By Gerry Barker
April 25, 2016
Tonight is the night when the Integrity Commissioner will attempt to discover who leaked the reason for the January 25 walkout by five councillors to a local blogger, (not GuelphSpeaks).
There is a new element in the coup that deposed the former board of directors of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. It turned out to be a messy dumping of the board and an investigation into finances. It was carried out in closed session. The code of conduct rules prevent any councillor from revealing what was discussed for fear of being sanctioned by the Integrity Commissioner and the council. The secret discussion was to drill down to what this operation has cost the taxpayers.
My informant says the costs will dwarf the $2.6 million, lost by the waste management group.
GS will never reveal the source but it came from someone who was there the night the walkout occurred. Under the Farbridge imposed rules of procedure, no person attending can disclose details of what occurred that January 25th night.
But the administration will say the details weren’t in the public interest. Translation it was none of the public’s business. Wrong, who are they protecting?
In March 2015, following a closed session of council, excessive increases were awardied to the three top senior managers. That was in the public’s interest but was withheld until a year later by the rule of confidentiality.
Maybe it was the bananas
Not even the Integrity Commissioner can advise council on this issue. Because he is bound by the same procedural rules as you and me, and the participants in closed session. It’s comparable to: Monkey attends, monkey listens, and monkey walks out because it didn’t like the outcome of the discussion, (or the bananas). And monkey’s lips are sealed.
Well not quite. One of the Councillors who walked out, Coun. Phil Allt wrote in an email that “protecting the integrity of the corporation and staff,” prompted the move.
But in my opinion, that explanation is a breach of the closed session rules of confidentiality. The statement was political but he broke the rules. Tell me, when did dysfunctional politics replace political common sense?
The operations of this administration are to deceive, and cover-up their incompetence revealed in management mistakes. They are driven by an ideological detraction, developed by a group of NDP big brothers who direct, they think, the way we should live.
The 128,000 citizens of this city have been lulled into complacency. It hangs like a cloud of lassitude enveloping our city in which we have lost control. It is an existential surrender of our rights. It’s about as close as most of will ever get to a dictatorship by a small group that has been ordained with absolute power. And, they know how to use it.
I don’t have to tell you about our soaring taxes and user fees. I don’t have to repeat the millions of dollars of your money that has been wasted on social experiments or unnecessary environmental projects.
We are blanketed by a hardcore group of individuals who make policy mistakes and refuse to admit failure.
Because friends, it’s all done in secret.
Using your money to shut you up
Thousands of dollars have already been spent by the administration to proclaim the walkout by five councillors, was “political” and not illegal.
But there is a morality issue here that the administration conveniently overlooks. The 13 members of council have a moral obligation to represent all the people of the city. The Orange Crush has managed to elect members to council in wards in which a few thousand votes are cast giving the majority of winner’s, power to control the entire city. All the people across the city elected only one member of council, Mayor Guthrie, who only has one vote.
The city’s political and electoral structure needs reform to put a stop to this ward system that delivers control to members of a political party. A minority of electors in each ward has the same single vote power of the mayor. This majority collective of councillors has dominated Guelph governance for nine years.
It’s time for a referendum by all the people to level the political playing field
The following is a framework of reorganizing the administration to return power to the people:
Start by advocating that all candidates are elected at large and are full-time. One full-time councillor representing a specific ward, is to be elected. Three additional fulltime councillors would serve as a board of control with an appropriate increase in pay to reflect their responsibilities. Also elected at large are a deputy mayor and the mayor. The deputy mayor would chair the council meetings.
The Mayor would have veto power on all bills involving public funds. The Board of Control, plus the mayor and Deputy Mayor, would appoint councillors to the various boards such as the Police Services Board, Fire Department and Emergency Services, public health, and County of Wellington liaison.
The city solicitor and clerk will review all procedural bylaws to streamline operations and ensure the public is informed. The goal is to stop the closed-door sessions. It is the antithesis of the way our city business is currently being conducted. It will be the true reflection of an open and transparent government.
The city would hire a city manager to direct the staff. The city is now advertising to hire a Chief Financial Officer a long overdue development, as the position has been vacant for 17 months.
Abolish the present management structure
The present structure of Chief Administrative Officer would be abolished, as would the Deputy Chief Administrative Officers. Five directors report to the city manager and through to the Board of Control. The responsibilities would include: Operations, Engineering and Planning, Finance, Administration and Parks and Recreation.
Operations – Includes infrastructure replacement and repairs, Guelph Transit, water management, emergency services, liaison with Guelph Hydro.
Engineering and Planning – Includes Waste Management, Street lighting, Processing all development plans, Building department, and zoning, Economic Development.
Finance – Tax accounting and collection, money management including restoring the reserves, financial reporting and internal audit. Annual Financial Information Report, required annually by the province, and external audit. Pension management. Creating quarterly financial summary reports for the citizens. Supervising all capital spending. Creating the annual budget based on reports of all departments. Adopting a zero-based budget system.
Administration – Legal staff and legal issues, clerk’s office including overseeing an independent election committee, Inter-government liaison, Human Resources including union contracts, hiring and terminations. Liaison with appointed public boards and committees, communications and tourism promotion, Information Technology, review support for worthy groups representing the arts, culture and poverty.
Parks and Recreation – Includes social and welfare programs, senior services, parks and city beautification programs, recreation facilities, Guelph Library system, maintenance of all city-owned property, heritage and forestry departments. Guelph Civic Museum and McRae House, all historic monuments and the Sleeman centre.
First responders’ management reports to the city manager. This will ignite protest from the Guelph Police Services Board. The Board’s demand to have the city pay $34 million for the renovation of police headquarters requires more financial oversight on police spending. The Mayor is ex-officio of all department management units.
Restoring common sense to the budget process
Most important, the budget process must be changed. Instead, each major department director would prepare the budget reflecting operations for the coming year. The data would be presented to the city manager and to the Board of Control for review and any recommended changes. Then sent to the council for approval. Each senior manager would be responsible for the department budget. Each department budget is based on a zero-sum system annually.
The managerial target is to reduce costs in areas that do not affect performance or provision of essential services.
All committees, boards and organizations that depend on the city to fund their operations will be required to produce a business plan to validate their operations.
The Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. is at the top the list for review if it has not occurred already.
Once approved by council, only emergency services and operations are permitted to request variances. This will force the administration to adhere to the budget and stop balancing the books each year by raiding the reserves.
Such a system would prevent a single party taking over the city, as all candidates would require election by all the people, not just a few in each ward. It would also attract candidates with more experience in management, culture and professional accreditation.
How much would this cost? For discussion purposes, the six full-time councillors representing the wards should receive $65,000; the three councillors on the Board of Control, $80,000; The Deputy Mayor, $100,000 and the Mayor, $150,000. The City Manager should receive $200,000, the five department directors, $165,000.
This would shift control of the administration back to the officials who have been elected by all the eligible voters.
Food for thought and action.