Posted June 24, 2015
Let’s go back to January 2014. That’s when a report on renovating the Guelph Police downtown headquarters was presented to council costing $13 million.
Bryan Larkin was Guelph’s Chief of Police at the time and persuaded the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB) to hire an independent consultant to review the needs of the police and the conditions under which they had to work.
Mayor Karen Farbridge and Coun. Leanne Piper, the two members of council serving on the board, went along with the chief’s recommendation. Their apparent rationalization was: Who knew better than the guy in charge?
While this process was ongoing, Larkin received feelers from the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board regarding replacing the board’s outgoing Chief of Police.
About a year ago, Larkin announced he was accepting the Waterloo offer and would leave his Guelph responsibilities August 31. Before his resignation, the GPSB received the consultant’s report and the cost of the headquarters renovation zoomed to $34 million.
It is now apparent that Larkin had the support of the GPSB, including Mayor Farbridge and Coun. Piper. There was no mention at the time of how the project was to be financed, the fiduciary responsibility of Farbridge and Piper.
In September, city council voted to approve the project, right in the middle of an election campaign.
Then out of the blue, the now former police chief publicly endorses the mayor for re-election. His endorsement was contained in a political pamphlet written, printed and distributed by the Farbridge campaign before his resignation as police chief in Guelph. The trouble is that under the Ontario Police Services Act, police officers are not permitted to endorse candidates, regardless of how they feel towards them.
As it turned out Larkin’s endorsement did not affect the outcome, as the Mayor was defeated.
But his highly persuasive talent saddled Guelph citizens with a project that could cost more than the consultant’s estimate of $34 million. You don’t have to look further than the inept handling of the new city hall under the Farbridge regime and its inability to manage capital projects. That Urbacon lawsuit is a $13 million, and counting, mistake that caused Farbridge and some of her supporters to quit or be defeated.
Some of those same councillors involved in the Urbacon affair are still on council.
In a recent column in the Toronto Star, columnist Rosie Dimanno wrote about the exemption of Ontario Police Services Boards from oversight by the Ontario Ombudsman’s office. The new Accountability and Transparency Act approved last December by the Ontario Legislature gave the Ombudsman the authority to investigate the operations of municipal governments. The police chiefs of the 12 major departments in Ontario asked the province to enact legislation to exempt police boards from the Ombudsman’s Act.
Deputy premier Deb Matthews described the decision as not being an oversight but the police boards were just not added in the legislation last December when the Accountability and Transparency Act was passed.
It took a recent report in The Star that exposed the police board’s exemption from the Accountability and Transparency Act.
The facts are that police boards are composed of two elected officials, two civilian appointees and two provincial appointees. They then elect a chairperson. In the case of Guelph, provincial appointee Judy Sobara is the chair of the board.
The power of the chiefs and senior professional staff in influencing the board is well documented throughout the province. It’s a magnification of the problems faced in most municipalities and that is deferring decisions to the professional staff. That’s why the chief of the 12-major departments in the province want the Ombudsman out of their house.
Keep in mind that funding for all police operations comes from the taxpayer.
The artful maneuvering of Bryan Larkin to get his way to spend $34 million is a classic example that oversight of the GPSB operations is necessary by an independent authority such as the Ontario Ombudsman, Andre Marin.
There is no question the headquarters building was badly in need of renovation. The question remains: Did it take $34 million to fix it?
Larkin is gone, Farbridge is gone, former Farbridge councillors Ian Findlay, Maggie Laidlaw, Lise Burcher, and Todd Dennis are all gone. But the citizens are stuck with the bill.
Let’s see. The Wynne Liberals can’t educate vast numbers of students, they allow police chiefs to refuse oversight of their operations by the Ontario Ombudsman and electricity rates have risen by 42 per cent in just three years under their watch.
Can Ontario stand another three and one half years of this dismal performance?