Posted November 3, 2013
If we learned nothing from the past eight years of the Farbridge administration at least it was educational, expensive but not very informative.
We learned that it’s really tough to fight City Hall.
City regulations place an enormous burden on the citizen seeking information of the administration’s finances and operations. Such an example in Guelph occurred in October 2013, when GrassRoots Guelph filed a petition requesting an independent audit of the city’s finances and operations.
It was denied by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing despite the acknowledgement of her own staff that the data was accurate. The city’s Chief Administrative Officer boasted the request was a “waste of time.” The facts are as true today as they were in October 2013.
The Urbacon affair demonstrated the need for a GRG independent audit that could have mitigated the damages.
If a politician appears to have violated the conflict-of-interest law, nothing can be done unless the citizen files a lawsuit. If a politician breaks a bylaw there is no recourse for the citizen because of the close ties with the professional staff and the council. It shouldn’t be this way.
A key element in the defeat of Mayor Karen Farbridge was the secrecy and denial of any protest of her administration. This was self-evident when she attempted to switch the blame for the unsigned ad in the Tribune that attempted to link Mayoralty candidate Cam Guthrie with convicted robocall perpetrator Michael Sona. Her subsequent FrontPage rant in the Guelph Mercury of how extreme and toxic the campaign was, resulted in the failure of the public trust that led to her defeat.
People generally believe what they read in the newspapers. Independent municipal coverage of the two Guelph newspapers in the last eight years was conspicuously absent. News and opinion coverage favoured the Farbridge administration. There was little investigative reporting or fact checking of city news releases that both papers relied on.
In the past four years, more and more people turned to the Internet for their news. The blogosphere became a source for independent news and commentary. This included publishing breaking news that the two newspapers did not or chose not to cover.
If the established media cannot be trusted, what can you believe?
The irony is, after all the thousands of words printed in the two newspapers during the two Farbridge terms in office, neither paper endorsed her. For that matter, the Mercury wrote a lengthy editorial that both damned and praised the two chief mayoralty candidates. Were they hedging their bet?
The Tribune, in a post election editorial, started off by aligning Mayor-Elect Cam Guthrie with Conservative and Progressive Conservative ties. This was the ongoing attack theme of the defeated Farbridge team and her supporters. The same political pejorative was laid on the GrassRoots Guelph citizens group. It was a bum rap.
Why, in this important civic election, did the Farbridge supporters keep bringing up conservative party affiliations aimed to influence voters? Why did they keep using terms such as “slash and burn” in references to what Cam Guthrie would do if elected mayor?
It was a massive tactic to divert the voter’s attention from the Farbridge secretive and sleazy campaign that attempted to cover up its record of mismanaging the city.
Then the Urbacon affair surfaced.
The voters weren’t fooled and she was trounced in her fourth bid for re-election.
Karen Farbridge even persuaded Liberal MP Frank Valeriote to make robocalls to every household in Guelph, supporting her candidacy two days before the election. There are more Liberal voters in the City of Guelph than any other federal or provincial party. It’s safe to assume now that many of them didn’t listen to Frank’s plea for support of Mayor Farbridge.
In its editorial, The Tribune hoped that the new council members would “pursue initiatives that have broad support.” You know the Goldilocks porridge parable – not too hot and not too cold, just right.
The sentiment is right. But after eight years of the mis-handling of our city’s treasure and the public trust by the Farbridge administration, we’ll have to wait and see how well the members of council work together for the common good.
A good start is to open the work of council to the public view and adopt a transparent approach to all city business.