Posted August 31, 2015
It is now becoming apparent that Guelph’s new open government manager, Andy Best, was hired because of his close working relationship with former mayor Karen Farbridge.
Best worked for the former mayor during the election first, by resigning as president of the Guelph Civic League (GCL). He then created a pro-Farbridge blog called the Guelph Citizen. He was also an advisor to the mayor’s election campaign, using his skills as an expert in computer programming.
As a result, Best was appointed as co-chair of the “Open Government Leadership Task Force.” Has anyone, outside of the former mayor’s sphere of influence, ever heard about the focus and make-up of this organization? Apparently it was formed to elevate the findings in 2013, by a Toronto consulting firm called Delvinia.
The Farbridge administration hired Delvinia at a fee of $100,000 to develop a plan to create a new system of collaboration between staff, and the citizens to allow greater transparency and openness in the operations of the city.
The $100,000 open government plan
So far so good. Guelphspeaks obtained a copy of the 94-page Delvinia report, (the per page cost was $1,063.82). It documented and supported its conclusions. It referred to cities that have adopted parts of the report with different approaches to open government.
So why, in 2012, did the Farbridge council approve embarking on a program of operating a transparent and open government?
The real reason was public unrest with the secretive ways that the administration was implementing major capital projects. Many of which were projects of an environmental nature and/or planet sustainability. Adding to the unrest was the failure of the city to rebuild Wyndham Street beneath a rail underpass. When the job was finished, large commercial trucks were crashing without enough clearance.
January 2013 was the beginning of the Urbacon civil action against the city claiming $19.2 million for its termination of the new City Hall contract (of which Urbacon was the general contractor). In March 2014, Justice Donald MacKenzie ruled the city illegally terminated the Urbacon contract. Two months later, he released the 54-page judgment that was a scathing rebuttal of the city’s actions, prior to and during the five-week trial.
The city attempted to have the damages portion of the trial postponed until after the October election, but the courts refused the action.
The bloom came off the rose
Now it was election year and the bloom was off the Farbridge regime. The result was her major defeat at the polls including four of her supporters, two of whom quit politics.
Underneath all this, was the so-called Open Government Leadership Task Force. An unpaid group of selected members was busy developing an open government action plan (OGAP) for Guelph.
Here is where it gets murky. On March 18, 2015, Andy Best sent an email to “the clerks” asking that council approve hiring an open government program manager to “report to the office of the CAO”. He adds that: “Passionate city staff have nurtured this from a vague idea into an action plan which received unanimous support from the previous term of council.”
Did anyone see a copy of that open government action report? Was it reported in the local media? One observation is Best’s description of a “vague idea” was really founded on an extensive 94-page report by Delvinia and commissioned by the Farbridge administration just about the time of the gathering Urbacon storm.
The Best email was sent one week before city council approved the 2015 budget. You remember the 3.94 per cent property tax increase approved March 25? The job, promoted by Andy Best, was included in that budget.
Advertising the open government manager’s job was out of the strike zone
On May 6, the city advertised the open government manager job on a website dedicated to offering job opportunities called “Ontario Municipal Jobs”, located in Petrolia, Ontario. Applicants had until May 24 to apply. Is it not a fair open government question to ask how many applied for the job?
This raises more questions. Why wasn’t the job offered in the Guelph and K-W media? Was the job description so convoluted and pompously worded that no one in his or her right mind would come to Guelph for a one-year contract job? And there was no guarantee of being taken on the full time staff.
Here’s a sample under the ad’s duties category: “Serve as a catalyst, evangelist and leader in order to entrench the tenets of open government and a citizen first approach as guiding principles for the organization.”
Whew! With that sample, I think the city was hoping God might apply, or not.
So, allowing for a couple of weeks to review any job applications other than Andy Best’s, the position that would pay, according to the advertised range, between $76,498 to $95,623. Andy Best was offered $91,000 toward the high end of the range.
The ghost of Farbridge past endures
It just seems like a corruptive practice to consider a political supporter of the former mayor to be magically hired by the city to manage an open government plan that was created by a consultant. The open government task force worked in secret for more than a year and was co-chaired by Mr. Best.
Oh sure, the current administration went through the motions of seeking someone to manage the new ministry of evangelical openness. But sneaking a major, unknown and abstract policy through the budget at the llth hour bears all the fingerprints of a Farbridge regime that was rejected last October.
It is incredible that this attempt by the former administration sought to obtain redemption for the secretive and shady methods to raise taxes, and used its reserves like an internal bank.
Andy Best had the inside track on getting this job. The evidence is there that senior staff was complicit ensuring he got the job.
How can you explain why he is to report to the CAO? How can you explain the role of the deputy CAO for corporate including human resources, for the sham hiring of Andy Best? The stench of a deliberate set-up hangs over this hiring.
And don’t expect it to go away
Perhaps the administration should reveal the budget for this new operation. Besides Best’s role as manager, how many ‘passionate” staff has been assigned to work on the project?
Having read the Delvinia report, it is apparent that not all the staff is as passionate about the open government plan as the administration would like you to believe.
On the same day as Best’s March 18 email to the clerks (sic) another email, from Bob Webb, supporting the hiring of an open government manager, and urging inclusion in the 2015 budget. His email was sent to deputy CAO Mark Amorosi with copies to Coun. June Hofland, defeated councillor Maggie Laidlaw and Information Technology manager, Blair Labelle.
The previous administration’s handiwork is all over this like snow on the roof of city hall.
Yep! It’s snowing outside.