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.