Guelph Noir – The continuing dark side of municipal politics

Posted March 8, 2015

What happens to smart, experienced and seemingly popular people when they are elected to Guelph City Council? Why is there fear about what you say or do that might make you become a case for the Integrity Commissioner?

While Karen Farbridge was defeated in the October election along with some of her council supporters, plus two who retired, the remnants of Farbridge Nation are still running the show.

Still remaining is the residual fear of talking or discussing (with constituents) the important issues facing the city — because too much of the city’s business is conducted behind closed doors.

This is exactly how the former mayor managed city business. With the compliance of the majority of council who were her devoted supporters, this six-person executive team, all of whom were handpicked by the former mayor, solidly backed her up.

These city hall apparatchiks’ bureaucracy is rolling out the same self-serving political gruel that has occurred over the past eight years. That was one of the major issues in the October election.

There is growing evidence that it is business as usual as far as the senior staff is concerned after they released its draft operation budget that included a 3.05 per cent property tax increase. It did not include the total picture of the end cost to taxpayers. The automatic increase in property assessments, authorized by the provincial government, and its impact on taxes, is not included in the 3.05 pee cent increase.

With hamster-like regularity, the staff refuses to use zero-based budget forecasting.

The real issue is the planned secrecy by the current council in conducting the people’s business. Operating under a phony code of conduct, councillors are forbidden to say anything that is discussed behind closed doors. There are a small number of issues that are allowed by the Ontario Municipal Act to be discussed in camera: Those concerning staff performance, real estate and union negotiations, and major contract’s negotiations.

It is important to remember that conclusions of these items reached, in camera, must be presented and debated to council in open session and a timely fashion.

Issues that must be discussed by council in open meetings include: Debate on public issues such as major spending proposals; city operations including transit and waste management; taxes and user fees; public impact issues and long range planning.

In her eight-year reign as head of government, Ms. Farbridge carefully controlled the agenda behind closed doors. Council meetings were chiefly rubber-stamped by what was agreed in the back room.

More importantly, the mayor was able to control the message with press releases produced by her communications department.

There is evidence that the former administration was constantly looking for leaks in its Noah’s Ark of operations. There were meetings held in private to discover why information was being leaked to various people, including guelphspeaks.ca.

The sword of fear of reprisal hung over members of that council. It now appears the same principle of secrecy is being foisted on the new council.

Why all the secrecy in city operations? It’s simple really. It’s about avoidance of accountability. It makes us Orwellian cogs doing the bidding of the city administration.

The Farbridge Nation people loved their leader and her leadership. Now that’s she’s out of office, the drumbeat of taxing and spending drones on.

The performance of the new mayor has disappointed many citizens. He pledged to keep the tax rate to the Consumer Price Index. Yet he voted to give the water department a 4.1 per cent budget increase. In the past four years the water department’s operating budget has allowed the hiring of 31 additional full-time staff.

He sent out a blistering email to an undisclosed number of people ordering them to ignore this blog and ignore me and do not “contact or respond in any public way.” He stated that my writing “goes horribly sideways”, whatever that means. After 594 blog posts and some 70 columns in the Mercury since 2007, what could possibly go wrong or even sideways?

The mayor’s hissy fit only points to his penchant to be a hostage of his own ego.

But don’t worry Cam, there is still ample time to redeem yourself and create an open, transparent and effective government, like you promised before the election.

I note that your confidential email mentioned that you are willing to talk in person. I will make an appointment to discuss these issues with you following final approval of the 2015 budget.

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “Guelph Noir – The continuing dark side of municipal politics

  1. Jerry

    Hi Gerry
    You must realize that what you are saying about the tax base for this year is nonsense.There is no possible way the formula could be changed before budget talks began.And in fact nothing is carved in stone yet?You will find by next year the formula will be changed to the tax rate or close to it. and the spending will be under control.I do agree that city staff do need to be cut and over spending needs to be controlled but you have to give the man time.Every time there is a ceo change in a corporation policy and principles
    change but it usually takes a year to do.I also agree that the hydro scam is
    one of them.Either it should be brought back to were it was before or set in place a better system for the future.
    Have a great day and enjoy some sunshine.
    Jerry

    • Jerry: You are right that nothing is cast in stone. That’s why in the 2014 budget the property tax increase was pegged at 2.36 per cent. The lowest increase in eight years. During that period the McGuinty government halted property assessments in Ontario due to the global financial crisis and other problems. We are now in the catch-up phase as assessments across the province were increased in a four year program starting in 2013. Last year, the former administration did not include the increase in assessments the city received. An increase in assessment is an increase in taxes regardless of any increase in the mill rate. This situation was pointed out by two accountants and ignored by the administration.

      I agree that changing the culture in an organization overnight is next to impossible. My view is that change must come and it starts at the top. I see no evidence of this happening, but I remain optimistic.

      You don’t have to look much father than when Kate Quarrie was elected mayor how long it took to change senior management. Unfortunately, the change did not last long as the Farbridge sweep in 2006, marked the beginning of yet another change of culture in the city staff. So it is possible to take steps to change a dug-in culture. That’s what the people voted for in October. As an aside, kudos to the city staff in its handling of the frozen pipes throughout the city. Well done.

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