Posted October 22, 2013
It all started in January 2007 when the triumphant Karen Farbridge and her supporting cast of ten councillors took the reins of power in Guelph.
It was heady times as the new council set about turning the staff and, as it turned out, the city on its head. There was no shortage of opportunities to spend money on an agenda chock full of grandiose schemes and policies.
The Mayor had complete control of the operation of the city with only two councillors, Christine Billings and Gloria Kovach in opposition.
First up on the agenda was saving the derelict Loretto Convent building located next door to the Church of Our Lady. Leading the project was Coun. Leanne Piper, who was the former head of the Guelph Heritage Group. The project was sitting on land owned by the Diocese of Hamilton. This did not deter the enthusiasm to save the building (the Diocese wanted to demolish it) and convert it into a civic museum.
In 2007, the staff estimated the conversion would cost $12,700,000. Some $6 million of the cost was financed by Federal and Provincial grants. Then trouble began. Two architects were involved. The final design had a three-story glass façade enclosing the front of the building. How this could be considered restoring the pre-confederation structure to its original state is a matter of conjecture.
Along came the engineering problem that the foundation had to be reinforced as it was crumbling. Other defects came to light as the load bearing of the floors limited the weight of exhibits. Then the custom display cabinets, ordered from a European supplier, were too close to the sprinkler heads.
The project took almost three years to allow the public to visit their new civic museum. The final cost will never be known because general revenue funds were comingled with budgeted funds to pay the bills during construction. This is typical Farbridge financial management. Take money from one project to pay for cost overruns in another.
The Farmer’s Market renovation is another example of how funds are switched from one approved project to allow completion of another where costs have esculated. In that case, when the cost leaped from $176,000 to $500,000, the staff took money from the West Recreation Centre’s approved project to install badly needed dehumidifiers for the swimming pool.
These are just two examples of how the Farbridge machine uses your money to enhance their hold on power.
One of the key political moves is to finance projects of special interest groups.
Two examples are the backing of the indoor soccer dome guaranteeing repayment of the $500,000 mortgage. Secondly, there was $750,000 dedicated to the bicycle lobby.
Some of that money was spent on the recent repaving of Stevenson Road between Eramosa and Speedvale. The lane widths were reduced from four lanes to two. A left turn lane was painted that runs full length of the street with only two intersections. Bike lanes were widened. Despite this, the bike lobby continues to demand more spending on bicycle lanes.
The city contributes more than $250,000 to several community groups. The Mayor visits some of the groups to remind them of where their loyalty lies. This is a rarity for the Mayor as she stays out of the limelight and appears only when the occasion is secure. In fact her city hall office suite is locked at all times.
The Mayor’s link with the Guelph Civic League is the worst kept secret in the city. She is beholden to the league because of its role in the 2006 election that returned her to power. The league is connected to a quasi-community group called 10 Carden Street, that is a cover for political action. Five years ago, 10 Carden Street received a Trillium Foundation grant of $135,000 to “carry out work in the community.” More of your tax dollars at work.
These are just a few examples of how public funds are being used to foster a narrow political agenda.
That’s why GrassRoots Guelph was formed. It is a true non-partisan, non-profit citizen’s organization that is urging people to vote in the 2014 election. Its program includes standing up to the current administration and challenging the wasteful self-serving spending that has created a financial crisis in our city.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and join the crusade for change.