Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Farbridge portrait of “progressive” does not make it a Picasso

April 28, 2014

Let’s go back to the 2006 city election campaign.

The Farbridge team crafted a program promising to stop urban sprawl, killing the mythical Big Pipe and was anti-Big Box stores. They also promised to run an open and transparent government.

This brought on the tragic-comedic slogan: “ Putting Guelph back on track.”

The result saw the newly elected Mayor winning with a majority of 10 councillors. Only two remained from the previous council, Gloria Kovach and Christine Billings.

The result gave the Mayor total control of the agenda for the next four years.

They acted like kids in a candy store as the projects and policies launched our city into a frenzy of spending on extreme environmental issues, heritage preservation at any cost and rewarding its union supporters with fat contracts and benefits.

Eight years later, the cost of city employees is eating the taxpayer’s lunch, soaking up 80 per cent of the property tax revenues. That revenue is 46 percent of the city’s total revenue. The remaining 54 per cent includes water and hydro charges to residents, user fees, and government grants.

So when they hand out the award for the most progressive city in Canada, look no further than Guelph. Unfortunately, the award will not consider the 35 per cent increase in property taxes in the past eight years to pay for it. It has been done chiefly on the backs of property taxpayers.

Speaking of awards, there has been a number of announcements lately from City Hall in which the city is awarded recognition for a variety of pet Farbridge projects. Trouble is, these are not given spontaneously but the city itself applies for them.

One was a contrived award for launching the “wellbeing” project. Ask yourself: How has this multi-million dollar project benefitted you? Did your taxes go down? Or your water bill? Has it made you happier knowing that it is there? Has your heart skipped a beat or two in joy and anticipation?

It’s all part of the image-building process that the current administration is undertaking to pat itself on the back and attempt to redeem its real reputation as spendthrift, sloppy and phony.

Even Farbridge supporter and councillor Karl Wettstein (W6) remarked recently: “We need more businessmen on council.”

Yes Karl, there is a screaming shortage of councillors who possess a background of business/financial management experience and a dollop of common sense.

The Farbridge administration likes to be described as progressive but at what cost and benefit?

The main issue in this election campaign will be the Farbridge eight-year record.

It’s like trying to turn a kindergarten portrait of mommy into a Picasso.

 

 

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Guelph Waste Management dances to the Detroit hustle

Posted April 24, 2014

Let’s start with the city’s reported cost of Waste Management for 2012 sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in June last year.

Operational costs were $13,732,143. Employee costs were $5,070,484 for a total of $18,803,627.

Offsetting some of this was $3,105,008 in revenue. It includes sale of recyclables and compost plus user fees.

So the net operating cost is $13,697,619 operating our overbuilt, multi-million dollar Waste Management Innovation Centre (WMIC). That equals a $1.07 for every one of the estimated 128,000 residents. But when you factor in the 6,400 households that do not receive city waste collection, the cost jumps for the average household.

Another factor is the Region of Waterloo failing to meet its commitment to supply 20,000 tones of wet waste to the compost facility. In 2012 it only shipped 9,000 tonnes.

Whoever said if you build it, they will come, was nuts.

On April 28, the staff is recommending to city council that a second shift be added at the recycle centre to accommodate some 28,000 tonnes of Detroit recyclables that will be shipped to the Guelph plant. The Detroit-based contractor, Recyclable Materials Marketing (ReMM) and Rizzo Environmental Services, said they would stop shipping currently 12,000 tonnes a year, unless Guelph was prepared to hire a second shift to handle the increased tonnage.

Did you know that you financed the Material Recovery Facility that is overbuilt to accommodate material from outside the country? That’s in line with the city Waste Management plan that included spending $33 million on an Organic Waste Management Facility that has failed to operate at capacity in 2012. It too was built at three times the capacity of the needs of the city for the next 20 years.

Did you vote for that?

So it looks like the strategy is to hire more people to lose more money processing Detroit garbage. The staff report claims it will create a surplus of $304,400 a year. That’s a long way from reducing the $13,697,619 deficit operating cost of the complex.

The pregnant question is why were millions spent creating this complex that exceeds Guelph’s needs for 20 years?

Why are citizens forced to pay for these Farbridge-inspired facilities that depend on feedstock from jurisdictions as far away as Detroit?

Did we tell you that this proposal means that trucks will run up and down the 401 delivering material to be sorted and taken back to Detroit. This is part of the Farbridge inspired environmental plan?

It is yet another misguided scheme to satisfy the Farbridge master plan to change Guelph, to solidify her vision of a new dawn city, created under her leadership.

The problem is she and her administration can’t add. They don’t understand financial statements and are out to lunch in budget forecasting. Their own official statements show they missed budget forecasting by $24 million in just three years, 2009 through 2011.

They move money around paying Paul at the expense of Peter. Reserves have been eviscerated in their lust to spend your money.

The capper came with the Urbacon ruling in which a judge of the Superior Court ruled the city was responsible for firing the contractor of the new City Hall.

This issue alone can cost the citizens up to $25 million in costs, yet to be determined.

Yet the administration stumbles along continuing to recommend daft schemes that ultimately end up costing more than anticipated.

Waste Management is one city department that needs to throw open the window and let the zephyr of reality flow in.

 

 

 

 

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Elvis remembered: Credibility and truth have left the building – 1 Carden Street

Posted April 18, 2014

While the civic election is seven months away, already the battle lines are drawn.

The Farbridge supporters working to win a third election on October 27, are now attacking GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) and guelphspeaks.ca (GS) for just about any issue including lying, making stuff up, distorting the facts and damaging the city’s reputation.

At least that’s some confirmation that the city’s reputation has been damaged, but not by GRG or GS.

Here is a sampling of some the issues that guelphspeaks.ca never made up but is accused of.

* GS never made up details of the city’s’ financial mismanagement. Evidence was extrapolated from the administration’s Financial Information Report (FIR), submitted annually to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH).

* GS fully supported the GrassRoots Guelph petition to the MMAH. Despite the ministry staff admitting that the numbers and data in the petition were accurate, the Minister, who has since resigned, recommended it was a “local” issue to be resolved by the two parties. This issue is far from dead because sometimes the truth takes time to emerge.

* GS never created the Urbacon lawsuit mess in which the city now finds itself facing potentially millions in costs due to its own ineptitude.

* GS never created the lawsuit by the Farbridge administration to separate from the Guelph Wellington Dufferin Public Health organization. The city lost the case and had to pay costs plus $10 million as its legal obligation towards the new Public Health headquarters on Stone Road.

* GS never made up the $5,067,000 charges detected by the city’s own internal auditor for staff overtime and absenteeism in 2013. A 100 per cent increase over the previous year.

* GS never made up the rising costs of staff salaries, wages and total compensation in which 80 per cent of the total property tax revenue is spent on staff compensation.

* GS never made up the $330,000 cost over-run in the Farmer’s Market renovation.

* GS never made up the $33 million spent building an organic waste processing facility that was three times the capacity required by the city for the next 20 years.

* GS never made up spending $15 million on a cart-waste collection system that fails to service 13 per cent of the residences and businesses in the city.

* GS never made up the failure of the famed green living wall in city hall that keeps dying. Now it will cost $1,000 a month to keep it alive.

* GS never made up sending two city councillors to Edmonton to investigate how that city dealt with its downtown bar patrons using the streets as a toilet.

* GS never made up the proposal to save the Wilson Farmhouse using taxpayer funds to seed the project. Coun. Ian Findlay maintains it’s a good use of taxpayer funds despite the surrounding neighbours being 100 per cent in favour of tearing it down.

* GS never made up the proposal by the Guelph Police Services Board to have the city finance a $33 million renovation of police headquarters. Especially after the intial request was $13 million to renovate the building.

* GS never made up the annual property tax increases averaging more than 3.5 per cent for the past eight years. This exceeded the Consumer Price Index on average by more than 1.8 per cent.

* GS never made up the fact that since the Mayor’s election in 2006, we have had three Chief Administration Officers and five Chief Financial Officers.

* GS never made up the issue that the city took money from its brownfield development reserve and gave $11.7 million credits each to two developers engaged in building hi-rise condos in the downtown area.

* GS never made up the fact that the city staff has grown by more than 400 in eight years and that compensation costs have increased exponentially.

* GS never made up the occupation by urban terrorists of the Hanlon Business Park that cost more than $1.5 million and delayed completing the project for a year. City Council did nothing to stop this illegal act.

* GS never made up the political hatchet job executed by Coun. Leanne Piper on Coun. Gloria Kovach to remove her from the Guelph Police Services Board. Then, she took the job herself and the $5,000 annual stipend.

* GS never had anything to do with the Wyndham Street underpass construction that fails to allow large commercial vehicles to use the route because they hit the bridge, as some have.

Is it any wonder the friends of Farbridge (FOF’s) wanted to stifle any citizen criticisms of their leader and her cohorts?

For eight years, the Farbridge administration and its fellow travelers have dominated city politics and controlled the agenda with little opposition. During that time, there has been no shortage of issues, despite the controlling nature of the administration’s attempts to stifle any opposition to its pristine programs.

That became apparent in 2007 when heritage maven and rookie councillor, Leanne Piper, convinced the newly elected council to spend $12.7 million to renovate the vacant convent to create a new home for the Guelph Civic Museum.

No one questioned why the city would invest such a large sum on private lands owned by the Diocese of Hamilton. The staff did not perform a thorough engineering study of the building to assess its condition. It is a pre-Confederation building, more than 145 years old that had been empty for ten years. It didn’t take long to discover the structural damages and mechanical condition leading to escalating costly repairs including a crumbling foundation.

Regardless, with a $6 million Federal and Provincial government handouts, and an agreement with the Diocese of which the details have never been revealed, the price zoomed to more than $16 million. This set the stage for how Mayor Farbridge and her supporters on council intended to run the city using their personal playbook and your cheque book.

Armed with the ability to control the message, and having the unfettered power to raise taxes and user fees, with no opposition or checks and balances, the Farbridge ship of state eviscerated the public’s right to know details of their policies and actions. There was blatant disregard of public trust. Critical balance disappeared, much like many employees who were fired or resigned because they wouldn’t go along.

Recently I have been attacked by FOF’s who challenge my credibility and content. They complain that I am not interested in publishing FOF comments critical of the content guelphspeaks.ca. They got that right.

This is one citizen who recognizes that the empress has no clothes.

GrassRoots Guelph was created with a growing numbers of awakened citizens joining the hundreds of members who share the view that there must be change at City Hall.

This is why the work of GrassRoots Guelph is causing concern among the Farbridge supporters. More and more people understand the issues and recognize how damaging the Farbridge administration has been to our city.

The single issue citizens now face is a question of competence, and who not to vote for next October 27.

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Just who does Mayor Karen Farbridge work for?

Posted April 16, 2014

The news coming from the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ann Pappert that there is a CAO’s bylaw that gives almost unlimited powers to the holder of the job makes it unclear of who really runs the city.

In the wake of the city’s loss of a $19 million wrongful dismissal lawsuit brought on by the city hall’s main contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group, Pappert placed the responsibility on former CAO Hans Loewig. She stated he ordered the contractor off the site when the project was 95 per cent complete.

Her explanation was backed up by the revelation of the CAO bylaw that gives authority to the CAO to cancel contracts without consulting the mayor and council.

Okay, if this is the case who is running the city?

The mayor has faded into the bunker, being unavailable to the media. Aside from a brief comment on her blog, her silence has been deafening.

Neither the mayor nor Loewig testified at the civil trial.

Who is mayor Farbridge working for? Is it the people who elected her to represent their interests?

Let the record show that in eight years on the job the mayor, not once has apologized to her constituents for mistake by her administration. That list is long and contains examples of mismagement that are too deep and detailed to outline here. Details will be revealed soon in another guelphspeaks.ca post.

Her interest has been to force-feed her environmental agenda down our throats, and never reveal the costs and details She panders to a minority collection of special interests including the soccer people, heritage commandos, bicycle advocates, friendly political activists, the university, certain community groups, and downtown development.

She does it without the financial knowledge of what her initiatives cost or the impact on the citizens, those who are paying the costs of her schemes and projects.

Karen Farbridge has cobbled together a collection of like-minded members of council who are equally financially challenged but supportive of her agenda.

Ask again: Who is running the store?

The city is blessed with a number of loyal and responsible employees. The senior management however, has too much power but not enough understanding of their employer’s real needs. In fact they have no respect to the needs of the public. Their main concern is to ensure their own personal agenda including excessive compensation.

Do you really think the mayor is satisfied with only earning about $115,000 a year when all of her executive staff is making 60 per cent more than she? Ann Pappert is at the top, earning $209,000 in 2013. Remember the mayor is also a full-time mayor.

It escapes any logic. Perhaps in her wooly mind, the mayor thinks that those high- priced executives had better earn their money and answer why the city just blew a potential $28 million on the Urbacon lawsuit.

The mayor’s silence indicates there is more to this story that the citizens may eventually learn.

But as Yogi Berra once said: “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

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CAO Pappert now says the CAO can act without council authority

Posted April 11, 2014

It was reported that Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Papert, says, “Under the CAO bylaw, the CAO has the full administrative delegated authority from city council to make administrative decisions. This, she adds, includes cancelling contracts.”

“Furthermore, the CAO does not receive direction from the mayor or any individual member of council.” She said. “ Only council as a whole gives direction to city staff.”

If that is true, why do we elect a mayor to lead the city? Just let the CAO make all the decisions. Does Pappert want us to believe that a CAO would, on his or her own, proceed to cancel a $42 million contract without consulting the mayor?

To do so would make a competent mayor to quickly end that CAO’s career.

Judge Donald MacKenzie, who ruled that the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon Building Group Corp, only judged on the evidence produced at trial. His decision however has raised questions about this latest statement by Pappert.

Is Pappert suggesting that the mayor cannot fire the CAO? She certainly makes an effort to conclude the CAO is invincible and cannot be dismissed. Seems like that has already happened in Guelph when the mayor fired CAO, Larry Kotseff, in 2007.

Pappert says Loewig acted on his own without consulting the mayor or council. And further, he consulted lawyers, professional consultants and staff members responsible for managing the project before firing the builder of the new city hall.

Okay, Pappert, give us the names of the lawyers, the consultants and staff members who advised Mr. Loewig to fire the contractor.

While you are at it, give us a copy of the CAO bylaw that gives the CAO carte blanche to run the city as you describe it.

Also what role did city solicitor, Lois Payne, now retired, have when this was going on? The same could be said for retired city clerk Lois Giles, keeper of the records including resolutions and minutes of council meetings.

It appears strange that the only person who is still around is Mayor Karen Far bridge, and she’s not talking.

Stop misleading the people Pappert. It is clear that Loewig did not act on his own. The mayor panicked when Urbacon, saddled with change orders, could not meet the completion deadline. In fact the company had missed two completion deadlines. Trial evidence revealed there was animosity between the contractor and city officials. The mayor was involved in making the decision to terminate the contract and used Loewig to administer the termination.

Judge MacKenzie saw through this charade and, based on the evidence ruled against the city. It should be noted that neither the mayor nor Loewig or city solicitor gave testimony at last year’s civil trial.

Is Ann Pappert the new patsy to cover up for the mayor?

It should also be noted that Loewig was given a lush CAO job making a $195,000 starting salary in November 2008, two months after firing Urbacon. He was awarded a four-year deal with a number of perks including getting eight weeks of unpaid leave while acting as the Chief Administrative Officer for the city. When he left in December 2012, he was making $203,000.

How does that work? As the top public servant how does he administer when he’s not there?

Does this begin to smell like the barber’s cat after a night on the town?

Pappert’s continuing campaign to insist that Loewig acted without consulting the mayor or council, fails the smell test. And Judge MacKenzie, an independent authority, figured it out.

It’s another reason now to figure out why the GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) petition presented to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, requesting an independent audit of the city’s finances and operations, was turned down. The minister said it was a local matter.

Well, that Minister has since resigned. Her officials confirmed that the figures and data in the petition were accurate. GRG has requested the Ministry officials to arrange a meeting between the city and GRG as the former minister offered to have her officials facilitate. As of this date, there has been no response.

Citizens should now be questioning the City of Guelph’s administration, including the role of Mayor and CAO. It is one that has been operating in a cocoon for eight years, covering up and denying the rights of the public to know the details how their city is being managed.

The public well of trust has been emptied. The time has come to judge whether to support a mayor and council that will not accept responsibity to inform and tell the truth.

The day of reckoning occurs October 27, 2014.

 

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Here is more history on the six-year $19 million Urbacon law suit

Posted April 9, 2014

In a letter to the editor in the Mercury, Susan Watson castigated Coun. Cam Guthrie for criticizing Mayor Farbridge over her handling of the Urbacon lawsuit.

Watson, it should be noted, is a stand-up supporter of Mayor Farbridge and her tenure as Guelph’s elected political leader. Her letter goes overboard defending the Mayor on the grounds that the judgment has not yet been delivered nor have the costs been established. The city therefore has not had the opportunity to evaluate the judgment and to determine if there are grounds for an appeal.

Watson would have us believe that details have not been released. The weakness in her argument is the Judge has made his decision known. Guthrie, who is a candidate for Mayor, has every right to criticize the Mayor because she was in charge when the decisions were made.

Just to refresh Watson’s selective memory: There was a mediation session between the Urbacon and the city regarding the contract termination two years ago. The city offered to settle for some $4 million. Urbacon turned it down and the process ended. The dispute then went to trial in January, 2013.

According to Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, the city now holds former CAO, Hans Loewig, responsible for the decision to fire Urbacon in September 2008. Following that decision, Loewig oversaw the hiring of two outside contractors to finish the new City Hall and to renovate the old City Hall into a Provincial Offenses Court. The original Urbacon contract price for these two jobs was $42 million.

He also demanded that the company holding the completion bond on the job pay the city in compensation for Urbacon’s failure to complete the contract. That was flatly denied presumably because the city terminated the contract in October 2008.

Then, in November 2008, Mayor Farbridge praised Loewig for his “exemplary leadership, integrity, and commitment to public service during his tenure at the city.”

Accompanying that ringing endorsement, Loewig received a four-year commitment as CAO at a starting salarly of $195,000.

Now his successor, Ann Pappert, throws the entire responsibility for that fateful September, 2008 decision onto Loewig, Mayor Farbridge’s choice to manage the city staff as CAO for four years..

Remember, to this day the citizens have no idea what the actual cost of the new city hall and Provincial Court renovation of the old city hall and what their ultimate liability will be.

Those costs include:

Hiring lawyers and outside consultants to advise the city prior to its decision to fire Urbacon

Hiring two contractors to complete the job

Payment of fees to the architects

Settlement of liens placed on project by subcontractors

Cost of the abortive mediation session

Costs of the Hamilton lawyer to represent the city’s case in last year’s civil trial

Brampton trial court costs

City staff costs

Possible punitive award

Judge’s award to Urbacon for wrongful dismissal.

Is it any wonder now that CAO Pappert is putting the blame on Loewig suggesting council was never informed nor asked to approve the termination of the Urbacon contract?

Having a CAO to answer for your mistakes as Mayor, is a handy device to deflect responsibility.

The Urbacon issue reflects the lack of competence of the Farbridge administration.

It is one that has done a terrible job of:

Managing the staff

Forecasting revenues and expenditures

Controlling information

By conducting the public’s business behind closed doors

Taxing property owners and businesses excessively to pay for social      engineering schemes and projects

Raising user fees to pay for incompetence

If the Urbacon lawsuit has done nothing else but to wake up the electorate, it has performed a municipal miracle. To alert citizens that their city needs a new council that will bring fiscal order and responsibility to the table and do it in public.

 

 

 

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The Urbacon lawsuit responsibility, part two

Posted April 8, 2014

Yesterday, Chief Apologist Officer , Ann Pappert, sent a news release to the Mercury in which she stated, unequivocally, that “a complete legal search of Council files has resulted in the following: There was no report to Council seeking Council approval of this (Urbacon firing) decision. There was no resolution of Council directing staff to terminate the contract.”

If Council was not aware of the Urbacon termination of a $42 million contract, who was and who ordered it?

CAO Pappert went on to say that after consultation with lawyers, professional external consultants and project management staff, interim Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Hans Loewig, based on the advice received, terminated Urbacon’s contract.

She said that the interim CAO gave Council verbal updates leading up to September 19, 2008 when he ordered Urbacon Buildings Corporation off the site. The contract was formally terminated on October 17.

Accepting this explanation, were not minutes kept of these Council meetings to verify what Mr. Loewig told Council?

Here’s where the explanation goes off the rails.

In the final days of last year’s trial between Urbacon and the city, the Urbacon legal team introduced into evidence an email sent to Urbacon management in August 2008, from Hans Loewig. In it Mr. Loewig expressed his satisfaction with the progress of the new city hall construction and said he was looking forward to full completion by January 2009.

Less than a month later, Loewig kicked Urbacon off the site.

Hans Loewig was interim Chief Administration Officer when he, on his own without Council direction, allegedly made the decision to fire Urbacon. He was hired in June 2007 as a replacement of Larry Kotseff who was fired previously by the Farbridge administration. He was not on the permanent staff at this time.

A little over a month later, November 27, 2008, the city announced that Loewig would be hired to act as Guelph’s CAO for four years at a starting salary of $195,000 a year. His contract included the unusual condition granting him eight weeks of unpaid vacation per year plus his regular entitlement of paid vacation time.

In the city news release, Mayor Farbridge was quoted as saying: “Mr. Loewig has shown exemplary leadership, integrity and commitment to public service during his tenure in the city. I am thrilled that he will continue to serve as our Chief Administrative Officer for the next four years.”

If he is now being thrown under the bus, did Hans Loewig extract a price for loyalty from a Mayor who, it is now alleged, had nothing to do with the Urbacon termination?

When Mr. Loewig left the city job in December 2012, he was making $209,000 while it appears he was working only nine months of the year. In four years, Mr. Loewig drew some $800,000 in salary not including benefits as CAO of Guelph.

In hindsight, was this entire Urbacon affair terribly mismanaged from the get go? Trial evidence revealed that a flood of change orders contributed to the contract. This delayed completion of the project, twice before termination.

Regardless, Judge Donald MacKenzie did not believe the city’s position and right to terminate the Urbacon contract.

In view of the management of this multi-million dollar issue, how can citizens trust and believe the city’s explanation of who was responsible, given the evidence?

Pappert’s explanation that the elected officials, including the Mayor, were not in the loop when the decision was made to fire Urbacon, is a deliberate distortion of the truth and smells of political interference to protect a Mayor and council.

 

 

 

 

 

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