Is spending $100,000 for catering responsible, reasonable or a rip-off?

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 24, 2015

This week the Mercury reported that the city spent $103,282 on catering in 2014. The only way the citizens learned about this was because the newspaper filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Even then it will take another request to drill down to where the money was spent and who received the money.

DCAO Mark Amorosi is in charge of finances and his comments are opaque and stocked with generalities but no specifics.

For example, he says that the city caters to visitors, such as events at city hall by invitation only, or from outside organizations and government. Then it is appropriate for the city to supply coffee, juice or cookies.

Please Mark, you’re breaking me up.

This isn’t about cookies, coffee and juice, this is about lavish bun feeds at Cutten Fields or Bueno Gusto. This about the use of City of Guelph corporate credit cards being used to cater food and drinks for unnamed senior officials and unknown reasons.

When you divide the total amount recorded, $103,282, by the number of full-time equivalent employees, 2,100, it amounts to $49.18 per employee. So let’s stop kidding anyone. More than 80 per cent of those employees never claimed a dime for city-paid catering. That’s 1,680 staff leaving 420 employees, plus certain members of council, who probably used their corporate cards to cater, but to whom?

Experience has shown that the administration is exposed to people who want something and are prepared to pay for entertaining key staffers (decision makers) and members of council.

It appears that the chiefs of the administration are the main beneficiaries of the city catering budget, if one even exists.

But here’s Coun. Leanne Piper commenting on catering costs: “As far as saving money goes in relation to negotiating next year’s budget, it wouldn’t be worth it for the city to cut catering costs.”

Piper goes on to make the point that most councillors have day jobs, like her, and she says she leaves her University of Guelph job at 4:45 pm and doesn’t have time to go home and eat because council meets, usually starting at 5:00 pm. City Council meets some 26 times a year based on twice a month, except at budget time and takes the month of August off.

Then she adds: “Under the Employment Standards Act. If you’re working a double shift, if you’re working all day and expected to work into the night, then the employer is obligated to provide a meal.”

This warped logic only epitomizes the entitlement attitude that Ms. Piper feels she deserves.

First, who pays for the meal? The University or the City? Second, the city job is a part-time job that she chose. Third, if she thinks that this catering issue is not worthy of close examination, then she has little regard for her fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Guelph as an elected member of city council.

In polite circles it’s known as the Marie Antoinette syndrome: “Let them eat cake”

Oops, this piece is about catering. Okay it’s just an appropriate play on words.

You may ask why the Mercury was forced to obtain the catering information to which it had every right to obtain, from senor administrators. It’s public money and the public has the right to know.

Three years, ago, the former mayor and council spent more than $100,000 to a Toronto consultant to prepare an Open Government Action Plan to allow a free-flow of information to the people.

Today, we have Farbridge supporter Andy Best, manager of the open and transparent government plan. He was hired last spring on a one-year contract paying some $92,000.

Hold onto your hats folks, that contract has been extended under the proposed staff 2016 budget to three years costing $264,000.

Guess the only conclusion is, what’s Andy Best’s job? Is it worth paying $356,000?

Yet it is another expensive hangover of the former mayor’s eight years in office. The trouble is those policies and costs aren’t going away.

At least, not if Leanne Piper has anything to do with it.

 

 

 

 

 

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15 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

15 responses to “Is spending $100,000 for catering responsible, reasonable or a rip-off?

  1. geo

    $100,000 = 1 police officer.
    Hey Piper, bring a lunch!

  2. Fred

    So they pay a guy $92,000 a year to manage an open and transparent government plan. Any idea when that plan will be implemented? Or begun?
    Gerry, how do I get one of these jobs at city hall?

  3. Steve

    You may want to check your math on this, you’re off by a few decimals on the per employee cost.

    • Steve: Can you supply specifics? Perhaps the number of employees may be understated or not. I’m curious but don’t like making mistakes, neither does my calculator.

  4. Sue

    Well, when I divide $103,282 by 2100 on my calculator, the answer is $49.18. If I go by your 80% assumption, it comes up as $245.90 per staff member per year for 420 staff. Divide by 12 – the average becomes about $20 a month. Sorry, Gerry, I’d say it’s more like reasonable than a rip-off.

    • Sue:You are right I was wrong. Thanks for the letting me know. The one nagging thing about all this is that the majority rank and file of the staff do not have access to catering. So while my average is incorrect, and because the city won’t reveal how and where the money was spent with out applying for an FOI, its still public money and the public has a right to know. So Sue, who spent the money, where did they spend it?

  5. Lurka

    “Under the Employment Standards Act. If you’re working a double shift, if you’re working all day and expected to work into the night, then the employer is obligated to provide a meal.”

    I have drilled into the Employment Standards Act and cannot find where this is found . Employers are obligated under the act to give a 30 minute free from work meal break after 5 hours of consistent work, No food provided by the employer. No 15 minute coffee break. As the city council’s employer I question Ms Piper’s statement and the validity of same.

  6. Fred

    Well, she did not work a double shift for the taxpayers of Guelph. The taxpayers of Guelph are being shafted on the backdoor taxation via hydro and water.
    And they are being shafted by paying employees to shuffle paper.
    Nobody is expecting her to ” work ” two jobs. Quit.

    • Fred: Power and Water supplies are being used to tax citizens. The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, that shadowy, off balance sheet organization is in charge of sending a “dividend” to city hall. It’s a bogus operation and should be shut down ASAP. Another Farbridge hangover.

  7. Sue

    Man, what a lot of mean-spiritedness in these comments! Our city councillors aren’t exactly eating filet mignon courtesy of the taxpayers. What percentage of the budget is $100,000 a year? I’m a lot more concerned about the millions of dollars staff is recommending the city spend on the Niska bridge replacement that most citizens don’t seem to want.

    • Sue: Who are these “most people?” The staff has recommended replacing the bridge because of fearing collapse. It’s a Bailey bridge, the type that was used in the Second World War. The real reason the neighbours are against it is the fear of increased traffic. It seems there is a growing use of the road and not doing something could end with a tragic accident.

  8. Lurka

    Sue- I am just making a correction to a statement that was made. No “mean-spiritedness” intended.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your concern regarding the Niska bridge replacement. As an example, look at what has happened to Stone Road when that single lane B
    ailey bridge was replaced. The speed limit is 60 KPH. I challenge our law enforcement officers to see how many are keeping to the posted limit or slightly above. This is exactly what is going to happen to Niska Road. Traffic calming be damned! It will not stop the racetrack it has the potential to become–hazardous to say the least, let alone very environmentally unfriendly!

  9. Sue

    There were several options proposed to deal with the needed repairs to the bridge, from removing it entirely (the least expensive) to upgrading it to a new 2-lane bridge. Staff has recommended the most expensive option of full-scale expansion and replacement – almost 3 million dollars, part of a 5 million dollar project overall. All you have to do is look at the public response (letters to the editor, submissions to the city) to see that very few citizens are in favour of the multi-million dollar option, for a variety of reasons. Gerry, if you are really concerned about the city and its financial management, why not do some research into the viability of spending this kind of money to make driving easier for the 4,652 vehicles who use the road during weekdays (these numbers are quoted from the recent article in the Trib)? I know this isn’t perfect math, because roads and infrastructure do need to be kept safe and in good repair, and money has to be spent to do that, but if I divide the total cost of the project, 5.28 million, by the 4652 people who are using the bridge during weekdays (i.e. 5 days out of 7), that’s a form of taxpayer subsidy to those drivers of over $1100 each. To me, this is a far more significant and questionable expenditure than the money spent to provide catering to city staff and councillors who work a full day and then sit through lengthy evening meetings.

    • Sue: Don’t get me started on taxpayer subsidies of city roads and transit. I have no idea of the source of the Tribune’s Niska stats. I suspect they got it from the staff. Regardless, letters to the editor while important for citizens to communicate, policy they do not make. I appreciate that folks living in the area may oppose making the road more accessible for more people. But it is a minority. I suggest that your claim that very few people are in favor of a new two-lane bridge is hypothetical unless you have conducted a scientific surveyed the citizens.

      Instead of telling me I should do research into the alleged cost of this contentious project, with respect I suggest you research how this city, per capita, is spending 50 per cent more on capital spending and operations than either Kitchener of Cambridge. Further consider that the administration has exceeded its budget every year in the last three budget cycles. By September this year, the budget has been overspent by $1,357,600. As a taxpayer, I am concerned that the administration has failed to forecast city budgets and has ignored the growing cost to citizens of staff increases and projects that have ruptured the city economy in the past eight years. This is what happens when the city does not have a Chief Financial Officer to analyze and provide the necessary checks and balances to ensure that major mistakes such and the Urbacon affair do not occur. Thanks for your pint of view.

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