Is Guelph a city in crisis in which a vacuum of leadership exists?

By Gerry Barker


Posted February 29, 2016

Recently, reported details of the city administration’s bungling managing the public’s money. We now learn that the General Manager of Finance, Janice Sheehy has resigned. Also, former veteran Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, is suing the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal and according to the statement of claim, defamation of character.

Going through the files, we discovered a report by Mayor Cam Guthrie commenting on the final cost overrun figures from building the new city hall. The report by the Chief Administrative Officer(CAO), Ann Pappert, revealed it cost the city $23 million more than the contract price of $42 million. Most people refer to it as the Urbacon affair.

“It’s now time to turn our focus to the things that made our city great and new ideas that make it better,” Mayor Guthrie stated.

In an editorial in the Guelph Mercury, the mayor is quoted: “I sincerely hope that this audit will take a heavy burden off our collective backs and help us focus on great things happening in our city now and the great things that are about to happen in our future.” The Mercury editorial questioned the Mayor’s assertion that the Urbacon affair be shifted to the back burner.

In a word, platitudes and promises have not settled the people’s concerns about the financial management of the city.

A case in point was the recent revelation in the Guelph Tribune.

During a recent meeting, Coun. Christine Billings asked the staff to confirm that the Capital Renewal Reserve Fund was short $5.24 million because the money was used to settle the Urbacon Buildings Group Inc.’s breach of contract lawsuit. City General Manager and Treasurer Janice Sheehy conceded: “Yes, we did fund that particular issue from the reserve.” Was that admission the cause of Ms. Sheehy’s resignation after less than a year on the job?

As reported in some months ago, there were three reserve funds that were raided to pay the $8.96 million Urbacon settlement and legal costs.

The CAO reported that the settlement would not affect property taxes and the three reserves would be replenished at a rate of $900,000 annually for five years. Well, that soon went off the rails when Coun. Karl Wettstein, during the March 2015 budget talks, moved successfully to reduce the amount in the 2015 budget to $500,000. He then flipped the problem over to the staff, knowing full well that the $8 million Capital Renewal Reserve had been reduced to just $3.7 million.

Wettstein knew the Guelph Hydro $30 million note was called by the city and knew where the money was spent. He also knew that the administration used $5.24 million of the reserve to settle with Urbacon.

This is an example of the mindless lack of fiduciary responsibility that has gotten Guelph into the current financial crisis. And Wettstein is not alone. His colleagues in the Gang of Seven, all supporters of the defeated former mayor, have become so dependent on the professional staff that is causing the city’s troubles.

With a slim 7-6 majority on council, they have obstructed attempts to reform operations. They are so confident of their power, that despite two of their members away on vacation, they walked out of a regular council meeting January 25, because they did not have the majority.

The man the voters counted on to bring change in the way the city was being managed, speaks of the wonders of the future of the city. His lack of moral fibre to take leadership and root out the rot, destroying our city from within, is becoming increasingly apparent to many people including those who supported him in the election.

This city badly needs a mayor who will lead, not a cheerleader.

He is leading a totally dysfunctional council, in which even those councillors trying to make changes are becoming demoralized over the lack of progress with an obstructionist seven-person majority.

The first step is appointing a committee of citizens to review all those quirky bylaws set up by the previous administration to maintain control of the agenda and rules of operations. They must have the power to dump any governance bylaw that causes obstructionism and unecessary control.

These proceedural bylaws are major stumbling blocks to reform of governance. They are the epitome of self-serving control of all city business by the previous mayor and her hand picked senior administrative managers.

The sheer affrontery of former Mayor Farbridge to spend hundred of thousands of dollars to set up a Transparent and Open Government Action Plan, is laughable in its pretext for righteous governance.

The irony is, that citizens are stilo paying for this “action plan” currently being managed by Andy Best, a paid supporter of the former mayor and appointed by the Guthrie administration.

By a 7-6 majority vote, council approved spending another $267,000 in the 2016 budget for continuing the open government action plan.

And you wonder why we have a financial crisis.

Please Note: Viewers can access previous posts in archives. There are 749 posts written since 2011 covering, for the most part, the city of Guelph’s administration. Editor Gerry Barker may be reached at







1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

One response to “Is Guelph a city in crisis in which a vacuum of leadership exists?

  1. geo

    And now the next financial disaster brought to you by Guelph City staff and Council is a $34,000,000 renovation of a single Downtown building, Police headquarters
    $34,000,000 for a reno of a single building but there’s no money for infrastructure? Who on earth is making these decisions? Certainly not anyone with the best interests of the Guelph taxpayer in mind!
    Would someone with more financial expertise then I have please explain how the O.P.P. can build a brand new headquarters in Tevoitdale, including buying the land, for $7,500,000 while here in Guelph that much money doesn’t even get the job half done.
    What the hell is going on in this City?

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