Monthly Archives: November 2013

Police Chief stiff-arms request for daughter’s accident report by Coun. Gloria Kovach

Posted November 29, 2013

When Gloria Kovach went to police headquarters recently to obtain the full report of her daughter’s death last March, she was informed that she had to obtain a freedom of information request to receive it. She was told the cost of obtaining that report would be $2,500.

On March 14, Constable Jennifer Kovach died in the line of duty on her way to assist another officer. The Guelph Police investigated the accident and reported that speed and icy road conditions contributed to the fatality.

Let’s back up a bit. In January 2010, when the new council chose its members for committees, it unanimously appointed Coun. Kovach to a four-year term on the Guelph Police Services Board.

In December 2011, council fired Coun. Kovach from her police board position by an 8 to 5 vote. Then, council immediately turned around and appointed Coun. Leanne Piper by the same margin. Voting members of the gang of eight include: Karl Wettstein, Todd Dennis, Lise Burcher, Leanne Piper, Maggie Laidlaw, June Hoffland, Ian  Findlay.

This became known as the night of the long knives as all seven of Mayor Farbridge’s supporters plus the mayor, voted to replace Coun. Kovach with Coun. Leanne Piper, a key player in the gang of eight. Piper’s explanation was Coun. Kovach was only elected for one year.

But Coun. Bob Bell produced a copy of the minutes that recognized that Coun. Kovach was elected for four years.

Coun. Kovach’s removal was unprecedented and was illegal according to council’s own procedural bylaw, that required a majority of nine council votes to change a previous council decision.

The Farbridge majority of councillors ignored it.

Today, that vindictive action by the gang of eight plays into Police Chief Bryan Larkin’s explanation that his hands are tied by the law.

“As chief of police you must follow the rules of the law. The Freedom of Information (FOI) and Protection of Privacy Acts simply do not allow me to hand out police reports and information, “ he is reported to have said.

The chief stated he consulted with other police forces, the Guelph police lawyer and its FOI coordinator regarding the Kovach request. He admitted that he had not discussed the matter with Coun. Kovach personally.

He said that he only learned Wednesday (November 26) that the waiving of the FOI fees of $$5 and $2,500 was a possibility.  He added that he was upset that the issue had been made public.

No amount of crocodile tears will save this blatant disregard of Ms. Kovach’s rights to know the truth of her daughter’s death and to ask specific questions.

Did not the police lawyer lay out the procedure to allow the chief to waive these ridiculous charges?  What was the reaction of the “other police forces” who were asked to advise the chief? What was the role of the FOI coordinator? Is that individual on staff?

One has to wonder how deep the resentment of the Farbridge gang of eight is toward the most capable councillor in the administration.

What if Ms. Kovach was still a member of the police services board? Would she have been treated the same way?

Chief, this action was not one of your smarter moves, especially when you are trying obtain $34 million for a renovated police headquarters.

And, when do we hear from the Mayor and Coun. Piper, members of the police services board, supporting one of their colleagues being treated in this shameful manner?

Don’t hold your breath.





Filed under Between the Lines

Sob! Our Mayor is so frustrated with the criticism of her administration

Posted November 28, 2013

My Goodness, according to the editor of the local daily, Mayor Farbridge is frustrated with “finger pointing” by unnamed critics of her administration and the internal auditor’s staff overtime and attendance report.

You remember, that’s the one that will cost taxpayers $5,067,000 this year. It was almost a 100 per cent increase over O/T costs in 2012.

Mayor, relax, it’s only a blip in the ongoing saga of your wonkish leadership that has driven up debt and costs to taxpayers during your seven years in office.

We understand your frustration and angst.  But it doesn’t matter. People are not stupid. More and more are starting to realize the money spent by your administration has placed our city in a serious financial bind, now and in the future.

After seven years of absolute control of our city’s administration, it’s understandable that when pesky people complain, it’s frustrating. There’s an old newspaper saying: “ When you fall in love with your own stuff (i.e. copy) you’re only kidding yourself.” For the word “stuff” substitute policies.

Staff numbers, salaries and benefits have already placed a huge liability on taxpayers in the future. With a total staff of 2,065 in 2012, and 173 staffers earning more than $100,000, you think you’re frustrated?

Misguided capital spending on projects has already endangered building a new downtown public library, a renovated police headquarters and the south end recreation centre, to name just a few.

Serious management errors including the $330,000 cost overrun renovating the Farmer’s Market; the Wyndham Street rail underpass that is too low for trucks; the soccer dome rescue, carrying a taxpayer liability of $500,000 and the $15 million waste collection cart system that fails to collect garbage from some 6,400 households.

Did we mention the $100,000 spent on a Toronto consultant to create am “open and transparent” governance plan?

Frustration has its price. Trying to persuade citizens that a 2014 property tax increase is now 2.37 per cent is pure political theatre.  The predictable pulling the rabbit out of the hat, by your finance department, only adds to citizen frustration. Suddenly finding some $2 million in new assessment was either masterful or deliberate. Isn’t 2014 an election year?

For most citizens it’s still the old Farbridge dance. Hit ‘em with an unrealistic tax increase then find ways to get it lower, with council taking all the credit.

Remember last year when the staff proposed an 8.5 per cent property tax increase? Council demanded it should be 3 per cent. The new CAO called the demand “regressive”. Coun. Gloria Kovach proposed that staff cut $500,000 in spending so the 2013 tax rate would be 2.96 per cent.

Well, by mid-year the staff could only find $176,000 in “savings”. The real 2013 property tax increase turned out to be 3.74 per cent according to the finance department.

Mayor, this all happened on your watch.

Frankly, these kinds of manipulative games by the Farbridge administration are no longer fooling most people.

That’s why people are realizing that change must come in our city’s governance.

Fasten your seat belts.


Filed under Between the Lines

Now we know why the Internal Auditor fingered the transit workers

Posted November 27, 2013

Officers of the Amalgamated Transit Union representing employees of Guelph Transit have charged the city with “misrepresentation” in the wake of the damning report by the internal auditor of alleged abuse of overtime and absenteeism by ATU employees.

The auditor did not mince words when she accused some transit employees of  “misappropriation” of city funds. She told the audit committee that she was not “finger pointing” at all transit employees.

Michael Mahar, Canadian director of the union said the auditor’s report was “misleading”. He went on to say that “transit workers put in extra hours to make sure there is always a service provided.  He added that the industry is prone to higher absenteeism due to the nature of the job.”

Well, he got that right. Guelph Transit has the highest rate of absenteeism and sick leave of all other city departments. In 2012, the average number of sick leave by ATU members was 19.8 days. The total number of sick days off was 7,650. That department had some 345 employees last year.

Conclusion: How do you run a transit service that has an average of four weeks sick leave per employee? Throw in three weeks vacation time and statutory holidays and the annual attendance on the job by a transit worker is 43 weeks a year. That’s a pretty good gig.

But not all transit workers are abusing the system. The auditor stated it was a group of employees who contributed to the overtime in 2012 of $1 million. That’s almost 20 per cent of the $5,067,000 staff wide overtime for 2013. If CAO Ann Pappert had not frozen overtime for the balance of the year, that figure would have been greater.

The total number of sick days claimed by staff in 2012 was 21,469. That works out to an average for all city employees of 11.7 claimed sick days. Obviously three departments dominate the sick leave numbers. Besides Transit (7,650 days) there is CUPE 241 outside workers (6,002 days) and Firefighters (2,429 days).

Note that in 2008 the total of sick days across all departments was 14,755. In 2012 it was 21,469.

Other tidbits in the HR 2012 report stated that 20 percent of the city staff would be eligible to retire in the next five years. Start factoring in annual salary increases and accumulated sick leave payouts, and this could result in a big liability for taxpayers.

The cost of staff benefits has risen by 38.6 per cent since 2008. Consider that’s an annual increase of 7.72 per cent. In dollars it’s an increase of $2,159,094 in just five years. In 2012, benefits cost $7,746,722.

What started this was Coun. Gloria Kovach’s attempt to get the total number of employees working for the city and their classification. The mayor said the numbers were in the Human Resources 2012 annual report.

Well, they are, to a degree. They list 847 “other” employees without breaking out their classifications. That’s what Coun. Kovach was after.

For the record in 2012 the city had 2,065 employees. That was markedly greater that the 1,441 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees the city stated in its various releases.

In her blog, the mayor chastises those who “finger point” and complain about how the city is being managed. Guelphspeaks is guilty as charged but won’t get into a finger metaphor.

She should listen more carefully to what citizens are really talking about before accusing some of “finger pointing.” I guess being in total control of the city administration for seven years, it comes as some surprise that a lot of people don’t agree with her worship or her cast of sycophants.

This week, the first stage of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) investigation into the GRG petition requesting an audit of the city’s finances and operations took place. Representatives of GrassRoots Guelph met with MMAH officials. The officials also separately interviewed representatives of the city administration.

GRG presented with officials with a copy of the internal auditor’s overtime and absentee report plus additional background information on other recent events that have contributed to the petition’s thrust claiming mismanagement by the city administration.

The officials cautioned that resolution of these issues would take some time. What was important to GRG was the Ministry officials’ analysis of the petition numbers validated their accuracy.


Filed under Between the Lines

Farbridge gang of eight blocks a motion revealing the number of city employees

Posted November 26, 2013

It started about a week ago when, during a meeting of the audit committee, Coun. Gloria Kovach asked Mark Amorosi, Executive Director of Corporate and Human Resources, the total number of city employees.

Attending the meeting was Mayor Karen Farbridge who immediately said the number was available in the Human Resources department’s annual report for 2012. The Mayor added that this was not a consideration for the audit committee. Translation: It’s none of your business.

Then Monday night during a council meeting, November 25, the Mayor gathered her seven cohorts and defeated a motion by Ms. Kovach to reveal the total employee numbers by an 8 to 5 vote.

Apparently the total number of employees is not broken down in the 2012 Human Resources annual report, as the mayor alleges.  Adding to the effort to prevent Coun. Kovach’s motion from passing, was a comment by Human Resources chief, Mark Amorosi, that it would take staff months to pull all the figures together for the past four years.

But isn’t that his job to track all employees?

Why the sudden secrecy?  The city traditionally reports the number of employees as Full Time Equivalent (FTE) in all its official financial reports. It does not breakout the various categories and status of employees.

Coun. Kovach wants to know the exact number of full-time employees, full-time part-time employees, part-time employees, contract workers, casual employees. In short, the total number of every employee and contract worker drawing a pay cheque from the city.

A breakdown of compensation, including salary and benefits is public information. For the council to deny this only makes the stakeholders wonder why this information is not available. What we do know is the total cost of employees to operate the city in 2012 is the biggest line item expense in the budget.

For example, let’s look at the employment record of Mark Amorosi, the man in charge of all city personnel

Mr. Amorosi joined the city staff in 2008 as Director of Human Resources. His salary that year was $147,801 and benefits were $858 for a total of $148,659.

Previous to that in 2006, Mr. Amorosi was employed by the City of Hamilton as Director of Employment/Client Services. His salary was $119,675 with benefits of  $715 for a total of $120,390.

There is no record of his employment in 2007.

So joining the City of Guelph in 2008 Mr. Amorosi gained  $28,269 or a 23.4 per cent increase.

In 2012, Mr. Amorosi earned $175,464 plus benefits of $6,396 for a total of $181,861

Since leaving employment in Hamilton, where he still keeps a home, Mr. Amorosi has experienced increases in salary of $55,889 or 46.7 per cent in five years.

Recapping, Mr. Amorosi’s salary has risen by 9.34 per cent per year since he arrived here five years ago. His benefits have climbed by $5,680 or 1,258.8 per cent.

It seems extraordinary that the person in charge of personnel, compensation, contracts and numbers, would achieve such compensation increases when the city population only grew by 5.8 per cent in the same period.

Of course the argument may be made that Mr. Amorosi’s added responsibilities would justify his increases.  But those increases don’t come close to those given to city employees, covered by collective agreements and associations in the same period.

Is he a resident of Guelph and paying taxes here? Is the city paying his commuting costs from his home in Hamilton?

Why does this administration continue not to reveal the total numbers of city employees when it is common practice in other municipalities?

The man in charge of those numbers apparently is reluctant to tell elected city councillors the total number of city employees. And those councillors, who represent the people, have the right to know, as do the taxpayers.

And so does the audit committee.


Filed under Between the Lines

Easy Rider Maggie Laidlaw plans to ride again on our shrinking streets

Posted November 23, 2013

Earlier this year, Coun. Maggie Laidlaw ran into trouble allegedly verbally abusing city staffers. This invoked an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner. Later Ms. Laidlaw apologized to the staffers and the Commish dropped the investigation.

At this point Laidlaw announced that she would not be a candidate for re-election in 2014. There was a giant exhaling of relief at 1 Carden Street over her decision.

Maggie is no ordinary councillor, an ardent cyclist who rides in rain, wind and slush. She works at a lab near the University and rides to her Ward 3 home eschewing a car or public transit.

Are you getting the picture? This is one dedicated supporter of the cyclists among you.

Maggie is also known as being thrifty and perhaps parsimonious.

She has been elected as a champion of the working folks and the left slant of the British Labour party. She is no shrinking violet and highly opinionated.

Maggie Laidlaw stepped over the line two years ago when she insisted that cyclists should be given an exception to make a right turn on a red light at Macdonnell Street and Norfolk Street. Vehicles are not allowed to turn on a red light. It is for good reason because of obscure sightlines looking left down the Norfolk hill. Maggie insisted that bicyclists should have a sign that exempts then from this rule.

Her request was transferred to Allistair McIlveen, manager of Traffic and Parking for the city. He pointed out that bicycles are vehicles under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and are subject to the same rules as motorized vehicles. He was adamant in his decision.

So Maggie, undeterred, wrote back that the HTA was antiquated and need of serious updating, then added that she would continue to break the law and make a right turn on Norfolk Street, regardless of the probation of vehicles.

She is convinced that cars in Guelph will be history in 20 years. So should the greater majority of residents be bound by the demands of the minority?

Just because she prefers riding a bicycle to work or shopping, does that mean the city must spend millions to accommodate her choices of transportation? The current ten-year bicycle lane development plan is to cost $13,300,000.

Mayor Karen Farbridge stepped in and unequivocally stated that Coun. Laidlaw was out of line and reminded her that she would be breaking the law. It’s typical of this administration to tut-tut the miscreants.

Using words such as: “It is entirely inappropriate that you will disobey traffic rules,” tells you as lot about keeping the Farbridge coalition intact despite the errant meanderings of its membership.

If Maggie Laidlaw were a ballerina she would be in the back row of the Corps de Ballet.

Now she has changed her mind and intends to run again in Ward 3.

 They deserve better.


Filed under Between the Lines

Why are the landlords so opposed to solving a major city student-housing problem?

Posted November 23, 2013

For most residents living in wards five and six, there is the annual pain of enduring as many as a dozen students living in converted lodging houses in single-family areas. These young, temporary residents disregard the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood with parties, loud music and frequent visits by police.

The city officials have to blame themselves to allow this non-conforming situation to creep into residential areas over the years. Indeed city staff has expressed concern about the safety in these multi-occupied homes. Staff cannot force its way into these lodging houses without the authority of the owner to inspect safety devices and standards.

Then there is the concern that there are absentee landlords who are frequently not available when city officials require information.

This is why the Landlord’s Association is fighting the proposed bylaw to license rental housing in the city. The bylaw is still taking shape as city staff investigates all aspects and talks with stakeholders. One of their inquiries has been with other cities where there are universities and determine how they cope with off-campus student housing.

The city staff said that a final version of the bylaw should be ready between April and May next year.

So why are the landlords so worked up about regulations that will make their properties safer and the owners accountable?

This has become an unregulated industry in Guelph in which the landlords will have to be more accountable for the operation of their rental properties. Sure it’s going to cost more and those costs will be passed through to the students. Even in the costliest version of the five proposed bylaw variations, $132 per year, per rented bedroom, amounts to only $11 per month in additional rent.

And if known past practice is evident, two students may share the bedroom and cut the increase to $5.50 per month. That’s about the price of two beers.

So again, why are the landlords opposing the bylaw?

It’s all about control. For a variety of reasons, not the least is income tax reporting by owners, the landlords are functioning in a virtual lawless vacuum that is making them a lot of money.

But in October 2014, they will have to reckon with the residents in wards five and six who are disgusted and fed up with the situation.

There is good reason to believe that elected representatives in the two wards are aware of this. If they do not support the rental bylaw, they will be vulnerable seeking re-election.

 But then, what have they done to ameliorate the problem in the past seven years?




Filed under Between the Lines

This is when entitlement takes on a whole new meaning

Posted November 23, 2013

The local daily opines that the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSP) will not “blink” when push comes to shove in the board’s request to fund a $34 million addition to police headquarters.

The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsmen, countered not so fast. He requested a “rescope” of the Board’s plan in order to reduce the capital requirement that the city, not the police board, must provide for this to happen.

If neither side bends, city council will ultimately have to decide if it wants, or is able to finance the project.

Here’s where it gets sticky. Mayor Karen Farbridge and Coun. Leanne Piper are members of the Police Services Board. In fact, they are paid extra to serve on the GPSB. They also have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of the taxpayers.

The Mayor is the elected head of the municipality, has been for seven years. Likewise, Coun. Piper is a two-term councillor who was instrumental in dumping Coun, Gloria Kovach from the Board and replacing her, with herself. It was the night of the long knives. Who says politics is not a blood sport?

So taxpayers have no idea at this point where Farbridge and Piper stand on this multi-million dollar expenditure.

The mayor is a proponent of long range planning, particularly when it comes to capital spending. Every time one turns around there is a new 10-or 20-year plan that considers planning, capital spending and, my favourite, well-being.

In view of this background, why, in seven years, was there no attempt to address the situation of the aging police headquarters?  Why did the GPSB, a year ago, suggest that the improvements would cost $13.3 million and then escalate the cost to $34 million?

Who and what was included in this $20 million increase? Further, the city built the Taj Mahal of emergency services building on Clair Road and there was no consideration, one can presume now, of a police headquarters upgrade?

It is presumptuous now for the chief of police to dig in and argue that the updated facility is necessary. In defence of the chief, he has only had the job for a short time. But the police board has remained constant in the past seven years.

The underlying problem is that incompetent elected officials and staff management have run our city for the past seven years.

It’s no secret that choices were made to spend millions on waste management, downtown development, bicycle lanes, and heritage projects at the expense of more pressing public and cultural projects.

Further, there is now evidence of entitlement that has pervaded many city departments and operations that drove up the costs.

There is only so much money to go around. Regardless, city council’s spending on personal pet projects and minority self-interest groups has all but emptied the cookie jar.

The sad outcome of this is that the Police Services Board will probably get its way because law and order issues are top priorities in the voter’s mind. It’s sad because Guelph taxpayers will have been saddled with crushing debt that will bind the future growth of the city for years to come.

It boils down to an administration that has wasted money and staff energy on its own self-interests.  And the blame goes right to the top of management and elected councillors.

The only way to change this upward spiral of debt is at the polls next October 27th.

In the interim, taxpayers should keep council’s feet to the fire by objecting to excessive spending that Guelph can no longer afford.

A good start would be next Thursday evening when the one and only public hearing on the 2014 city budget will be held in the council chambers at city hall. Anyone can make a presentation provided they notify the Clerk’s office 48 hours before the meeting.

Can’t make it? You are invited to join GrassRoots Guelph, the non-partisan, non-profit citizen’s group dedicated to informing voters and inviting participation in the next election. If you don’t participate, you don’t count. Contact GRG:



Filed under Between the Lines

Why our city is so well organized, that it can’t manage

Posted November 21, 2013

On Tuesday, November 19, the audit committee of city council, held a meeting in the council chambers at city hall. The purpose was to receive and discuss the Internal Auditor’s report on employee attendance and overtime costs.

Here are some impressions of this exercise.

The chairman of the committee, Coun. Cam Guthrie could barely be seen from the spectator’s gallery because the lights over the council table were not tuned on. Was this part of the city’s green strategy to save power? From the front row of the gallery, the committee members, barely visible, addressed the issues in an abstract way like voices from space. Often it was difficult to know who was speaking because you couldn’t see them sitting in the shadows.

Often some members and staff spoke in “munispeak” the language of the bureaucrats that is mostly unintelligible, convoluted and loaded with insider acronyms. The mayor particularly uses this communication method that may be okay in the academic world but is condescending to we lesser mortals who pay the bills.

Why do they hold the meeting at 3:30 in the afternoon? It’s not a convenient time for most citizens to attend because they have to work. Dare I suggest that’s the very reason that time is chosen? They don’t want to encourage public comment or questions of this stinging report on staff mismanagement. Besides the gallery was occupied mostly by staff and unions members who never asked a question.. In less polite circles, the report would be called an indictment of operations at 1 Carden Street.

There was one voice that brought clarity to the waves of “munispeak”. Coun. Gloria Kovach asked the right questions and made the right motions to bring a measure of sanity to the meeting. She asked Executive Director of Human Resources and Corporate, Mark Amorosi, about the total number of people employed by the city, not the Full-time Equivalent (FTE) number, but the total who are drawing a paycheck. These would include full-time employees, full-time/part-time employees, part-time employees, casual employees and contract employees.

The mayor jumped in and said that information is available in the Human Resources annual report and was readily available. Trouble is, and Coun. Kovach was aware, that report usually arrives in April, four months after the year-end close. By that time there could be many changes to the numbers, plus or minus.  Coun. Kovach felt that the audit committee should receive a quarterly employee status report.

The mayor questioned if this was a responsibility of the audit committee or the governance committee of which she is chair.

Underlying all this is the city’s method of reporting staff numbers. The term “FTE” is used in its official reports. It is meaningless, deceptive and deflects attention from the total number of people employed regardless of their status.

Chief Administration Officer, Ann Pappert, gave a lengthy explanation of how senior management was addressing the problem outlined by the internal auditor, Loretta Alonzo, in her report on attendance and overtime.

In her remarks, the CAO said that management has been working on the problem for several months. Although Ms. Alonzo only revealed her findings to senior staff recently. An action plan is being developed by the executive team and will be reviewed by Derrick Thomson, the recently hired Executive Director of Community and Social Services. The CAO said this would provide a new and fresh overview of the action plan to curb overtime costs and improve attendance.

Mr. Thomson must wonder what he has got himself in for.

For two hours the critical issue of the staffing of Guelph Transit was never brought up. Later in the meeting Derek McCaughan, Executive Director of Operations, Transit and Emergency Services, said a new “cohort” of drivers was being trained to cover those regular drivers who book off for whatever reason. So, to solve the overtime problem, the city hires more bus drivers. Did the Amalgamated Transit Union’s fiery rejection to the auditor’s report tilt the management to take this step?

Again, it does not address the underlying problem of staff attendance. The major issue underlined by the internal audit. Nor does it solve the obvious management problem of failing to control overtime in the Transit department.

Transit provided the most glaring example of runaway overtime costs and attendance issues reported in the Internal Auditor’s report. Yet the committee glossed it over despite the charge that there was “misappropriation” of city funds.

This is the way your city is managed. By resorting to “munispeak” the management lays a thick layer of fog over this vital and important issue, and many more. It is a form of denial but not necessarily denial if you can bring yourself to believe them.

This is the same group of senior managers that the CAO is calling on to fix the problem and remove it from public scrutiny.

This is like a bad seed that has multiplied in the past seven years creating a culture of incompetence in city hall, particularly among the top managers. They feel omnipotent and above being responsible to the taxpayers.

It is another reason for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to conduct an audit of the city finances and operations.

This city administration is one sick puppy.




Filed under Between the Lines

Should the OPP investigate the $5,067 million staff overtime case?

Posted November 18, 2013

The Ontario Provincial Police fraud squad should investigate certain City of Guelph staffers claiming overtime or failing to report for work. The devastating report by Loretta Alonzo, the city’s internal auditor, revealed that $5.067 million will be spent in 2013 in overtime for city employees. That more than twice what similar peer cities pay.

What’s the difference between an employee handling cash that steals the odd $20 bill, or an employee who deliberately plays the system and lines the pockets with taxpayer money? With a projected $5.067 million spent, it is apparent there is little management control in many departments over attendance and claimed overtime.

But then union president Misty Gagne, representing the outside workers of the CUPE local 241, accused management of using overtime to avoid hiring additional full-timer workers. It’s not a surprising reaction because the auditor’s report that almost half the overtime claimed was by members of her local.

Then there is the role of Executive Director Mark Amorosi, whose responsibility as head of human resources is to negotiate union collective agreements, monitor attendance and overtime. In fact two years ago it was reported that staff rate of absence had reached 17 per cent on a given day. Further, the absenteeism seemed to occur on the day before a statutory holiday or following.

The solution came with an investment of $150,000 for software to track staff attendance. That obviously didn’t work out in view of the auditor’s findings. Would it be difficult to require an absent employee to produce a doctor’s letter certifying the legitimacy of an illness claim?

The internal auditor pointed out that in some departments in which an employee booked off and another employee was called in, at time and a half, to cover the absent employee. The artful use of sick days, standby days and rollover of unused sick and vacation days also contributed to the overtime bill.

This was sickenly prevalent, according to the auditor’s report, in Guelph Transit where absenteeism could reach up to 25 per cent at a given time. That meant that other employees cashed in, covering for the missing parts. Organized Guelph Transit workers racked up some $1 million in overtime so far this year.

Yet Ms. Gagne denies there is no culture of entitlement with her members. “Our culture is to provide great public services and that’s what we do.”  Remarks like that only echo the union talking points and exacerbate the problem.

Who are the victims here? It’s you and me and some excellent and responsible city employees who play by the rules and don’t abuse the system.

The Chief Administration Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, has stated that all overtime is frozen until the end of the year. That’s a band-aid but at least sends a signal. Overtime is necessary due to the varied operations of the city. If overtime is banned, what happens when the city gets hit with a major snowstorm this winter?

The auditor is shooting for an overtime reduction by 2015 of 2.5 per cent of base staff salaries and wages. That’s less than half of overtime costs in 2013. She knows you cannot change a culture that created this mess over the years in a year’s time.

So it’s disheartening to read the CAO’s statement that the city will save $3 million in overtime in 2014. She is naive to say that, as this culture of overtime entitlement predictably cannot be eliminated in 365 days.

The first task is getting the managers on board with a consistent, staff-wide system of creating and enforcing overtime protocols. The CAO has indicated that is a priority over the next 90 days. Overtime must be authorized before the fact, not after.

Perhaps it is time to dig deeper into this abuse of overtime and ask the OPP to investigate what may be fraudulent practices by some employees.

Even the thought that might happen would put a damper on playing the system. It could also be cathartic to get rid of the old ways, sloppy management practices and make everybody honest.

There is a meeting of the audit committee Tuesday, November 19 at city hall to receive and discuss this report.

It will be in everyone’s interest to attend. The meeting starts at 3:30 p.m. in the city hall council chambers.


Filed under Between the Lines

Stick handling around the payroll gorilla in the city’s 2014 budget

Posted November 15, 2013

When it comes to planning a budget, particularly the City of Guelph’s 2014-estimated $194,000,000 budget, the staff’s financial stick handling is impressive.

Chief Financial Officer Al Horsman was the designated hitter to explain why the staff arrived at a 3.36 per cent property tax increase for next year. This was because city council had little input in the process.

Coun. Karl Wettstein asked why the tax increase was not more related to the Canadian Price Index averaging 1.97 per cent for the past four years.

Mr. Horsman said such a comparison was unrealistic because the basket of goods the city must pay for is different than that of the average person. Let’s think about that for a moment.

It is true that the city must pay for third party suppliers of services such as lawyers, consultants, board members and contractors. Mr. Horsman added that the city is “hit with costs over which it has no control such as responsibilities downloaded from the province and cost increases in (unspecified) mandated programs.”

Willikers! You start to feel sorry for the city staff having to face all these budgetary issues over which the staff has no control. These costs have led to annual average property tax increases of 3.5 per cent in the past seven years.

But let’s drill down a little deeper. Many of the provincial mandated costs are offset by grants. Most notable is the annual gas tax rebate of more than $2 million. Does the province increase these mandated costs by 3.5 percent every year? Of course not.

Managing the finances of a city is no easy task. What Mr. Horsman left out of his “basket of goods” comparison was the cost of city employees. It is the biggest line item in the budget and consumes some 88 per cent of the property taxes paid to the city.

When a city councillor complains that council is left out of the budget process, look inwardly.

Further, if you don’t control your costs you cannot control your budget.

In 2012, the latest year of official financial statements, there were 1,441.76 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees on the city staff. That’s a 20 per cent increase during a period when the population grew by only 5.8 per cent.

Those so-called “provincially mandated costs” are downloaded to all 440 municipalities in the province, not just Guelph.

So what is Toronto’s secret? The largest city in Canada is predicting a 1.75 per cent property tax increase for 2014.

What has evolved in Guelph is council’s dependence on the staff and the staff has removed budget planning from the elected officials. And that friends, in letting the fox in with the chickens.

Who has more skin in the game? Is it a group of part-time elected officials making on average $30,000 a year?  No, the staff, more specifically the senior staff, has control and they have a lot at stake.

This so-called budget process ignores the exponential growth of staff numbers, salaries and benefits including pension obligations. Why? Because it affects them personally. Control of this process lies principally with the executive team.

Nothing will change until hard decisions are made. These include reducing the numbers of staff under the guidance of an outside management expert. It would entail reorganization of the staff duties and responsibilities. It should also include a two-year freeze on all base salaries and a reduction of benefits, to bring employee costs in line with peer municipalities.

The next council should take steps to privatize some services to reduce costs including Guelph Transit and waste management operations.

The days of $75,000 custodians and crossing guards must end. In 2012, the average Guelph employee’s salary, and benefits including pensions, reached $113,394. The average salary of a city employee was $87,313. The total of employee costs that year was $163,400,750.

The city defends its staff costs by reporting only the base salary number in its financial statements, and not the total compensation costs. While this may be legal it remains deceptive.

And what does the staff recommend to council in the 2014 budget? Hire another 10.5 fulltime equivalent employees.

Remember Oliver! When the little guy asks: “More porridge please?”





Filed under Between the Lines