Monthly Archives: February 2015

The elephant is still in the room as city staff presents the 2015 operating budget

Posted February 26, 2015

The city staff presented a 2015 draft budget to council that proposed a 3.05 per cent property tax increase. The documents suggested that the increase would cost $99 for a home assessed at $301,077. Gee, that’s only $8 and change a month.

Hold the phone. There was the 4.1 per cent increase in water bills that would bring the increase for the same property to $130 a year. The city release said that all services would be maintained.

Oh! There will also be unspecified increases in user fees, parking, transit, development, licensing, recreation facilities, museum, permits etc.

Also not included in the staff draft budget is the automatic increase in all Guelph property assessments as mandated by the provicial agency MPAC, Muncipal Property Assessment Corporation. As assessments increase, so do taxes. MPAC assesses some five million properties in Ontario.

The elephant in the room remains the Urbacon settlement. Here’s how that’s being handled. The city used money from three unrelated reserve funds to pay its share of the Urbacon lawsuit settlement. Then Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, announced that those reserves would be replenished from revenues in five years.

But now the payback, which is coming principally from property taxes, will cost $900,000 a year for the next six years. That would appear to be a pittance in the projected 2015, 16, 17, 18,19, 20 budgets.

Maybe they should explain that strategy to those folks who want a $300,000 bike lane on Woodland, a new downtown library, South end recreation centre, garbage pick-up for all citizens. They were told the city could not afford it.

It appears nothing has changed in managing city finances. The irony is that the former mayor promised those projects as far back, in some cases, to the early 2,000’s during her first term as Mayor.

It’s all a case of priorities and a multi-million dollar waste management Dunlop Drive depot took precedence over projects that directly affect citizens’ quality of life. Remember, how the three-bag pre-sorted garbage in multi-coloured plastic became three-bin garbage receptacles? The waste management spent $15 million installing the new collection system that leaves out 13 per cent of the city residences and businesses.

The Farbridge council took a system that was working, approved construction of condominiums where the bins could not be stored and then ignored their responsibility.

Talk about a public flipping of the bird.

Running a city is not rocket science. The management tasks are chiefly repetitive; maintenance, cost control, administration. The flights of fancy taken in the past eight years brought a ton of doubt to the citizens. They did something about it last October.

But the staff doesn’t seem to get it. For the politicized senior management, it’s business as usual.

Another ironic item is allocating $10,000 to fund the independent Integrity Commissioner, Caledon lawyer, Robert Swayze. You will recall that Mayor Guthrie, as a former member of council representing ward four, caused an uproar by merely asking a staffer for a public report and was refused. That exercise in integrity fomented by the then mayor, cost taxpayers some $10,000.

Nothing will change until an independent body conducts a thorough review of city finances for the past four years. Now that’s a real exercise in integrity. The release stated that the staff was using a system for budgeting, formulated in 2013 and approved by council.

It did not include zero-based budgeting, a well-established system used by governments and businesses across the country.

Forecasting is another essential to developing a budget. The record shows the staff is not very good at it. There is a lack of checks and balances, when staff can manipulate the finances to meet the demands of its political masters and control the message.

The request for an independent audit of city finances by citizen’s group, GrassRoots Guelph, was based on the actual figures produced by staff and sent to the province in its annual financial statements. The figures remain and are as true today as they were two years ago. Then Minister of Municipal Affairs, Lynda Jeffery, denied the request, transferring it back to the two parties to resolve their differences. She resigned shortly after from the government to run as mayor of Brampton and was elected. She has requested a financial review of Brampton’s books.

What’s sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the gander.

GrassRoots Guelph is still alive and well and ever watchful of the city politic.

Politics can be such a nasty business.

 

 

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Fixing some of the messy leftovers of the Farbridge years

Posted February 25, 2015

The Guelph Mercury recently wrote an editorial saying the full cost of the Urbacon City Hall lawsuit has yet to be revealed to the citizens. The only sentence that was not true was that the Mayor apologized for the mistake that cost her job.

What the mayor said was that she apologized on behalf of the City of Guelph. Without splitting hairs, who was she apologizing to, the citizens who are the City of Guelph? This cockamamie response or non-apology was pure Farbridge who ran our city without taking responsibility for her actions.

She was in charge of the administration. To have her CAO, Ann Pappert, claim that the former CAO fired Urbacon, was pure Farbridge political deflection. After all, there was an election coming and she wouldn’t want to have this situation affecting her re-election.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the fox was among the chickens. Now the new administration has the responsibility to report the full cost of the Urbacon affair. There are four councillors elected in October, who were part of the decision to fire the city hall contractor in September 2008. So far, their complicity is unknown but they were elected in 2007 to protect the people’s interests and were sworn to maintain fiduciary responsibility.

The Urbacon four, still sitting on council, include June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Leanne Piper and Karl Wettstein.

Here are some of the Urbacon hangover items:

How much did the city pay Urbacon in completion payments before the firing?

What were the costs, ordered by the administration, of the hundreds of change orders?

How many change orders were processed to the contractor and what did they require?

What was the cost of hiring two construction firms to complete the original contract?

What were the terms of those contracts?

Was the construction by these companies tendered?

What did the city have to pay for settling with the Urbacon sub-trades?

What were the staff expenses, dedicated to supporting the city’s countersuit against Urbacon?

How much did it cost the city to extend staff rentals in other downtown buildings?

What was the cost of unsuccessfully suing Aviva, the completion bondholder?

What were the details of the four-year contract awarded to CAO Hans Loewig?

What were the terms of settlement with architects Moriyama and Teshima?

Did Murray McRae, the city engineer in charge of the project, leave of his own accord or was he paid a goodbye settlement charge?

How much did the city pay for outside legal advice and representation?

How are the trial costs allocated in the legal settlement?

The more you think about it, the more troubling it becomes. Right now, there appears to be no effort on the part of the Guthrie Administration to come clean with the real costs of this financial disaster.

Appointing an Auditor General to investigate and oversee city operations would be money well spent and lead to clearing the air about Urbacon and other Farbridge hangovers.

The people have the right to know.

 

 

 

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The ghost of Farbridge hovers over city hall as little has changed

February 17, 2015

Why did we bother to have an election if little has changed and the same people are running the store?

A year ago, the city announced it was seeking a chief executive officer to run the shadow holding company know as Guelph Municipal Holding Inc (GMHI) with its chief asset being Guelph Hydro, and its subsidiary, Envida Community Energy Inc. Also planned was a real estate company to sell off surplus city property.

The administration hired Odgers Berndtson, a headhunting firm with global contacts, to find the candidate. The successful candidate will replace the current CEO Guelph chief administration officer, Ann Pappert. The GMHI board of directors is composed of the mayor as chairman, councillors and two independents appointed by the former mayor.

Question? Did they ever hire a GMHI chief executive officer? If so, how much did it cost?

Why does Guelph need another layer of expensive talent to run a holding company with three assets? Guelph Hydro has a management structure that has functioned well for many years. Will someone explain to the citizens why more management is needed?

The holding company will manage former mayor Farbridge’s vision of supplying underground thermal heating and cooling to the downtown area. The Guelph Hydro subsidiary, Envida Community Energy, has announced it will build a $20 milion gas-fired electricity generating plant, combined with a thermal-based heating and cooling system, to service the Hanlon Business Park occupants.

Even more interesting is how GMHI paid a dividend from Guelph Hydro. In 2012, the dividend was $2,900,000, forwarded to the city and swallowed up in general revenues. It was paid despite a decline in Guelph Hydro’s revenues in 2012.

The bottom line is that it is another way to tax citizens. It occurs every time you turn on the lights, heat the house, heat the water, refrigerate the food and watch television. The same thing is happening when providing water and water treatment services. The alarming trend of increasing water costs to consumers reached 77 per cent from 2007 to 2012.

The former Mayor’s agenda takes money. Lots of it and that’s why there is the constant scramble to find ways to tax people, jack-up user fees and now use two vital services, power and water to pay for it.

The Ontario Municipal Act frowns on municipalities taxing those two vital services, directly or indirectly. The subterfuge of using the municipal holding company to launder the Hydro “dividend” so it does not appear as another tax is egregious and probably unlawful.

Another four years of a continuation of the former mayor’s agenda, as it appears is the case today, and our city will continue to have the highest property taxes, hydro and water rates in Ontario.

Here’s why: People will not want to live here because of the high property tax rates. In fact, some people may not be able to afford to live here. Industrial and commercial development will not grow because of high taxes, operating fees and a complicated system of obtaining approvals from a politicized city administration.

There is growing evidence that Mayor Cam Guthrie is a “go along to get along” kind of chief Magistrate. That’s not what the people voted for last October.

Karen Farbridge must be chuckling with her supporters viewing how her opponent is running the show.

 

 

 

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It’s easy to betray the public trust but a lot tougher to keep it

Posted February 11, 2015

Mayor Cam Guthrie’s latest assault on the credibility of guelphspeaks only points to his weakness believing he is omnipotent and above the madding crowd that elected him.

In his misguided attempt to defend CAO Ann Pappert from well earned criticism he sent in an email claiming that the guelphspeaks editor is unworthy of trust. The Mayor further stated the guelphspeaks posts “go horribly sideways” and it “gives the editor a spotlight and that’s the last thing anyone wants.”

It is not necessary to defend the guelph speaks content against this mawkish, self-righteous blather.

Instead, here is some free advice for his worship.

Get yourself a tough, experienced chief of staff with political, municipal and senior government experience, to fulfill your desire to be a respected Mayor of all the people.

Get used to the fact that not everybody likes you. Remember, there were several thousand voters who did not support you.

Stop trying to be everybody’s pal. The election is over and you are in charge of an ideologically divided council governing a $450 million corporation. This is a demanding role in which the voters have placed on you.

Now that you are in office, it might be a good idea to redefine “The Guelph Factor” and how to overcome the mistakes, errors in judgment and screwball finances of the previous administration.

Whoever has your ear right now, is steering you down the road to the worst four years of your life. You need to listen and learn. Here are some suggestions:

Fix the waste management debacle. A system that fails to serve all residences and businesses. A system that is totally blind when it comes to accountability including costs of operations.

This is a tall order, but necessary. Get a review of city finances, operational procedures, staff organization and a definition of the roles of staff and the elected council. It is anticipated that the left rump on council, all of who supported the former mayor, will object.

This presents a political opportunity if the left members of council line up not to approve it. You figure it out.

Move to plug the former administration’s excesses. These include shutting down the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) a shadow organization created by the former Mayor, (who named herself chair). Last February, the city announced it is seeking a chief executive officer to run GMHI. with its chief asset being Guelph Hydro, and its subsidiary, Envida Community Energy Inc. Also planned is a real estate company to sell off surplus city property.

The holding company will manage the Farbridge vision of supplying underground thermal heating and cooling to the downtown area. The Guelph Hydro subsidiary, Envida Community Energy announced it would build a $20 million gas-fired electricity generating plant, combined with a thermal based heating and cooling system to service the Hanlon Business Park occupants.

Even more interesting is how GMHI paid a dividend from Guelph Hydro. In 2012, the dividend was $2,900,000 forwarded to the city and swallowed up in general revenues.

It was paid despite a decline in Guelph Hydro’s revenues in 2012.

It has been announced by the province that hydro rates are going to increase by 42 per cent in the next four years. The same thing has already occurred for water rates. Council just approved increasing the water rates by 4.1 per cent and hiring two additional employees at more than $150,000, to locate and map the city’s water and sewer pipes.

Tell us Mr. Mayor, is this part of your plan to eliminate the Guelph Factor on which you campaigned?

The most dangerous development is continuing to conduct city business behind closed doors. This hangover from the previous administration, you remember, the one that voters repudiated the Farbridge ego-driven agenda?

Being mayor is not an exercise in personal aggrandizement but of leadership.

It’s time to take off the training wheels.

 

 

 

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Mayor uses city resources to muzzle guelphspeaks blog

Posted February 7,  2015

When guelphspeaks.ca broke the news that Guelph CAO, Ann Pappert, requested an early review of her job before her contract expired in 2016, the Mayor went berserk.

The following is an Email he sent out to an undisclosed number of people. Guelphspeaks feels that you ought to know how our new mayor operates using your money.

A copy of this email from Guthrie is exactly as published. It is not known who the recipients were.

From the email entitled – Confidential – Not for blogging

Hello,

I am writing to you all regarding our first interaction as this council with the writer of the Guelph Speaks blog, Gerry Barker.

The post in question is here: https://guelphspeaks.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/how-ann-pappert-has-transformed-from-a-puppet-to-a-dictator/#comments

Ann is our only employee. She cannot “stick up” for herself in public. Yet we can.

It is my advice that we shouldn’t contact or respond in any public way to this man or his post. When that has occurred in the past, it goes horribly sideways and only draws attention to what he writes. It gives him a spotlight and that’s the last thing anyone wants.

I am asking our HR department to look into this blog, and then to advise me of any action we can take as her employer, to protect her reputation. Preliminary advice from HR has been in agreement to mine, that we ignore.

I will not tolerate this whatsoever as mayor. These blogs distract us all and in-turn takes our collective focus off of helping this city.

I would be extremely upset if I found out any member of this council is in communication with a person who sole purpose is to belittle and disparage our CAO and our staff.

I will keep you informed of this issue and I’m willing to talk further in person about this if need be.

Thank you,

Cam

Cam, is that a criticism?

While he signs this personal attack as “Cam”, he is still Mayor of the City of Guelph. Before the mayor pops off any more, perhaps he should understand the law governing libel. The only defense of libel is the truth.

I do want to thank him for publishing the confidential email that only exacerbates his perceived problem and now reaches a far larger audience. He apparently does not understand that the Canadian Constitution allows free speech. His clumsy attempt to order unnamed persons who received his email to ignore guelphspeaks, is classic big-brotherism.

The blog in question is based on fact. That truth brought on the mayor’s broadside. It is amusing that he consulted the Human Resources department re taking action against the guelphspeaks editor.

Did he bother to consult with the city solicitor? The grammatical errors in the Email indicate that perhaps he didn’t check the copy before publishing it. Or, maybe he did.

The question people are asking is why is the mayor so vociferously defending the CAO? A senior manager whose pre-election record consisted of twisting the facts regarding the Urbacon lawsuit and misstating the public petition asking for an audit of city finances.

The mayor describes Ms. Pappert as the “only” employee who cannot stick up for herself in public.

Really! Why not? She is a public employee who is responsible to the people. When she made statements that misrepresented the facts, the public has the right to judge her performance.

This is not the first time Cam Guthrie has attacked me. A few weeks before the last election, I was quoted in the Tribune with sharing information between GrassRoots Guelph and the Guthrie campaign. In the view of GRG, we had similar goals.

I had met with Cam on two occasions prior to the October election plus he invited me to speak with his key campaign people in which information was shared.

Prior to that meeting, Guthrie and his campaign team addressed the GRG steering committee. After he left, the committee voted 17 to 2 in favour of supporting Guthrie for mayor.

After reporting this outcome to the Guthrie campaign team, we agreed to stay in touch and I informed them that GRG was working to elect members of council.

The morning the Tribune story broke, Cam was on the phone to me literally screaming that I had destroyed his candidacy by saying GRG was sharing information with his campaign.

Cam further denied any association with GRG and did not want our intended recommendation of his candidacy. In a subsequent article in the Tribune, Guthrie denied having anything to do with GRG and he, nor his team, shared information with GRG.

That published statement tells you something of his character.

I spent seven years as the only voice in the city that was consistently critical of the Farbridge administration. Cam spent 10 months mildly criticizing the mayor, his opponent. I’m sure to this day that he believes he singe-handedly defeated Mayor Farbridge.

In all the years of dealing with politicians and working on several campaigns, I never experienced such a response from a candidate or an elected official. I had nothing to do with the Guthrie campaign nor did most members of the GRG steering committee.

Guelphspeaks has been muted in the past four months commenting on the progress of the new council.

The gloves are off now. Cam is not paying attention to the people of Guelph who determined that change had to come in the administration of our city.

He seems afraid to offend anyone, present company excepted. The real issues and tough decisions are not being faced.

We’ll have more on this later.

There is hope that the lightning bolt of logic will enter his psyche and he matures quickly on the job.

So far it only proves that you can’t turn an insurance agent into a mayor overnight.

Sigh! Hope springs eternal.

 

 

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Citizens are asking: Who is in charge of our city?

Posted February 5, 2015

For eight years our city was controlled by an administration that basically operated in secret.

By secret we mean city staff senior managers made recommendations that pleased the majority of council and executed the ideology that has dominated the entire administration from top to bottom.

Let’s discuss some examples. And, away we go!

Were the citizens consulted in 2007 when the former administration cut a deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton to lease the decrepit Loretto convent on Catholic hill and turn it into a civic museum?

It was promoted by Coun. Leanne Piper, former chair of the Guelph Heritage organization. The final cost of designing and resurrecting this pre-confederation building has never been revealed. The problems encountered in this misguided adventure turned out to be monumental and the cost soared above the original estimates of $12.7 million.

Were the citizens asked for input, when the administration decided to spend more than $56 million on an organic waste processing plant and collection system? It is a system that fails to collect waste from more than 6,400 households in the city.

Were the citizens asked or consulted when the administration decided to revitalize the downtown? The downtown is still abused by an element that makes the night scene a deplorable place, unworthy of our city

What happened when the railway underpass on Wyndham Street was constructed to restrict large commercial vehicles from using it? When citizens raised the issue, the result was a classic defensive move. The city engineers installed warning signsinstead of fixing the problem.

Were the citizens consulted when the Guelph Police Services Board hired its own consultant to back up its plan to renovate the downtown police headquarters for $34 million? The former mayor and Coun. Piper voted to support that project. One is gone, the other is still around.

Was there a case for increases in property taxes and user fees that every year outstripped the Consumer Price Index, not by a smidge but by a country mile. Property taxes alone increased over eight years by a compounded 38 per cent. That’s an average of more than 4 per cent per year. Did your pay grow by that much each year

Are citizens asked about Guelph Transit? We are now on route plan D, but whose counting, to cut the wait time on “spine routes’ to ten minutes. What we need are pull-off zones for buses loading and unloading passengers. Also, more bus shelters on routes. Why not use smaller buses on routes that are not being used by passengers in off times?

The Urbacon decision in 2008 that saw the city fire the new City Hall contractor, was the straw that broke the former administration’s back. The courts ruled against the city and the final costs of this decision are yet to be revealed. Try an estimated $21 million.

Why is this new council still holding council meetings behind closed doors? The Ontario Municipal Act is clear about the allowed reasons to hold a closed meeting. To discuss terms of pending contracts, i.e. labour negotiations: employee contracts performance; and sensitive legal matters.

What has occurred in recent years are these categories tht are broadened to block real public debate. This is partly due to public apathy and abuse of power. Ombudsman of Ontario, Andre Marin, has stated that abuse of the public’s right to know and the growing trend among municipalities to operate from the public view will be a target for investigation by his agency.

Guelph just went through eight years of this, as citizens were kept in the dark about the administration’s operation of the public business.

Instead, like the ghost of Christmas past, the senior Guelph staff reorganized AFTER the election, cutting their ranks from five to three. The survivors were given new assignments and named Deputy Chief Administrative Officers. Did they also receive an increase in salary for their added responsibilities? This administration is not telling, despite the Ontario Sunshine list of those earning more than $100,000.

Guess we’ll have to wait until the spring to find out how much these three will be making as senior stewards of our municipality.

So, who is in charge of our $450 million citizen-owned corporation?

Citizens voted to change the way Guelph was being managed last October. If the staff department heads misunderstood that and appear to be advancing 2015 budget proposals that fail to reflect the new order of things, then why did we hold an election?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Ann Pappert has transformed from a puppet to a dictator

Posted February 4, 2015

Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, sees herself as protector of all things Farbridge, her former mentor and provider of the highest priced job in her work history.

Pappert has already chided the mayor for daring to speak to members of the city staff without her permission. Funny, don’t recall her name being on the ballot last October.

She is head of the more than 2,100 city staff. But that does not include directing the elected members of city council to go through her before talking to staff.

Seems that when Mayor Guthrie was a member of council, he was lambasted for daring to demand a public report from a city staffer who refused to give it to him. The result was a protest by five members of council who said they would apply, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), to obtain the report.

What followed was a $10,000 investigation by the integrity commissioner that resulted in an unsubstantiated report, which laid out impropriatory by Guthrie and his FOI council supporters.

What really happened was former Mayor Farbridge and her surrogates stifled any criticism by a member of council.

In another example of dictatorial control by the former mayor, surrogate Pappert ridiculed the petition presented by a group of citizens to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as a waste of time. She established the city was on solid financial ground. That’s not what the Minister said in her letter referring the matter to be resolved between the petitioners and the city. That never happened because the city refused to engage the citizens. Their terms to make the issues a public event in a suitable location outside city hall, was denied.

Following the Urbacon judgment Ms. Pappert’s next adventure into the land of civic hyperbole was stating that it was her predecessor, former CAO Hans Loewig who fired the general contractor in September 2008. She said he was operating under the CAO bylaw which gave him the power to fire contractors without cause or discussing it with council.

Ms. Pappert’s contract expires in September 2016. She has already requested it be rolled back to June, in the event the city no longer wants to employ her and it will give her an opportunity to seek another job.

Man, if anyone with a wit of intelligence would make a statement like that, regarding her job security, should start dusting off their resume.

Pappert is smart enough to know that her job security is at best tenable, at worse shaky.

So council and Ms. Pappert have choices:

* One, let her stay until her contract expires. Cost to the city 19 months times $209,000 annual salary = $330,916 plus benefits.

The downside of this impairs her ability to get a similar job at the same rate of pay in the same area where she is presently employed. That’s a tall order.

* Two, dismiss her without cause and under Ontario employment law she could receive up to two years pay less legal and moving costs = $418,000

Again, this puts a cloud over her reputation and repairing the event could take some time. Employers would want to know why she was fired.

* Three, council could dismiss her for cause then let the courts decide her compensation.

This event is the toughest for all parties. First, the council supporters of Pappert may balk at dismissing her for cause, or any other reason. This carries political danger for those councillors opposing her dismissal and could haunt them over their term in office and re-election. Second, her source of income would suddenly be cutoff and could take a long time to be settled.

Her best course of action is to realize her days as CAO of Guelph are numbered regardless. Time to negotiate a settlement and move on. As the saying goes, “It’s easier to get a job when you have a job.”

 

 

 

 

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