It’s going to take more than horseshoes and four-leaf clovers to save this tired city administration

Posted January 10, 2014

The cracks began to open in December 2012. In order to close out the 2013 city budget of some $184 million, Coun. Gloria Kovach convinced council to instruct the staff to find $500,000 in real savings. This resulted in a property tax increase of 2.96 per cent. It was a brilliant idea that got the support of the Farbridge cartel and sent a message to management to “get ’er done.”

But a funny thing happened. In February 2013, a check with the city finance department discovered the real tax increase was 3.74 per cent for 2013. The increase was caused by revisions of costs that forced the rate up again.

Then in June, city management reported that it only could find $126,000 in “savings.” The majority of the $126,000 was discovery of additional revenue. Discerning savings versus revenue seemed to be difficult for management to comprehend. Hmmm, smoke and mirrors.

What would happen in private enterprise if management failed to follow an explicit direction by the board of directors (read that city council)? Remember, Guelph is a corporation valued at more than $400 million with a 2013 budget of $184 million.

Then at the end of the year, management admitted they could not find $500,000 in savings from the budget as they were instructed to do a year earlier. Under the circumstances, wouldn’t the senior managers involved be fired, possibly for cause?

But it gets better, or worse depending on your point of view.

October 1st, a new citizen’s group called GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) presented a petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an audit of the city’s finances and operations. The four-page document detailed errors and instances of mismanagement of the city administration.

Within hours, the Mayor issued a statement flatly denying the allegations. An astonishing feat considering the hours of investigation and analysis of city documents and records that provided the basis of the GRG allegations. Subsequently, in a meeting with Ministry officials, it was confirmed that the petition numbers were accurate. The investigation continues.

But there is more.

In October, the city’s internal auditor issued a damning report of mismanagement of staff overtime and attendance. The auditor concluded that overtime payments in 2013 would exceed $5,067,000. This was double the same cost in 2012. In one department, Guelph Transit, the overtime bill was more than $1 million. That works out to an average payment of $2,898 for each of 345 employees.

It was revealed that a software program called Kronos, was purchased to control overtime and attendance with 225 licences purchased and distributed to city staff managers. Trouble is a number of them said they were too busy to attend the necessary training session in how to use the software.

A copy of this report was presented to Ministry officials by GrassRoots Guelph.

But there is another example of mismanagement.

In preparing the 2013 budget, city staff requested $170,000 to renovate the Farmer’s Market building, specifically the floor. The former horse barn had a floor that dipped in the middle because it once was a stable. Heritage advocates take note.

In early summer the staff reported the renovation was to cost $500,000 of which $330,000 was not budgeted or approved by council.

Starting to see a pattern here? This just happened in the past 13 months.

All this occurred under the watch of Mayor Karen Farbridge and her 7 cohorts who vote as a bloc and control council. They include Ian Findlay, Maggie Laidlaw, June Hoffland, Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher, Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein.

Most lawyers would argue that these examples of mismanagement constitute a dereliction of fiduciary responsibility.  There were five other members of council who were consistently out-voted in most resolutions and votes. In polite circles that might be called a dictatorship. Quite legal, mind you, because they were elected to represent our interests.

So when our Mayor stands up and proclaims she is running on her record, she’d better have an ample supply of horseshoes and four-leaf clovers. Because the coming stream of facts and details of how the city has been mismanaged for the past seven years, will be a tsunami of truth and consequences.

If she us re-elected it will result be more of the same. The senior staff members must be held accountable for failing to meet their obligation to the taxpayers.

It is hoped that new candidates will allow their names to stand for office. Those with a perspective to manage a competent staff team, operate in the open and communicate in terms that most folks will understand. We need a new council that will curb spending, repair the damage of the past seven years and open the city for business.

We all deserve better.



Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “It’s going to take more than horseshoes and four-leaf clovers to save this tired city administration

  1. John

    Terminate city managers with cause? Brilliant idea. With or without cause there would be severance payouts and then of course the cost of recruiting replacements and the cost of training. All this would far exceed $500k.

    • John: If you are fired for cause, your severance is severely reduced. However, firing for cause is a difficult exercise requiring valid reasons with supporting documentation. As such it did not stop the Farbridge administration for firing two senior managers in CFO David Kennedy and CAO Larry Kotseff. That did cost more than $500,000. There were a number of others dumped by the Farbridge team for a variety of reasons. My point is when you are employed to watch the public purse and you don’t, there should be a penalty because you are in a position of trust.

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