By Gerry Barker
April 27, 2016
Monday night, Coun. Mike Salisbury finally admitted that he tipped off the friendly blogger Adam Donaldson about why the five Orange Crush members walked out of a closed meeting Jan. 25. He left the chamber with the Integrity Commissioner (IC) sitting in the audience.
But for Salisbury, his confession did not come easily. At first, he denied he spoke to the friendly blogger. Then he left the chamber and admitted he was the one who leaked the reason for the walkout of five councillors.
It was a wild night of charges and counter charges, prepared statements regarding leaks of closed session information to bloggers including GuelphSpeaks (GS) Its editor has been reporting the news about our city’s governance for four years. In that time, a library of more than 767 posts or columns, have been published. The content has become an invaluable tool in writing new posts and, by consistent audience measurement, guelphspeaks.ca is the top read blog in the city and beyond.
This blog would not exist without the support of citizens who supply tips and comments. Somehow the Orange Crush believes that there are officials among them including members of council, who are providing so-called confidential information to GS. I am aware of the backbiting and finger pointing that has bee going on about who is leaking the information to Barker. I keep my sources confidential and that won’t change.
On Monday night the poisonous vitriol surfaced in open council.
It is now safe to say that those two elected officials who have admitted leaking information about that January 25th walkout, are members of the Orange Crush, Phil Allt and Mike Salisbury. Both, it is presumed, failed to understand that under the code of conduct, they are forbidden to comment on any information of content of any closed session meeting.
But a motion by Coun. Mark McKinnon and Coun. Andy Van Hellemond demanding that Salisbury be sanctioned and suspended for 90 days was predictably defeated.
Whether the IC will recommend sanctioning both these two leakers remains to be seen. We are still stunned that Robert Swayze, the IC whose contract expired at the end of March, was given another five-year contract. Again, this was approved in closed session with the Orange Crush majority supporting it.
The unfolding story of the Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. spending
Reports and leaks are occurring over former mayor Karen Farbridge’s Community Energy Initiative (CEI).
The municipal holding corporation was formed in 2012 and operated outside the city’s financial accounting. There are two basic reasons for this: One, it gave the mayor who was chairman of GMHI, the ability to use Guelph Hydro as a revenue source to create a company called Envida Corporation. We know how that worked out. Check your Hydro bills.
This artful use of tapping into taxpayer funding outside of the property tax base of revenue of the city, was off the city’s books and not reported in the annual Financial Information Report mandated by the province.
So the former mayor introduced a new revenue stream, the source of which was buried in your electricity charges. There was a cute wrinkle. GMHI has sent more than $9 millions back to the city as a dividend. What anyone with financial smarts can’t figure out is how can GMHI do that when the 2014 annual statement reported a $2.5 million loss?
Two, the CEI through Envida commenced launching the geo-thermal underground system in the city without city funding. The first Chief Executive Officer of GMHI was Guelph’s CAO, Ann Pappert. As a trusted lieutenant of the former mayor to whom she owed her $257,000 annual job, Pappert was part of the plan to launch the CEI starting in late 2013.
This was done just prior to the civic election. The whole operation was not revealed to the public for fear of the former mayor losing her job. But she had other reasons to be defeated including settling the Urbacon Buildings Group lawsuit of $8.96 million.
The GMHI conducted all its business behind closed doors. The public had no idea except for annual reports that were so fudged that they were essentially meaningless. Last month, the board of directors, except Mayor Guthrie and Coun. Karl Wettstein, was dismissed. Mayor Guthrie took over as chairman and Coun. Cathy Downer was added to the board.
The reasons for this sudden major change have not been made public. The new board however has promised to report the financial status of GMHI in June.
A former GMHI board member says the report will stun the public with the spending on various CEI projects including the thermal heating and cooling plan in the Hanlon Business Park and downtown. Apparently, without public knowledge, GMHI proceeded with this thermal energy program through its corporate partner Envida Corporation.
Reports of special electric heat/cool exchange pumps installed in the Selman centre and Hanlon Park are already operational to serve the CEI thermal heating and cooling plan. One report says the cost of this project has reached some $35 million. Not even Guelph Hydro can support that kind of spending by Envida. Seeing that is operating off the city’s financial books, what is the basis of the plan, which is paying to operate the fledgling CEI system?
What the former administration did was saddle future generations of taxpayers with capital projects and policies reflecting the then administration’s goals without public input.
Now there is wiggle room for increasing spending without raising property taxes and user fees to record levels in comparison to peer communities across the province. The dog is off the porch and only cuts in spending to reduce debt and maintain a strained credit rating can turn things around.
Guelph can no longer sustain this financial boondoggle. It is imperative that GMHI be collapsed and its tattered financials brought back to the city financial authorities, whoever they may be.
If you want to watch a horror movie, check out the Rogers Community TV channel to view the disgraceful performance of our most of our elected officials.
Okay, let’s start to think about the 2017 budget. First, there is the $2.6 million lost in 2015 but pushed forward to 2017. Oh, that was taken from the reserves before year-end to balance the books.
Next the staff has proposed a delayed ten-year special property tax levy against taxpayers of two per cent over ten years. Add that to the annual increases in staff, capital costs and the looming GMHI financial losses trying to complete the Farbridge dream of CEI, and you have a load of big-time financial trouble in the Royal City.
There are five people on this council who understand the severe ramifications of this financial mismanagement. The Orange Crush who collectively bleats that the council is dysfunctional, reviles them.
Until the Orange Crush members leave a new Guelph will not occur.
In 2018, the citizens will elect representatives who will bring true reform. Between now and the next election, discord and disfunction will grow to the degree that warrants an investigation today by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.