Monthly Archives: August 2013

Join GrassRoots Guelph and become an agent for change

It’s free and simple. Drop me a note at gerrybarker76@gmail.com and I’ll forward your info to the membership team. Your personal information is kept in a cyber-secure database and used only to communicate with the members.

GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) is non-partisan, non-profit and incorporated under the laws of Ontario. It was founded by a group of concerned citizens and is growing rapidly.

Our goals include developing programs to increase the number of voters in the October 2014 municipal election. These programs include a regular newsletter for members keeping them informed of the issues. Also town hall meetings, led by neutral moderators, will invite the public to express its views on the city political scene.

Informing, educating and socializing with the citizens of our city is a priority for GRG.

Change does not come easily but GRG, armed with the truth and facts, can make it can happen.

Welcome aboard!

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Time to ask 20 questions of Mayor Karen Farbridge

Posted August 31, 2013

Welcome back, hope you enjoyed the August hiatus from doing the people’s business.

The TV program 20 Questions went to game show heaven many years ago but the structure of the program will help us understand the role of Mayor of our fair city. So here are 20 questions for Her Worship, answers that remain a mystery with taxpayers and possibly those at the provincial government.

1.Why do many citizens consider you the most litiganist Mayor in the city’s history? There are many lawsuits on tap plus Ontario Municipal Board hearings and legal cases involving insured claims against the city. The current litigation status report only tells half the story … what are the costs associated with these many legal matters?

2.Can you tell us how much outside legal assistance cost the taxpayers in 2012 and year to date?

3.How much did the city spend on hiring outside consultants in 2012 and year to date?

4.When will you reveal the operating cost per tonne of the Organic Waste Processing Facility?

5.As leader of the municipal government, why don’t you hold regular press conferences to allow the public/media to ask questions about your administration?

6.What is your plan to encourage residential hi-rise development downtown?

7.Why did the city decide to give a ten-year holiday to Tricar developments a city-imposed development charges to build a hi-rise condo downtown that is now mostly sold out?

8.How do you justify supporting the staff when the Farmer’s Market renovation costs jumped from $170,000 as approved by council in the 2013 budget, to the staff stating the costs would be $500,000?

9.Will those staff members responsible be held accountable?

10.Is it true that the downtown secondary plan calls for relocation and rebuilding of the Farmer’ Market?

11.Was Ann Pappert,your hand-picked Chief Administration Officer, in the loop when the Farmer’s Market project was planned and did she monitor progress during the past nine months?

12.What were the costs of the two construction companies hired to complete the old city hall renovation into a provincial court plus the new city hall?

13.Why did the 2013 property tax rate jump from the budgeted 2.96 per cent to 3.74 per cent?

14.What are the terms of leasing the Loretto Convent property for the civic museum?

15.What was the price paid for the old civic museum on Dublin Street?

16.How many bids were accepted on the Dublin Street museum site?

17.What are the terms of the contract to sell sewage sludge to the Lystek company?

18.Why has there been a significant increase in city staff that does not match the increase in population?

19.Why is it necessary to pay $100,000 to a Toronto consultant to develop an “open government plan” for the administration?

20.Are you a candidate again in 2014?

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Sightlines and the Church of our Lady

Posted August 29, 2013

In a recent editorial the daily newspaper suggested that the city skyline is changing and there is a possibility that 18-storey condominiums in the downtown area may disrupt the sightlines to the great church on the hill.

The editorial went on to say that this could change the identity of Guelph.

No doubt the Church on Catholic Hill is a beautiful landmark that is part of the city’s identity. Keep in mind this is a growing and changing community. It is essential that if the downtown area of the city is to undergo a renaissance, a place where all citizens may gather in safety and comfort, then you need people to live there. This will grow the downtown with new businesses and a bustling exciting core of our city.

It will grow because of private investment not public money that has been the case in recent years.

It’s starting to happen and in the next few years most folks in the city will be proud of their revitalized downtown.

The Church of Our Lady will remain as a prominent part of the cityscape.

To worry about sightlines to the church is an inconsequential exercise.

After all, one of the great Roman Catholic Cathedrals in North America in located in mid-town Manhattan and a jewel among the towering, surrounding skyscrapers.

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Say hello to:

GrassRoots Guelph

For the people, by the people

GrassRoots Guelph is a new organization in Guelph that is dedicated to increasing public participation in civic politics and presenting views on how to improve our city. GrassRoots Guelph is about encouraging City Hall to adopt policies that will result in:

• reducing debt
• making government more transparent, and
• applying common sense to municipal decision-making.

Basic stuff actually, but a growing necessity in Guelph.

GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) is non-partisan, non-profit and incorporated.

GRG is not beholden to any individual, union or corporation. It is an organization that will help Guelph taxpayers mobilize to effect change in the City of Guelph’s civic governance.

GRG founders come from all walks of life and all parts of the city, with a focused intent to bring transparency, clarity and cost control to the administration of our city.

The litany of events that have driven up our municipal taxes and debt is evidence enough to elect those who can return the city to an open and affordable community. It will not be an easy task for the next Mayor and City Council. But it will happen with the support of the people.

To join our movement, send your name and address, email address and telephone contact information to grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com. Membership is free and entitles you to receive the regular GrassRoots Guelph e-newsletter plus a link to guelphspeaks.ca, the blog with the largest following in the city. Between the two sources, you will be up-to-date on what is going on in our city, and you will receive news and commentary that you won’t find in the traditional media.

Join today.

Remember: If you don’t participate, you don’t count.

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20 questions about Guelph’s Organic Waste Processing Facility

Posted August 27, 2013

The following questions remain unanswered by Mayor Farbridge’s administration despite many attempts to obtain the answers. This has occurred for good reasons, as the administration is too embarrassed to allow the truth to be told. From the get-go, this was a failed project that lacked a business plan, created by a naive management team and powered by a small group of elected ideologues. They were determined to use city money to meet their unrealistic goals to divert waste from the landfill.

Question:

1. Why did general contractor Maple Reinders tell an Ottawa construction convention that Guelph’s Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF) cost $28 million. The city claims it cost $31.6 million.

2. What happened to the $3.6 million difference?

3. Is there an operating contract between the city (owner of OWPF) and Maple Reinders and its subsidiary companies Aim Environmental (AE), Wellington Organix (WO)?

4. What are details of the legal obligation between the city and the Maple Reinders companies?

5. What are the details of financing the OWPF?

6. Does the city pay all debt servicing and maintenance costs?

7. Does AE/WO have exclusive rights to operate the OWPF plus sales of composted material?

8. If so, what are the terms of the contract, length of agreement, commissions, loss provision, depreciation, and operational subsidies?

9. What are the commissions paid to AE/WO on the sale of OWPF capacity?

10. Why is the Region of Waterloo failing to meet its contract to deliver 20,000 tonnes of feedstock to the OWPF?

11. Is the Region paying for the 20,000 tonnes regardless of whether they meet the contract to deliver?

12. Why is the city now offering, through its agent, to sell the unused Region of Waterloo to other communities?

13. Who pays for removal of rejected feedstock to the OWPF?
14. What are the operating costs per processed tonne of the OWPF?

15. What are the full operating costs of the OWPF including overhead, debt charges, commissions, bonuses, salaries and benefits, insurance, consultants, maintenance, modifications legal and accounting, engineering?

16. What is the 2013 estimated revenue from OWPF operations?

17. What was the profit (loss) position of the OWPF in 2012?

18. What did the “Arkona Farmer” pay for the 3,400 tonnes of compost produced by OWPF in 2012?

19. Did AE/WO negotiate that sale? Was there a commission paid for that transaction?

20. Why did the city build a plant to process its wet waste that is triple its ability to collect and supply feedstock? Particularly when the city refuses to collect waste from 6,400 condominium households that represent 13.6 per cent of total households in the city. Further, those residents must pay $1,433,600 to the city for NOT collecting its garbage. Instead they pay private contractors to remove their garbage that winds up, unprocessed, in the landfill.

* * * *

If this $52 million exercise was to divert waste from the landfill, unless proven otherwise, it is an expensive and colossal failure.

If the city lacks the capacity to feed wet waste into its organic composting plant, now or in the future, taxpayers must ask: “What were they thinking?”

Too late, we’re stuck with this gigantic white elephant that citizens will be paying for over the next 20 years.

And it was created by a few elected officials under the leadership of Mayor Karen Farbridge, who put their personal environmental views ahead of the city’s ability to process waste from all homes and pay for it.

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Now! There is a new citizens’ movement for change in the city

Posted August 26, 2013

By Gerry Barker

Citizens from all over the City of Guelph tell me there is a need for common sense, responsible financial management in our civic government.

A recent survey asked residents if they are better off today in Guelph than they were six years ago. The responses revealed widespread discontent. This was not a complex or expensive survey. It contained a simple question and asked for a direct answer.

Over the past seven years, as a columnist with the Mercury and now as the editor of guelphspeaks.ca, I have repeatedly pointed out that spending by the Farbridge regime is out of control and has created serious, long-term liabilities for Guelph taxpayers.

Today, I’m letting you know that several Guelph citizens and I have banded together to build an organization to seek change in October 2014. The name of this organization is “GrassRoots Guelph”. GRG’s goal is to encourage citizens to vote for change in the 2014 election. It will achieve this goal by informing people about what is happening in City Hall, exchanging views, and participating in the entire 2014 election process.

Remember, if you don’t participate, you don’t count.

Voting is a serious and important task that should reflect the will of the people, not the will of the minority that has held power for the past two terms of Guelph’s municipal politics.

The record of this minority is clear. Debt and operating costs, including employee salaries and benefits, have soared. In six years, five individuals have headed city financial management. Together with others in City administration, they have created a deficit of continuity in the systems that control the corporation’s spending and revenues.

You are invited to join GrassRoots Guelph, the one city-wide organization that will represent the interests of the majority of Guelph taxpayers, and not the special interests.

To join, send your name, address, telephone number and email address to: grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com. We will put you on our mailing list and keep you informed frequently about the initiatives that are already underway and new initiatives that will be undertaken over the next few months. You will also be regularly kept up to date through the GrassRoots Guelph newsletter.

GrassRoots Guelph is an incorporated organization that is:
* non-partisan and non-profit
* dedicated to encouraging Guelph residents to vote in 2014 for restoring common sense and financial responsibility in our city government.

Join and participate. Let’s work together to achieve a better Guelph.

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Exciting new development coming Monday, August 26

Posted August 24, 2013

On behalf of many citizens, Guelphspeaks will make a major announcement on Monday, August 26, at 1 p.m. of importance to every Guelph taxpayer.

Check out the guelphspeaks blog and learn how citizens can participate in having their voices heard and influence events that affect their lifestyle and pocket book.

Check it out and tell your friends.

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The Gathering Storm over what we pay our public servants

Posted August 24, 2013

This week the public prints published a story that made my toes curl.

It proclaimed that for the first time in 20 years, the City and the Guelph firemen were going to arbitration to settle a new contract. The reason given was the two sides needed assistance to formulate a new contract.

Guelph’s firemen are among the highest paid in the province. A first class fireman earns a base salary of $85,542 a year. They achieved this level through a number of years negotiating with the city. Obviously they have done very well.

But that’s only part of the story. In addition, the firemen receive overtime pay, sick leave benefits, shared pension benefits, insurance, disability protection, paid equipment, plus work place benefits that no other city employee receives.

The biggest benefit is the way they work. Firemen work 24-hour shifts that average twice each seven days. They are scheduled to work 42 hours a week so there are adjustments to maintain the total number of straight time worked.

As one labour expert said: “Firemen enjoy the best paid, part-time job in the province.”

The union head is quoted that city employees only work 35 hours a week so the average current $39 per hour cost of the firemen should be more because they work more hours.

But some of those 24–hour shifts are spent sleeping, watching TV and cooking. Of course they are on standby to answer calls. Other city employees do not get paid for those hours. So bringing that up is specious to say the least.

Police officers perform their duties working seven-hours a day, 35-hour shifts per week. Their responsibilities are no less dangerous than that of the fire department.

But something has happened to the work responsibilities of the fire department in recent years. Less that ten per cent of their calls are actually for fighting fires. The introduction of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) has changed the role of the firemen. The trouble is there is a turf war going on between the two services as each works to justify its existence and remuneration.

If the truth were known, the two services should have been amalgamated years ago.

The fact that most firemen retire at an average age of 56, places an even greater burden on the taxpayer who must guarantee pension and healthcare benefits for the rest of the retiree’s life, including his or her spouse.
With the current average lifespan of Canadian males being 83 that represent a 27-year indexed pension benefit for firemen who retire today at 56.

After only 10 negotiating sessions between the city and the firemen’s union, the city pulled the plug and applied for a three-member board of arbitration to determine a binding new contract. Each side nominates a member and a chairman is appointed. The cost of this procedure will be expensive and time consuming because it usually involves members who are lawyers who also represent other clients.

As usual, the taxpayers paying the bills are left out of the picture. There are no details of the union’s requests for changes in the contract, nor the city’s counter-offer, if there ever was one.

Having been involved in union/management contract negotiations, serving on both sides of the fence during my career, only 10 bargaining sessions indicates neither side was prepared to reach agreement. There seems to be a lack of creative conciliation that could have led to a settlement.

City spokesman, Mark Amorosi, said the union’s demands were “excessive, unaffordable and not fair to taxpayers.” He went on to say if the union proposals were adopted, it would give firemen greater benefits that any other employee group employed by the city.

The good news is that the city administration is starting to hear the taxpayers lament that the public servants’ contracts are out of control. As such, those costs are rising at an alarming rate that will affect taxpayers for years to come.

Don’t expect the outcome of this arbitration to be satisfying. The costs of the arbitration panel and the resulting retroactive pay will be a staggering blow to the city’s finances within the next three years.

You heard it here first.

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Taking a short break in the action

Posted August 15, 2013

Guelphspeaks will be taking a short break next week to attend a family wedding out of town.

Look for more insight and commentary about our city and its administration upon the editor’s return August 23.

Remember, guelphspeaks is the blog for all the people. Your comments and articles are always welcome. It is important that there is a platform in the city that is open with no strings in which all citizens may participate and express themselves.

Also, we will have an important announcement to make that will affect all Guelph residents. This could be the game-changer that most citizens are seeking.

Drop into the site Monday, August 26 for details.

Gerry Barker
Editor
guelphspeaks.ca

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Expense accounts, the politicians’ trip wire

Posted August 14, 2013

The case of the iconic Pamela Wallin, who went from prison social worker to Canadian Senator with a few stops along the way in journalism, proves the old saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Tinkering with her calendar and returning some money to the Senate accountants is tacit evidence there is trouble in Wallinland. Her colleagues on the Senate committee investigating the breaches of expense rules decided that the Senator from Saskatchewan (with frequent stops in her Toronto condo) could no longer claim any expenses except for travel to her home province.

On top of that, her audited file has been turned over the RCMP for investigation relating to criminal charges.

Ms. Wallin joins Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb on the Mounties list of members of the Chamber of Sober Second Thought being investigated for conspiracy and fraud.

It would be ironic that Ms. Wallin would wind up behind bars instead of being in front of them.

The local angle of course, is that as Chancellor of the University of Guelph, Ms. Wallin charged her Senate expense card $2,011 to travel to address a university convocation. Her explanation was she was on Senate business. Now that’s chutzpah!

What happens to people who feel they are entitled to rip off the public purse?

One might ask about our members of city council who travel at public expense to conventions, trade shows and visits outside the country. Are they conducting the city business?

One trip that comes to mind occurred in 2007 when the Mayor, her husband and her mentor Ken Hammill, and his spouse, traveled to Italy to visit a city that was twinned with Guelph. The purpose, stated at the time, aside from the peremptory glad-handing, was to promote foreign investment in Guelph.

The cost to the taxpayers was never revealed. Nor were there any tangible results of the trip announced then or since.

With a resounding majority of her supporters on the newly elected council, the Mayor must have felt the flush of power and entitlement to make the decision to go to Italy.

Perhaps now is the time for the Mayor, who has commissioned $100,000 to a Toronto consultant to create an “open government” plan for the city, to open the expense claims of both staff and elected officials for public scrutiny.

Taxpayers have a right to know the details of elected official’s expense accounts. A good start would be right in the Mayor’s office and how much that trip to Italy cost.

Do you get the feeling the “open government” consultant won’t touch that with a barge pole?

Or is this an issue for the Integrity Commissioner?

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