Monthly Archives: May 2014

Former Minister believes what is necessary in Brampton is not necessary in Guelph

May 29, 2014

When GrassRoots Guelph(GRG) presented its citizen-backed petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), little did it realize the impact that it contributed to the resignation of the Minister Linda Jeffery?

The petition requested the MMAH to conduct an independent audit of the city of Guelph’s finances and operations. As a courtesy, prior to presentation to the then minister, GRG gave a copy to Guelph MPP, Liz Sandals.

Ms. Sandals promised that her staff would speak with the MMAH minister’s staff to expedite the request.

In November 25, 2013, two months later, MMAH staff met with GRG to discuss the petition. During that two-hour meeting, the officials agreed that the numbers presented in the four-page petition were accurate. The officials then went to city hall to meet with administration personnel. To this day, GRG has received no information about the outcome of the meeting with the city.

More important, the former minister has never revealed her reasons why the request was turned down, despite the admission by her officials that the petition data was accurate.

Fast-forward and here is an ironic twist to all this.

Minister Linda Jeffery announced in February 24 that she would not proceed with the independent audit of the city’s finances but suggested the issues were “local” and the two parties should resolve their own differences.

Shortly afterwards she resigned as minister and MPP to seek the mayoralty of Brampton.

In doing so, Jeffery has walked into a hornet’s nest of political controversary. The incumbent mayor, Susan Fennell, is now the subject of a council revolt over her use of city staff to promote and administer details of her private fund-raising events.

It’s no trifling matter, as hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised over the past years with the proceeds being distributed to various community organizations. But records show that only 26 per cent of the proceeds were distributed with the balance going toward the administration of the “Mayor’s Gala and Golf Tournament.”

Space doesn’t permit the details of this investigation conducted by the Toronto Star though the Freedom of Information Act and other sources. But it is a major-league political scandal in which the former minister of MMAH has joined as one of the candidates for mayor.

To make matters worse, Brampton council has engaged an independent auditor to review the city finances.

The third major mayoralty candidate councillor, John Sanderson, has pushed to have the audit done with the backing of council. Sanderson is highly regarded in Brampton, being named businessperson of the year and citizen volunteer of the year.

Recently, a letter in The Star demanded that Sanderson step aside and let Linda Jeffery run against Mayor Fennell.

Here we have a former minister of the crown who seems comfortable with her city conducting an independent audit, but refused to allow it to happen in Guelph, despite her staff’s admission the GRG petition’s data was accurate.

It is further complicated by the actions, or non-action, of Guelph MPP, Liz Sandals, who was consulted by Jeffery in the process of denying the request by Guelph’s citizens.

It is now apparent that Sandals did not want a provincial audit of Guelph’s finances when there was an election coming up. Such an event could reflect badly on Ms. Sandals and more particularly on the governing Liberal minority government.

Why is that? Sandals’ riding is the City of Guelph. She has remained closely connected to Mayor Karen Farbridge, in the past seven years, as they share ideological experiences and expectations.

You had to be Nanook from the North not to know there would be an election in Ontario. And there is!

So when you go to the polls June 12, remember the role that Sandals played in sandbagging the GRG petition. And if one lived in Brampton, Sandals’ Liberal sidekick, Linda Jeffery, could be toast.

This is why people don’t vote. They cannot trust politicians who use their power to advance their own agenda instead of the people they represent.

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Guelph’s next mayor will receive a 22 per cent base pay raise

Posted May 28, 2014

Guelph council voted to raise the base pay of the mayor by 22 per cent, starting in 2015. The base pay rises from $95,500 to $116, 226. The increase will be phased in over three years.

But it doesn’t stop there. There are additional income sources for serving on various boards, including the Police Services Board and the Public Health Board. These and other honorariums can add up to another $20,000. The Mayor will also receive a $425 per month car allowance.

The council approved setting up an RRSP plan for the mayor. On top of the 22 per cent base pay increase, the incoming Guelph mayor will have his or her own retirement benefit. The question is why should the citizens pay for a retirement benefit for a position that is short-lived because of the nature of having to be re-elected to keep the job?

The mayor is a fulltime mayor responsible for overseeing a $400 million plus corporation.

The new mayor’s total remuneration package could be $142,000 within three years.

Members of council will see their annual base pay increase to $33,433. There are additional payments made for serving as committee chairs and outside boards.

The members of council are considered part-time workers, a misnomer if there ever was one. They have a very heavy workload handling the concerns of their ward citizens as well as mounds of paper work generated by city staff.

The pay increases decision came as the result of a citizen’s committee who compared the status of elected officials’ compensation with some 18 other municipalities.

It is not revealed which municipalities they reviewed but let’s look at those similar- sized municipalities closer to home:

The mayor of Kitchener’s base salary is $75,475.

The mayor of Cambridge earns $68,467 as base salary.

The mayor of Waterloo is paid $70,145 as base salary.

All receive additional income from serving on various boards and organizations. All are part of the Region of Waterloo and are compensated for serving on the Regional council.

It is estimated that the average additional compensation for these three mayors is $20,000.

So who was appointed to this citizen’s board that made these recommendations? Or did city staff recommend he members of the citizen’s committee? Only the chairman addressed the council.

It’s no wonder council approved and passed legislation authorizing these increases.

The bottom line is, any committee appointed to make council payment recommendations must be totally independent. That means such a committee has absolutely no connection with the municipality, including the compensation industry professionals.

It is always a ticklish matter to establish rates of pay for elected officials who must answer to the electors.

This is why Guelph needs to elect fulltime members of council and pay them for their service. This would mean a reduction in the size of council from 13 to nine with the mayor and two councillors being elected at large and one councillor representing each ward.

This time it was not the route council chose to follow.

Now we see the result.

 

 

 

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A blast from the past, first published July 1, 2007

Updated May 27, 2014

The newly elected Farbridge administration recently embarked on an ambitious program to elicit ideas from Guelph residents as to how they see their community evolving.

To be charitable, it was interesting but hardly a guidepost for city council to develop its so-called new Strategic Plan.

The city went to great lengths to probe the minds of the taxpayers with telephone surveys, employee surveys, a mailed survey to residents and “other feedback-generating mechanisms” to gain insight in community desires and values.

Out of an estimated population of some 122,000, the city received 400 write-in responses. That’s a .0032 portion of the population. The problem is that there is no indication of whether respondents were property owners or part-time residents; or what part of the city in which they live; their marital status or their age and gender.

The Mercury Ideas section, based on the city collected data, delivered a vision of what people desired for their city. It was hardly scientific and amounted to a wish list rather than a true picture of the majority of citizen’s values and aspirations.

Here are the chief suggestions, mostly centred on the agenda of the majority of the present council. The wish list included:

* More bike lanes;

* More bus service;

* More vehicle traffic controls;

* More mixed use housing downtown;

* Close off Wyndham Street to cars;

* Ban left-hand turns;

* Four-way stops at each intersection to slow speeders;

* Close the Hanlon expressway;

* Encourage people to get out of their cars and use alternative transportation;

* New developments planned for pedestrians;

* Address the sameness of subdivisions;

* Require that new development be designed for non-automobile traffic.

… And the beat goes on.

Now we see the past seven years wish list has turned out to be flawed and very expensive.

In the public interest, here is a list of issues needing council attention.

Starting in 2007, repair and resurface the roads in the older parts of the city. Didn’t happen.

Promote the growth of industrial-commercial assessment (now 16 per cent) to correct the imbalance of residential assessment (84 per cent). Homeowners in Guelph are paying more than their fair share because the city has not solved the out-of-whack assessment of property. This imbalance has not been a priority in this and the previous Farbridge administration.

The industrial/commercial ratio to residential assessment has not budged in the past eight years of the Farbridge administration. But property taxes have soared by 35 percent since the Mayor took office in january 2007. This exceeded the Consumer Price Index by some 15 per cent in the same time frame.

Investing $12.7 million to construct a civic museum in the derelict old Convent building not owned by the city. The majority of funding for this project came from the taxpayer’s pocket. It was a bad idea and a waste of money.

It turned out it cost more than $16 million and took four years to complete. We’ll never know the real cost because the city won’t reveal how budgets were manipulated to help pay for the serious foundation and structural problems encountered by the contractor.

Review the property tax deal between the city and the university, the largest landowner in Guelph. The school is also a major employer and user of city infrastructure including water, sewer, roads and transportation. Is the University paying its fair share of taxes?

The short answer is no. The collegial relationship that exists between council and the university administration for the past eight years has stifled any attempt to change the bed tax of $75 per enrolled student in lieu of property taxes. That rate is unchanged since 1987.

After demolishing the old waste processing plant, the greatest expense that the Farbridge administration has inflicted on citizens is the waste management plan that has cost an estimated $100 million. This estimate is based on what information is available. The administration steadfastly refuses to reveal the actual consolidated costs of a waste disposal plant, that is overbuilt to the needs of the city for the next 20 years. The result is the citizens of Guelph must underwrite the costs of servicing waste from other municipalities and businesses including Detroit and the Region of Waterloo.

Our municipal debt has doubled in the Farbridge years; water rates are up more than 77 per cent and now the Mayor is suggesting special tax levies to pay for the Baker Street project or the downtown underground thermal heating and cooling system. Yet, we still don’t have a new downtown library (promised in 2006 by the Mayor) or a south end recreation centre (promised by the Mayor in her first term 14 years ago).

And this administration has failed to solve the weekend abuses by patrons of the downtown bars who foul the streets with a wide variety of uncivil behaviour. Looking back, electors really did not understand what they were getting into, to allow this Farbridge-dominated council to get control of the city.

But our turn is coming.

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The outgoing U of G President believes off-campus student housing is beneficial to the community

Posted May 25, 2014

In a wide-ranging interview with the Guelph Mercury, U of G President Alastair Summerlee, said, “one of the really neat things about the Guelph community is that we’ve had students sort of spread out and that I think is good for each of the different pockets of the city.”

And he added: “ Getting away from that model and gathering students much more densely may create ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario for Guelph where noise, ‘instant partying’ and related troubles become much more live issues.”

Really! I guess in his 11-year term of office, that saw the student population grow almost 90 per cent, the president did not get out much in the community.

He reveals why the city and university share a collegial relationship. During an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing, this “relationship” opposed an off-campus large student housing project at the corner of Gordon Street and Stone Road. It was just across the street from the university campus.

The OMB approved the project, rejecting the argument that the behaviour of the resident students could not be controlled by the university, and would cause problems to residents in the area.

Yet, Mr. Summerlee brags about how off-campus student housing in many single family zoned neighbourhoods described it as a “really neat thing about the Guelph community.”

So this is how the collegial arrangement works between the city and university. The city administration allows these quasi mini-apartments to be created. Then fails to enforce its own bylaws that guarantee peace and goodwill among neighbors. It is prevalent in wards five and six areas that are occupied by residents who never dreamed that their new student neighbours would behave badly failing to meet the established standards of the neighbourhood.

There has been a lack of bylaw enforcement; police protection and owners of many of these student lodgings don’t even live in Guelph. There is little or no supervision by landlords. Many neighbourhoods are terrorized by loud parties, music and the sale of alcoholic beverages by student entrepreneurs.

Hardly any of this is reported in the press.

It is difficult to believe that the university president was not aware of the breakdown of relations between his students and residents in areas throughout wards five and six.

It appears, through his own words, that he is indirectly opposed to the proposed rental-licensing bylaw that is before council. It is designed to force landlords to control the homes they have converted to student use. Also to allow bylaw officers more access to check the student homes for safety and building standards.

It’s also no surprise that the landlords, collectively, have waged a strong campaign opposing the proposed licensing bylaw. So much so that passage may not occur during this council’s mandate. The can could be kicked down the road.

In his interview the president commented on how in 11 years on the job, he feels he has been successful in bringing city council and the university administration together and achieving common goals.

Last year the university announced it has a $34 million operating deficit. This resulted in layoffs and program cutbacks. Then it was revealed that the university pension plan was seriously underfunded and was not included in the balance sheet as a liability.

Starting to see some similarities here? The city has spent its way into a similar position where revenues are not matching expenditures. In the case of the city, it must juggle the books to report a balanced result annually to the Province.

This is why your property tax bills have increased by 35 per cent in eight years. This is why your water bills have increased by 77 per cent. This is why user fees have doubled in some cases. This is why the Mayor is musing about new special tax levies to carry out her dream of creating a new Guelph.

Perhaps citizens should think carefully about electing those councillors who have blindly supported the ambitious expansion of the university.

The imminent departure of President Summerlee should coincide with Mayor Farbridge and her seven cohorts being defeated next October 27.

But then the president doesn’t have to run for office and citizens have a choice to change the way the city is being run.

 

 

 

 

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Let’s get ‘er done!

Posted May 25, 2014

It makes one wonder that with two recommendations from city staff to demolish the Wilson Farmhouse, why does it now take a month to determine the costs, legal issues, contract, planning and engineering?

Was there no preparation done when the staff first recommended demolition? Or more recently, the second recommendation?

It is difficult to comprehend that when the staff makes a recommendation to council it should have all its ducks in order. Such as how much is it going to cost to tear it down and what is the estimated time frame?

Now Blair Labelle switches his hat from being General Manager of Information Technology and Innovation (that word again!), to city clerk. He says the deal is not yet done.

Apparently one of those nine voting for demolition can change their mind and introduce a notice of motion to reconsider council’s 9 to 2 vote to demolish. Coun. Piper and Laidlaw voted against the demolition. So that prevents them from introducing a motion to again delay the decision.

The strangest development was Ian Findlay voting to demolish it. This is the same guy who pushed the project to redevelop it into a local community centre. Now he votes to tear it down?

Must have caught a little election fever seeing the WF was located in his ward.

Let’s see. Who would possibly attempt that ploy? Could it be Coun. Ian Findlay? But he must persuade seven other councillors to support such a motion in order for this misguided attempt to stay the execution of the WF.

This party is over.

The Mercury says the demolition should be as discreet as possible.

Au contraire, dear editor, this calls for a street party to celebrate council’s and the administration’s good judgment to rid the city of this eyesore.

As for Coun. Leanne Piper and Maggie Laidlaw, perhaps they should look for other work in view of their intransigence in attempting to stall this necessary project right up to the end.

It is the end, isn’t it?

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The top ten reasons why Guelph citizens should vote for change 

Posted May 23, 2014

Number TEN – A bridge too low

This project is another example of the city building a project. They already admit they know large commercial vehicles would crash into the city-installed crash bars under the far bridge. That bridge is a symbol of a city administration incapable of managing. Their solution to erect signs warning truckers not to drive under the bridge

Number NINE – Bike lanes

With the number of adult bikers being in the minority compared to vehicle operators, why did council approve spending $13 million on bicycle lanes in the next ten years? Perhaps this is part of the Mayor’s strategic plan to mold Guelph into her vision. Question: does she drive a car or ride to work on a bicycle?

Number EIGHT – Lack of open and transparent government

Spending $100,000, the Farbridge administration hired an out-of town consultant to develop an open government plan. The trouble is, the plan is selective in its approach to reach consensus with citizens. It is extremely complex such as describing Guelph’s Open Government Action Plan: “Is intended to breakdown the work needed for open government into manageable chunks for the community in partnership with the city to put into action one project at a time,” said Blair Labelle, the City of Guelph’s general manager of technology and innovation. And all this time we thought he was the city clerk.

Sending out senior city officials to explain this clownish attempt to convince the citizens that the plan will contain their input is ludicrous and self-serving.

There is a simple and more economical way to accomplish this. Stop the closed-door meetings held prior to committee and council sessions. Only those issues as stated in the Provincial Privacy Act should be discussed in an in-camera meeting. Let the sunshine in!

Number SEVEN – User fees

So your water bills have climb by 77 per cent since 2007. Now the prediction is that Hydro bills will climb another 42 per cent in the next three years. These increases coupled with development fees, that have been doubled in eight years, has just about crippled any effort to attract industry and affordable housing to Guelph.

Number SIX – Downtown costs

Unknown millions has been spent by this administration to turn the Mayor’s foggy dream of a vibrant downtown. And it’s money spent at the expense of other areas in the city. Its attempt to bring residents downtown by giving huge tax breaks to developers, despite the weekend rowdyism and fouling of the streets that has not been cleaned up in eight years of office.

Number FIVE – Student housing

Again the city waffles on introducing a licensing bylaw with teeth, to curb the exploitation of homes in single-family sections of wards five and six by students. The current bylaws don’t address the offensive behaviour and failure of landlords to control their tenants. The police rarely act unless there is injury or violence.

Number FOUR – Waste Management

A drive into the Waste Resource Innovation Centre on Dunlop drive will stun most residents of the city. It is a multi-million dollar site that is overbuilt for the needs of the city for the next 20 years. It is reliant of waste from outside the city to pay for its operations. There is no accounting of the costs of building the complex nor its operations. The city says that information is proprietary, so citizens are funding the collection and processing of waste from the Region of Waterloo and Detroit.

Is this why Karen Farbridge and her mental midgets on council were elected?

Number THREE – Police Headquarters

You must remember that the Farbridge-dominated council has already approved spending $34 million, pending a review by city and police civilian staff to reduce the cost. The Mayor has sat on the Police Services Board, (most of whom are appointed by the province), for eight years. She told her council that the city had no choice because the Ontario Police Act can legislate the city to pay up.

Perhaps it’s the time to call the bluff and tell the Police Services Board we can’t afford it. Maybe it’s a good time to play that card when we’re in the middle of a provincial election.

Number TWO – Urbacon

This is probably the most outrageous example of mismanagement of a major contract in the history of the city. The judge lays the blame directly on the city administration. The city tries to blame some obscure bylaw that gives the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) the right to cancel contracts without consulting council. In this case it was Hans Loewig who did the dirty deed in September 2008 and is no longer with the city.

How convenient! Well Mayor Farbridge and her ten supporters were there and did nothing despite evidence during the trial that council was receiving briefings from the CAO. This case will ultimately cost the city millions. That’s your millions.

Number ONE – Taxes

Property taxes have risen by 35 per cent in seven years of Farbridge control of the city’s finances and operations. Things have not changed in 2014, with taxes increasing by 4.36 per cent when combining the council approved increase of 2.37 per cent plus the increase of assessment determined by MPAC, the provincial organization that determines the market value of properties in Ontario.

The crushing need for cash to meet the soaring costs of its agenda has driven this council and administration to milk every source in the city. Property taxes are used like a city ATM machine.

This is why Guelph, with one of the highest property tax costs in Ontario, is turning our city into a community where people cannot afford to live. It has become a place passed up by industrial and commercial developers because of a stifling city bureaucracy and development fees that have doubled in a few years.

                                                *            *            *            *

The major issue in the civic election is the stewardship of the city by Mayor Karen Farbridge. Her advantage in having complete control of council and staff with the support of a majority of unwavering supporters that has spanned eight years. The results are self-evident and the top ten issues produced here are irrefutable examples of irresponsible spending and mismanagement.

In the past eight months, there has been a determined attempt to deny, obfuscate and create band-aid solutions to problems, most of which were produced by the Mayor’s administration. See top ten list above.

This administration has learned over the years how to mask their spending mistakes and faulty programs. The dictatorial control by the Mayor and her fellow travelers has resulted in open season on the property taxpayer and all citizens requiring city services. The voter turnout in 2010 was just over 33 per cent of the total number of eligible voters.

This is a primary reason that GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) has challenged the Farbridge administration. The GRG is approaching its task in two ways: One, to inform and educate on the issues and concerns of the administration to increase the number of elegible voters. Two, to seek candidates for council who bring business experience and common sense to the party. Even Farbridge council supporter, Karl Wettstein, ruefully admits that council needs more members with business experience.

That’s from the horse’s mouth!

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The saga of the good, the bad and the ugly

Poated May 15, 2014

You will recall that last February 24, 2014, the then Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), Linda Jeffery, decided not to recommend an independent forensic audit of the City of Guelph finances and operations. The request came in the form of a four-page, detailed petition developed by GrassRoots Guelph (GRG).

On November 25, 2013 a delegation of three members of GRG met with Ministry officials. During that meeting, the Ministry staff admitted that they had checked the numbers and stated they were accurate.

Reasons for Jeffery’s rejection decision have never been revealed. Nor has the Ministry revealed any responses by the city, disputing the petition content. In fact, immediately following the February decision by Jeffery, the city Chief Administrative Officer crowed that the petition was “a waste of time.” This statement was made despite the Minister’s letter making no such reference.

Now the plot thickens.

Shortly after her decision to deny an independent audit for Guelph, Linda Jeffery resigned from the provincial cabinet as well as Liberal member for Brampton-Springdale. She announced she was running for Mayor of Brampton in the October 27 civic elections.

In a letter in the Toronto Star, May 14, resident (A) complained that Jeffery should be the one to withdraw her nomination. This was because another letter writer (B) previously wrote that John Sanderson, long-time councillor, former volunteer of the year and business person of the year, should step aside to avoid splitting the anti-Mayor Susan Fennell vote.

Turns out the adroit Ms. Jeffery filed her nomination papers three weeks after Sanderson. Resident (A) charged that Jeffery was “only running for mayor out of political opportunism”.

The mayoralty prize in Brampton is that incumbent Mayor Susan Fennell has been exposed as using public staff and property to promote her annual fund raising for her “Community Spirit Team”. This private organization operates a “gala” and golf tournament in which between $175,00 and $250,000 has been raised annually in the last ten years to support various community groups.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, The Star has revealed, through emails and other sources, that city staffers were obligated to sell tickets and attend other administrative functions for the mayor’s private fundraising that had nothing to do with the city staff’s responsibilities.

And this is not a new story but reveals a lot of new information. There has been ongoing criticism of excessive spending by Mayor Fennell in connection with promoting her non-public fundraising.

Now here’s the kicker.

Linda Jeffery, as former MMAH minister, who is now running for Mayor, rejected a GRG request for an independent audit of the City of Guelph’s finances. She now faces a third party audit of the City of Brampton’s finances initiated by city council.

Starting to get the picture?

The question is, if Linda Jeffery was opposed to an audit in Guelph, why, shortly afterwards, did she quit her cabinet job to run for mayor in Brampton knowing an independent auditor is investigating its finances and operations?

Here are some conclusions.

She jumped from the Liberal ship because she knew there was an election coming and the Wynne government would be defeated. Sometimes it’s not who you know but what you know.

Or, perhaps Wynne pushed her out for unknown reasons but her cabinet performance may have been an issue.

The strangest suggestion is why did Guelph MPP and cabinet minister Liz Sandals, receive a copy of her rejection letter of the Guelph petition.

Was it because, as a favour to a cabinet colleague, she denied the request? Could it be because Ms. Sandals would not want a government audit team, reviewing the city finances during a provincial election in the very riding she represented?

This is an example of the messy side of politics that turns off citizens and the result is we get the government we deserve.

Now we know how political opportunism works.

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