Ministry opens investigation into GrassRoots Guelph petition

Posted October 24, 2013

It is gratifying for all citizens of Guelph to be told that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) will investigate details of the petition requesting an audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.

That petition was presented to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on October 1, 2013 by GrassRoots Guelph (GRG), a non-partisan non-profit citizen’s organization. GRG’s steering group of 20 citizens formed the organization in the summer of 2012.

Announcing its existence in August 2013, GRG attached 162 signatures of Guelph taxpayers to the petition as required by the Municipal Affairs Act in which only 50 are needed. Today that number has climbed, as new members of GRG want to be included to sign the petition.

But the astonishing story is that GRG membership has grown to more than 500 since the middle of August. It is still growing as more and more people discover the administration’s mismanaged spending, waste of resources, extreme taxation and excessive debt.

To its credit, The Guelph Mercury contacted the MMAH asking about the status of the petition. What is baffling is that the story broke as the lead editorial in Wednesday’s paper. The editorial is an opinion piece. It is not a news story.

According to the editorial, the unnamed Ministry spokesperson says it wants to better understand the concerns that have given rise to this demand for an audit. Further the editorial says the Ministry wants to speak to the lead petitioner. That would probably be me as I signed the cover letter to the Minister on behalf of the organization. The failure of the paper to name the lead petitioner is puzzling.

I put my name on what I write. Was there some doubt at the paper about who was the “lead petitioner”? I am only one person of the 20 members of the GRG steering committee. It is not a one-man show as the newspaper suggests.

I have been a newspaperman all my life. I have worked as a reporter, reporter photographer, daily columnist, assignment editor, metro editor and assistant managing editor in the largest newspaper in the country, the Toronto Star. I know a little bit about the business.

I am retired and have written some 370 posts on my blog, guelphsepaks.ca. Additionally, I wrote a regular column in the Mercury from 2006 to 2011. That body of work questioned the actions of a council that was dominated by Mayor Farbridge and her supporters. Believe me, at times it was lonely out there as the two newspapers in town only paid lip service to their responsibility of reporting city news. Critical comment was rare as were follow-ups of city statements.

In all that time, I was never contacted by anyone in the administration to counter or dispute the content of my columns or posts.

As a courtesy, I will offer the electronic copies of all that body of work to the Ministry representative to better understand the concerns that caused this demand for an audit.

Here’s the skinny on what prompted this petition.

The Mercury editorial quotes the Mayor as saying the petition and GrassRoots Guelph are politically motivated. The paper added that’s it’s not difficult to regard that as fair comment given that GRG announced it’s intention to oppose the city hall administration in the next election.

That observation has the unmistaken stench of fear on the part of the Mayor and possibly the newspaper. It is a fear that finally, in Guelph, there is a growing opposition to what the Farbridge administration has done to our city. That’s fair comment.

There’s also a fear that an audit could be an embarrassment to the city administration. GRG believes that this political action is a win-win for the people of Guelph, regardless of the outcome. It will reveal the soft underbelly of the Farbridge administration that has mismanaged the Royal City in the last seven years.

But don’t take my word for it. We have lived here for almost 11 years. In that time, the city does not pick up our garbage. plow our street; pick up the leaves and yard waste, service the road or buried utility services.  And for all this, our taxes have almost doubled in that time frame.

And we are only one of 6,400 property owners and renters that the city refuses to collect its garbage. Instead we all pay for a private contractor to do so.

Mayor Farbridge is concerned that there is real opposition to her cozy cabal of councillors. There’s a monsoon of discontent building in the city that her brand has worn out its welcome.

 And she knows it better than I.

Gerry Barker

Citizen of the City of Guelph

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15 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

15 responses to “Ministry opens investigation into GrassRoots Guelph petition

  1. boomer

    GRG would have more validity Gerry if the 20 people on the steering committee would be announced. I shared information on your behalf on my Facebook page and that was mentioned to me. Just sayin’

  2. paul

    This is great news Gerry!!!!! Keep up the great work. The citizens of Guelph have been hoodwinked by the Farbridge Administration for far too long. Thanks for being there for the citizens of Guelph….maybe you would consider running for mayor?

  3. Will

    Thanks for all of your hard work and perserverance Gerry. It looks like Farbridge and company true colours are being exposed with taxpayers finally waking up and realizing what has been going on behind closed doors. I am hopeful.

  4. RM

    Gerry,

    I am not a Farbridge supporter. She is sneaky and makes information very difficult to get at.

    However, I don’t understand what you hope to accomplish with this audit. Can you provide a simple example of what you think the numerous professional accountants that work for the City and the folks at Deloittes are deliberately hiding?

    • RM: My first question is have your read the petition? GRG is hoping the audit will confirm its allegations that we believe to be true and based on the city’s own published financial data. You must understand that Deloitte and Touche audit a segment of the city’s financial statement, the one required by the province of every municipality. Items under $300,000 are not audited by D and T. Our financial analysis discovered errors and omissions that simply did not add up. What will the audit accomplish? A third party examining first our statements in the petition and determining whether our information is accurate or not. How are the taxpayers going to benefit? Regardless of the outcome they will have exposure to the way this administration has run their city. You cannot increase the debt without paying a price in the future. You cannot impose costly capital programs that fail to serve all citizens and be cost beneficial. You cannot increase property taxes to the point today where there has been a 77 per cent exponential increase since Mayor Farbridge took office. You cannot cater to special interest groups that represent minority interests in the community. These are the basic complaints that many citizens in the community are concerned about. Hope this answers your question.

  5. J Frank

    I agree with boomer that it would go a ways to dispel some valid questions if GRG’s steering committee was public.

    I did a quick google and the Guelph civic league’s board members are listed publicly on their website. http://guelphcivicleague.org/about-the-gcl/ Whatever you think about them, they aren’t hiding who they are as you are suggesting.

    I get that you’re saying you aren’t a one man show, but you’re the only person identified with the group so I think boomer raises a fair question.

    What do you say, Gerry? Just a piece of advice, take it if you like… Speaking for myself as someone who is in your “target market” (ie whose vote is up for grabs in the next election), I like to know who I am dealing with. I am more likely to be receptive to GRG if it has more human faces. I think people being locally active is a good thing and there is no reason to be shadowy. It just leads to questions such as what boomer is referencing.

    • J Frank: The reason that I am the only one identified with GrassRoots Guelph is that I was elected as spokesperson by the board.

      GRG now has more than 500 “faces” as members of our growing organization. These are people who understand that we are a true grass roots organization, beholden to no one. One that welcomes folks from any political party who believes the city of Guelph needs a fresh, competent and assertive leadership that values the interests of ALL the people.

      GRG is not part of a national political party whose views lean to the left of the political spectrum. Or a political party that leans to the right. Having said that, please understand that the board must make a decision about announcing the executive positions and names. I will keep you and viewers informed.

      Just curious, what made you think we have a target market? The entire electorate is our target. As for being labeled as “shadowy” I put my name on everything I write unlike some commentators. Our website clearly states our mission and we run an open operation so anyone can comment, just like you.

    • paul

      Love the fact the Grass Roots has no particular political affiliation and would like to see the names of the names of the executive posted as well…My daughter would like to goin grass roots and I can’t remember how to have her sign up…can you forward me the address at jpphelan55@hotmail.com…..thanks

    • Paul: Ask her to send her name, full address, email address and telephone number to grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com. She will be added to the growing number of folks who are joining our cause. Her data will be kept in a secure database and used only for membership communication.

  6. EM

    Where do you get your numbers? I think you would be seen as more credible if you provided links to the city documents that give you your data. How do you know there are 6,400 people who do not have their garbage collected?

    • EM: They are not my numbers. They are numbers provided by the city or at city council meetings. I am not alone in examining and analyzing the public numbers but have skilled financial analytical help in crunching the numbers. And, as the GrassRoots Guelph petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in part points out, the city numbers don’t add up year to year. Did you read the annual city financial statements?
      We did and have done so for the past four years.

  7. EM

    No need to be so defensive. Simply asking where you found your numbers. I realize that they are likely produced by the city. I suggest your sources in your future publications.

    • EM: The numbers, as you call them, are not only published by the city but are carried in the media. OK so far? My fellow concerned citizens have carefully monitored and analyzed those figures where year by year comparisons can be made. We don’t make stuff up. That is why we collected the data and created the petition that was received by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an independent audit of the city finances and operations. This is the only defense citizens have to protect their interests. If the present administration had conducted open and transparent operations in the past seven years, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We contend they haven’t and are prepared to defend our allegations. Finally, my rule is I must know to whom I am responding. Next time please identify yourself so other commentators know who you are and what you represent.

    • Yes, it is important to identify yourself as Gerry suggested…..Pau Phelan

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