Monthly Archives: April 2015

The mayor speaks of platitudes and promises

Posted April 26, 2015

Recently Mayor Cam Guthrie addressed a breakfast meeting of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce in what was billed as the State of the City. He was elected leader and took over as Mayor approximately 100 days ago.

He demonstrated that he was a far better communicator than his predecessor. His message was one of promise and a lot of “thank you’s” and acknowledgements to the senior city staff, members of council, but only those attending the breakfast, also a blanket thank you to city employees and those Chamber members in attendance.

He launched into his vision for Guelph over the next four years. “I am working with a professional staff who are providing their best advice and recommendations. My vision and my challenge over the next four years is to ensure that while Guelph is livable, it is also affordable.”

His vision of what is affordable for taxpayers took a left turn March 25 when his council voted to increase property taxes by 3.55 per cent, the highest increase since 2010. That figure was upgraded to 3.96 per cent when certain adjustments were made to shift portions of the tax burden from multiple-use residences (hi-rise condos) and industrial, to the residential sector of the tax roll.

“The best way to ensure Guelph is affordable is by attracting jobs and investment.”

How does Mr. Guthrie square that statement when his city council just approved the highest property tax increase among 14 peer municipalities? Only the Mayor and Councillors Dan Gibson, Andy Van Hellemond and Christine Billings had the guts to vote against the 2015 budget. A budget that denied the wishes of the majority of citizens to change the way the city was being managed.

Remind us, did not candidate Guthrie campaign on holding property tax increases to the Consumer Price Index? That figure for 2014 was 2.2 per cent. Here’s some food for thought. Mayor Guthrie may have won the election but lost control of council by five votes in the ward three election of devoted Farbridge supporter, June Hofland. Ms. Hofland also donated $250 to the former mayor’s campaign.

The utter failure of the economic development department to increase industrial and commercial assessment will only be more apparent as the years roll by. The problem lies in two factors, Guelph has the reputation of being a high-tax city and city-owned business park’s land costs fail to be competitive with surrounding cities.

So why would these two factors encourage new business investment in Guelph?

The mayor did not mention the role of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Incorporated (GMHI). This organization, set up and controlled by the previous administration, has one large asset, Guelph Hydro. In the last few years, Guelph Hydro has paid “dividends” to the city that is funneled through to operate GMHI. The company now has a general manager with a salary of $132,000, plus additional staff. It is charged with operating Envida Corporation to develop subterranean geo-thermal heating and cooling for certain areas of downtown and the Hanlon Business Park.

Why is GMHI even necessary? Who is paying the bills? Does it have a separate budget and bank account? Why did the city staff recommend hiring two senior asset managers on staff to cost more than $240,000, when that is the alleged role of GMHI, to manage the city assets? When does GMGI report its activities to the people?

There was no mention in his speech of the final costs of the Urbacon affair. In fact, he never brought it up, like it never happened. There was an unfortunate 11th hour motion by Coun. Karl Wettstein to reduce the promised repayment to the depleted reserve funds, used to pay off Urbacon’s settlement of $8.39 million.

CAO Ann Pappert said, after the settlement announcement, that property taxes would not be affected by the city’s costs of the agreement to settle. She said that the reserves would be replenished over five years at a rate of $900,000 per year from the operating budget. Mr. Wettstein’s motion changed that to $500,000 in the 2015 budget and asked the staff to come up with a new repayment plan.

In polite circles that is known as “kicking the can down the road” to avoid fiduciary responsibility.

Oh! The budget includes $600,000 for “multi-paths” to be constructed on a section of Woodlawn Road to appease the Active Transportation lobby of cyclists and pedestrians. Initially $300,000 was approved by the former Farbridge administration in 2014. Even they had the wit to cancel the spending in an election year.

Then along comes newly elected councillor Mike Salisbury, like true grit out of the west, who had a dream that council should spend $600,000, composed of last year’s allotment plus this year’s. It was approved.

The mayor spoke well and used anecdotes to bolster his presentation. But it now appears nothing has changed. Taxes are as high as they have ever been, spending has reached new heights and the same staff and majority of council are still in charge.

Well, Mr. Mayor if you expect to be around in 2018, you’d better pull a “Carpe Diem” – seize the day – before it’s too late.

The 19,000 plus voters did not elect you to be Farbridge-lite.

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Following the money, how the Farbridge candidates kept control of council

Posted April 20, 2015

The interesting part is who gave money to whom? Delving into the names and numbers, it is apparent the great political divide in Guelph is not necessarily driven by ideology but by influence and money.

The record shows that a number of corporations and individuals donated not only to the former mayor’s campaign, but also to individual councillor’s campaigns who were Farbridge supporters.

In this election, those who supported the mayor lost big-time. That was then and this is now.

For some time, guelphspeaks.ca has been investigating how the Guelph and District Labour Council spent a lot of time, organizational and financial support to ensure the former mayor and friendly councillors were re-elected.

The official financial reports of former Mayor Farbridg’s campaign spending. states she spent some $80,217.63 to be un-elected.

Her opponent. Mayor Cam Guthrie spent close to $90,000 to win the election. Some of his donors hedged their bets and also donated to the Farbridge campaign.

The most interesting campaign was in ward three, where incumbent June Hofland won by just five votes. The interesting part is the source of the money she received funding her campaign and when it was received.

Let’s take a look.

Of the nine donors to June Hofland’s campaign who spent more than $100, five also donated to the mayor’s campaign. Not chump change but big bucks. Four people donated $2,000, plus another $250 from Fusion Homes through an individual named Pamela Kraft. That was a total of $2,700 out of $3,580 or 75.41 per cent of her total campaign spending. There was $550 in donations from those who donated under the limit of $100.

How can the financial support of just nine donors re-elect a member of council? Even more concerning is that five donated $2,250 of the $2,700 total to keep June Hofland on council. And Ms. Hofland found $250 to donate to the Farbridge campaign.

Here is something to think about. Why would Susan Watson donate $500 to Hofland’s campaign and $750 to the Farbridge campaign? Her husband, Ian Digby, matched her donation of $1,250.

And Susan Watson is the same person who is challenging the right of GrassRoots Guelph to donate to a GRG candidate who was defeated in the 2014 civic election. He acknowledged receiving $400 from GRG in his campaign financial report. Ms. Watson has filed a complaint to the election compliance committee about the right of GRG to donate, participate or recommend municipal candidates.

What a pathetic attempt to discredit a legitimate organization composed of ordinary citizens. The Ontario Municipal Elections Act does not prohibit participation of third party organizations in municipal elections.

This Watson attempt to convince the compliance committee to rule on the legitimacy of GRG. is misguided. Depending on the ruling of the committee on May 6, it could result in a barrage of objection including the Canada Charter of Rights, the Ontario Civil Rights commission and the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office.

Wait! It gets better.

Let’s look at ward three Councillor Phil Allt’s campaign financial support. Allt, a former New Democratic candidate for the Ontario Legislature, spent $6,319,97 to win the election.

His donation pattern shows that he collected $1,230 in under $100 donations but collected $4.583.16 in donations exceeding $100. Of that, one sticks out: Alan Filwod of Kitchener, who donated $750.

Professor Filwod is a teacher at the University of Guelph. He does not live in Guelph but is a resident of Kitchener. Now why would Mr. Filwod spend $750 to elect a city councillor in Guelph when he isn’t a taxpayer here? Or, why would Geoff Ondercin-Bourne who lives in Ancaster, Ontario, and teaches at Mohawk College, donate $400 to Mr. Allt’s ward three campaign in Guelph?

The most charitable explanation is that they are either New Democratic Party members, political allies and/or supporters of labour. They certainly were not on GRG’s membership list.

Assuming that is true, what’s the difference between the energy and efforts of residents of Guelph advocating a change of government, than the support by the Guelph and District Labour Council given to mayor Farbridge and her supporting cast of candidates?

The alleged use of surrogates to distribute funds anonymously is worse than any U.S. Style “super PACs” as has been described by Ms Watson’s lawyer, Ian Flett. He compared GRG with U.S. Super PACS and a threat to democracy. Such political action vehicles are not permitted in Canada.

What is needed is proof of the source of funds donated by individuals and corporations.

The underlying threat to citizens is the enormous grip and control of our city government by the civic unions. Some 80 per cent of all employees are unionized and they have a lot at stake to maintain their lifestyle and working conditions.

The bottom line is they want to work in the shadows supporting favoured candidates. That is to ensure election of those favouring control the council.

Because the campaign financial reports do not list affiliation and sources of the donors’ donations, whether or not they are city employees, union members or surrogates to distribute funds.

Electors in ward three should challenge Hofland and Allt to reveal the sources of money given to them. This includes Susan Watson and Ian Digby’s $1,000 gift to June Hofland’s campaign.

If interested in examining the candidates’ financial reports, here’s how: Go to Guelph.ca; in the search box located on the upper right of the screen, type in “municipal elections” and press enter. When the screen comes up click on the line under the heading that says “More on municipal elections”. This will take you to the list of candidates, the number of votes each received and their financial statements.

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Farbridge supporter Susan Watson and her husband Dr. Ian Digby donated $4,250 to candidates

Posted April 17, 2015

There is an old story: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

But that’s exactly what Farbridge confidant, Susan Watson, is doing by requesting an audit of the campaign financial statement of ward six candidate, Glen Tolhurst, who listed a $400 donation from GrassRoots Guelph (GRG).

Tolhurst was unsuccessful in his bid to win in ward six. That didn’t deter Ms. Watson. She engaged a Toronto lawyer, Ian Flett, to represent her at a hearing of the election compliance committee, May 6.

Her lawyer says that all his client wants is “clarity” on third party spending specifically naming GRG. He further went on “If the audit finds that the donations by GrassRoots Guelph are appropriate, Guelph and the rest of Ontario needs to brace itself for essentially the municipal equivalent of a super PAC.” That’s a reference to U.S. super PACs that are not permitted in Canada.

That spooky, specious comment has no bearing on the legitimacy of GRG.

It’s a fishing trip by Watson and the remnants of the Farbridge administration to muzzle and discredit the organization. GRG is a non-profit, non-partisan corporation whose activist mission was to inform and educate electors in the October 27 election campaign. It now appears that GRG’s efforts were rewarded with a much greater participation by Guelph electors.

Why then, more than five months after the election, is Watson complaining about the right of a third party to participate in a civic election? Why does she gloss over the third parties involved in the last three elections, who specifically supported former mayor Karen Farbridge and her council team?

Let’s name a few: The Guelph Civic League, We Are Guelph, The Guelph Citizen, Politico, The Sausage party and Guelph Bugle. All these organizations flooded cyber space and the print media with pro-Farbridge messages. Some were often attacking GRG and the blog, guelphspeaks.ca.

Despite the effort, the mayor lost her fourth re-election bid.

So, Susan Watson is demanding clarity around third party spending, according to her lawyer. He’s the same guy who admits there is nothing explicit prohibiting such participation in the Ontario Municipal Act. His argument that third parties are not allowed to participate in provincial and federal elections. But this was a municipal election and has no credence in this demand for an audit of a defeated candidate in Guelph.

Lets take a look at the money donated by Susan Watson and her partner, Dr. Ian Digby. She spent $3,000 and Digby spent $1,250.

Karen Farbridge                              $750 by Susan Watson & $750 by Ian Digby – defeated

Maria Pezzano, ward one            $250 by Susan Watson – defeated

James Gordon, ward two            $250 by Susan Watson – elected

June Hofland, ward three            $500 by Susan Watson & $500 by Ian Digby – elected

Mike Salisbury, ward four            $250 by Susan Warson – elected

Leanne Piper, ward five                $500 by Susan Watson – elected

Cathy Downer, ward five              $500 by Susan Watson – elected

Note the pecking order of these donations, who received them and who didn’t receive the Watson largesse. It is obvious where the Watson/Digby loyalties lie, and their cheque books, at the ready.

More than a year ago there was a meeting held by the Guelph and District Labour Council at the University of Guelph. Councillors Maggie Laidlaw and June Hofland attended it. The meeting resolved to run pro-labour candidates in each ward.

Now if this isn’t a third party that funded and organized candidates, then why is Watson persisting in attempting to discredit GRG because it helped a candidate?

Let’s try to follow the money.

* Who is paying for Mr. Flett’s services?

* Did Watson and partner use their own money to donate to specific pro-Farbridge candidates?

* Is it possible that financial support from the civic unions for those candidates was channeled through individuals for distribution?

* Did Watson even know those people to whom she donated money?

* Is it not peculiar that a couple would focus their financial support on a specific group known to be part of the Farbridge team?

Obviously, the city compliance committee is not the venue to determine if third parties can participate in municipal elections. They don’t make the rules.

Watson and her lawyer should take their perceived affront to democracy to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for resolution.

Warning, be careful what you ask for because that door swings both ways.

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Looking in the mirror we see We are Guelph – stronger together

Posted April 15, 2015

It appears that the application to audit the campaign financial report delivered by ward six candidate, Glen Tolhurst, was submitted by Farbridge activist, apologist and core supporter, Susan Watson.

Throughout the recent civic election campaign, Ms. Watson stoutly defended the Farbridge administration usually through the Mercury’s 59 Carden Street blog.

Her views closely followed the platform of the pro-Farbridge website “We Are Guelph” (WAG). It was sponsored by The Guelph and District Labour Council who financed the site and selected the candidates.

A picture on the website of their choice for mayor was Karen Farbridge. It has been taken down from the site.

Here’s how WAG stickhandled its way to naming only those candidates who supported WAG’s “Stronger Together” platform.

It’s called endorsement by coercion.

Here’s the list of those candidates endorsing the WAG platform: Ward one – Terry O’Connor and Maria Pezzano; ward two – James Gordon and Sian Matwey; ward three – Phil Allt, June Hofland, Maggie Laidlaw; ward four – Mike Salisbury and Laurie Garbutt; ward five- Leanne Piper and Cathy Downer; ward six – Keith Poore.

Remember these candidates supported the WAG platform. In the public election post mortem interests, here is a WAG platform synopsis taken from its website:

“Guiding Philosophy: Invest to implement a strategy and vision for a future that meets the needs of Guelph. Investment projects will be paid for by a combination of economic growth and responsible tax rates. All residents, present and future, should be engaged in a review process of Guelph’s priorities and needs.”

Six of those who supported the WAG platform voted to approve the 2015 budget that included a 3.55 per cent property tax increase. Three other elected councillors Karl Wettstein, Mark McKinnon and Bob Bell also voted for the budget.

Do they really believe what they passed was a “responsible tax rate”?

For Susan Watson to hire Toronto lawyer Ed Gillespie’s firm to represent her demand for an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election finance report is a sham and a subterfuge to discredit GrassRoots Guelph. You may remember that ten years ago Mr. Gillespie was engaged by the unions to stop Wal-Mart from building a store on Woodlawn Road. He and Ben Bennett, the union front man, ultimately failed to stop Wal-Mart whose application had been hung-up for 11 years at a cost of more than a million dollars.

The union-sponsored WAG that openly advocated supporting its candidates is not a smidge different from what GrassRoots Guelph did in supporting its list of candidates.

The hipocracy is stunning.

It is a basic right to support certain candidates and its called democracy. This case may evolve into a Charter of Human Rights issue that could result in a rebuke of the Watson claim that third parties cannot represent the people during an election campaign.

The strangest aspect of all this is why now? One explanation is that in 2006 the Farbridge team attempted to conduct an election campaign audit of former Mayor Kate Quarrie. It was turned down by the compliance committee and council.

If it didn’t work before, let’s try it again.

So who are the sore losers now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Revenge where is thy sting?

Posted April 14, 2015

The assistant city clerk has advised Glen Tolhurst, a former candidate in the October civic election, that she had received a complaint about a donation made to Mr. Tolhurst’s campaign by GrassRoots Guelph (GRG).

According to the clerk, the complainant, Susan Watson, friend of Farbridge, has hired lawyers to demand an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial statement, already on file at city hall.

Yep! They are still trying to demolish GRG, the citizen’s organization that played a major role in defeating former mayor, Karen Farbridge.

There has been a lot of recent whining chaff coming from former supporters of Ms. Farbridge, alleging that GRG acted illegally in donating money to candidates or engaging in its democratic right to challenge elected officials. It reminds one of the novel 1984 when “Big Brother” controlled action, thought and deed with his harsh rules.

The Municipal Election rules allow third parties to participate in civic elections. Funny, this question did not arise following the Guelph Civic League’s very active participation in the 2006 civic election that wiped out the city council save for two members.

It was a new Democratic Party’s municipal tour de force in which professional organizers and funding were employed to elect a majority of self-described progressives, including former mayor, Karen Farbridge.

Since then, nothing has changed despite the defeat of Farbridge and some of her supporters, plus two who decided not to run.

The 2015 budget topped out at 5.96 per cent property tax increase, yes, that’s correct. The majority of council approved a 5.50 per cent increase. But ignored the shifting of the tax burden from multi-family residences and industrial to the remaining residential taxpayers. Also the provincially mandated increase in assessments on all property in the city was ignored. This will result in an estimated end-cost to taxpayers in terms of percentage of 4.50 per cent for 2015.

Now these people want an audit of Glen Tolhurst’s election financial report. He was not successful in his bid for council. So ask yourself, why now?

The answer friends is revenge. Revenge on Glen and the thousands of GRG members and citizens for their role in dumping the former mayor. They want to discredit GRG and the blog guelphspeaks.ca so that those organizations will not be a factor in the 2018 election.

What can the citizens do, who voted for change, about this continuation of policies that have created the highest municipal tax rate in Ontario? The first step is to organize and complain to those councillors who voted for this 2015 budget.

The next step is to challenge the 2014, 2010 and 2006 election financial reports filed by former members of council who supported the former mayor who chose to run and request an audit of each. The grounds of which would focus on the donations each received and from whom.

The list would include mayor Farbridge, Councillors Ian Findlay, June Hofland, Maggie Laidlaw, Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher, Todd Dennis, Karl Wettstein, Mike Salisbury, and Vicki Beard.

Another step is to request the Ontario Ombudsman to investigate how the draft versions of the 2015 budget were revised upward by council without public input. This would include examination of meetings held by the majority of members, who met together privately to develop strategy and the emails exchanged between that group.

It is possible to take action to curb the excesses of this budget and future decisions.

Susan Watson, you may have awakened the dozing tiger of public protest.

 

 

 

 

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Comparing Guelph’s 2015 property tax increase to 13 other cities

Posted April 19, 2015

When looking at what other citys’ 2015 tax increases were in their budgets compared to Guelph, we have the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of all in the 14-city sample.

First, the research on this report employed a common benchmark of dollars per $100,000 of assessment. This allowed equalized comparisons with two-tier muncipalities such as Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge part of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

The report was researched from official public sources.

Here is the list in descending order:

City                                    2015 tax increase                        Ranking             Difference

Guelph Budget                        3.55%                                      39

Guelph revised – Note A       3.96%                                    44

Hamilton – Note B                  2.70%                                    35                        Minus 1.26 %

London                                        2.50%                                    30                        Minus 1.46 %

Brampton                                    2.54%                                    24                        Minus 1.42 %

Brantford                                    1.88%                                    22                        Minus 2.08 %

Port Colborne                            1.10%                                    18                        Minus 2.86 %

Burlington                                   2.06%                                    18                        Minus 1.90 %

Oakville                                         1.70%                                    15                        Minus 2.26 %

Mississauga                                 2.20%                                   12                        Minus 1.76 %

Cambridge                                   2.72%                                    10                        Minus 1.25 %

Toronto – Note C                       3.20%                                  10                         Minus   .76 %

Waterloo                                       1.53%                                    7                          Minus    2.43 %

Kitchener                                     1.90%                                    7                          Minus    2.06 %

Windsor                                         0%                                          0                        Minus     3.96 %

Consumer Price Index            2.1%

Note A – Guelph council in 2013 and 2014 shifted the tax burden from multi- residential and industrial to residential. The revised increase does not include the mandated increase in assessment nor the 4.1 per cent increase in water services.

Note B – Hamilton’s tax increases were below the rate of inflation for the past three years.

Note C – Toronto’s increase includes a .50 per cent surcharge to fund a subway extension to Scarborough.

Comparing the Guelph revised rate of 3.96 per cent to the next highest on the list, Hamilton, at 2.70 per cent, the difference is an astounding 31.8 per cent!

What is it that all these municipalities have much lower 2015 tax increases than the City of Guelph? Collectively, what do they know that the Guelph administration doesn’t?

Reading this report, management of the City of Guelph, when compared to 13 other cities, proves there is a very serious problem in terms of performance including accountability. It is a hangover from the previous administration that manipulated the city’s treasury to suit its own projects and plans and change the way our city, in a manner that citizens rejected last October.

And now we are paying for the mistakes and mismanagement.

In eight years, we have a bloated staff of more than 2,100 employees, more than $132 million of debt, a 40 per cent compounded increase in property taxes, a 77 per cent increase in water rates, despite a reduction in usage. Plus a waste management system that has cost taxpayers more than an estimated $70 million and fails to serve 6,400 households.

Then along came the Urbacon blunder costing an estimated $21 million. If any of these figures are incorrect then why doesn’t the city administration release the true costs?

The 2015 budget was nothing more than a power move by the Farbridge supporters still on council, aided and abetted by senior staffers.

Remember, this is the budget where previously CAO Ann Pappert said the Urbacon settlement will not impact property taxes. Because the funds would come from three unrelated reserves and will be paid back in five years repaying the reserves at a rate of $900,000 a year. Well, the truth eascaped her in this pre- election statement.

Council, by a nine to four margin, voted to lower that figure to $500,000 this year and have the staff come up with a new repayment plan, These are same people, elected and some of those on staff, who were responsible for the Urbacon mess in the first place.

Which only proves they know how to spend the people’s money but fail to administer it in a responsible and productive way.

Those iving in Guelph will suffer because the soaring costs inflicted by this and previous administration’s, has already made our city one of the most expensive in which to live in the country.

 

 

 

 

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Are the civic worker’s unions controlling Guelph’s future?

Posted April 7, 2015

It is now clear that 80 per cent of city employees who belong to unions have ownership of the public agenda that has been politicized by the seven member majority of the new council.. Make no mistake, this column is not questioning the individual union employee’s right to participate in municipal politics but does question the leadership of those unions.

The union supported members of council approved this budget including: James Gordon and Phil Allt, two former New Democratic Party candidates, Leanne Piper, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Cathy Downer and Karl Wettstein were joined by Bob Bell and Mark McKinnon. Only Mayor Guthrie, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Andy Van Hellemond opposed approval of the budget.

Meanwhile, former Farbridge councillor, Ian Findlay, opened the door questioning the right of the citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, (GRG) to support and donate to candidates. In his juvenile blog he rants that GRG was not non-partisan but some kind right wing conspirators. Funny, he doesn’t mention the funding received by councillors from non-profit, non-partisan civic unions that supported the Farbridge administration with thousands of dollars in the past 10 years.

This was proved March 25, a day of infamy, when the union supported majority of council voted to increase the 2015 property taxes by 3.55 per cent. It was the largest annual increase since 2010.

It was a staged defiance of what the vast majority of people voted for last October. You do not have to understand how it happened but why it happened.

It was a continuation of the policies of the previous Farbridge-led administration. The 2015 budget is arrogant and self-serving. It ignored the choice of the people to change the policies and programs of the past. It explains why such a huge tax increase was necessary, to pay for its extravagant plans and policies including adding more people to an aleady bloated staff..

Labour unions have a right to support municipally based political parties, causes and chosen candidates. But they must do it in an open and transparent manner. This has not been the case in Guelph. The public has no idea who the unions supported with cash and organization assistence in the last election or the three previous ones. They’ll never tell.

Here’s the back-story:

When the Urbacon judgment declared the city wrongfully fired its new City hall contractor a year ago, there was momentary panic in the tightly controlled Farbridge team. As the details rolled out, the fallout effect mushroomed and a strategy was put in place to discredit mayoralty candidate Cam Guthrie, guelphspeaks, and GrassRoots Guelph.

The emphasis turned to ensuring control of council by naming two NDP members to fill gaps in wards two and three. The strange one was Phil Allt entering a slate that included two Farbridge incumbents, Maggie Laidlaw and June Hofland. Someone in the Farbridge campaign team apparently decided Maggie had to go. The election result was tipped in favour of the leftist progressives when June Hofland won by five votes, not exactly a stirring endorsement.

By the end of last September, real panic set in when an independent poll had Cam Guthrie 15 points ahead of the incumbent Farbridge. Shortly afterwards the infamous ad linking Guthrie with Michael Solna, convicted of a breach of the Canada Election Act, was published in the Guelph Tribune. The fallout severely damaged a Farbridge campaign that was already foundering.

Those left progressives making decisions on the changed tactics focused their support on electing candidates who shared the Farbridge policies and points of view. In ward four there was a vacuum with the retirement of Gloria Kovach and soon to be mayor Cam Guthrie. Former city councillor, Mike Salisbury, stepped up to fill the gap. He was rejected by voters in 2010 but won last October. Christine Billings also won handily but is no fan of Farbridge.

Immediately after the election, CAO Ann Pappert announced a major senior staff reorganization that cut the number of executive directors from five to three and re-titled them as Deputy Chief Administrative Officers. Each received an increase in salary.

This was the harbinger of retaining control of the Farbridge agenda and policies.

That control was razor thin and seven leftist progressives were elected to six for the opposition including Mayor Guthrie. However, councillors Bob Bell and Mark McKinnon who were believed to be middle of the road, pragmatic members, supported this shameful budgetary exercise.

Despite the three-month budget process examining the issues and public hearings, the stage was set to pass this 2015 excuse for a responsible budget.

Time will tell whether certain members of council seek redemption for their March 25 approval of the 2015 capital and operating budgets.

It can start by demanding the hiring of a qualified and independent Chief Financial Officer. It must be a no-nonsense individual who arrests the exploding growth of staff salaries and benefits, debt and taxation.

How much longer do the citizens have to be subjected to mismanagement, major mistakes and soaring operating costs?

 

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When council blows $8.93 million, the solution is to approve the highest taxes since 2010

Posted April 3, 2015

It was just over a year ago when Justice Donald MacKenzie told the city they were responsible for firing Urbacon Building Services Corp in September 2008. The builder of the New City Hall initiated the five-week trial, preceding the judgment, after it was ordered off the job site. It sued the city for $19 million for wrongful dismissal.

At first, the city’s response was to consider appealing the judge’s decision. Spokesperson on behalf of the city was Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, who was not involved in that 2008 decision.

Mayor Karen Farbridge was silent on the decision and when the full judgment was released in June, it became apparent that the city’s expectation for a win on appeal was dim.

Then without any fanfare, the lawyer representing the city, Derek Schmuck, of Hamilton, was instructed to ask another judge to delay payment of any settlement until after the October 27 election. That judge denied the application because the city and Urbacon had previously agreed that any settlement had to be completed by October 1, 2014.

Around this time the mayor finally spoke up and apologized on “behalf of the City of Guelph, for the contract overruns”. To this day, the former mayor has not personally accepted responsibility for the Urbacon firing and resulting costs. There has been no announcement by the city of its costs in managing the lawsuits. Yes, Urbacon was only one of four lawsuits.

The election campaign heated up in September and a citywide poll put candidate Cam Guthrie well ahead of Ms. Farbridge. It was conducted by a recognized polling organization. This precipitated settlement discussions between the city and Urbacon.

In September, the city announced it had settled with Urbacon and agreed to pay the company $8.930 million that was approved by the court. This was clearly an attempt to deflect responsibility from the Mayor who was running for re-election.

Following the announcement, CAO Pappert said the settlement would not impact property taxes. The funds would be drawn from three reserve funds that had no relation to unbudgeted legal costs. Further, the CAO said those reserves would be replenished over five years at the rate of $900,000 a year. That totals $4.5 million, which is $4.43 million less than the Urbacon settlement. It still leaves a gaping hole replenishing the money taken from the reserves to pay the settlement.

Then on March 25, 2015, a majority of city council passed the 2015 budget that increased property taxes by 3.55 per cent. It was the highest tax increase since 2010. Tucked into that approval was a motion to reduce the $900,000 Urbacon reserves repayment to $500,000 and refer the issue to city staff to work out a new repayment plan. Was there no discussion about this before CAO Pappert announced the settlement would not affect property taxes?

Why was it brought up at the final 2015 budget meeting after the public hearings? The citizens had no opportunity to challenge the Wettstein motion.

It’s ironic this was approved by many of those same councillors who were on council when Urbacon was thrown off the job in 2008. These include Karl Wettstein, (who moved the motion), Mike Salisbury, June Hofland, Leanne Piper, Bob Bell, Christine Billings, (one of four councillors who voted against the budget bill). Newcomers Phil Allt, James Gordon and Mark McKinnon also supported the final budget.

Opposing passage was Mayor Guthrie, Andy Van Hellemond, Ms. Billings and Dan Gibson.

It was a crafted effort by the leftist majority on council to discredit Mayor Cam Guthrie and his election promise to keep property taxes at the rate of the Consumer Price Index of about 2.1 per cent.

It also represented a lack of fiduciary responsibility by those supporting this tax and spend budget. It smells of political payback for the defeat of their leader Karen Farbridge. In this kindergarten atmosphere how can the people trust its council to do the right thing and work together to change the way the city is being managed?

The answer is that they can’t. The majority of this council is dysfunctional and obstructionist to change and will continue to do so for the next four years. Not surprising is the presence of newly elected Coun. James Gordon, architect of Kate Quarrie council’s defeat in 2006. As founder and former president of the Guelph Civic League, it now appears that those obstructionist tactics are still in play.

As for Mayor Guthrie, he is the leader of the city, elected by all the people. He deserves better. As U.S. President, Teddy Roosevelt put it: “Walk softly but carry a big stick.”

There is no longer any doubt that this budget was manipulated with the aid of a politically enabled senior staff, all of whom were hired by the Farbridge administration.

You will start to see the effects of this 2015 budget when your tax bills arrive in June and September.

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What the Sunshine List doesn’t tell you

April 2, 2015

When grassrootsguelph published the names of employees earning more than $100,000 in 2014, it created a firestorm of surprise and indignation. It was exposure that the established media did not publish. Would it clog up the newshole, bubeleh?

What the list did not include were the non-taxable benefits to which each employee is entitled. That includes every job from the Chief Administrative Officer to the worker directing traffic at the Waste Management Innovation Centre on Dunlop Drive..

The non-taxable benefits include defined pensions, post retirement health and spousal plans, and accumulated unused sick leave and vacation allowances.

The activist organization, Fair Pensions For All (FPFA), has been warning Ontario municipalities about the danger of the Ontario Municipal Employment Retirement System (OMERS) having a $7.3 billion shortfall funding its obligations.

There are 263,000 Ontario public employees who are members of OMERS. In Guelph there are more than 2,100 full-time equivalent employees in 2014 whose pensions are managed by OMERS. Of that number, some 266 made more than $100,000 last year.

These numbers do not include the University of Guelph or Guelph Hydro. But those public employees are supported by taxpayer dollars, including their defined pensions. The University pension plan is underfunded. In the defined pension plan system the employer pays half the cost of each employee to OMERS while the employee pays the other half. Recently it was reported that OMERS was increasing the employee’s share to help reduce its plan’s deficit.

Seems fair on the surface but for that huge deficit that OMERS is running. If the pension system fails to meet its long-term obligations, then it will turn to the municipalities to make up the shortfall.

That’s you and me. According the FPFA, Guelph’s share of that shortfall pension obligation will rise from $41.7 million to $51.5 million by the end of 2015. That increase is pretty close to what the Urbacon lawsuit cost the city in 2014. But a single motion to reduce the repayment funds from $900,000 to $500,000 in 2015 was supported by the majority of council. The mover was Coun. Karl Wettstein whose idea of having an original thought is ordering lunch.

If they fail that test of fiduciary responsibility, how can you expect them to take the necessary steps to curtail the exploding growth of taxpayer-funded pension obligations?

The blogosphere was percolating this week with claims that the OMERS deficit will be straightened out within 10 to 15 years. Further, a blogger stated that OMERS was earning 6.5 per cent on its investments as the basis of such a claim.

Show us a financial advisor who will consistently guarantees that kind of investment return, and I’ll show you Merlin the magician.

The only way to arrest this pension pickle is to stop hiring, freeze salaries and trim employee perks and benefits. It’s an ugly job but somebody has to do it. That’s about as right-wing as that great socialist premier, Bob Rae. He cut staff costs by forcing them to take a day off without pay. Remember Ray Days?

As the previous administration failed to acknowledge this serious problem, it is astonishing that this $480 million corporation doesn’t have a Chief Financial Officer. The previous occupant of the position was shifted to become a Deputy Chief Administrative Officer with different responsibilities.

In the last campaign and ongoing today, the Farbridge team painted anyone with a different point of view as right wing conservatives. Well, the majority of citizens voted for change and change they got.

Or so we thought. How can you explain that on March 5, the city staff recommended a 2015-operating budget containing a 3.05 per cent increase in property taxes? Only citizens discovered on March 25, the majority of council, after public input meetings, approved the tax increase of 3.55 per cent. This passed without public input.

The more things change, things remain the same.

Will those people wanting to keep their heads in the sand please form a line on the left.

 

 

 

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Former Farbridge councillor bashes GrassRoots Guelph

Posted April 1, 2015

Is it any wonder that people have lost faith in the political process when a group of citizens are criticized for attempting to influence the outcome of an election?

Former city councillor, Ian Findlay, is concerned that the established citizen’s group GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) was not playing fair by opposing some candidates and supporting others.  And, horrors! They donated money to candidates.

There is no municipal legislation limiting spending or disclosure by “third parties” the article in the Tribune stated.

So what’s Findlay’s beef?

During his eight years in office he was party to some of the costliest mistakes any council has made in the history of the city. Think Urbacon and the $8.90 million that was spent by the city to Urbacon Buildings System Corp. in its lawsuit loss.

CAO Ann Pappert said that the settlement would not impact property taxes. Instead the money would come from three unrelated reserve funds and be repaid within five years from operating funds.

Well, that has now become an undefined target thanks to the motion March 25 by Coun. Karl Wettstein. It will to reduce the 2015 payment of $900,000 in 2015 to $500,000. Further, council will turn the matter over to the staff to reschedule the payment process. That friends, looks like a ten-year repayment plan. Or it could quietly be written off.

Regardless, the taxpayers end up paying for this multi-million dollar mistake.

So the people voted, aided and abetted by GRG and other organizations. Findlay not only declined to run but also lost his leader and two other fellow travelers on the Farbridge team.

The people voted for change and what did they get in the 2015-operating budget? Dominance by the Farbridge rump on council resulted in approving the biggest tax increase, 3.55 per cent, in four years. That does not include the Municipal Assessment Corporation’s scheduled increase in all property assessment in Guelph this year. So your taxes will be increased even more.

It was as if nothing has changed. Only four councillors voted against this budget, Mayor Cam Guthrie, Dan Gibson, Christine Billings, and Andy Van Hellemond.

So Mr. Findlay, you are in no position to complain about the influence of an incorporated non-profit entity legally contributing to the political process.

It is just another attempt to muzzle any opposition to the Farbridge field of dreams.

Between you and Coun. Mike Salisbury, the “pissoir project” twins, you are always ready to broadcast your opinions in the public prints.

Aside from your friends down at the sausage party factory, who’s listening?

 

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