Monthly Archives: August 2014

As a city builder, Mayor Karen Farbridge is a legend in her own mind

Posted August 31, 2014

In June this year, Mayor Karen Farbridge received the City Builder award from the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI). She received the award for championing innovative approaches to downtown revitalization, transportation planning and community energy use, according to a CUI news release. It appears CUI is an industry-lobbying group supported in part by the major banks.

In her press release the Mayor acknowledged being honoured and humbled for being chosen for this award. Really, ‘fess up m’lady, wasn’t there a smidge of self promotion involved?

“Competition for investment and talent is global,” she states. “An enviable quality of life that balances economic, environmental, social and cultural priorities is distinguishing Guelph and ensuring sustained prosperity of our city.”

Karen, please say it isn’t so: You are a legend in your own mind with those comments.

Let’s translate those statements for the stakeholders in your city.

Downtown revitalization: In eight years your government has been unable to curb the rowdyism and fouling of the downtown streets on weekends. But undeterred, your council approved taking funding from the Brownfield remediation reserve to encourage construction of hi-rise condo units. The result was an undisclosed agreement with these developers that allowed delay of development fees for ten years. This was before the upfront $22 million incentive bonus scavenged from the Brownfield reserve is repaid.

Let’s jump ahead to your pet Community Energy Initiative project that was announced recently with great fanfare. The news peg was Tricar developments agreeing to utilize the underground thermal heating-cooling system to be installed between the Sleeman Centre, River Run theatre and the second Tricar hi-rise condo. They are all located on Woolwich Street.

The presentations left out one important detail. What is the cost of this project, that in all likelihood, the required deep drilling will penetrate the water table? The Farbridge administration’s track record of capital projects is dismal with a record of lawsuits, and major cost overruns. Why is it that the builder of this proposal, a subsidiary of Guelph Hydro, is controlled by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. and not city council?

Next, her City Builder award includes transportation planning. Didn’t we just endure a three-week Guelph Transit work stoppage initiated by the Farbridge administration that locked out the workers? The workers complain, that the route changes made last year are such that drivers cannot maintain the imposed pick-up times. That sounds like a management problem, you think?

The Mayor’s award for transportation planning must include the $13 million to be spent over ten years to provide additional bike lanes, particularly on busy Speedvale and Woodlawn major arterial roads. And let’s not forget that repaving of Stevenson, Silver Creek and Downey road that were remarked to include wider bike lanes, reducing the two-way traffic from four lanes to two.

Does the criteria for “City Building” including rebuilding a bridge on the city’s main street that is too low for large commercial traffic? Before the city spent two years rebuilding lower Wyndham Street, all commercial traffic had no trouble passing under the railway bridge.

Now Her Worship speaks in her press release of balancing economic, environmental, social and cultural priorities that distinguishes Guelph. This comment is supposed to ensure sustained prosperity for our city. So, in eight years of the Farbridge leadership the industrial commercial assessment has not changed from 16 per cent of all city assessment. The result is the residential property owners are carrying an unreasonable 84 per cent of all assessment. And such inaction offers stagnant job opportunities for city citizens. That’s why a majority of Guelph’s working residents find employment outside the city.

That’s just more patting on the back by our newly minted City Builder.

Let’s look at the downside.

First, there is the millions the mayor and her majority of council has dumped into the Waste Innovative Resource Centre, aka the city dump. This includes building a $34 million organic waste management facility that is three times the size of the needs of Guelph for the next 20 years. Who can rationalize spending $15 million for a waste collection system using bins and special trucks? Oh, yes, some 6,400 households in the city have to hire private collectors to remove their garbage because the city refuses to do it. They must still pay for collection through their taxes.

Is the objective here to gain global attention for Guelph or, for the personal satisfaction of an ego-driven Mayor Farbridge?

Last but not least, there is the new city hall contract, now known as the “Urbacon Affair”. In September 2008, the Farbridge administration fired Urbacon Buildings Group Corp before the project was completed. Urbacon sued for $19.2 million for wrongful dismissal and a Superior Court Judge agreed with the company. The damages portion of this trial will commence October 14. The financial hit to this municipality is estimated to be in the millions.

And our Mayor, without remorse or shame clings to her City Builder award.

With recent statements it is apparent that the Mayor, if re-elected, will continue the same program of raising taxes and user fees plus special levies to meet her agenda.

Already council has approved in principal to spend some $25 million on Wyndham Street and St. George’s Square. Add to that, the cost of the Urbacon settlement and the $34 million police headquarters, the Baker Street 3P development. Now you know why there will be no south end recreation centre built in the foreseeable future.

Some Mayor, some builder

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THIS IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO MEET GUELPH’S CANDIDATES!

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GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) is sponsoring a “Meet the Candidates BBQ” on Thursday, September 18, 2014 at the Guelph Golf and Curling Club (133 Woodlawn Road East) from 5:30-9:00 p.m.

This is GRG’s second major event! It gives you, your family and friends an opportunity to personally meet registered Mayoral, City Council and School Board candidates in an informal setting.

During the event, we’ll introduce each of the candidates who accept our invitation to attend. However, they won’t be asked to speak or debate issues.

Tickets are $20 per person if bought ONLINE and $25 at the door. Please purchase your tickets right now! Go to GRG’s homepage at http://www.grassrootsguelph.com or call 519-837-4010. Student tickets are $15 and are ONLY available at the door.

We hope to see you there!

Ticket prices include a raffle ticket for a door prize. If you bring donations for the Guelph Food Bank, you’ll get an extra raffle ticket!

Note: In the weeks following the BBQ, GRG plans to organize City Council candidate debates in every ward. Keep checking the GRG website (www.grassrootsguelph.com) for information about when and where these debates will be held.

Thursday,
Sept 18, 2014

5:30-9:00 p.m.

Guelph Golf and Curling Club

133 Woodlawn Road East

Copyright © 2014 GrassRoots Guelph, All rights reserved.

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Is the Urbacon factor splitting the Farbridge ranks?

Posted August 27, 2014

Now two members of the Farbridge team will not run this fall. Coun. Ian Findlay in ward 2 and Lise Burcher in ward 5 have announced they are packing it in.

It’s interesting to see how quickly the Farbridge group reacts. Not longer after ward 5 candidate, Mark Routledge, withdrew his nomination, then Burcher called it quits. This leaves candidates Coun. Leanne Piper and Cathy Downer, former Farbridge campaign manager, in the catbird seat, potentially being elected by acclamation.

Then along comes ward 2 Coun. Ian Findlay, who chooses not to run. Within hours he’s replaced by twice defeated NDP member to the Ontario Legislature, James Gordon. You remember Mr. Gordon, the founding member of the Guelph Civic League and personal friend of the mayor. Must hand it to you, James, you don’t give up easily.

He joins fellow failed NDP provincial candidate Phil Allt, running in Ward 3. And who says that party politics doesn’t belong in municipal elections?

The problem in Guelph is the eight-year domination of Mayor Farbridge’s coalition of NDP adherents, wide-eyed environmentalists, self-serving progressives and a partridge in a pear tree.

In their sleazy way to retain power, the Farbridge team is frantically shoring up its ranks with reinforcements from the political left..

But there is a monumental problem that cannot be ignored. While residents have been bombarded with many vision policies, the ability to pay for these revolutionary programs has escaped the Farbridge administration.

They are great at policy but lack the basics of financial management.

That’s why your property taxes, in eight years, have increased annually by an average of 3.7 per cent. That’s an aggregated total of 38 per cent. When questioned about the tax increases, council claimed the 1.9 per cent average increase, in the Consumer Price Index in the same period, didn’t apply in Guelph.

The Financial Information Report (FIR) submitted to the province each year is full of contradictions, inaccuracies; in short, anything to ensure there is no deficit. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing demands these reports from all 444 Ontario municipalities.

Oh, the Karenistas will respond by saying the books are audited every year by Deloitte and Touche, a respected accounting firm. That audit contract is set up by the city finance department, the one responsible for reporting the state of the city’s finances to the province.

We now know that in eight years we have had five individuals acting as chief financial officers. Does this suggest a lack of continuity in that key department? And what changes were made in the Deloitte contract during that period?

Four years ago, a group of Guelph citizens started analyzing the city’s official FIR statements. There was mounting evidence that the financial statements were being manipulated to create the illusion of financial stability.

The rising cost of the city debt is one of the causes of the annual increases in property taxes, user fees, to cover the mismanagement of the various projects costing an estimated $200 million plus.

That’s when GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) took the analysis of the city’s finances and assembled a petition. It requested an independent audit of the city finances and operations. In October 2013, it was presented to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. In a meeting with Ministry officials, it was confirmed that the numbers and data were accurate.

The Minister denied the request stating it as “a local matter to be resolved by the two parties.” Weeks later the Minister resigned from the Liberal government and announced she was running for Mayor of Brampton.

GRG stands by its allegations and despite the claims by the city that the request was “a waste of time” the facts don’t go away. The petition was the harbinger of the failure of the Farbridge administration who spent $100,000 to a Toronto consultant to develop an “open government plan”. Regardless, the administration still conducts most of the city’s business behind closed doors.

Then along came Urbacon. On September 19, 2008, Urbacon Buildings Group Corp, general contractor of the new city hall, was thrown off the job by the city. The decision was made by … oh, oh, no one owns up to it. Not the Mayor, the council, the staff with one exception. CAO Ann Pappert identified former Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig was identified as the one pulling the plug on the contract.

Loewig was awarded for his alleged action with a four-year contract starting at $198,000 a year. However, he retired a month before the Urbacon lawsuit trial commenced and never testified as to his alleged action.

In March this year, the presiding Judge announced that the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon that had sued for $19.2 million. Starting October 14, the damages portion of the trial will commence.

That’s when voters will discover how great the cost will be to the City of Guelph.

For those councilours who served in the first term of the Farbridge Administration, they must assume responsibility for this multi-million dollar error in judgment. Two of them, Burcher and Findlay, are stepping aside. Mike Salisbury, defeated in 2010, is running again in ward 4. The remaining councilours from that group and running again include: Mayor Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw, June Hofland, Leanne Piper, and Karl Wettstein.

Despite all the denials of responsibility for this multi-million fiasco the spectre of Urbacon will play a role on October 27.

By supporting this group and other Farbridge labour and NDP candidates running to fill the holes in the lineup, it will only continue the record of mismanagement that we have endured in the past eight years.

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City staff bullies trample citizen’s right to enjoy his property

Posted August 25, 2014

It all started one fall day four years ago when Jim Galatianos, a single dad with two children, was confronted by two men who said they were city bylaw property standards officers and were responding to a complaint about debris in his backyard.

They showed no identification and told the homeowner they had the right to enter his property at anytime without advance notice to inspect his premises. They said their authority was city Bylaw (2008) -18552, a five-page document passed by city council May 27, 2008. Its originator was Coun. Leanne Piper who claimed that dealing with enforcing property standards was taking too long and a hardship on the staff.

It should be noted that the bylaw calls for a maximum fine of $100,000.

So what triggered this confrontation by the city? The complainant was never identified but Jim has a pretty good idea who it is.

The unannounced crash investigation of Jim’s backyard centred around alleged debris. It consisted of a deflated plastic swimming pool that Jim’s kids used in the summer and a plastic sheet that was used in the winter to create a skating rink. There was an old iron stove that Jim used to cook meat and a pile of splintered oak hardwood for use in the stove. Then there was a complaint about leaves in the yard. Turns out they are grape leaves that Jim collects in the fall to protect and fertilize his vines and berry plants.

The bylaw officers returned later and informed Jim they were removing the iron stove, He was told that he had to remove the pool and rink base and clean up the yard or the city would do it and charge him.

He was also asked if anyone lived in his daughter’s playhouse.

Jim locked the gate to his yard, but while he was at work, the bylaw officers entered his property from a neighbour’s yard and removed the hinges on the gate to allow in a contractor who stated on his invoice: “Garbage removal and clean up.”

The city then billed him $208.65 plus a “user fee” of $50 when he paid the amount at City Hall.

Jim made numerous attempts to reach his ward councilours June Hofland and Maggie Laidlaw who did not return his calls or reply to his emails.

Jim Galatianos is a modest man with limited means. Yet he had to refinance his home to pay some $12,000 in legal costs in attempts to have his personal property returned. He values the items removed at $2,100. He is asking the court to have the city cover his legal fees and a punitive award of $20,000. The civil trial is to be held November 20, 2014.

This is a blatant disregard by the city to honour individual property rights. These property standards officers became judge, jury and executioners with no recourse by the owner of the property.

In fact, Jim’s lawyer in the statement of claim, pointed out that the officers did not inform Jim pursuant to section 3.2 of the power of entry bylaw (#2009-18776) that the officers were required to inform Jim that the right of entry could be refused. If refused, the officers could only enter under the authority of and Order or warrant as specifierd in the bylaw.

In the case of the student lodgings in single family neighbourhoods, where are these officers, armed with this draconian bylaw that allows them to enter a property in which there is a suspected breach of the bylaw? Also included is enforcement of the noise bylaw, (loud music) evidence of misuse of toilet facilities (too many people) real garbage and debris in the house and yard? Why are the city bylaw officers failing to enforce those bylaws to protect property standards and individual rights?

This is happening almost every weekend in many quiet, single family neighbourhoods in wards five and six, where houses have been converted into student lodging with multiple tenants. Frequently, observers have noted that drugs and alcohol are being sold during these so-called “kegger” parties in which beer is bring sold at $5 a cup. These offenses are the responsibility of the police.

The officers were uncooperative with Jim and he finally called police. He was told that bylaw officers couldn’t enter a person’s property without the owner receiving prior notice or giving permission. It appears not even the police were aware of this bylaw passed by the city in 2008. They did respond and questioned neighbours about who removed the iron stove with negative results.

The property standards officers dodged the issue by saying they were not on the property on the day in question.

It is ironic that the Farbridge administration has proclaimed endlessly about people’s rights and environmental causes that they turn out to be closet fascists.

How would you feel if some nosy neighbour called the city and sent these two out to your property and removed your personal property without recourse?

There is something terribly wrong when a municipal government can pass laws that impacts the rights of citizens to the quiet enjoyment of their property.

In this case the city was an ass and this should have been resolved in a responsible and orderly way instead of the storm trooper tactics used by city staff.

Who can help this single dad to receive justice? Don’t depend on the city staff. The damage has already been done.

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Did you ever wonder?

Posted August 23, 2014

Why are there more members of Costco in Guelph (16, 000 plus) than voted for Karen Farbridge (14,000 plus) in 2010?

Why does the Mayor, who will earn $122,000 next year, receive top-up “honourariums” for serving on various boards such as the Guelph Police Services Board, The Public Health Board etc?

Does Mayor Farbridge as chair of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, receive an honourarium for that job on top of her salary?

The same goes for Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert who earns $213,000 a year and is Chief Executive Officer of GMHI?

What happened to the search for a CEO for GMHI to replace Ms. Pappert?

Why is it when a citizen asks about the number of city staff who do not live in Guelph, that the executive Director of Corporate and Human Resources, who lives in Hamilton, is asked to reply and doesn’t answer the question?

How come council gave CAO Pappert a $20,000 moving bonus to move from Waterloo to Guelph?

Why is it that Bryan Larkin’s brief career as chief of police was the work of a person who is expert at self-promotion but left his force in a shambles?

What ever qualified Coun. June Hofland to be chair of city council’s finance committee?

Still wondering why Guelph gas prices dropped right after Costco opened its gas bar? Now if only the province would end the monopoly held by the LCBO and Beer Store. When a good single malt scotch sells for $29.95 in Florida but the identical product costs $67 in Ontario, something’s wrong.

Why is there a subcommittee of the Guelph holding company investigating the sale and consolidation of Guelph Hydro?

Why is the city administration promoting awards for competence when the failure to win a lawsuit brought by Urbacon Buildings Group will end up costing millions? Remember little Jack Horner who stuck in his thmb and pulled out a plum…”oh! What a good boy I am?”

If the city bylaw officers can legally enter your property without notice or permission and remove articles they arbitrarily judge to be debris, why can’t those same officers curb the abuses in wards five and six of student lodgers who disturb the neighbourhoods?

Why did retired president of the University of Guelph and his vice president negotiate to establish a University of Brampton following work before retirement to enlarge the University of Guelph and Humber College to serve the Brampton area?

Why did those two senior U of G administrators receive a full years pay following their retirement?

Why did council pass a bylaw that allows them to refuse to hear a delegation if the subject is in litigation or has the potential of litigation?

Why doesn’t Mayor Farbridge accept responsibility for the wrongful dismissal of city hall contractor Urbacon Buildings Group Corp?

Knowing that there will be substantial damages cost to be paid by the city over the Urbacon Lawsuit, why did the council approve spending $34 million to renovate the downtown police headquarters?

Why does a 24-year old, recent U of G graduate and self-described anarchist, believe he will taken seriously as he runs for mayor?

Why hasn’t the province increased the post secondary student so-called “bed tax” payment of $75 in lieu of property taxes since 1987?

With all the apparent commercial construction occurring in the city, how does one explain why the commercial industrial assessment remains the same 16 per cent as 2007 when Mayor Farbridge took office?

What do you think? Are you ready for another four years of a Farbridge administration?

Join GrassRoots Guelph and participate in the movement to renew confidence in our city government on October 27. Sign up at grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com. There are some great candidates working hard to get elected. The end game is to replace the elected members of the current administration.

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The Farbridge propaganda machine is smoking!

Posted August 20, 2014

In a recent blog in the Mercury’s Internet bloggeria, the resident Rottweiler of the Farbridge inner circle attacked the credibility of GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) and guelphspeaks.ca.

Susan Watson, stuck to our mayor like paper on the wall, challenged GRG’s facts and figures concerning last fall’s request for an independent audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.

She states that the city’s finances are independently audited every year. So far so good. She then goes on to say the audit that was conducted by the “international financial services company Deloitte and Touche.” Yep, she’s right about that.

The gaping hole in her statement is that the city contracts with Deloitte to audit its finances, and the city sets the terms of that contract . There is a limit to what this “independent audit” actually examines in detail. In the City of Guelph’s case, the contract does not require an investigation of any item under $300,000.

What Deloitte doesn’t do is examine or comment on the management of the city.

Keep in mind the city and all 444 municipalities in Ontario are obligated by legislation, to file an annual statement with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, called a Financial Information Report (FIR). The reason is simple. Municipalities, by law, cannot run a deficit. It is an archaic system that invites the opportunity to obfuscate the real financial picture with balance sheet legerdemain.

So Ms. Watson, your opinions magnify why a truly independent audit is necessary. Let’s take an example: The city of Guelph versus the Wellington, Dufferin, Guelph Public Health organization.

The public health group decided to spend $17 million on a new head office on Stone Road and a satellite office in Orangeville. The city’s share of this project was $10 million, money that was not included in the capital budget.

So the city went to court to separate itself from this provincially mandated organization composed of the three municipalities. The case was lost and the costs were levied against Guelph including legal bills. In the spirit of its sham claim of operating an open and transparent government, the city refused to reveal those costs to the citizens.

Wonder how Deloitte and Touch handled that one in its annual report?

Watson charged that GRG and guelphspeaks were not aware or “bothered to do any background research or fact checking to uncover the reality of Guelph’s finances that were already audited.” Does she really believe that GRG analysts made this stuff up? GRG was well aware of D & T ‘s role as city auditors.

And Ms. Watson, if you read the petition and checked the GRG numbers with those contained in four years of FIR reports generated by the city, you would come to the same conclusion: This stuff doesn’t add up.

The GRG team, with legal and financial experience, carefully prepared the material in the petition. The analysis was performed over four years of examining the city’s official FIR’s. The fact that the contents were confirmed as being accurate by members of the Minister’s own staff, indicates other political elements were engaged in denying the GRG request. There still remains justification for a deep-diving forensic audit of the city’s finances and operations.

But the Minister deferred the issues to be resolved by the two parties and shortly later resigned.

Here are some other abortive projects that have caused Guelph’s property taxes and user fees to skyrocket in the past eight years.

Building the civic museum in the renovated Loretto convent costing some $4 million over budget.

The $5.2 million cost in 2013 of staff overtime and absenteeism

Spending $33 million on an organic waste processing plant that is triple the size needed by the city for the next 20 years and contracting a third party for its operation.

Voting to spend $34 million on renovating the downtown police headquarters.

Allowing 80 per cent of all property taxes to be consumed by city staff costs.

Admitting to mismanagement of consultant and legal contracts that are in excess of peer communities.

Rebuilding the Wyndham Street rail underpass that does not allow large commercial vehicles to enter without crashing the underside of the bridge.

Approving $170,000 for a new floor for the Farmer’s Market to be told by staff the bill was really $500,000.

Guaranteeing the $560,000 loan for the community-run indoor soccer bubble because the operators were unable to repay the mortgage charges.

The costliest error in judgment is the Urbacon lawsuit in which the Superior Court found the city wrongfully dismissed the new city hall contractor. The damages portion of the judgment will be heard beginning October 14, and could reach more than $30 million.

Ms. Watson, why don’t you ‘fess up to your close association as a Farbridge campaign surrogate? You have no lock on the truth or its genesis.

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The altruistic argument to get our cars off the roads

Posted August 13, 2014

Writing in the Toronto Star, a reader proposed a solution to vehicle congestion in the GTA.

Here’s how he sees it.

First, employ a public transit system that moves people faster and gets them out of cars.

Next, make it easier for people to walk and or bike thereby reducing the need for cars.

Then tax people who continue to use their cars in the city.

More bike lanes, charge motorists more money to use city streets, now those are solutions to reduce traffic congestion.

Did it ever dawn on the writer that the money spent on bicycle lanes has the result of narrowing roads?

In Guelph that’s exactly what has happened as the bike lobby demands more bike lanes on arterial roads. In fact, the city is spending $13 million over the next ten years just to facilitate a vocal minority of enviro-cyclists.

Let’s see, cyclists, to meet their needs, requires modification, i.e. dedicated bike lanes. But riders are not licensed to use the public roads; do not pay to use those roads; carry no evidence of riding a bicycle safely; or have insurance that covers their use of the streets.

You cannot drive a vehicle in Ontario without proof of your ability to do so (driver’s licence) or proof of insurance. Through purchase of fuel for your car, part of the price is returned to each municipality to maintain the roads, bridges and infrastructure.

Cyclists do not contribute.

In Guelph, the Farbridge administration has changed the configuration of major arterial roads in the city to accommodate the use of bicycles. When major streets with four lanes are resurfaced, the pavement is re-marked to allow only two lanes, wider bike lanes and a left turn centre lane. Examples include: Stevenson from Eramosa to Speedvale, Silver Creek from Speedvale to Paisley and Downey Road from the Hanlon to the Hanlon Business Park entrance.

Now the city is proposing to provide bicycle lanes on two of Guelph’s busiest streets, Speedvale and Woodlawn.

The net result of this is more congestion in the city that has increased, in part, this summer due to road closures and construction.

The bike users keep saying that it is healthier to ride a bike than drive a car. They forget the rule of demographics that eliminates those between the ages of one and 13 and 65 to 100. That represents more than half of the population of the city. Then consider the portion of the population that are able and physically fit, more than 90 per cent depend on their cars to maintain their lifestyle.

But isn’t that what this is all about? A tiny minority of the population of Guelph actually rides their bicycles year round using major streets. This vocal group is demanding and the current council kowtows to them.

Their next argument is to ban cars to reduce fossil fuels and stop global warming. It has been proven that when one of four major volcanoes in the world erupts, it spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the vehicles in the United States generate in one year.

But what about all those buses we see running arund town, empty most of the time? Citizens heavily subsidize Guelph Transit. More than 50 per cent of its revenues come from the university students who must buy a bus pass at the beginning of each semester. If there were no university in Guelph there would be no necessity for Guelph Transit at its present scale of operations.

Or, consider the commercial vehicles that provide the goods and services needed by a major city. Neither bicycles nor pubic transit can provide those services.

It’s time t0 stop pandering to this noisy minority of altruistic environmentalists who want to ban cars from downtown entirely.

Society is evolving. In the next ten years, there will be more vehicles on the road powered by non-fossil fuels such as electricity, hydrogen and even sunlight. Cars will be safer, more compact and technologic beyond anything we see today.

Instead of catering to this madding crowd of cyclists and their supporting cast of environmentalists believing they are right and the rest of us are wrong, lets tend to the vast majority of citizens and meet their needs.

In the past eight years, Guelph’s “progressive” experiment led by Mayor Farbridge has come at a gigantic price and the people are paying for it through excessive taxes and user fees.

Time to change.

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The facts behind the Karen Farbridge administration’s legacy of failure

Posted August 12, 2014

Recently, when Mayor Farbridge issued her so-called apology for the Ubacon lawsuit decision, she pointed the finger of responsibility at four different councils, of which she was Mayor for three of those terms.

This triggered outrage from citizens who protested her statement that included former Mayor Kate Quarrie’s administration. The Quarrie council had absolutely nothing to do with the Urbacon lawsuit.

That, friends, was a decision made by the Farbridge administration. When the mayor praised the nine councilors for having the courage to support her “apology statement” she never admitted any personal responsibility, period.

She seconded her responsibility and explanation to CAO, Ann Pappert, whose finger pointing claimed former CAO, Hans Loewig acted on his own, firing the city hall contractor without informing council.

Surprise, Loewig retired a month before the start of the five-week wrongful dismissal trial held in Brampton. Other officials, associated with the project, were either fired or resigned in the two-year period leading up to the termination of Urbacon.

Loewig’s timely disappearance came at the end of his four-year contract that elevated him from contract employee to permanent staff, two months after he turfed Urbacon off the construction site on September 19, 2008. An interesting coincidence, one could assume.

It was a classic move by the mayor to pick and groom CAO’s who resolutely did her bidding. And who would turn down a job like that? It pays more than $200,000, plus benefits.

So, the unelected senior civil servants become the spokespersons for the city. The Mayor communicates sometimes through her blog and rarely ventures out of city hall to meet the public unless the meeting is tightly controlled. She has yet to hold a press conference in which the media can question city policies.

Her tenure is remarkable, despite her reclusive nature that includes often not returning telephone calls or answering correspondence.

Her deliberate avoidance of engaging her public leaves one wondering: Who is running the city?

These tactics, involving her public persona, has resulted in a litany of poor judgment, mismanagement, dumbfounding stupidity and an arrogance matched only by Marie Antoinette.

Let us count the ways.

* Caving into the heritage crowd in 2007, majority council agreed to spend $12.7 million converting the derelict Loretto convent into a new civic museum. The end cost of this has never been revealed because city staff underestimated renovating the crumbling structure.

* Remember guaranteeing a $500,000 bank loan to build an indoor soccer field to be run by local soccer groups. Trouble is, they couldn’t make the mortgage payments so, last year, the city had to refinance and guarantee the loan. In four years the turf surface and balloon roof will have to be replaced.

* A real dereliction of responsibility allowed the occupation of the city-owned Hanlon Business Park. Urban terrorists set up shop in the park and the result was damage to contractor’s equipment, a stoppage of work and the police never intervened. The bill, later revealed, cost more than $1 million. Who were these urban terrorists? Why they were later connected with participating in the G20 riots and burning tires on the Hanlon? The Farbridge administration failed to step in and stop the occupation.

* Later, when the official opening of the park took place, a busload of guests and signatories were assaulted with yells of profanity, spitting and rocking the bus by these same urban terrorists. The police merely videotaped the assault.

* Who can forget the $33 million spent on an organic processing facility that was built triple the capacity of the city for the next 20 years. The plant lifespan is only 20 years.

* Spending another $15 million on waste bins and special vehicles to pick them up curbside, quickly followed this project. Trouble is that an estimated 6,400 condo units could not be served by the new system. But that was nothing new; the city waste department has never collected the waste of these households. Most have to hire independent contractors to collect their garbage. They still have to pay for collection through their property taxes, as well.

* Then there is the case of the floor in the farmer’s market in the former horse barn. City staff asked for $170,000 to replace the uneven floor. It was approved in the budget and a few months later, staff came back to council and said the job would cost $500,000. So where did the extra $330,000 come from? The de-humidifiers scheduled for installation in the West end recreation centre pool. Now that’s a great way to run a city.

* The Farbridge administration attempted to wiggle out of this joint public health board that involved Wellington and Dufferin counties. The reason was the city’s share of a new $17 million headquarters was $10 million. The Farbridge administration went to court to get out of the deal and lost. The end cost was never revealed. Guelph citizens still had to pay the $10 million.

* Along came the Urbacon lawsuit judgment. The city was found it had wrongfully dismissed the city hall contractor. The flurry of silly finger pointing has subsided probably because an attempt by the city to stay the damages portion of the trial until after the election. Another judge denied the application. This is another example of using the taxpayer’s money to deny, defuse and delay the financial fallout that will cost millions and hopefully end the days of the Farbridge administration.

* Finally, Reid’s Heritage Homes is suing the city for $2 million for overcharging development fees. That trial will be held this fall after two attempts by the city to have the suit thrown out.

Reading this Farbridge leadership litany of absolute arrogance, residents must feel like being hit over the head repeatedly by a hammer. The huge increases in property taxes and user fees are only the tip of the iceberg.

But it doesn’t stop the Farbridge regime as they annouce new projects costing millions.

But a new downtown library or south end recreation centre are not included.

When guelphspeaks.ca refers to the Farbridge administration, it includes those councillors who have supported her leadership since 2007. It also includes certain senior members of the city staff who have been loyal agents supporting the Farbridge agenda.

In future posts, those responsible will br named because we now know who they are.

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How the student housing licensing plan was killed by the city

Posted August 11, 2014

More than five years ago, residents complained about homes in single family-zoned areas that were being used as dormitories for students. These premises were being used for “kegger” and other uncivil acts that spoiled the tranquility of the neighbourhood

In 2013, the city staff was instructed to investigate and propose a control program to solve the problem of rowdy behaviour and illegal selling of alcohol. A series of public meetings were held in which the public input was overwhelmingly in favour of some form of licensing of the affected properties.

Most of these student lodgings are located in wards five and six, represented on council by four of Mayor Farbridge’s devout supporters.

Let’s back track a bit. There is a powerful political action group known as the University Neighbourhood Group operating in ward five. This organization has been around for years but is currently controlled by a small group of individuals including ward five Councillours Leanne Piper and Lise Burcher plus council candidate, Cathy Downer. Piper and Burcher are employees of the University of Guelph.

The two pillars of their existence are heritage and the environment.

Due to proximity to the U of G’s main campus, most of the estimated 6,000 households rented to students are located in wards five and six. This represents substantial income for those owners of households who rent to students at an average of $450 to $500 a month each.

In the past 24 months there has been a flurry of applications and approvals of large-scale, privately developed student housing complexes. One of the largest is to be built at the intersection of Stone Road and Gordon Street by Varsity Abode. Both the city and the university initially opposed the application. The Ontario Municipal Board adjudicated the matter and the city was ordered to proceed with the project.

Why was there such opposition? The city was facing irate single-family homeowners who complained their neighbourhoods were being abused by student parties and misbehaviour.

Non-residents owned a number of these converted student lodgings. In some cases, the parents of a student would buy the house, convert it to a student-lodging house, and finance their child’s four-year university courses through rentals.

For years, Waterloo faced the same problem as Guelph. But when larger scale rentals were being built by the public sector at a fairly rapid pace, the number of private home student housing units fell dramatically. Students preferred the new housing units that were managed professionally and came with many amenities.

This is what’s slowly happening in Guelph. Despite the protective screen put up by the landlords to maintain their student cash cows and the action of the University Neighbourhood group to protect these landlords, the trend is now in place.

But this will take time. The university is expanding and there is a growing demand for housing. The U of G is not interested in providing additional student housing on campus as it backed out of a joint plan with a private developer to build more student accommodation.

But the usual games are being played at city hall, as the Varsity Abode project has yet to break ground some 18 months following its initial application.

In the meantime, the rental-licensing proposal has been killed. In its stead, is a staff plan to seek a warrant from a judge to investigate conditions in a student lodging suspected of overcrowding and lack of safety measures.

But nothing will happen until next spring, providing the new council hires a new bylaw enforcement officer to chase the judges for warrants allowing them to investigate defined suspect lodgings.

The people who live near these offending homes say all the city has to do is enforce its own bylaws. In Mayor Farbridge’s eight years in office, that has not happened. And now we know why.

The real problem is the core of councillours, including the mayor, who won’t interfere with this abuse of neighbourhoods, where many if their supporters are cashing in.

So with 22,000 students about to arrive, there is nothing that can be done to commence the “warrant” system until the new council approves the 2015 budget in the spring.

There is now strong suspicion that undue pressure was brought on the staff to dump the licensing proposal. There is ample evidence that these student lodgings are a problem in many parts of wards five and six. Both the police and the bylaw department know the locations.

If you buy a single family home and convert it into a five to ten bed student lodging, then that’s a business. Like other businesses in the city, it should be licensed.

A “kegger” is when the organizers purchase kegs of beer and resell it at $5 a cup.
At one large gathering this summer, there were an estimated 150 students attending. If the average purchase of beer was $20 that’s a gross profit of $3,000.

That’s a violation of the Liquor Licensing Act in which the sale of alcohol must be approved by special permit. It also demands that a person must be 19 in order to consume alcohol. It is a blatant abuse of the rule of law but no one in the administration seems to care.

This yet is another reason why GrassRoots Guelph researched and delivered a petition outlining mismanagement, the financial errors, omissions and overcharges of taxes by the administration. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, at the time, rejected the petition but never revealed the reasons for her decision.

Her own staff confirmed the accuracy of the numbers and data in the petition.

The Ombudsman of Ontario is now investigating.

For more information contact grassrootsguelph.com.

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It’s time to open the windows and let the sunshine in at 1 Carden Street

Posted August 6, 2014

Part Two of Fixing our City: It’s all about giving the public access to council and committee meetings to create full transparency of the management if the city.

For the past eight years, the Farbridge administration has practised every form of concealment of the facts; denial of responsibility and in doing so has abused the public trust.

It is ironic in the 2006 election Mayor Farbridge pledged to run an open and transparent government. As it has turned out, the exact opposite occurred. The record shows that citizens were denied disclosure of the public business. When the citizens were informed, the city communications department prepared it according to what the administration wanted revealed. The message was always tightly controlled to give the illusion of competence.

Last year, the administration hired a Toronto consultant to create a plan to conduct an open and transparent government. That exercise cost taxpayers $100,000.

Unfortunately the veil of secrecy was never affected as most public business was conducted behind closed doors and off premises. It didn’t seem to matter, as the city’s tab at the Cuttin Fields club will show.

The Farbridge council meetings are showpieces. Carefully orchestrated two hours before the public meeting, the agenda is discussed in closed session by members of council often with staff. Even assignments making motions are set up. The result is little discussion let alone debate in open council.

Further, all council members are warned not to reveal the contents of the closed-door meeting held before council meetings.

This has been going on for eight years as Mayor Farbridge has tightly controlled council with the help of a majority of her supporters. In some circles, that would be described as a dictatorship. Rarely do her current seven supporters break ranks in the administration’s orchestrated votes.

It this controlled manipulation of council and senior staff that has led to the multi-million dollar Urbacon Building Groups Corp lawsuit that the city recently lost. The allocation of damages will be decided starting October 14, just 13 days before the civic election.

Undeterred, the Farbridge administration including her council cohorts, asked the courts to delay the damages portion of the trial until after the October 27 civic election. That motion was denied. The irony is again, the taxpayers paid for that trial. It was a brazen attempt to delay the bad news until after the civic election.

The mayor issued a statement apologizing “on behalf of the City of Guelph” for the new city hall cost overruns but declared no responsibility by herself or any member of her present administration.

Her Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, declared that her predecessor, Hans Loewig, had unilaterally acted without council’s approval in the firing of Urbacon. She said he ordered throwing the representatives off the work site with the assistance of the police.

In his judgment stating the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon, Justice Donald MacKenzie found it odd that police were called to enforce a civil legal matter.

This is what happens when public business is held in secret without public recourse or disclosure.

The new council has the responsibility to hold meetings in which there is open debate and public input. The meeting agendas must be well advertised in advance and accessible to the public. Council voting must be held in the open by raising the hand and saying the decision. Following which the clerk announces the result.

The present electronic voting system masks who and how councillours voted and should be scrapped. In a few seconds the count is announced but does not reveal who voted and which way.

It is just another planned step to prevent the public from knowing where their representatives stand on the issues. The last eight years has witnessed a tight control of council information and management of the message.

It remains a serious breach of the public trust that has resulted in soaring debt, one of the highest tax rates in Ontario and an unfriendly administration that does not encourage industrial or commercial investment.

The residential development in the city is 96 per cent multi-family, linked housing or condos. Single-family homes are not on this council’s agenda as they attempt to intensify residential development. It’s all part of the master plan to change the city into clusters of neighbourhoods that are self-sustaining with a mixture of residential and commercial development.

This corollary is spending on bicycle lanes ($13 million over ten years) increasing subsidy of public transit and converting four lane arterial streets to two lanes to accommodate widened bike lanes and left turn lanes.

Often holding public information meetings is a sham with those supporting the city’s position dominating the discussion and resulting decision.

Unfortunately, we citizens let this happen. That’s why it is now important to participate and be informed of the issues that face our city.

This election will be the most important in Guelph’s history. Citizen’s have the opportunity October 27 to make their views known by engaging the issues and voting.

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