accused of lying, twisting the facts and have had my e-mail of nine years hacked not once, but twice this past year.
It’s the price paid by those who oppose a dictatorship. There is no other way to describe how our city is administered. The votes inevitably break down with seven against five. The truth is, the Mayor usually votes on every motion. She represents the eighth insurance vote to make sure her policies pass or are rejected by her majority. This exposes the supposed neutrality the Mayor should maintain to foster democratic discussion and action. That horse left the barn in 2007.
What should be troubling to taxpayers is that the five who attempt to represent their constituents are kept from committee chairmanships and other positions including the powerful governance committee chaired by the Mayor.
Frequently, when one of the opposition makes a motion that defies the majority rule, he or she is shot down
One of the most egregious incidents came when long-time Coun. Gloria Kovach was dumped from the Police Services board and replaced by Coun. Leanne Piper, a Farbridge cohort. It took some sneaky maneuvering to carry out this coup. Kovach had been unanimously elected in 2010 for four years to serve as a council representative on the board. The motive for this has never been revealed but it is safe to say that Ms. Piper receives additional pay to serve on the Police board.
Now to tighten control there is a proposal to prevent visiting non-member councilors to speak during committee meetings. In polite circles, this smacks of fascism.
Then there was the infamous case of the five councilors who made a Freedom of Information request to obtain public data when a staff member refused to give it to one of them.
The Mayor and her cohorts were outraged and claimed the group broke the council code of conduct. The integrity commissioner, a Caledon lawyer, was called into adjudicate. His report, that did not include interviewing the accused councilors, was pablum and cost $10,400.
This is only the tip of the iceberg in the way the city is being run. Firings of experienced key personnel have cost taxpayers more than $500,000. The key position of Chief Financial Officer in a six-year period has seen four individuals in the job with one lasting one week. He retirement of the city clerk and city solicitor left a vacuum of experience and knowledge.
We have an Executive Director of the environmental services, engineering and planning, who has no degree in either planning or engineering. There is the Executive Director of human resources and legal services who is not a lawyer but is the gatekeeper of hiring outside legal assistance.
The Chief Operating Officer, Anne Pappert, was selected over ten other candidates even though she was a Director of Parks and Community Services. She also has no degree in financial management, an imperative for the position. The search cost taxpayers $40,000 to replace the previous incumbent who retired.
Why was she chosen? No executive experience running a $400 million corporation, no formal financial background and she has yet to move into the city that she commands.
Underneath this small sample of incompetence, duplicity lays a tableau of secrecy, absolute control and a perverted agenda.
The real problem is, who will stand up to stop the financial bleeding and help reform city governance to serve all the people and not the chosen few?
When one looks at the five councilors opposing the Farbridge administration, there is a high degree of frustration and combat fatigue.
Guelph needs these five councilors, Bob Bell, Jim Furfaro, Andy Van Hellemond, Cam Guthrie and Gloria Kovach to be the building blocks for the new reform council in 2015.
The task to repair the damage caused by the current administration will probably take more than four years. It will be daunting and painful to some.
So I appeal to citizens who will step up and run for city council, under the leadership of a new mayor dedicated to working with the whole council and bringing balance back to the table.
Guelph has a great future and can become a major research and development hub, open for business, serving the auto industry, agriculture and food, and biosciences at the University.
The choice is simple. Develop responsibly and within the means of the corporation or continue the irresponsible management of the past six years. And there are two more years to go before damage control can take over.