Monthly Archives: November 2015

Newspaper readers deserve better says Torstar Chairman

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 9, 2015

In an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star, the chairman of the Torstar Corporation. John Honderich takes umbrage over Postmedia CEO, Paul Godfrey, ordering his chain of 16 papers to endorse Stephen Harper.

Honderich decries the Postmedia action in the recent federal election pointing out that “owning a newspaper is a privilege, not a right.”

The Torstar Chairman goes further stating “ Newspapers are an essential informing part of the democratic process and their first responsibility must be to the local readers they serve.”

Right on, John.

He goes on to state: “In the interest of transparency, it must be declared that editorial independence has always been the official policy of the Torstar newspaper group.”

For clarity reasons, it is important to know that Metroland Publishing, a division of Torstar, is owner of the KW Record, Guelph Mercury, Guelph Tribune and Hamilton Spectator.

Two people manage the Guelph Mercury editorial department. The managing editor and, who reports to Lynne Haddrall, editor in chief at the Record and Mercury. Donna Luelo is publisher of both papers. The Mercury is now printed in Hamilton resulting in closing down its in-house printing operation.

So, perhaps Mr. Honderich can explain how the Guelph Mercury is independent and transparent? As he pointed out, the first responsibility is to the local readers they serve. So with the publisher of the Mercury and his editor in chief working and living in Kitchener, where is the editorial independence of the Mercury/Tribune readers and citizens of Guelph?

Mr. Chairman, I can help you with this as I have been covering Guelph municipal affairs for nine years. For five years I wrote a regular column in the Mercury that was often critical of the administration.

I was let go about three months after announcing that I started an online blog guelphspeaks.ca to fill the void of three weeks in which my Mercury columns were not scheduled. I have no regrets about that decision. It gave me more freedom to question the administration’s policies and how our city was being managed.

The bottom line is, in eight years, the Mercury suffered staff cuts in the editorial department, thereby reducing its ability to check slanted news releases from the city communication department and investigate the facts and operation of the municipality.

As time went by, it became increasingly apparent that the two-term regime of Mayor Karen Farbridge was in serious trouble. The situation exploded in June 2014, when a superior court judge found the city wrongfully dismissed the general contractor  constructing the new city hall and the renovation of the old city hall into a provincial offences court.

It became known as the Urbacon affair and the current overrun cost to the municipality is $23 million.

Mr. Chairman, the result in the October civic election was the defeat of the mayor and four councillors who either quit or were defeated. This happened because the people were galvanized to bring about change in the operation of the city.

I regret that the two newspapers that Torstar owns in Guelph played so little role in this major political upheaval. Their phlegmatic approach reporting the news over those eight years, and their loyalty to the administration, did not go unnoticed. Record numbers of electors flooded the polls. Shortly after the election the editor of the Tribune retired.

So John, perhaps you ought to inform your Metroland group to grant real editorial independence and transparency to the Guelph Mercury and Tribune.

Otherwise your declaration of the newspaper’s first responsibility is to the local readers they serve, doesn’t wash in this part of the province.

Guelph is not Kitchener-Waterloo nor is K/W, Guelph.

I think you get the point.

Regards,

Gerry Barker

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 8, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* Trouble in staff land  

* Herding cats to tax?

* Great quotes from chairman Sandals

* The rape of the reserves by the Farbridge administration

 

The chickens come home to roost, the crumbling Farbridge legacy

Looking back there were about 150 people who knew what the Farbridge administration was doing to our city. But a city staff sending out puff pieces on what a great job Madame Farbridge did drowned out our protests and her council inner circle sycophants helped her to do it.

A new independent review by a Hamilton consultant firm headed up by a former city manager of that city, has revealed the record of misspending, secret handling of the public’s money and disregard for responsibility.

These senior staffers cow-towed to their mayor’s determined effort to turn Guelph into some sort of socialist jewel among Canadian municipalities.

They treated your money like playing craps in a Las Vegas casino.

And along comes former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole who reveals how the city failed to abide by its own building bylaws.

On July 10, 2014, Poole sent an email to then Executive Director of planning, engineering and the environment, Janet Laird. He told the director there were 50 municipal projects with ongoing issues and construction was being carried out without the required building permits.

He told Laird several times that it’s easy to enforce the rules but however, “ how do we issue a charge against the city?”

One wonders if the Wyndham Street bridge bollix was one of those city projects in which the building bylaws were blithely ignored?

Laird hs gone to her new home in Whistler, B.C. Derek McCaughan, former Executive Director of Operations and Transit is also gone. Bruce Poole was fired last August after 30 years on the job, 20 years as the city’s Chief Building Inspector, .

That leaves Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, Deputy CAO Mark Amorosi whose responsibilities include all corporate matters, including the city finances. Newcomer Derrick Thomson is the remaining DCAO responsible for planning, engineering, operations, and waste management.

Ms. Pappert’s email response is guarded and denies any problem. Of course her own future as head of staff is at stake. The Poole allegations reveal the irresponsible and dark side of the way our city was being managed under the former mayor.

The CAO refuses to say why Poole was fired but it will come out as it usually does once the Freedom of Information application is filed. Kudos to the Mercury and reporter Joanne Shuttleworth for accessing this information and publishing it.

More to come.

*            *            *            *

This won’t pass the Meow test

The geniuses at City Hall are flying this kite to tax not only cats, but also the number of pets you may own. Okay Waldo, that pet Leghorn may produce eggs but you are still going to pay. But does that include gold fish, pet turtles, hamsters, rabbits and canaries?

Seriously, would it not make more sense to tax and license cyclists who use city streets night and day? Perhaps the way to do this is to offer free flashing lights for bikes and instructions on safe operation. Encouraging those cyclists who travel at night on busy roads, particularly as this time of year, to wear light-coloured clothing with fluorescent stripes, will go a long way to bring safety for both motorists and cyclists.

It would be a lot more productive and easier than trying to tax cats and other pets..

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What we have here, is a comedian running our education system

When Education Minister Liz Sandals speaks, the press corps starts to giggle.

The lady is a latent comic with such lines as “this is nothing about anything.” At first, the people were perplexed, but as the word spread, Liz was exposed as not a comic straight person but a full-blown comedian.

And to her credit, she has managed to totally break up her entire Ministry and the Liberal government, leaving them laughing. Liz imposed a two-tiered negotiating system that has now taken more than a year to settle contracts with the teacher and support unions.

Union negotiator? Nope. Comedian? Yep.

It’s the Sandals’ legacy that she shares with her pal Premier Kathleen Wynne; you can buy some the teachers off with millions but not all of them, not at the time. Her routine is to keep throwing money at the problem expecting it to eventually go away. Isn’t that close to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? You remember: Keep making the same mistakes over and over again with the expectation everything will get better.

Sheez Liz, now you’ve got the auditor general investigating the millions you promised to the unions for negotiating. And Liz, you forgot to ask for receipts. It’s okay though, your boss before leaving for her $1.8 million trip to China ordered the unions to supply proof of their negotiation out-of-pocket spending with RECEIPTS!

Imagine! What a concept. Giving public money away without requiring proof of spending.

Now that’s hilarious.

*            *            *            *

How the city reserve funds were used like an ATM machine

This week an independent report by BMA consultants raised concerns over the city’s drained reserve funds calling the situation “a cautionary red flag.”

The word “cautionary” may be a case of professional understatement.

The report says that only one reserve fund meets the city’s required financial standard. It’s the water/waste water reserve funded through user fees, not taxes. Over the past eight years those fees have risen by 70 per cent with a 4 per cent increase in 2015. Yet the consumption of water has declined, despite the increase in serviced homes and businesses.

The consultant used 2010 as the base for addressing the city’s reserves and it’s not a pretty picture. As in just five years, the city has failed to address “the ever-widening infrastructure gap.” Translation: The money was spent elsewhere.

This has been common practice employed by the previous administration as money was shuffled around using reserve funds unrelated to the purpose for which it was meant.

The most glaring example of this is the three reserve funds that were raided just weeks before the October 2014 civic election, to settle the wrongful dismissal suit, won by Urbacon Buildings Group Corp, totaling $8.9 million.

This was done because the city did not forecast or budget for a loss in its lawsuit that resulted from the fired Urbacon general contract of the new city hall in 2008.

Guelphspeaks recently wrote about how the city administration moved money around to meet unplanned and unbudgeted expenses. It says a lot about the financial mismanagement that existed under former Mayor Karen Farbridge.

The reserve fund to cover future employee benefit liabilities is supposed to be $30.3 million. Today that reserve stands at $11.4 million and has declined by 30 per cent since 2010. The liabilities will grow exponentially as staff numbers and salaries increase. More than 100 additional full-time equivalent employees have been hired in the past four years.

And it’s not because the city was’nt aware of the problem. Council and staff were advised years ago of the growing benefits liabilities of its employees.

The consultant recommends that the reserve funds should not be used for operating expenses but for “extraordinary events.” You can guess that’s what CAO Ann Pappert decided when she agreed to take the money from the three unrelated reserve funds to pay off Urbacon and said it would not affect property taxes.

Well Ann, here’s the skinny. In the 2015 budget property taxes went up by 3.96 per cent, the highest since 2010. That’s less than a year later after the settlement. Then your plan to spend $900,000 for five years to replenish the three reserves, fell off the table when Coun. Karl Wettstein moved to reduce it to $500,000 in the 2015 budget. The staff was instructed to find another way to repay what council owes.

There is only one way to right the Good Ship Guelph that is listing to the left. Contain costs immediately and hire an experienced Chief Financial Officer (CFO) with the power to clean up the mess left behind.

It’s confusing that the office of Chief Building Inspector is a provincially mandated position but why isn’t the position of CFO? Or is it?

The evidence of malfeasance, mismanagement and growing financial liabilities is gradually becoming known. The word is staff morale is low and productivity is affected.

High taxes, high electricity rates and high property prices are rapidly sending Guelph down a path of becoming the most expensive small city in the country in which to live.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 1, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* Wishful thinking department: A 1.58% property tax increase for 2016?  

* $50 Grand to study the geese in the parks problem?

* While the boss fiddles in China, the Legislature is burning

* Don’t you wish our cops would keep their guns in their holsters?

 

City Staff to propose 1.58 per cent tax increase November 10

The city released an executive summary of its proposed tax-supported operating budget for 2016 on the city website. The details are yet to come when council receives the staff’s full proposal November 10.

The summary indicated that the city would transfer $37,547,080 to reserves and reserve funds.

Some questions:

Where is this money coming from?

Is it included in the tax-supported operating budget proposal of $213,203, 925? On the surface this appears to be a modest operating cost increase over the $207 million budget of 2015. But some $37 million?

Are the three reserve funds used to settle with Urbacon Building Group part of the proposed reserve payment?

Will this be a repeat of last March when the council majority pushed the staff proposal to 3.55 per cent at the 11th hour of the final approval by council?

You remember, Coun. Karl Wettstein pushed through a reduction of the repaying $900,000 to the raided reserve funds to $500,000 for 2015. Then along comes Coun. Mike Salisbury with a proposal to double the amount spent annually on bike lanes to $600,000. It remains to this day a manipulated effort to maintain the Farbridge administration’s promise to spend $300,000 a years on bike lanes. Salisbury said that the money was not spent in thru 2014 budget so council voted to double it for 2015.

This example of kitchen table financing is why Guelph citizens’ per-person costs of the city budget are 50 per cent higher than those in Cambridge and Kitchener.

Don’t hope for a property tax rate of 1.58, this dance is underway and the best we can expect is a rate increase under 3 per cent.

The problem is the staff and council will not cut costs. Our city staff is growing exponentially to a point where it is not sustainable with the taxpayer’s ability to pay.

Sorry if I sound cynical, but I’ve been to this party before and understand how the budget is manipulated to please individual councillor’s agenda and sloppy financial management.

Solution? Hire a smart, experienced Chief Financial Officer and stop the manipulative money games played by both staff and council.

Remember, it’s your money.

*            *            *            *

Turning a goose problem into giving refugees a Christmas dinner

The city has announced that it will spend $50,000 to a goose consultant to figure out a way to force the wild geese to go elsewhere. The University of Guelph uses trained dogs to solve its goose problem.

Their geese probable end up moving their population to the safer havens of city parks and recreational areas where there is ample supply of water, grass and nesting facilities.

The geese aren’t stupid; they know a good thing when they fly over it.

But here’s the ultimate solution. First, we have to get the Federal government to donate a CF 17 military transport plane to move the captured geese from Guelph to, say, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and Croatia.

To facilitate this, we hold the first Guelph Goose Festival. This will be a happy event with the gathering of the geese in comfy cages with lots of water and grass. Just think, everyone gets involved with prizes awarded to those who herd the geese into their destination abode. The use of border collies to herd the geese facilitates their next destination.

There will be fly always, but we are a determined lot.

The confined geese will be transported to CF Base Trenton where they will be flown to those countries that are overloaded with refugees. Throttling back, to allow the geese to enter a new air pace, the geese will be discharged to land in their new home.

Welcome to our world! Everyone gets a Christmas dinner.

Is that not the Canadian way?

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When all else fails, book a trip to China

 Our beleaguered premier, Kathleen Wynne, is in China on a trade mission. Trouble is she has left her house in the midst of a conflagration that has managed to tick off just about the entire Ontario population.

Two weeks ago it was the revelation of the teacher unions’ payoffs of $2.5 million to negotiate their contracts. The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, states not only are the payments “normal” but also have been going on since 2004. It’s more than $7.1 million of your money and all done in secret. The Globe and Mail got a copy of the current payouts agreements that revealed $2.5 million was given to three teacher unions.

So Sandals then admits that the unions supplied no receipts to support the payments. Then she says the system is “ nothing to do with anything.” Really?

But it gets better. Just before taking off for her China mission, the premier announces that the unions must supply receipts in order to receive the money. Liz Sandals, her former friend and Minister of Education just had her political legs cut off by her boss.

Today (Sunday) the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ministry are to agree or, as the premier has dictated, they’ll be docked pay for their work-to-rule actions.

The delicious irony of all this, the ETFO refused to go along with the settlements made with the three teacher’s unions who agreed to a 2.5 per cent increase over two years. That did not include the million dollar payouts promised.

It is important to know that the ETFO refused to receive the money offered to settle so could this be a case of retribution by the Wynne government for not playing ball? If no settlement is reached today, the Wynne rollbacks kick in and the chaos remains.

This is the worst bungling of union/government relations since former premier Bill Davis gave the Roman Catholics the right to receive public funding of separate schools from grade one to grade 13. Billions of dollars since, Ontario remains the only jurisdiction in North America with a two-tiered public education system, based on religious preference.

Tell us Premier Wynne; will that be shark fin soup or Kentucky Fried Chicken? Perhaps a little Tse Tao to wash it down?

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Why our police don’t like to talk about personal gun control

 This week the Mercury published a story about a police officer that drew his loaded service weapon in police headquarters. Fellow officers confronted him over an hour before he was relieved of his 9 millemetre, semi-automatic service weapon.During those tense moments, pointed his weapon at fellow police officers and they also pointed their service weapons.

So what do you think? Is this a serous management problem to be solved, or a cover-up of the blue fog?

Start with the officer using his service issued weapon to threaten fellow officers in POLICE HEAD QUARTERS, and now returned to duty and not being charged.

Now when did this incident occur? Oh! We don’t know. The police are not saying. The chief, or whoever was chief at the time, decided to not only investigate but ask a member of the Waterloo Regional Police Services to tackle the job.

What happened to the civilian oversight on this case?

So here’s the score folks: Blue 2, citizens with the right to know the truth, 0.

Why wasn’t the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) called in to probe the gun issue, as it was a police gun issue of an officer using his service weapon to threaten other officers?

This coincides with the killing of a patient in the Guelph General Hospital by two Guelph police officers. The blue lid is slammed shut because the SIU was authorized to investigate. The two officers, who allegedly fired the shots killing the man, were back on the job days after.

That occurred months ago and there is still no explanation of the events by the Guelph Police Services Board or the SIU.

If the cops have the right to clam up under the Ontario Police Act and their union contracts, what does this do to the ordinary citizen who has placed their trust in the police?

Why is a officer who pointed his gun at fellow officers in his station house, still on the job? Is he on the streets, tucked away in some administrative job or undergoing treatment for his totally unacceptable behaviour?

The citizens deserve straight answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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