By Gerry Barker
Posted March 13, 2016
James Gordon continues his theory on building a city to provide services and wellbeing to the citizens. He studiously avoids the word “spending” instead substitutes the word “investments.”
His point is, he and his coleagues are justifying their nine-year spending spree by claiming they are investing in the future. Their list of “investment” failures includes the Sleeman Centre; the new City Hall; the Wyndham Street underpass that prevents large vehicles from using; the organic waste processing facility, the garbage bin collection system; losing a legal battle with the Public Health Service; establishing the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc that has consistently lost money.
Now Gordon wants to build a new downtown library. And, whatever happened to the South-end recreation centre? According to Gordon, these are “investments” for the future of the city. But both were ignored by the previous council. Why?
The man doesn’t seem to grasp that the public trough was emptied by the previous administration, who spent the money on their own pet projects.
Recently, Gordon professed that the taxpayers are content with the way the city is being run and the taxes imposed. And they’d better be because the bloc of seven on council, of which he is the defacto leader, knows best and controls the administration.
While Gordon says the property taxes paid by residents are in line with similar sized cities in Ontario, how does he square that with the truth? The facts are well established. Guelph’s operational and capital spending costs are 50 per cent greater than Kitchener or Cambridge. They are similar sized cities and are part of the Region of Waterloo. When the regional tax rate is included with the local tax rate, their costs still remain 50 per cent less than Guelph.
Members of council have received the details of this analysis, so it’s not like a bolt out of the blue. The fact that the bloc of seven ignores the data taken from the official Financial Information Reports filed by all municipalities in Ontario, bespeaks of the sloppy and careless way our city is really being managed.
Now that Gordon has pontificated his political views there is a nagging suspicion that he may have crossed the line of integrity and is in a conflict of interest.
James Gordon is the founder and director of the Hillside Community Festival that is held on conservation lands on the northwest side of Guelph Lake, outside the City of Guelph.
Before leaving office, former mayor, Karen Farbridge’s controlled council passed a motion to create a “wellbeing committee” to dispense public funds to a wide variety of organizations. It was a job that council used to do but was turned over to a committee composed of supporters of the administration.
Now this was a very astute move on the part of Ms. Farbridge. It gave her control of dispensing money to whom ever her hand-picked committee chose.
This year, the wellbeing committee dispensed more than $101,000 to some 48 organizations. Among them was a grant of $11,000 to the Hillside Community Festival. The rationale was: “The grant will support the festivals, and broaden initiatives including aboriginal drumming, workshops in aboriginal culture, some writing and peacemaking.”
Why, one may ask, is the muncipality supporting a festival whose focus is on aboriginal affairs when this is the responsibility of the Federal and Provincial governments. And we all pay taxes to those governments as well as municipal taxes.
Now this festival is a part social and part commercial enterprise with a number of vendors selling their wares. This places Coun. Gordon in a potential conflict of interest. As Executive Director he had to be involved in the planning and presentation to the “Wellbeing committee.” He will possibly deny a conflict. Regardless, he is part of the administration that approved the $11,000 grant of which he has a longtime association.
Did Mr. Gordon, declare his interest when the grant was awarded?
In his letter to the editor, Gordon stated that the city is obligated to supply the services to make our city livable. He doubles down by saying taxpayers must ensure these services are not cut back or reduced in any way.
He obviously was not referring to the high costs of staff to maintain these self-serving services and benefits to the citizens. The people soundly rejected the policies and irresponsible spending of the previous administration.
Now we have an elected member of city council benefiting from a grant from the taxpayers in which he has a personal interest.
He has two choices: Resign or return the grant to Hillside and apologize for failing to recognize he was in conflict with his sworn fiduciary responsibility to the citizens he represents. Now there is no integrity commission to hide behind. Mayor Guthrie should appoint an independent, special counsel to investigate Mr. Gordon’s association with Hillside and his organization receiving an $11,000 grant.
This is a cancer of entitlement on our city that continues to grow despite the defeat of the former mayor and members of her council.