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.