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

13 responses to “Why our city is so well organized, that it can’t manage

  1. boomer

    Gerry–they more often than not hold these citizen forums/info sessions during what would be a bad time for many and on very short notice. Most likely in the hopes attendance will be low and bad decisions can fly under the radar.
    Just ask the folks who were having heritage designation jammed down their throats…

  2. John C. Como

    A brilliant, concise summary, Gerry B. The frustrating evasiveness and gobble-de-gook perpetrated by the Mayor and most councillors should win them some kind of an award. Mind you, they will APPEAR to have solved a lot of the current over-spending and mismanagement in 2014, an election year. Keep up the good work, but don’t be surprised if it’s lost in the Farbridge fog.

  3. gerald

    What ever happened to the ‘open and transparent government”we were
    told about in the beginning of the year?
    What about all the “comsultants’ that were hired to tell the city how to interact with the public citizens so we small peasants can fully understand
    how the councillors work so hard?hahaha what a joke.
    Can’t wait for the fall of 2014.

  4. Sean

    New Transit Mgmt knows they were understaffed and they would hire the correct number of drivers/backup drivers now. This is all because the HR policy at city hall to hold off on hiring anyone for a vacant spot for up to 3 months to save $. Well you can not do that in transit or garbage collections etc because we all saw what happened when service breaks down.

    • Sean: Are you suggesting that the Human Resources department deliberately cut staff to reduce costs? If so that’s a dereliction of fiduciary responsibility because they knowingly allowing staff overtime to cost more than $1.1 million in one year so that they could claim they kept costs down. Mind you, I think the internal auditor was careful in her observations about the Guelph Transit operations, there is a serious management problem there. But one might ask where was Derek McCaughan, the Executive Director on the Executive Team in charge of Guelph transit, when all this was going on … for the past seven years? This cream goes right to the top.

  5. geo

    Nothing this administration does surprises me anymore. Surely it’s clear by now that nothing will change until their voted out!

  6. paul phelan

    My grand father farmed for years and when they had sick puppies they shot them to put them out of their misery and help to prevent the spread of disease…..just a little food for thought…..

  7. John C. Como

    There are a lot of insightful comments on this website. Sadly, none of the contributors will be speaking at a 2014 budget meeting next Thursday evening between 6:00 and 8:00pm at City Hall. I’m particularly disappointed that Gerry Barker – a terrific writer – will not be heard. Methinks, GUELPH SPEAKS much too softly.
    Thus, there are a mere five people who registered to voice their disapproval of the proposed budget. By accident or design, I am listed as Number 5.

    • John C. Como: Sadly, I find it difficult to speak to those who are deaf. They are deaf to anyone who challenges the way they are running our city. The only way we can get their attention is when we vote, October 27, 2014. My earnest wish is that we have a massive rejection of the misguided, incompetent management that has had free rein in the past seven years. We do it by organizing and working to elect councillors who will stop the bleeding of our resources and restore competent and sensible government to our city. It is our city, not theirs. John, thank you for stepping up to the plate at next week’s public budget meeting. We don’t get mad, we get even.

  8. John C.

    Gerry Barker: I think you and your supporters should speak, stand up and be counted. Something I’ve done for most of my 78 years, partially because my old man taught me as a child that “Silence means tacit approval.”
    Sure we talk to the deaf, but at least you get media coverage, which is missing in GUELPH SPEAKS.
    As for changing things at the polls, don’t count on it. Even if voters elected a new mayor and all new councillors next year, it’s doubtful this would lead to effective change, when you factor in Greed and influence peddling. Why didn’t voters re-elect Farbridge three years ago?
    In any event, Opposition parties around the world have been preaching for hundreds of years that if you want change, go to the polls and vote out the bitches. In most cases, the bitches are simply replaced by a new crop of bastards, and things remain the same, or worse.
    The correct political system is a benevolent dictatorship, supported by a policy of Sharing, almost unknown on this planet. Singapore is a possible exception, but far from perfect.
    My suggestion is that municipal, provincial and federal taxpayers withhold their taxes by paying them into a trust fund. And then watch the fur fly!
    Such a maneuvre would quickly be made illegal, if this is not already the case. So what can they do? Throw millions of us into jail? To get Free meals, Free clothing, and a comfortable bed. Well, maybe that’s too much to ask for. But we’d certainly have lots of people to talk to …

    P.S. Give me an eMail or gMail address, Gerry, and I’ll send you a copy of my 5-minute (or less) speech that I’ll be delivering next Thursday evening.

    • John C: I am not quite as cynical as you but remain wary. We have just endured a not-so-benevolent dictatorship under the control of Mayor Farbridge. The results are evident and people are waking up to the consequences of a municipal government that has little opposition and does what it damn well pleases. Like all dictatorships, there comes a day of reckoning. That process is already well underway. Reach me at gerrybarker76@gmail.com

  9. John C.

    Typo: I meant to say “Why DID voters re-elect Farbridge three years ago?” and not “Why didn’t …
    Incidentally, all speeches next Thursday are limited to five minutes; it’s not my personal choice.

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