A metaphor of municipal incompetence

Posted December 28, 2013

The project started some two years ago. The rebuilding of the CN railway underpass on Wyndham Street was a key restructuring of a vital connection to major arterial roads north and south of the railway bridge. It is not just another line but the major rail link between Toronto and Windsor.

When the new underpass was opened it was discovered that large trucks could not use it because the height of the overpass between the new road and the bottom of the bridge was miscalculated. It was a bridge too low to accommodate large-scale commercial traffic.

Responsibility for this error rests with Janet Laird, the Executive Director of planning, engineering and environment.  Reporting to her was acting city engineer, Don Kudo. He has relinquished the job in favour of a new chief engineer recently hired.

Then there is the case of Rajan Phillips who recently resigned after 14 years on the job. Was he pushed or did he jump? He was a key engineer in charge of transportation issues and projects. Was the underpass project his baby, or not?

This bollixed project remains a metaphor for how poorly managed and dysfunctional the Guelph city staff has become.

It is mindful of the years of the old Soviet Union in which a dictator, Josef Stalin, imposed collectivization of planning and execution (unintended pun) by a group of loyalists to the principles of central control of all matters of state.

Today in Guelph, there are vestiges of these colossal Soviet past economic and social failures existing within the administration of our city.

First, a group of activists bundled together to form a formidable collective that succeeded in gaining control of our city government in 2006. They came from different spheres of interest including heritage, forestry, anti-development, waste diversion, bicycle access to major routes, isolationism, labour issues, environment, and assorted single issue special interests.

No shots were fired, no executions, just the seduction of voters with lies and promises.

Susan Ratcliffe, a staunch supporter of Mayor Farbridge and her administration, recently inferred in a column that taxpayer’s interests were not those of all “citizens.” It is another reflection of the classless society envisioned by those on the left.

This is the epitome of what has happened to our city as it spends wildly on dodgy projects and special interests, ignoring the fact that someone has to pay.

I know people are going to say that I’m going too far in blaming the administration for its Stalin/Leninist collectivization policies.

But stop and think about it.

There are the millions spent and about to be spent on a 20-year solid waste management plan.

There is the ten-year plan to spend $13.3 million on bike lanes.

How about the multi-millions spent, and to be spent in the Downtown Secondary Plan?

Then there is the plan to bury a geo-thermal heating and cooling system beneath the Baker Street parking lot to serve downtown buildings. We presume that won’t happen before the plan to build a new downtown library and cultural centre on the parking lot is underway.

There is the $16 million plan to create a new riverside park on the site of an existing strip mall and stand-alone veterinary clinic.

Let’s not forget the “Wellbeing” invovation to bring all Guelph lifestyles to a higher standard What has this to do with administering a city?

The granddaddy of these plans is the overall city strategic plan. There are plenty of other examples but one can see that planning and execution are two different things.

Former U.S. President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read: “The buck stops here.” Unfortunately in Guelph no one knows where the buck stops. Certainly not with our mayor who exists in an impenetrable bubble staying aloof from the madding crowd.

Her collection of executive directors is lax, failing to apply basic management principles then dodging the bullet when the stuff hits the fan.

A classic example of this is in his 2012 annual report of human resources, Executive Director, Mark Amorosi, said that initiatives were in place to control absenteeism and overtime. In 2013, the internal auditor reported that overtime costs would be $5,065,000 or twice as much in 2012.

To top it off, Amorosi told the audit committee that some 225 licences were purchased for the Kronos staff accounting software and many managers said they were too busy to attend the training sessions.

This is what happens when collectivization dominates the core of government, any government.

And we can only blame ourselves for letting it happen here.



Filed under Between the Lines

19 responses to “A metaphor of municipal incompetence

  1. Jeff

    The bridge height was not miscalculated, it was built to the standards required by CN. Responsibility for the error does not rest with staff, there is no error, except for truck drivers who fail to read giant yellow signs stating the height allowance. Mr. Phillips did not resign, he retired. “Many managers said they were too busy to attend the training sessions” – can you cite a source for that? Once again, stop spinning the information and present some actual facts.Not everyone is one of your little sheep who will believe everything you say.

    • Jeff: Glad to accommodate about the missing managers. It was stated by Human Resources chief Mark Amorosi at the recent audit committee meeting. He also added that the city had bought 225 licenses of the software to control overtime and attendance. The internal auditor belled that cat!

  2. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Well know,let’s look at the variables in bridge height construction that could lead to truck trailers impacting said bridge. Did the height standard required by CN suddenly change? Not likely. Did the height of the trailers suddenly increase, yet not cause impacts with other bridges throughout the country? Not likely. Did the visual acuity of truck drivers suddenly decrease? Not likely? Did the written English language comprehension skills of truck drivers suddenly go into the dumpster so that the signs could not be understood? Again, not likely. Somehow I doubt that the clearance directly under the bridge is too little. What has been the impact point of the trailers with the bridge, the leading edge or some point further back? Ponder that for a moment or two. Was/is there anybody on the city engineering staff with a smattering of knowledge of CAD who could have done a layout of approach and departure angles for trucks of maximum height and length allowed under provincial highway ministry regulations? Was any such “sanity check” done? Given the track record of the administration, that last question is likely rhetorical. Then again, given their lack of transparency, will anyone ever know?

    • Glen N Tolhurst: Thank you for that analysis. I’m not an engineer but your experience plainly illustrates how the buck is passed at City Hall. The question remains what is the city going to do to fix the problem?

  3. Jeff

    City staff had no choice in the design of the bridge, and yes, height standard requirements have changed since the old bridge was built several decades ago. Apparently English language comprehension skills of truckers has decreased, several giant yellow signs seem to be ignored. It has nothing to do with transparency, the city was given specifications from CN and they followed them. If you want someone to blame it’s pretty obvious that it is the CN standards that are causing the problem.

    • Jeff: You gotta be kidding,right? You want to blame the railway and truckers for this terrible mistake? The city is responsible for the road under the underpass, not CN. Was there no consultation between the city engineers who designed the roadway underneath the bridge? This is yet another silly explanation for a failure on the part of the city engineering department to ensure the safety of all traffic under the bridge. To put up “yellow” warning signs is a cop-out. How come the Norfolk underpass was designed to allow all types of traffic? The rest of the Norfolk reconstruction was a disaster. Just ask the thousands who have to use it every day. So many things to defend, and the list keeps growing. Stay with GS, there is much more to come.

  4. John

    Nothing like an angry right wing flailing about and shotgunning blame and misinformation in all directions to provide some comic relief. Guelph would be truly boring without your voices. Keep up the good work.

    • John: Ah, another nameless supporter of the Farbridge debacle. After seven years witnessing the gormless administration of our city, is it not surprising to this bunch that the natives are restless? Just keep those comments and silly attacks on a political ideology that has nothing to do with what is happening right under your tax and spend noses. This exercise is just the beginning of a revolt against mindless spending, sheer incompetence and baseless explanation of how they are managing our city. John. do you even live here?

  5. geo

    Maggie Laidlaw is the QUEEN of comic relief.
    Left wing,right wing, gull wing, no wing; she wins hands down.

  6. Shawn

    I find this funny. Did you know previous bridge was also too low for trucks but they still went anyways? So what is your point? Run for Mayor already Gerry. We all know that is your dream.

    • Shawn: If it was too low before the city makeover, how come there were no trucks hitting the underside of the overpass? Don’t try to interpret my dreams. You may be in for a surprise. I can tell you that I am not running for mayor. But you may sure I will be supporting the person running for the job in opposition to your friend Karen Farbridge.


    Gerry:See today’s headline in your favourite(favorite to our American friends) GUELPH MERCURY announcing Councillor Cam Guthrie is running for mayor.About 70 persons attended his announcement in the antactic-like conditions behind the West End Zehrs facing the COSTCO site.david.birtwistle@sympatioco.ca

    • Dvid Birtwistle: The 2014 election dance begins. I admire Cam for stepping up to the plate. It will be interesting to see if there are other candidates who are ready to take on Madame La-Farbridge. The real fight will be in the ward elections where I know of citizens who are ready and recognize that change can only come with new blood and conviction to change the way the city is being managed.

  8. Jeff

    Sorry Gerry, but I’m not kidding, there were several conversations between the City and CN, but bottom line is the City has to follow CN regulations on the height of a bridge, you can spin it any way you want. Any truck driver that ignores giant signs stating the height are definitely to blame if they hit the bridge and should be charged. The City is responsible for the road, but the clearance on the bridge is the responsibility of CN. The City built it to the regulations provided by CN, saying they didn’t is a huge fail on your part and an expression of ignorance. As a former reporter you should be familiar with fact checking.

    • Jeff: Are you an employee of the city? Were you involved in the planning and execution of this underpass? Most people would fail to understand your explanation that the CNR dictated the height of the overpass over the reconstructed road … the part the city built. I would like to think there is another solution to fix this problem other than “giant” signs to warn traffic of the hazard. You can attack me personally and my credibility but the facts are evident that the job was bungled. Now you suggest that those drivers of vehicles that hit the overpass should be charged. What a pompous and arrogant statement. It is ludicrous and indicative of the attitude reflected daily by this administration.

  9. Jeff

    If I see a stop sign and drive through it and get hit, it’s my fault. If I see a one way sign, and still go down it and get hit, it’s my fault. If I see a do not cross sign, and still cross and get hit, it’s my fault. This is no different. The drivers that hit the overpass after seeing the warning signs are to blame. I had nothing to do with the building of the bridge, it’s just common sense, and the law.

    • Jeff: You sure have a lot to say about it. I don’t care if the Magic Kingdom executed this debacle, the city must take responsibility. They reconstructed the road, not CN. If what you say is true that CN decided the height of the overpass, why did the city acquiesce knowing full well that the larger commercial vehicles would strike the safety bars? Question: Was the installation of the safety bars done by the city or CN? Did the previous underpass have safety bars? So many questions but few answers.

  10. Jeff

    Answer: The city installed the safety bars required by CN. The previous bridge didn’t have them, because it wasn’t required by CN when it was built a century ago. Lots of answers, you just haven’t bothered looking for them. http://guelph.ca/2013/10/facts-wyndham-street-bridge/ #lazy

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