Coun, Mike Salisbury confesses and the Orange Crush takes a hit

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.

 

 

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13 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

13 responses to “Coun, Mike Salisbury confesses and the Orange Crush takes a hit

  1. bostoncollie

    Thanks Gerry for shining a light on these affairs. To say the information you provide is National Enquirer or Mad Magazine level journalism is not only silly, but really reflects on the person that spoke those words as being thin skinned. I’m sure that there are several councillors that would like citizens kept in the dark. It really is alarming to me as a citizen how much secrecy and private meetings run the City of Guelph. I thought the City hired someone at high cost to provide transparency? Can the taxpayers get a refund?

  2. Glen

    Gerry, I believe you have an ongoing typo in the above note. It should be “Orange Flush” instead of “Orange Crush” since a lot of what it puts forth should go down the “crapper”. As I sat in council chambers on Monday listening to Salisbury’s prepared statement, the ongoing thought was that it sounded like it was prepared by an Orange Flush lawyer. I was saddened when the motion by Councillor MacKinnon, seconded by Councillor Van Hellemond to sanction Salisbury was not allowed to proceed.
    It is with eager anticipation that the full story about the intertwining activities and money flows of GMHI, CEI, Guelph Hydro, & Envida become public in the May-June time frame. What will be the impact to Guelph taxpayers? Whose fingerprints will be on the smoking gun?

  3. Andre

    From what I heard, the thermal heating/cooling plant inside the Sleeman centre was suppose to connect to all the new condos being built downtown and I haven’t seen any promotional material from the condos featuring it. Neither the Rivermills condos nor the Metalworks ones. A friend told me St. George’s Anglican Church down the street looked into it, but it was way too expensive for them. I wonder if one looks at the audited financial statements over the last couple years, and notice any significant increase in utility costs for the Sleeman centre as from what you find online, these types of heating/cooling plants need to operate continuously, so someone has to be paying the bill for this and unless someone can publish us a list of customers for this plant, the default would be the Sleeman centre. Yet another over capacity white elephant like the organics a facility that wastes our money.

  4. Sue

    There’s more than a bit of hypocrisy here. You are very critical of the people who ‘leaked’ information to Guelph Politico, but are seem to have no problem with your own reliance on and quoting of anonymous informants.

    (From the previous blog post: 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.)

    Secondly, as a blog read by people looking for information about local politics in the aftermath of the Guelph Mercury’s demise, you have a responsibility to make sure your facts are accurate. Councillor McKinnon’s motion was not “predictably defeated”, it didn’t even come to a vote.

    • Sue: I am a citizen and taxpayer. I protect my sources because past experience of severe retaliation by the administration against anyone, citizen or staffer who dares to oppose the political Orange Crush machine. The OC has been trying to squash any opposition that questions the validity of it actions.

      They have been super secretive and ruthless. They are thin-skinned and are constantly trying to find out who is leaking information to GuelphSpeaks. There is currently a lot of fear among their ranks. The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. file is about to expose waste possibly worse than Urbacon in which the cost of the new city hall and provincial court exceeded budget by $23 million.

      Our city administration is so rigged in its operations that it borders on being corrupt. Corruption cannot exist without a benefit to an individual or management not in the public interest. In this case, it is an administration that benefits from using public money to fund the OC agenda. This includes excessive management salaries, overspending on police headquarters, losing money in the waste management department and now the scandal of the Community Energy Initiative.

      Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  5. wendy

    Anonymous sources are essential to the kind of investigative journalism the public clearly really needs. They are a reflection of the deep corruption and culture of fear in public service operations toward anyone who dares be a “whistleblower”.
    Mike Salisbury barely qualifies as an anonymous source, since he plays both sides – wanting to openly be some kind of progressive torch bearer, protector of staff, grandiose reader of personal statements, denier of things he later admits. But also wanting to be a cloak-and-dagger informant and big player.
    Then there’s his political stances, like blaming the federal government for the infrastructure problem in Guelph. That is rich, given what is currently unfolding about how money has been spent.
    Yes, Sue, attempts to suspend Salisbury were predictably defeated. If you’re going to sift through every word on this blog trying to come up with a problem, that’s a pretty weak and inconsequential example.

    • Sue

      Anyone who takes time to watch the meeting on Rogers can see that there was no vote taken to suspend Councillor Salisbury. Is it good journalistic practice to state as fact that an action occurred when it demonstrably did not? I will say again that if Mr. Barker feels he has a role in informing the public, rather than promoting a partisan point of view, he also has a responsibility to do so with best efforts toward factual accuracy. I agree with you, Wendy, that anonymous sources have value. What bothers me about Guelph Speaks is its criticism of the actions of anonymous sources who are being critical of the current mayor while simultaneously using anonymous sources who are critical of the former mayor. Still seems like a double standard to me.

    • wendy

      Sue, the text does not say there was a vote.

  6. geo

    The power plant in the Sleeman Centre provides heating and cooling to the River Mills condos, the Sleeman Centre and the River Run and that’s it. There are no other customers and no prospects for any more customers because of the ridiculous cost of running a giant water pipe to your home or business and then retro-fitting the building so it can be heated and cooled with water.
    Envida is just another name for Guelph Hydro, phone the number on their website and the lady says “hello Guelph Hydro”, and all the money to build this power plant came from Guelph Hydro. As usual there was no demand for this thing and no business plan in place, hence discovering after it’s built no one will use it, but they built it anyway.
    To top it all off they are using natural gas to fuel this thing, the last time I looked natural gas was a fossil fuel, so what the hell’s the point! More money wasted on something completely useless while the eco-nazis contemplate a special levy to pay for infrastructure.
    Please Guelph when the opportunity arises vote the spaced out 7 so far out of office they won’t ever find their way back!

  7. Tony

    If its true that the river mills condos is part of the power plant; I wonder if that was a condition of the approval for the build? Also since hydro is a “private” company; I wonder if they got a BIG financial incentive to become part of the heating/cooling plant network?

  8. Sue

    Wendy, here’s the quote from above: 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.
    It wasn’t defeated because it wasn’t brought to a vote.

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