Monthly Archives: January 2016

Introducing the Letter Box, now open for your Letters to the Editor

By Gerry Barker

Editor guelphspeaks.ca

Posted January 31, 2016

Say hello to a new feature that allows Letters to the Editor, to be published in the exclusive Letter Box in guelphspeaks.ca, (GS), Guelph’s most popular news commentary blog.

It’s popular because it’s non-profit and not beholden to any political party, cause or individual. With the help and support of a wide variety of citizens, GS digs beneath the surface of those events and stories that affect all citizens.

The results are obvious. In a number of cases, GS scooped the Guelph print media chiefly because of publishing deadlines and frequency of editions. On GS, your letter can be read at anytime because the blog never closes.

Guelph Speaks was born, oddly enough, as a column published in the Mercury from 2007 to 2011 in a column titled, “Between the Lines.” Guelph resident, GS editor Gerry Barker, was the author and commentator. Now the Mercury is gone and leaves a number of traditional departments without your access or exposure.

These include letters to the editor, opinion columns, editorials, obituaries, death notices, classified ads, advertising, provincial, federal and world news, comics. Puzzles, real estate news, weather, social notices such as birthday, wedding and anniversary greetings, sports and entertainment news, and city government news and analysis.

This has left an enormous vaccum of iformation that thousands of residents relied upon.

The death of this newspaper marks the revolution for news and commentary to be instantly transmitted online. GS has been doing that for five years and has influenced major changes at City Hall and commented on events at the provincial and federal level that affect Guelph and its citizens.

The new Letter Box platform allows you to publish your ideas, suggestions, concerns and opinions. Naked plugs for publicity by commercial interests are not welcome.

Remember GS’s mission statement that has not changed: “For the people by the people.”

GS cannot replace the entire Mercury package overnight. What we are planning to do is offer citizens the opportunity to send their letters for publishing in the Letter Box section of the GS blog.

The Letter Box is open and available 24-7. Of course, there are some restrictions such as use of profanity, libelous copy, copy limitation of up to 300 words and light editing for clarity purposes. We will not publish anonymous letters.

The Letter Box is opened every morning and the new contents are posted. Your letter stays in the box for five days then is moved to the Letter Box archive where it may be accessed. We ask that you include your name, address and telephone number. This information is private and will not be transferred or sold to any individual, company or political organization. The information is secure, period. Only your name and municipality will be published.

And it’s free. Send your letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com. Please ensure the words: “Letter Box” is at the top of your letter. This is to differentiate the letters from the comment section of guelphspeaks.ca.

So, all you Mercury letter writers, you now have the opportunity to run your letters on the online guelphspeaks.ca site. The huge guelphspeaks.ca audience will read your letters; the most followed blog in Guelph.

Former Mercury Community Editorial Board authors and columnists are invited to make submissions for publishing articles or commentary in guelphspeaks.ca. If you require additional information send your questions to: gerrybarker76@gmail.com.

Welcome to the online world that never sleeps.

 

 

 

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Karen Farbridge’s capital spending to cost $420 million over the next ten years

Bt Gerry Barker

Posted January 29,2016

So, in the past 15 months, you believed that Karen Farbridge was no longer mayor.

Sorry, but it’s as if she never went away. Commitments made when she was Mayor are still alive and are being actively pursued by her Gang of Seven (GOS) majority on the new city council.

This week five members of that bloc went off the reservation by striking and refusing to rejoin their colleagues following an undocumented closed-door session of a regular Monday night council meeting.

Their deliberate obstruction of the people’s business forced Mayor Cam Guthrie to cancel the meeting because there weren’t sufficient members to make up a quorum. By way of explanation, the city bylaw requires a minimum of seven elected members out of 13 to be present for a public council meeting.

The result was the five members of the GOS attending the closed meeting, denied further discussion when the public meeting resumed. By refusing to participate in the open council meeting, that’s a strike by any definition.

It was the result of two councillors, Karl Wettstein and June Hofland, members of the Gang of Seven bloc, who did not attend the regular Monday night council meeting. No explanation for their absence was given. This removed the majority of the GOS councillors’ 7-6 edge, resulting in the remaining councillors holding the majority.

Coun. Phil Allt, the GOS spokesman, stated the the group refused to participate in the meeting to which they were elected, on the grounds that they “were protecting the integrity of the City Corporation and staff.”

He refused to say what was the nature of this protectionist action that resulted in a shutdown of the council meeting.

This Gang of Seven has made a mockery of cooperation and responsible discourse among all members of council since the 2014 election.

Most of the discussion between members of council is conducted in private before and during the public council meetings when council decides hold a private meeting off the floor.. The result is the stakeholders have no idea of the statements, positions or action of council until the vote is held and the bloc always votes 7 to 6, subsequently forcing their group decision on the citizens, who have no recourse.

This week, they were suddenly faced with being in the minority in the closed session because Wettstein and Hofland were not there. They reacted by walking away from their responsibilities that then shut down council for lack of a quorum.

What it really represents is the determination to continue the failed policies of the previous administration that the majority of voters soundly rejected in the 2014 civic election.

Space doesn’t permit examples of mismanagement and waste of taxpayer’s dollars by the previous administration. The people spoke and the result was just an extension of the failure of the previous administration.

For the record, here is a list of the future capital commitments made by the Farbridge administration that this Gang of Seven is still supporting.

The proposed, ten-year, 2 per cent property tax increase to repair an aged infrastructure will ultimately cost $250,000,000.

The Police headquarters renovation – $40,000,000 and counting.

The Community Energy initiative – estimated to be $150,000,000 but the actual cost has never been revealed.

The street light replacement with L.E.D. bulbs – $10,700,000.

Supporting the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, a segregated corporation operating off the city books that lost $2.8 million in 2014.

The Transparent and Open Government Action Plan – $855,000.

Let’s take a closer look at that one. In 2012, The Farbridge administration commissioned a Toronto consultant to develop a Transparent and Open Government Action Plan.

This was the former administration’s answer to growing public complaints about the opaque and secret operations of their government. Jumping ahead, the citizen’s concerns grew to a point where the Farbridge administration was defeated in the civic election.

Since then more than $855,000 has been spent, including $267,000 in 2016 perpetuating a program that has utterly failed to open the secrecy of the administration. The city council majority voted in March 2015 budget, to hire Farbridge loyalist Andy Best last July. His 2015 salary was contracted for $92,000 for one year.

On December 10, the final day of the budget meetings, the GOS voted to spend another $267,000 to continue the program development. This produced a three year opportunity for Mr. Best and probably a full time job.

Trouble is, as it has turned out, the opaque and secret operations continues with Best turning out to be a shill for the administration by broadcasting city staff so-called success stories. And we are paying $855,000 for that?

A recent announcement said that Best was developing Internet applications for various city operations and functions. The big feature is citizens can customize their city news online. And we are spending $855,000 for a few politicized apps?

This group of councillors should be severely sanctioned for their strike.

Perhaps the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing should intervene in this case and investigate the operations of the city administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Note to citizens: If we don’t get our own way, we’ll strike

By Gerry Barker

Posted January 28, 2016

Last Monday, believed to be the first time in the history of Guelph, five members of council walked out of a council meeting. The five, together with two of their already absent number, stopped the meeting cold following a closed door meeting, as Mayor Guthrie found himself unable to continue the public meeting due to a lack of a quorum.

The underlying reason for this walkout is unknown at this time because Coun. Phil Allt told a citizen that he could not “reveal what occurred” to cause this deliberate boycott of conducting the city’s business. It becomes even murkier with the deafening silence of city clerk Stephen O’Brien.

Well here’s the skinny. We believe the closed meeting was to discuss a personnel matter, a legal reason. When the Gang of Seven did a head count, they were outnumbered six to five because two of that group were absent.

But let’s hear more of this sappy Allt response: “You will have to trust that this rather simple message is of importance to all Guelph residents. By denying a quorum we were defending the integrity of the city as a corporation and staff.”

These are the last guys we should trust to defend the integrity of the corporation and the staff. Besides, it is not their exclusive responsibility to “defend the integrity of the city.” That’s the role of council, the whole council.

Did that closed meeting precipitate the defection of responsibility concerning a senior member of the staff? It has been the opinion of many in the city that there is too strong a bond between the senior staff and the Gang of Seven majority on council.

More importantly, the Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert; Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO), Mark Amorosi; DCAO Derrick Thomson; City Clerk Stephen O’Brien; and City Solicitor Donna Jacques, were all appointed by former Mayor Karen Farbridge and supported by her council majority.

So how do we attain change and transparency if the same team is on the field?

Is this a problem of the Great Divide?

What has occurred here is that we now have two councils, the Gang of Seven councillors who are determined to continue the policies and capital projects of the former administration and raise taxes exponentially, and the real one that is led by Mayor Guthrie, who is the only member of council elected by all the voters in the city with more than 20,000 votes.

The other is led by: Who knows? The role of spokesman has fallen on Mr. Allt, who was elected with some 3,000 votes in Ward Three. His Ward Three colleague, “Landslide” June Hofland, won her seat by five votes.

The bottom line is this group has few bright stars in its stable. In fact, most are financially illiterate to the point where they depend solely on the staff for guidance. The result was the recent two-day budget meetings. The comments from the Gang of Seven destroyed the attempts by the Guthrie supporters to reduce taxes and review the city operations to lower costs.

Collectively, these seven councillors are acting like kids in the candy store with a hundred bucks to spend because it’s not their money.

If you believe Phil Allt, it’s like: “I got the money from Daddy and he said don’t tell Mommy.”

Of course they’re not going to explain their irresponsible actions.

They just didn’t attack the Guthrie administration, they attacked every person in this city and they refuse to explain their actions and on what possible grounds?

Is this the way this totally dysfunctional council is going to operate from now on? If they don’t like something they walk out destroying a quorum?

If the Mayor is smart, he’ll issue a meeting notice to do the city’s business within 24 hours. If the Gang of Seven refuses to attend, then cancel all pay, allowances and perks of those councillors not attending. Revoke any committee chair positions and memberships to other boards they may hold and receive extra pay. Then ask the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the reasons for the boycott.

If none of that works, obtain legal advice to consider suing the absent councillors on the grounds of failure to perform their fiduciary and elected responsibilities. Instruct the clerk that until further notice, there will be no in camera meetings of council.

These seven councillors need to apologize to the citizens of Guelph for their irresponsible actions.

 

 

 

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Gang of Seven Councillors boycott council meeting, shutting it down

By Gerry Barker

Posted January 27, 2016

As the old song goes: “ It’s days of wine and roses,” as the sun finally sets on the Gang of Seven Farbridge progressives who have shanked any kind if reform attempted by the new Guelph council.

The repetitive 7-6 vote dominance by this group has dumped thousands of dollars in increased property taxes and user fees in just 13 months onto the backs of citizens.

This week, two members of the Gang o0f Seven, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein, were not attending the meeting. The reason is not clear.

This action shattered the Gang of Seven’s majority on council. Along with Mayor Guthrie, five other reform-minded councillors suddenly had the majority.

For reasons currently unknown, the council went into camera, i.e. private session.

Upon returning to the public meeting, the five members did not turn up. The Mayor cancelled the meeting.

So what happened? Why did these five councillors fail to attend a meeting of council, to which they were elected and sworn to uphold the city’s operational bylaws governing procedure of the people’s business?

There is no apparent reason for this unprescedented action.

They just quit their responsibilities.

Let’s name them. They were elected to represent the people in their individual wards. Do you think those electors would realize that their taxes would increase by 11.62 per cent in just one year? Did they realize that their representatives would vote for these increases?

Included in this group profile is Ward 2 councillor, James Gordon one of the walk-outs. He voted to increase property taxes in the 2015 and 2016 budgets; he also voted to spend $14 million to widen Speedvale Avenue from Woolwich to Manhattan Circle. It was strongly opposed by citizens.

In Ward three, councillor June Hofland won by just five votes and was not at the boycott incident.

Boycott walk-out, Ward three councillor Phil Allt, is another supporter of the tax increases and it is apparent that his ambition is to join the NDP caucus in Queen’s Park.

Walk out parparticpant Ward four councillor Mike Salisbury also supported the tax increases. He also has little understanding of the city’s finances and believes that if you don’t spend it in one year, you can spend it in the next year.

Ward Five councillor Leanne Piper is a doctrinaire Farbridge supporter. She also voted for the tax increases. The mystery surrounding her performance is the real cost of the Guelph Police headquarters renovations. The contract deadline was December 9 and there is no announcement of the cost of this major project. Hello!

Ward five councillor Cathy Downer was also a member of the boycotting Gang of Seven. She also voted for the 2015 and 2016 budget increases and spending $267,000 on the open government project that is being run by Farbridge supporter, Andy Best.

Ward Six Karl Wettstein did not attend the bocotted meeting. Regardless, he voted to raise property taxes and user fees.

It’s now clear that this Gang of Seven is determined to obstruct any attempt to reform the city’s administration.

This action only illustrates the blind stupidity of this group in not realizing their responsibility to reflect the majority of the people’s wishes for change.

So, when the chips are on the line, they walk out.

Call them, tell them to get back to work and do what they were elected to do.

Conversely, if they can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

If they continue to thumb their noses at the city and the people, then dock their pay, cancel their perks and inform them in writing of their responsibilities.

Shame.

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Fallout from the Mercury closing reverberates through the community

By Gerry Barker

Editor of guelphspeaks.ca

Posted January 26, 2016

The impact of the closing of Guelph’s daily newspaper flies in the face of the city’s claims that Guelph is Number One in Canada for jobs. It bolsters the argument that Guelph’s large number of civil servants who depend on the public purse, skews the claims that the city is number one in terms of jobs.

The Mercury was a leading supporter of the Farbridge administration. The orders to support the administration came from the Kitchener- Waterloo Record. More specifically, it was the Record’s and Mercury’s Editor in Chief, Lynn Haddrell, who no longer holds the job.

The 2014 election result spawned changes in the operation of the Mercury. Monitoring the diminishing advertising linage over a few months, it was apparent that the newspaper was financially hurting. A basic problem was the lack of local advertising that was placed in the twice-a week Guelph Tribune.

Guelphspeaks wrote a post that predicted the reduction of the Mercury operations following the removal of the printing operations to Hamilton.

The Mercury office site on MacDonnell Street will probably be sold to a developer for another downtown hi-rise condo.

The guardian of the public trust is dead and the torch is handed to the Internet and social media to maintain.

More on the public service jobs

These public-funded jobs have salaries, wages and benefits that are guaranteed by the citizens forever. For example, take the two Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals working for the city of Guelph. Their contracts contain a rigid, no-contracting out clause of their jobs after two years.

If city council decides to consider contracting waste collection out to private industry, this clause prevents it from doing so. This is a hangover from the Farbridge administration that was very generous to those unions that contributed to the former mayor’s three election campaigns and those supporters elected on council.

Remember that the former mayor did not do this alone. She relied on key senior staff to make nice with her union supporters by settling weetheart contracts over the eight years she held office. These senior staffers included Mark Amorosi, hired as head of Human Resources in 2008 and in charge of union negotiations. The mayor also relied on two Chief Administration Officers, the current occupant of the job, Ann Pappert, and her predecessor, Hans Loewig.

Today, both Pappert and Amorosi are still running the city with the support of the seven members of council who are consistently voting as a bloc to ensure the Farbridge agenda is continued.

This is the intolerable situation that Mayor Cam Guthrie and five independent members of council face every day.

So, how serious is this situation? In council’s first year in office, the bloc of seven councillors voted to raise property taxes in the city by 11.62 per cent. This is composed of a property tax increase for 2015 of 3.96 per cent, approved last March, and a 2.99 per cent increase for 2016, in December. Add the 4.67 per cent that transferred a portion of operational and capital costs to debt.

The taxpayers have to service the debt and in Guelph the debt is out of control. The city’s appointed consultants whenreviewing operations, warned that reserves were “red flagged” as being seriously underfunded.

All you have to consider is the $8.96 million settlement with Urbacon Buildings Group for wrongful dismissal of the company chosen to build the new City Hall. That money was taken from three reserve funds.

The parties involved in this decision were former mayor Farbridge, CAO Ann Pappert and former Chief Financial Officer Al Horsman. Horsman was replaced by Mark Amorosi, a resixdent of Hamilton, a senior manager who never seems far from the action at Guelph City Hall.

We’ll miss the Merc, a paper that reported and commented on the life of our city six days a week.

There is a giant newshole that will be gone by this weekend.

                                                  Introducing The Letter Box

Please note that following the demise of the Mercury, guelphspeaks.ca will accept Letters to the Editor in its new feature: The Letter Box.

The usual rules of decorum apply and all points of view will be welcomed and considered. Please leave a contact name and telephone or email address with each submission. Only your name will be published. Letters are limited to 300 words or less. Send your letter to guelphspeaks.ca marked comments – letter box.

 

 

 

 

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The Guelph Mercury: An old friend passes and we are the less for it

By Gerry Barker

Posted January 25, 2016

I guessed last year when the Mercury presses were moved to Hamilton that the newspaper may close. Love it or ignore it, the Merc has been a key news source in our city since Confederation in 1867.

While the bulk of local advertising went to the Guelph Tribune, it spelled trouble for the six-day a week daily to sustain its existence. My condolences go to the staff of 23 fulltime employees, eight of whom were editorial writers and editors. A fine pool of talent managed by Phil Andrews.

I expect Metroland to find homes for these talented people who have performed their job under trying conditions. The bean counters decided that Metroland would be financially better off.

Other’s affected are the members of the Community Editorial Board whose variety of opinions were a cheap way to fill the space. Most of that group was writing self -serving pieces but not all, there were some levl-headed members who wrote balanced points of view and did it well.

Missed, will be the locally paid columnists such as veteran newsman, Geoffry Stevens, Owen Roberts and Michael Strickland.

Remember that the Letters to the Editor feature will pass on and no longer provide space for individual opinions. Instead, the only letters content will be in the twice weekly Tribune, with space to print no more than three of or four each issue. That’s a far cry from the Merc’s letters, space that published sometimes 24 letters a week.

But here’s the real fallout of this corporate decision to close a daily newspaper: In the business, the space provided for news and opinion is referred to as “the newshole.” That means the rest of the page space is for advertising.

This is what happened to our Mercury.

The editorial staff filled its space allotment every day. But the advertising space kept shrinking putting more pressure on editorial to fill the remaining space, thereby reducing the nember of pages each day.

Our Mercury has been on a page diet ever since Metroland bought the paper.

The corporate strategy of Metroland, a subsidiary of Torstar, owners of the Toronto Star, has driven the newspaper to oblivion, through patronizing the former Farbridge administration for some eight years. The result is the paper was way behind the wave of pubic rejection of that administration. The civic election results of 2014 were obviously the harbinger of the death of the Mercury.

The reason was the Metroland decision to support the former administration was to protect the estimated $500,000 a year advertising contract with the Guelph Tribune to buy city-paid space in the name of “City News.”

The Mercury editorial was instructed to support the Farbridge administration up to the election, despite the the loss of some $23 million, buidling the new city hall following a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal brought by the general contractor of the project.

In those days running up to the civic election last October, the Mercury, in its editorials, questioned the management of the city hall project’s cost overruns.

So what’s the fallout of this decisions to shut down our daily newspaper?

A friend and space is gone. A platform for personal expression is gone. An essential part of community is gone.

Oh well, only an estimated 9,000 subscribers really care if you believe the Metroland corporate decision.

It all occurred right under our very noses.

The rush is at city hall to force citizens to rely on city propaganda. It is being pumped out daily on the Internet by a large staff in the public-financed city communications department. It is presumed that it is sufficient to meet the balanced news of a multi-dimensional, community,

No, it isn’t

We know the power of the Internet. But not everyone is connected. It doesn’t provide sufficient public critique of action taken by the city on its website.

Our democratic right is to ask, challenge, demand answers and influence our elected members of various legislative bodies.

Today, we lost that ability with the death of the Mercury.

Finally, our Mercury delivery lady, Marla, presented our Mercury every day. We oten chatted with her at the front door and she was a credit to her employer. She was like a daughter to us but a corporate decision comes home and we won’t see her at our doorstep now. Just another victim of corporate action.

This decision was nother but a naked corporate exploition of a small community that cannot fight back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So we’re Number One in job creation, what about Guelph’s other Number One’s?

By Gerry Barker

Posted January 18, 2016

While Coun. Phil Allt exalts in the news that Guelph’s unemployment rate is lowest in Canada at 4.2 per cent; he has no qualms in voting for tax increases of 11.1 per cent in his first year in office.

In his first term as councillor, property taxes for 2015 and 2016 were approved. But there are other wrinkles. Council also approved a 4.15 per cent transfer to debt to pay for excessive spending of operations and capital.

Mercy me, I read a column in the Mercury by Kitchener Record reporter, Greg Mercer, who covers baseball and general assignments, applauding the job opportunities that Guelph offers, without being specific.

So, in the public interest, here is the cold hard truth. StatsCan does not measure the residency of the workers in Guelph. All you have to do early in the morning is see all the cars entering Guelph from other municipalities. Same thing happens at the end of the workday when workers return to their homes in Kitchener, Cambridge, Fergus, Rockwood and Puslinch.

Even the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi, the senior staffer responsible for the City of Guelph’s financial management, does not live in the city. He pays his taxes in Hamilton, his home away from the job.

This is another reason that the cost of living in Guelph is 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener. Creating jobs can only be positive if the worker resides in our city and contributes to its operations.

That does not happen with these ghost workers who migrate daily from other jurisdictions and do not contribute a dime to support the city where they work.

We’re Number One, we’re Number One.

Oh, yeah.

Well, we’re tops in Canada for property tax rates, user fees, debt, electricity, and water rates. We have a waste collection system that fails to service more than 13 per cent of the population. Did I explain that property owners, who do not receive city waste collection, pay for it anyway through their taxes?

Our city council is controlled by a Gang of Seven councillors who caucus regularly and independently from the rest of council in their assigned committee room in City Hall? I don’t think the Ontario Municipal Act permits this.

Did the report in the Globe and Mail investigate what happened in building a new city hall that was originally contracted to cost $42 million but ended up costing $65 million?

Has city council dealt with the $23 million shortfall? It wasn’t even mentioned during the 2016 budget meetings.

Speaking of which, while city staff recommended a ten-year, two per cent automatic property tax increase to pay for more than $250 million in infrastructure changes, council bounced that one down the road referring it to a committee.

Still feeling that Guelph is Number One?

Consider that Guelph’s public servants are highly unionized. The city alone is 80 per cent unionized. These unions supported the Farbridge administration, that in turn, was generous with contract increases and improvements.

.Now let’s look at the real number of mostly unionized public servants, Both federal and provincial employees, and the University of Guelph. This city has more employees earning more that $100,000 a year than any other city of similar size in Ontario.

These jobs are secure, highly paid and totally guaranteed by the municipal corporation.

How many Linamar employees have that kind of lifetime security, wages and benefits guarantees?

When our Mayor comments in the Globe and Mail puff piece that he is bringing business to Guelph and that the city is prospering, is a great sales pitch in a national newspaper. He is a salesman but the problems still exist and won’t be solved by hyperbole.

The trouble is that the baggage and costs left from the previous administration are still there. For example, when Mayor Cam Guthrie took office, he was unable to replace the Farbridge administrative assistant in his own office, due to contrived union rules.

The deep-set problem with Guelph is that the unions are still in control through their support of council’s Gang of Seven councillors.

There are so many issues in this city that need to be addressed by intelligent and concerned residents through actively supporting reform.

The dominant Gang of Seven are, for the most part, incompetent and irresponsible members who are echoing the policies of the previous administration that almost brought the city to its financial knees.

So, without public input, Ann Pappert, Chief Administration Officer for the city, agrees to allow DCAO Mark Amorosi, to oversee the finances of the city. Amorosi hired a General Manager of Finances and City Treasurer to manage the city finances. This is a job that this individual has never held before.

This is the underlying problem with which the citizens have to understand and trust the management of their stakeholder interests.

It’s complex and the special interests group that have controlled Guelph for more than eight years, are still in charge.

Now, do you still believe that Guelph is Number One?

They can’t even pick up all the garbage.

 

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