Posted October 6, 2013
The trend of disenchantment with Mayor Karen Farbridge and her administration crystallized on December 8, 2011. That was the date a letter of resignation signed by Robert Walters, Manager of Development Planning for the City of Guelph landed on the desk of Jim Riddell, General Manager of Planning and Building Services.
Ironically, Mr. Riddell himself resigned soon after to take a job in St. Catharines.
But let Mr. Walters tell us why he resigned after less than six months on the job.
“I have had an opportunity to become familiar with and manage the City’s Development Planning operations. I have found many levels of dysfunction during this time, some of which we have discussed which are quite profound in relation to the City’s planning processes.
“All of these conditions existed long before I arrived … and relate to poor administrative practices including a lack of quality control, an over-zealous application of urban design issues at the expense of sound land use planning … This creates unnecessary conflict inside and with the development industry, and a culture which does not value inter-departmental team work or customer service.
“In my 27 years, I have seen nothing like it.
“I have no confidence this situation will end so the city may move forward. As a resident and taxpayer of this municipality, I am especially dismayed. This is a public interest issue.”
This began a growing public concern among many citizens about the way their city was being managed. Little has changed since Mr. Walters resigned. If anything, matters have gotten worse.
The culture of confusion and incompetence consumes common sense and judgment.
His concerns were reinforced when he leaked a report of a study commissioned by the city by an outside consultant. The purpose was to examine why the city was perceived by business and commercial interests as a bad place in which to do business.
Here are some extracts from that report conducted after the 2010 re-election of Mayor Farbridge and a majority of her cohort supporters. Note: Guelphspeaks.ca will email a copy of the 30-page report to anyone if interested. Send your name and address for the download.
Staff morale emerged as an important issue. Some staff described morale as among the lowest they have ever seen it. The following staff concerns were outlined as frustration and ill feeling.
Change fatigue including constant reorganizations resulting in constantly changing direction and priorities.
Uncertainty and fear attributed to ‘surprise layoffs and firings’. Sudden departure of employees without sufficient explanation. The loss of good people choosing to leave on their own.
Lack of support/respect reflected the ‘predilection of senior staff and Council’ to reject/over-turn staff professional opinion and recommendations and belittle them in the process. Plus, failing to support staff on contentious issues.
Sense of exclusion and separation attributed to less interaction between executive team/senior management and lower level staff.
To some these points may sound like workers whining. But collectively it adds up to a dysfunctional work place. This administration continues to indulge the situation to this day.
Only one member of the executive team makes public statements. The Mayor is rarely heard from or quoted except only when the message is tightly controlled and questioning is rarely allowed. Even the Chief Administration Officer has been muzzled.
With an election on the horizon, the Farbridge administration is desperately trying to put on a good face but with disastrous results. Unfortunately, the culture of mismanagement is pervasive and has eroded public confidence.
Details of budget overruns and other financial mismanagement are now rolling out. The recent Farmer’s Market renovation is an example of misleading the public by understating the cost and then failing to fully meet citizen and vendor expectations.
Council failed to settle the Wilson Farmhouse demolition issue because one councillor did not show up. Staff firings continue. Capital costs are continuing to soar with sloppy cost controls plus unnecessary, self-serving bells and whistles add-ons.
The list of errors, mistakes and mismanagement has become long and detailed. And no doubt the Farbridge record will come under closer scrutiny in the coming months when the 2014 budget deliberations get underway.
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