Monthly Archives: February 2014

Former reporter speaks his mind and sometimes it’s better to think before speaking

Posted February 28, 2014

Writing in the Guelph Mercury, former reporter Scott Tracey speaks out of his mouth both sides at the same time.

First, he called GrassRoots Guelph an “upstart group” for daring to present a petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an audit of the city’s finances and operations.

Then he tells us “I am fine with organized opposition to any politician or political group, but let’s not pretend this group is politically neutral.”

Thanks, Scott, for your permission to organize and oppose the administration. One that has had complete control of the public’s business and has conducted most of it behind closed doors for the past seven and one half years.

And Scott, in my opinion, you were complicit in the administration’s efforts to force its agenda on an unsuspecting public.

As the former beat reporter covering the city administration, you consistently supported the policies and political agenda of the Farbridge administration. But your keyboard fell silent when it came to any criticism of the Farbridge regime.

In fact, in my opinion, if you had done your job and covered the city business telling both sides of the story, there would probably be no need for a citizens group to take up the responsibility that you abdicated.

Your comment about a legally organized citizens group challenging the administration only emphasizes your unwillingness to investigate and report the whole story.  

Your statement that GrassRoots Guelph is not politically neutral is the first true statement you made in your freelance submission carried in the Mercury.  GRG never said it was politically neutral.  What it said that it was non-partisan. Heck, you would have been welcome to join if you wanted.

The final part of your piece makes a mockery of journalistic integrity.  In it you tut-tutted the city’s CAO for claiming the city’s financial position is “strong and getting stronger”, but providing no evidence or attribution.

Isn’t that how you practised your craft for these past seven years covering city hall?

Scott, GRG has worked hard with the guidance of professional financial analysts to parse the official financial statements produced by the city for some four years. The Ministry officials confirmed that the numbers in the petition are accurate.

Why the Minister decided not to proceed with the audit does not change the facts. GRG is still considering the offer by the Minister to have her officials facilitate such a meeting and the terms and conditions.

But have faith. GRG will continue to inform the citizens by presenting accurate facts about how their business is being conducted by the Farbridge administration.

In my opinion, they and you have a lot to answer for.

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

We don’t always agree but this time the Mercury got it right

Posted February 27, 2014

The Guelph Mercury has been the paper of record in our community for many years. I have had complaints and differences of opinion with the editors.

This week, the paper’s editorial of the city’s response to the Ministerial letter declining to proceed with an audit, drew unusual over-the-top comments from the Chief Administration Officer and the Mayor.

But the Mercury editorial took a balanced response and quoted parts of Minister’s  letter, also received by GrassRoots Guelph members.

Thanks to the Mercury editors who kept their heads. They produced a commentary that was fair and accurately reflected the intent of Minister Linda Jeffery in her letter to all parties.

She never said nor inferred that the GRG petition was a “waste of time.”

3 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Why our $209,000 CAO, Ann Pappert, just doesn’t get it

Posted February 27, 2014

It was worthy of an academy award performance.

The spokesperson for the Farbridge administration, Chief Administration Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, lashed out at GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) yesterday for having the temerity to dispute the city’s own financial statements.

She said that GRG chose to ignore financial facts. Really? Ministry staff in a meeting with the GRG delegation, verified the contents of the petition’s numerical claims.

This is coming from a CAO who has no professional designation in finances?

Ms. Pappert claims the city is in a strong financial position and getting stronger. GRG disagrees and has the numbers to prove it. When you charge taxpayers excessive rates on property and user fees to pay for misguided and self-serving adventures, you have no alternative but to raise taxes.

For 2014, the city announced a property tax increase of 2.37 per cent. It failed to include the rise in those taxes caused by increased assessment. The real charge to ratepayers is 4.36 per cent, one of the highest rates of any municipality in Ontario.

Pappert parrots the administration line that GRG is wrong -headed about its claims of financial mismanagement of the city. Indeed, GRG exposed how the city financial people have inaccurately forecasted revenues and expenditures for three years, from 2010 to 2012.

But you won’t hear about that because it’s embarrassing and indicative of the way the administration runs our city. Recall the saying: What they don’t know, won’t hurt them?

The official city financials showed that more than $24 million exceeded official budgets over three years. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) did not dispute those figures. Yet the CAO charged GRG “use(d) blatant misinformation” to attack the reputation of the city administration.

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

The Mayor was AWOL except for a brief comment on her blog.  So, frequently the Mayor trots out her CAO to represent the administration’s position.

A few years ago, transparency and openness of operations, was non-existent. It was a time that prompted a number of citizens to band together to question the closed-door decisions by the Farbridge administration.

The turning point was the $53 million spent on a waste collection and composting of organic material system, that was foisted on the citizens.

Without going into the details of this failed experiment, the 2010 Financial Information Report submitted to the province, schedule 51, stated the valuation of the gross waste management plant was $40,973,923 with a depreciation of $3,857,031. In 2011, the plant value rose to $69,308,440. Depreciation declined to $3,182,558.  In 2012, the schedule 51 report stated the plant value was $76,407,350 and depreciation was $4,146,577.

Do you think GRG made these figures up?

The three-year increase of plant evaluation was 86 per cent. In the same period the depreciation increase was only 7 per cent. In responsible accounting circles this could be described as “cooking the books.”

What difference does this make in the overall city finances? Well, it allows the city’s financial staff to inflate the asset side of the corporate ledger to balance the books as required by provincial law.

Was the CAO involved in this charade? If not, she should have been. Was the mayor signing off on this make-believe move to meet provincial regulations?

These are some of the questions that GRG asked the MMAH to investigate. Instead, it passed by handing it over to the same people who have perpetrated this financial maze, misrepresenting the city’s finances.

There are many reasons for citizens to be concerned about the management of their city. GRG will continue to reveal the excesses, misrepresentations and propaganda designed to fulfill a cock-eyed agenda.

In the next few weeks there will be more information forthcoming about the political interests shared between the Mayor and Guelph MPP, Liz Sandals. All this makes for very interesting provincial and civic elections this year.

As they say in journalistic circles: “the first casualty in war is the truth.”

Join grassrootsguelph.com today and make your voice heard to stop the bleeding of our treasure and halt rank mismanagement of our corporation.

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

GrassRoots Guelph responds to Minister’s letter regarding the petition requesting an audit of the city’s finances

The following press release was sent out today to the media in response to statements by the Chief Administration Officer of Guelph. In disputing the facts, the CAO attacked the integrity of GRG members and accused the organization of ” blatant misinformation” to attack the city’s reputation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This administration has abused it power and misled the public in carrying out the people’s work. GRG is pledged to keep exposing the attempts to cover up mismanagement and dysfunctional operation of the people’s administration.
Press release to all media
GrassRoots Guelph, a non-partisan, non-profit citizens organization today defended its petition sent to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.

“The provincial authorities stated in a November meeting with GRG representatives that the numbers contained in the four-page petition are accurate, ” said Gerry Barker, executive director of GRG. He went on to say that those numbers were generated from the city’s financial statements sent to the Ministry.

“The same day we met with Ministry officials, they went to city hall to discuss our issues with city officials,” Barker said. “To this day we have not received copies of the notes of the city meeting.”

“The Minister is saying that this is a local matter to be dealt with by City Council,” Barker went on. “These are the very people who generated the numbers we used in our petition!  What is even more mystifying is why does the province, through the Revised Statutes of Ontario, provide an avenue for municipal taxpayers to protest the administration of their municipality, then turn it around and tell them they have to deal with the very people who created the problems, perceived or real.”

Barker then pointed out that, in an apparent victory lap, the City’s Chief Administration Officer, issued a press release that said that “GrassRoots Guelph chose to ignore financial facts and used blatant misinformation to attack the organization’s reputation.”

Barker’s response to that is “This ridiculous statement is indicative of the callous disregard the City of Guelph’s administration has for the qualified opinions of its citizens.”

“This is entirely about facts, “Barker said. “We carefully examined the public statements put out by this administration and were appalled at the financial methods and statements the city was publishing. Our sources included the ongoing overview of an experienced financial analyst.”
GRG is not giving up. In fact, it is pressing forward to inform citizens of the administration’s mismanagement of public money and the public trust.
At this time, GRG is considering whether or not  to meet with city officials. In the meantime, we encourage all citizens to follow GRG presentations of relevant facts about the way their city is being run. Contact grassrootsguelph.com and join the hundreds of fellow citizens who believe there must be change at City Hall in October.

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

How Mayor Farbridge snatched victory from the jaws of defeat using her power and your money

Posted February 26, 2014

Our environmentally obsessive Mayor, architect of a multimillion dollar failed waste management system, is now scheming to supply energy through a citywide district energy network. Translation: Burrowing under the city to supply heat and cooling to buildings in the downtown area. The source of energy requires deep drilling to extract the natural thermal energy in the earth. It’s known as geo-thermal engineering.

The city propaganda machine hailed the project as North America’s first “District Energy Network.” Not so fast, Kemosabe. Winnipeg has had underground district energy since the 1920’s. The University of Manitoba has had central steam heating since 1911. If you lived in Winnipeg, you’d understand the imperative.

What has triggered this latest massive plan to provide energy to parts of the city of Guelph?

Well, it goes back to when the Mayor tried to ram through a motion to sell Guelph Hydro to a consortium of electricity distributors, including Hamilton and St. Catharines. Even some of her most ardent supporters on council voted against the deal. People were outraged that the Mayor had manipulated this deal using Guelph Hydro executives and board members.

Soon after, the undaunted Mayor, with support of her council majority, called a $30 million loan owed by Guelph Hydro. So, indirectly she finally got her hands on some real money. It quickly disappeared into the city’s share of the $66 million provincial-federal infrastructure stimulus program. The city went ahead and spent another $7 million of the Hydro loan repayment on a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre, $2 million on bicycle lanes and a number of other non-infrastructure projects.

That was the end of the $30 million.

But it’s not the end of the story.

The Mayor then persuaded her majority in council to set up Guelph Municipal Holding, Inc (GMHI) to manage the assets owned by the city. The major asset was, you guessed it, Guelph Hydro. As chair of the new holding company board, she filled it up with four of her most loyal city councillors plus two independent members and the head of Guelph Hydro.

She achieved full control over the city’s greatest asset and supplier of power…without a shot being fired. It happened without public input despite the negative response of the failed earlier attempt to sell Guelph Hydro.

So now the Mayor needs money to launch her new downtown central heating plan.

Recently, accompanied by Lloyd Longfield, CEO of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, Rob Kerr, General Manager of GMHI and an unidentified staff member, she travelled to Germany. The official explanation was to encourage German companies to establish in Guelph. That being the case, why wasn’t Peter Cartwright, general manager of economic development, not included in the war party?

It was revealed that the trip was sponsored by an organization called Transatlantic Urban Climate Dialogue (TUCD).  All expenses were covered by TUCD except the airfares of the mission and “incidentals.” The question is why? Why did the mayor and her delegation really go to Germany to meet and greet members of TUCD? The question begs asking: Is Guelph a member of this organization whose purpose is exactly, what?

Why was this trip necessary?

Stay with us, it gets better.

It seems that in 2012 the Provincial Minster of Energy issued a report that essentially said that small electricity distribution corporations should consolidate into larger, more efficient entities. The report claimed that distribution costs for small Hydro units increase costs to the consumer by 15 per cent. Despite serving 50,000 customers, Guelph Hydro is deemed small by the province.  

In July 2013, a city press release said that Guelph Hydro staff was examining “sharing services and resources or more formal mergers and acquisitions.” The Mayor stated “Consolidation was a distinct possibility,” followed this announcement.

Let’s follow the money.

Mayor strikes out when the people decline a consolidation of their Hydro utility with two other cities.

Mayor wins a victory by calling a $30 loan owed by Guelph Hydro.

Council spends all the money on the infrastructure stimulus plan and an assortment of pet councillor projects.

Mayor forms a holding company to control Guelph Hydro with an estimated book value of $130 million.

Mayor promotes the district underground heating and cooling plan for the downtown area.

Guess where the money for this undertaking is coming from?

And you know, the people were never consulted or voted for this project.

Thanks to GrassRoots Guelph research team for details of this report.  Join the crusade to bring common sense and informed management to the City of Guelph Contact GrassRootsGuelph.com for details.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

If a city ever needed a snitch system, it’s Guelph

Posted February 25, 2014

With some amusement, we witness Chief Administration Officer, Ann Pappert dismiss a suggestion by Coun. Cam Guthrie to establish a tip line to ferret out staff fraud, malingering, abuse of sick leave, and overtime.

Didn’t we receive a damning report last fall about the $5 million overtime bill in 2013 from the city’s internal auditor? It was twice what was paid in 2012 and was particularly critical of the Guelph Transit workers who ran up more than $1 million in overtime.

For you lovers of figures, 20 per cent of the 2013 overtime bill was caused by 15 per cent of all city employees.

The CAO said that she has set up her own blog and a system called “Open Door” that allows employees to anonymously submit concerns to management. What she failed to say was how well her system was working and what results have been obtained.

The Mayor sniffed that such a tip line was duplication and “beyond our (council’s) purview. This is a management responsibility.”

Well, Madame Mayor, how’s that working for you and we citizens? If it hadn’t been for the internal auditor last fall, management would have papered over that overtime debacle in a New York minute.

It’s the Farbridge way to worry about working the staff too hard. She was joined in that chorus by Coun. June Hoffland, who described the Guthrie proposal as a “make work” project for staff.

Coun. Maggie Laidlaw said the tip line proposal was “old fashioned” and had a “snitch” connotation to it and leads to low morale. And this comes from a councillor who has a reputation of bullying staff and was forced last year to apologize to staff members for her abusive behaviour?

Then, when the vote came, the result was a 6 to 5 in favour of asking staff to prepare information for consideration by the governance committee.  What is most interesting is that Coun. Ian Findlay, a devoted Farbridge soldier, voted with Councillors. Cam Guthrie, Bob Bell, Gloria Kovach, Andy Van Hellemond and Jim Furfaro.

Also noted that Councillors Leanne Piper and Lise Burcher did not attend the meeting.

Is the good ship Farbridge starting to spring leaks?

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Despite what the CAO claims, we are still stuck with a flawed railway underpass

Posted February 21, 2014

In that famous television debate between Brian Mulroney and John Turner, Mulroney told the new Prime Minister that he had a choice to deny previous appointments by former PM Pierre Trudeau.

Turner lost the election to Mulroney.

It seems that the same argument applies to the inadequate clearance of the Wyndham Street underpass.

It now appears the city did have choices.

Guelph’s Chief Administration Officer, Ann Pappert, writes in the local daily that the city was unable to redesign a two-year renovation of lower Wyndham Street. This included sufficient clearance for all vehicles to pass safely under the rebuilt CNR bridge.

Instead, large commercial vehicles are hitting the new bridge complete with crash bars apparently installed by the city under direction of CN Rail infrastructure engineers.

The stunning admission reveals that the city engineers knew for two years that the clearance for all Wyndham traffic under the overpass was inadequate.

In view of this revelation, don’t you think the city should have asked for a second opinion before proceeding? In fairness Chief, you may not have been CAO when these decisions were made.

So the CAO explains that they dug down as far as they could go and replaced the underground sewers, water mains and various other cables and pipes. It still was not deep enough.

Oh well, she goes on, the project resulted in a renewed roadway, bike lanes, sidewalks and improved lighting and a “modernized bridge that will serve us well for decades to come.”

Sorry chief, the underpass still doesn’t handle large commercial truck traffic. There have been regular collisions with the bridge despite billboard-sized signs warning the underpass will not accept large trucks.

Your explanation that the bridge/Wyndham project was  “expertly designed and executed,” still fails the smell test of your elaborate explanation of a job well done.

You have to wonder why the underpass on Norfolk Street allows large commercial vehicles to pass safely under it. It’s the same railroad line and the grades are very similar.

Your essay explaining all this segues into praising the job Guelph has done in rebuilding its infrastructure since 2006.

Also you congratulate the Mayor for being named vice-chair of the Association of Ontario Municipalities Large Urban Mayors Caucus. In two years, she should become the chair provided she is re-elected in October.

Chief, why are you promoting the Mayor’s political ambitions?

While this city has been over-taxing its citizens for three years 2010 to 2012 by $86,841,000, why would you tie yourself to an elected official in such a manner? Your job is to manage the staff, not be a cheerleader for Mayor Farbridge. These excessive tax figures come from the annual city report sent to the province that must be filed annually.

It is another example of callous disregard for the interests of the community in an explanation that falls flat explaining a job not properly done.

And why didn’t you explain what all this expert work cost?

To read more details of the $86.8 million overtaxing scandal sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, check out grassrootsguelph.com.

7 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines