Posted September 23, 2013
First, some background.
Our city entered a new phase in its development in 2006. That’s when the administration under Mayor Kate Quarrie was attacked and undermined by left wing supporters of former Mayor Karen Farbridge. The fall campaign was directed by members of the New Democratic Party and executed in part by the Guelph Civic League whose president was 2010 NDP candidate, James Gordon.
It was a thorough thumping of the Quarrie administration as 10 supporters of the re-elected Ms. Farbridge were elected to city council. It was an event that changed Guelph civic politics forever.
In almost seven years, the Farbridge dominated council has destroyed the basic elements of democratic governance. Here are some examples:
1. Removing transparency from the work of council and committees.
2. Making secret deals with third parties that will affect the city finances for many years.
3. Spending money on ill-defined social engineering policies of which there is little public benefit or input.
4. Spending millions of dollars on outside lawyers to defend or attack misguided legal adventures.
5. Increasing city staff by more than 440 along with boosting salaries, wages and total compensation.
6. For four years running, exceeding annual budgets by a total of $24,771,000.
7. With little public input, inflicting a $52 million waste management system on the city. It fails to serve all residents or effectively process and reduce waste materials destined for the landfill as predicted by management.
8. Increasing taxes on average of 3.72 per cent per year, far exceeding the average Canada Price Index of 1.7 per cent.
9. Through property taxes, subsidizing a public transit system by more than $15 million that is used by less than 13 per cent of the city population.
10. Failing to fulfill a 2006 election promise to build a new downtown library.
11. Spending more than $15 million in the name of heritage preservation, to renovate the derelict Loretto Convent on Catholic Hill into a civic museum.
12. Controlling city public communications that distort, obfuscate and are published in the local papers as paid advertising and rewrites of self–serving press releases.
In summary, the taxpaying public is blocked from learning how and where their money is being spent. Financial statements produced by the city are incomprehensible to the average person, long on content, short on detail and fail to translate the true picture of the municipality’s finances.
The growing public concern is manifested in revelations of financial manipulation and basic staff incompetence. An example is the renovation of the Farmer’s Market disaster in which $500,000 was spent on a new floor and little else. There are no fume exhausts for hot food preparation, no door handles or a sprinkler system. In fact, vendors are told they cannot cook in the building.
But it cannot all be laid on the city staff. The fault starts at the top with Mayor Farbridge and her seven cohort supporters on council. They are the people’s representatives but fail to maintain their responsibility. Instead they rely on senior staff to make decisions usually without question. This places the bulk of city staff in an awkward position of wanting to serve the public but stymied by a controlling senior management.
A dysfunctional management has lowered the morale of many city workers to an all time low.
It’s a situation that must be corrected. The costs associated with the Farbridge eight years in office will negatively reverberate for many years to come. Future councils will have to grapple with financial commitments made in the past over which they had no control.
Sadly, this will affect the willingness for knowledgeable and dedicated candidates to run for city council.
What our city needs are candidates prepared to clean up the mess with common sense and a determination to return financial stability to city government. It won’t be pretty and will call for drastic measures to give the city back to its citizens with transparency, clarity and accessibility.
It is impossible to measure the competence of this administration that reveals a budget shortfall of $2.4 million as of June and making it public in September.