Posted March 17, 2013
All it took was an outburst by an eager councillor that painted a rosy picture of competence of the city of Guelph’s administration.
It’s Dijon vu, the same mustard as before.
Here are the five steps that paint a picture of mediocrity by a long in the tooth administration that struggles to overcome the litany of bad decisions, sloppy oversight and a dollop of arrogance.
LONGEVITY – No matter how long a government is in power, the act wears thin with the voters. After six years of unchecked spending accompanied by bone-headed decisions, the Farbridge administration is showing its age. Hey! It happens to every government. Eventually they die a natural death to be replaced by new people and new direction. The only exception to that theory that comes to mind is Mississauga where Mayor Hazel McCallion has owned the job for what seems like a hundred years. Rest assured, that will not be Mayor Karen Farbridge’s destiny. So the longer the “gevity”, the death of the government creeps closer. Of course some of it may survive the wrath of the voters but it won’t be the same. Just ask Christine Billings and Gloria Kovach who survived the Farbridge onslaught in 2006. They were the only members of council that fought for the people against the ideological charge of the Farbridge majority.
ARROGANCE – Following the election of 2006, the Farbridge administration decided it had carte blanche control of the city and proceeded to dismantle the senior management by firing the chiefs of administration and finance. It portended sweeping changes that deflected residential and industrial growth, introduced plans to preserve heritage buildings and management of waste, created systems that required hundreds of additional staff. For four years the Mayor’s majority on council did as they pleased with little consultation with the citizens. Meanwhile financial management was barely existent as new people came and went leaving a dysfunctional staff.
ENTITLEMENT – Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Shortly after her election, the Mayor hired a personal public relations person to assist her in managing the job. The position paid $80,000 and was funded by the taxpayers. So the Mayor charges her needs to the taxpayer when she needs her image burnished. In the past six years this attitude of entitlement pervaded the council and senior staff. What made taxpayers vulnerable was that many of the Farbridge majority were rookies having never served on council. They pushed their ideological ideas without due diligence or the ability to pay. It was chaos on a grand scale that went mostly unchecked for the first four-year term. Today, the fallout remains as the city debt has almost doubled and costs of operation sees staff costs representing some 89 per cent of the annual budget.
ILLUSION- When no one knows the truth, it’s easy to get away with lying. This administration is adept at using the tools of propaganda in which the truth gets submerged in manufactured data by the 10-person communications staff. The illusion is manifested on the city website’s “Newsroom” and paid advertising in the Tribune. The cost of this alone exceeds $500.000 annually. The blogosphere is cluttered up with the Mayor and councillors spewing the company line as manufactured in city hall. What’s wrong with that?” one may ask. Most of it is boilerplate, as we in the news business say. And the Tribune unabashedly editorializes on the city operation favouring the administration. The city is run mostly behind closed doors away from the public gaze. Before every council and committee meeting there is a closed meeting to set up the public meeting…even down to which councillor will make a motion and second it during the public session. This is a convenient control method of managing the message. Question: When was the last time Mayor Farbridge held a real press conference? It has not happened in more than six years because she doesn’t want to be exposed to real questioning about her administration.
CHOICES– We are all governed by our choices throughout our life. Most people learn to absorb the lessons of making bad decisions. Alas, many don’t. It’s the same with the City of Guelph council. Among some of the bad choices is the relationship with the University in which the majority of council genuflects and bows to the wishes of the university management Most members of council see the university as a huge economic and cultural benefit to Guelph. And the institution employs three members of council. The school has grown exponentially in the past six years by more than 5,000 undergraduates totaling 22,000 in 2012. The university, largest landowner in the city, pays approximately $1.65 million in lieu of property taxes. But rapid expansion in the past six years has demanded additional taxpayer-funded city services including water, sewage disposal, emergency services, transit and housing development. Compare that to auto parts manufacturer Linamar, that pays regular property taxes for its 22 plants in the city. These boil down to choices and citizens expect their elected officials to look after their interests better.