Monthly Archives: July 2014

Guelph Civic League’s surrogate claims GrassRoots Guelph distorts the facts about the city’s administration

Posted July 30, 2014

There is a sure way to sense fear in politics. When the voices of the Farbridge left start tearing apart what GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) represents, you can smell the political fear wafting out of One Carden Street.

The fellow travelers supporting the Farbridge-backed Guelph Citizen blog, a surrogate of the Guelph Civic League, are now in full denial. The derogatory comments attack the facts presented by GrassRoots Guelph about the way the city has been managed. And it gets a personal at times, often hiding the identity of the commentator.

GRG is the only citizen’s activist organization that truly represents all the people. It is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that has pulled back the screen of secrecy maintained by the Farbridge dominated council.

The facts contained in the GRG petition delivered to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an independent audit of the City of Guelph’s financea, was instrumental in causing the Farbridge council to pay a Toronto firm $100,000 to develop an open and transparent government plan.

That’s a fact

It hasn’t been easy digging into the official city statements to get at the truth. Regardless, GRG filed a well-researched and documented petition with the Ministry requesting an audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.

The petition content was based on the Financial Information Report that the city must file with the Ministry annually. The report, basically a 400-plus page annual financial statement, in the past five years contained major discrepancies and misstatements that required forensic investigation and explanation.

Those are facts ladies and gentlemen.

For its part, the Ministry officials confirmed the GRG petition figures and data were accurate. The Minister, at the time, said she would not order the audit stating the two parties should resolve the issues presented, as they were “local issues”. She resigned shortly afterwards, giving no reasons why she refused the audit.

GRG has asked the Ombudsman of Ontario to investigate why the petition and audit was rejected by the Ministry. That process is now underway.

That’s a fact.

We know that the Farbridge administration, including her council cohorts, were responsible for firing the general contractor building the new city hall and provincial courthouse in September 2008.

That’s a fact.

Five years later, following a five-week trial held last year, the presiding judge found the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon Buildings Group Corp. The company had sued the city for $19.2 million. Justice Donald MacKenzie’s full judgment criticized the city’s decision and the way it was handled. He also dismissed the city’s counter-claim of $5 million.

Those are facts.

The trial, by mutual agreement, separated the action into two parts; the liability part that has already found the city guilty. The damages part was ordered to be held within four months of the release of the liability judgment in June. That meant the damages trial must be held in October.

Those are facts

Then, without public knowledge, the city instructed the Hamilton lawyer who unsuccessfully argued the city’s case in the Urbacon liability trial, to ask the court to postpone the damages trial until after the civic election. The court denied the request and ordered the damages part of the trial to commence October 14. The taxpayers also financed this second action.

Those are facts.

Justice MacKenzie will preside over the damages trial in October. Now the smell of fear grows stronger every day as the Farbridge-dominated council senses a growing threat of rejection at the polls October 27. The city has admitted the potential costs to the municipality are not covered by insurance nor are budgeted.

Those are facts.

Who can forget the Farbridge-led attempt to get out of the Dufferin Wellington Guelph Public Health group, to avoid paying its portion of the new $17 million public health centre on Stone Road? That trial was also lost by the city and the costs of the action have never been revealed to the public.

Those are facts.

Yes, the citizens of Guelph are disappointed and angry as they now discovered how spending is out of control. Council just approved spending $34 million renovating police headquarters. Also, it is studying a $6.7 million project to enhance the St. George’s Square streetscape. Then consider the $32 million in subsidies to two contractors to build high-rise condos downtown.

These are facts.

The rush is on to spend on multi-million projects before the lock-down of capital spending September 1, due to the civic election. Most of this will fall into the hands of the next council. The new team will open shop with nothing left in the capital budget “envelope” to pay the Urbacon damages outcome.

Homeowners are seeing their property being taxed like a city ATM machine to pay the increasing cost of legacy projects that no one really voted for. The public trust in the Farbridge-managed city government is rapidly dissipating.

But then, they already know that because they have been conducting polls to feel the pulse of the electorate.

And that is factual.

GrassRoots Guelph is dedicated to representing the facts and informing citizens of the mismanagement of their affairs that has become the hallmark of the Farbridge council.

GRG is beholden to no one and its primary goal is to elect responsible and informed councillors. There is nothing tricky, no ulterior motives, just informing the people and urging them to vote on Election Day October 27. Change can only come from the people.

If you don’t vote, you don’t count.

For more information contact grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com. Drop into the GRG website at grassrootsguelph.com

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How do we fix a city that is in dire need of sensible and productive management?

Posted July 29,2014

This is the first of a series of articles entitled Fixing our City; outlining the steps the next council will need to take to bring change, common sense and sound management to control Guelph’s finances and performanc.e

Part One Fixing our City. In a recent article published in the Guelph Tribune, columnist, Alan Pickersgill, made some telling comments about how city workers should be treated.

It epitomized the pro-labour attitude that Mr. Pickersgill has espoused over the years, usually in abject support of the Farbridge administration.

In this column, he blamed management for the $1 million overtime bill paid to transit employees last year. He further claimed that despite the overtime pay received by the members, they were still “festering” over the way they were being managed. He did not mention how the union members were “gaming” the system to increase their pay as pointed out by the city’s internal auditor.

Finally Mr. Pickersgill claimed that “we” have starved the providers of public service too long including police services, fire safety, rec centres, and libraries.

This is an example of embedded employee entitlement that has grown exponentially in the past eight years under the Farbridge administration. The rise of numbers of employees, some 500 since 2007, and the generous salary and wage settlements made to all city employees, has driven the cost of city staff to 80 percent of all property tax revenues.

Still believe our employees are in need of more? Alan Pickersgill thinks so and therein lies the problem. This city cannot grow and prosper with labour costs at present levels.

So, how do we fix it?

First, the new council should hire an experienced municipal management expert to review all city organizations and structure including reporting lines and job responsibilities. Comparing how other similar-sized communities are organized is part of the study.

Working with the internal auditor, the expert would analyze and develop an organization structure that would reduce labour costs but maintain services to the public.

In addition, all union and association contracts should be reviewed to create a more open and fairer system of settling grievances, and collective agreements.

Part of the study would include examination of how the city encourages industrial and commercial investment.

The entire system of processing development applications should be reviewed to make decisions in a more timely fashion. This would include having a committee of council to review the official city plan with a view of setting more practical design and land use regulations.

In other words, make Guelph a place in which doing business is a pleasure.

Summing up, the new council’s first priorities are to review what has gone on before. Cost reduction is a top priority as is reorganizing the city staff to reduce non- essential positions and to increase productivity.

The internal auditor has released a report which analyzed the costs of hiring outside consultants. She concluded that there is a need to improve governance of the system presently being used by the city in hiring outside consultants. She stated in her report that there is no policy, guidelines or set criteria available to govern the use of external consulting.

The internal auditor reported that in 2013, the city spent $2.8 million from the operating budget for outside consultants and another $4.4 million from the capital fund.

This study did not include the costs attributed to legal expenses, particularly those that accumulated in the handling of the Urbacon Lawsuit trial in 2013. These costs, still to be determined by the courtt, have not been publically revealed.

The study also said there were inconsistencies in the city’s reporting on the use of external consultants. This makes it difficult for city managers to manage consultant costs.

This is only the beginning.

Part Two of Fixing our City discusses giving the public access to council and to open the process creating full transparency of the decision making process.

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The truth about the Quarrie council’s involvement in the Urbacon affair

Remove the Quarrie council from the Farbridge ‘blame list’

July 24, 2014

Re: Mayor apologizes for city hall cost — July 15

As a citizen and former Ward 2 councillor (from 2003-2006), I am disgusted by part of the public City of Guelph apology approved by nine current city councillors at the July 14 council meeting regarding the costs of the new city hall.

To state that this multimillion-dollar disaster was partly caused by the Kate Quarrie council (2003-2006) is untrue and a feeble attempt to divert blame and responsibility.

Upon the project’s approval in 2005, the Quarrie council appointed a building committee of six people consisting of two public members, the city manager, Mayor Quarrie and two councillors, Kathy Downer and myself.

Our recommendations were reported to the full council on a regular basis. The building contract was awarded to Urbacon Buildings Group Corp. upon approval by council, legal and building consultants. It was not a “flawed contract,” as suggested by current city administrators. The contract contained a standard mediation clause that detailed a dispute process to resolve possible problems between the parties during construction.

If this clause had been invoked, we may have averted this litigation. Justice Donald McKenzie noted in his March ruling that this “dispute mechanism” was totally disregarded by the city.

A question that is being evaded is whether the council of the day was advised or made aware — by staff — of the action to terminate the building contract.

There are many other unanswered questions remaining about this issue.
By removing the Quarrie council from the “blame list” we may get closer to the truth.

Ray Ferraro
Guelph

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GrassRoots Guelph offers a solution to end the Guelph Transit work stoppage

Poasted July 26, 2014

The Mayor has invited the Amalgamated Transit Union workers to present a counter-offer in an effort to solve the current work stoppage. On the surface, it is a move to ferret out the real issues that the ATU is holding dear to their cause.

In other words, if you don’t know what they really want, how can you bargain constructively?

The union’s local president says his committee will discuss this latest attempt by the city to settle the dispute at a meeting to be held this weekend.

It’s not always a good idea to bargain in public. Bargaining a new collective agreement is a tricky and complex procedure. It requires give and take and there is bluster, intransigence and power tripping.

But the time has come offer solutions to the impasse. Here’s GrassRoots Guelph’s plan to end the work stoppage.

Past experience dictates that the invitation to counter the city’s last settlement proposal is the beginning of ending the strike/lockout. Sure there are political issues involved in this dispute.

The union wants to force the city to settle, on their terms before the arrival of 22,000 university students, beginning the last week in August. The city needs a quick settlement to save face with the public and get the buses rolling.

So, one wants a settlement on its terms and the other wants the buses to operate sooner than later.

Here’s a plan to resolve the dispute.

Following hearing a union counter offer, the city agrees to address the working conditions’ issues raised by the union. A committee composed of two union appointees, two city staffers, two public members, and an independent chairperson would be established. This committee, with the majority agreeing to an action plan within 90 days to resolve ATU working condition issues, will execute the plan within a year.

The city agrees to pay each member of the locked out ATU a contract-signing bonus of $800, based on agreement of the terms of the new contract.

The term of the agreement is four years, with an annual increase of base pay of 2 1/4 per cent.

The new collective agreement must be settled by Monday, August 18, 2014.

All the contract language, as previously proposed by the city, remain except for the stated changes.

This is a fair and equitable offer that benefits the union, with a commitment to resolve the working condition issues through a defined process. It also contains a new money package that includes an overall wage increase, totaling 10 per cent over the lifetime of the contract, plus an $800 signing bonus.

For the city, it means the transit system that the public can rely on, and will be running without interruption for the next three years.

It represents a win-win for each side and the public it serves.

If you are interested in joining GRG, the growing citizen’s activist movement, send your name address and telephone number plus email address to: grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com.

To access the GRG website go to: grassrootsguelph.com.

GRG is dedicated to informing the citizens and providing fact-based commentary and ideas to make our city a place in which all people benefit.

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The transit work stoppage will end when the university calls Mayor Farbridge

Posted July 25, 2014

The union workers never called a strike. The city locked them out.

Why? Because after more than a year of 22 bargaining meetings, provincial mediation sessions, a modified “final offer” that the union leadership accepted, the workers said no, again.

The city had no choice but to bring the matter to a head and lock them out, for the second time in seven days.

With 50 per cent of the Guelph Transit income coming from the mandatory bus pass payment extracted by the University from each of the 22,000 plus students who arrive starting September 2, there will be a phone call.

It’s a call that the Mayor cannot refuse. The question is, when does it arrive? Will the 205 Transit workers be the boys of summer tramping up and down their picket lines with no pay from the city? There will be strike pay from their union, but that won’t pay for the gas to show up for picket duty.

The longer they are off the job, the weaker their opposition becomes, and it would appear, any kind of settlement.

Their saving grace will come with that phone call to the mayor from the university.

The rank and file appear to have lost faith in their leadership and with local elections coming up next month, it is a safe bet there will be new faces taking over.

Each semester every student is charged $94 for a bus pass, whether they use it or not. So, Guelph Transit gets a deposit of some $2,068,000 at the beginning of each semester through September to April.

That comes in at $4,136,000 for the two main semesters. That is not chump change and represents almost half of the total revenue received by Guelph Transit.

The current base cost of wages for the transit union tops $10,660,000.That does not include benefits, including overtime, premium shifts, sick leave, medical and life insurance, worker’s compensation in case of injury. All those benefits increase the city’s costs of operating the transit system.

There will be a phone call or many of them. Each will put pressure on the Mayor to settle this dispute before students start arriving in late August. Remember all those returning to university have already paid for their bus pass through their fees.

The question remaining is how long will the Amalgamated Transit Union hold out and not provide service?

Union president Andrew Cleary claims the work stoppage will not end until November. He must have a lot of confidence that his members will go along with that prediction as they will be without a paycheck for more than three months.

It will end with a phone call even though the return of the students is five weeks away. Unfortunately, there is an element in the union ranks that is determined to deny any compromise.

Perhaps this is a harbinger of privatizing the system, who knows? If you ask those folks who are dependent on the service, they’d agree that the service must be dependable and timely.

Count on that university call soon ringing in Mayor Farbridge’s office, if it hasn’t happened already.

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The judge finds the city guilty of wrongful dismissal

Posted July 23, 2014

This is the third and final article of a three part series relating the circumstances that led to the Urbacon trial and the damages that taxpayers will face in the coming years. GB

Part Three

Superior Court Justice, Donald MacKenzie, precided over a five-week trial in February and March of 2013. The trial was held in Brampton.

March 31, 2014, Justice MacKenzie declared the city had wrongfully dismissed Urbacon and also dismissed the city’s $5 million counter claim.

In June, the judge released his 64-page judgment detailing his reasons for finding in favour of Urbacon.

Then, on June 20, the city brought an action to have the damages portion of the lawsuit delayed until after the civic election.

When city lawyer, Derek Schmuck, was asked by the presiding judge in this action why the city agreed to separate the lawsuit into a liabilities portion and damages portion, he replied: “Because we thought we would win.”

This action was dismissed and the damages portion of the original Urbacon finding will follow Judge MacKenzie’s directive. He ruled that the damages trial must be held four months following the liabilities trial judgment. That means a three-week trial in October is mandatory.

This was nothing but a taxpayer-financed manouver to defer the damages portion of the Urbacon lawsuit until after the election. The vulnerability now facing the Farbridge administration, and more particularly among its elected supporters, who supported the firing of Urbacon, is now palable.

Why would any thinking elector support these people who deliberately caused this multi-million dollar disaster?

So how much is this going to cost the taxpayers of Guelph? Assuming Urbacon is awarded costs of $19.2 million, the outstanding issues are the tangible expenses of conducting three trials and associated costs.

An educated estimate could see a total of $70 million spent to build a $42 million city hall and renovate the old city hall for a provincial court. If true, this is the most money ever wasted by a city admiistration, ever.

It is the result of power driven egos, misleading the public, absence of understanding basic contract law, serious miscalculation of the ongoing developments, and sheer arrogance that the Mayor and her cohorts believed they were right and the contractor was wrong.

Does anyone need a clearer picture of where the majority of this council stands? At taxpayer expense, they have just attempted to divert attention away from the key component of this lawsuit by asking the courts to delay the damages portion of the trial. They were only trying to save their own skins come October 27.

They lost again. More importantly, the people lost.

This creates an opportunity for the people of Guelph to register their disapproval of the Farbridge administration that has caused this to occur.

We only get the opportunity to correct incompetence every four years.

On October 27, the people must elect competent people to city council. Whoever wins the Mayor’s chair, it only comes with one vote. Real change must come from the city councillors who replace those responsible for this horrendous mismanagement of our municipal affairs.

It is time for citizens to stand up and together, work to clean up this mess.

If you don’t participate and vote you don’t count.

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The city throws new city hall contractor Urbacon off the project

Posted July 22, 2014

This is the second of a three part series on relating the circumstances that led to the Urbacon trial and the damages that taxpayers will face in the coming years. Part three will be published tomorrow. GB

Part two

In the summer of 2008, despite two extensions to the completion deadline, the city became concerned that employees, then working in leased premises, could not move into city hall because of construction delays. This meant that lease agreements would have to be extended so that employees could continue to function until they were able to move into the new building.

In late August, Chief Administrative Officer, Hans Loewig, sent an email to Urbacon saying how pleased he was with the progress and looked forward to a grand opening before the end of the year.

On September 19, 2008, Urbacon was ordered off the site and the city terminated the contract. City called in the police to enforce the order. Urbacon launched a wrongful dismissal lawsuit claiming $19.2 million. This was followed by lawsuits filed by the city against architects Moriyama & Teshima, and Aviva, the construction bondholder. The sub-contractors also filed an action under the Construction Lien Act.

Now the project faced a potential cost of $62,200,000.

The Farbridge administration now claims that it received outside legal advice that confirmed the city had the right to fire Urbacon. The author of that advice has never been revealed.

But there were other choices. The problem was that no one knew who was in charge. Who was calling the shots? Was it the mayor? Was it the council? Was it Hans Loewig? Some one had to make the final decision to kick Urbacon off the job site.

To this day, not one elected official or staff member has owned up to it. Except for CAO Ann Pappert, who said Hans Loewig made the unilateral decision without consulting council. Mr. Loewig left the city in December 2012 and did not testify in the Urbacon lawsuit trial.

As it stands now Ms. Pappert’s asserion was self-serving designed to protect the administration.

At the time of termination, the building was 95 per cent completed but work had not begun renovating the old city hall because staff was still working there.

The city then hired a contractor from Burlington to complete the new city hall and another contractor from Cambridge to convert the old city hall into the courthouse. Costs of these two firms to complete the work have never been revealed by the city. It is estimated to be some $5 million as it matches the city’s counter claim of the same amount. It is a claim judge dismissed.

Assuming this figure is accurate, the costs have now reached $67,200.000.

In November 2008, the city awarded Hans Loewig with a four-year contract with a beginning annual salary of $198,000. The contract included an unusual clause that allowed Loewig 12 weeks of unpaid leave plus his regular vacation time. During his tenure as Chief Administrative Officer for more than five years, Loewig never lived in Guelph.

He was paid some $415,384 plus benefits during that period while also receiving a pension from the City of Brantford where he worked for a number of years.

Could this be construed as a payoff for his work in firing Urbacon? While he was absent from the job for many months every year for five years, who was in charge and managing the staff? Was Mr. Loewig phoning in his input while away?

In 2009, the city and Urbacon agreed to mediate the dismissal to resolve differences. These talks failed and Urbacon proceeded with its lawsuit. Again the cost of the mediation session has never been revealed.

The hidden costs of this trial include legal fees on both sides of the issues, trial costs, consultant’s fees, staff costs. The damages portion of the trial in October will determine those costs.

Tomorrow, the costs escalate as the city hires a Hamilton lawyer to make its case.

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