By Gerry Barker
Posted May 6, 2016
Mayor Cam Guthrie wrote a letter to Guelph citizen Rena Akerman for distributing an email compiling the record of Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, in the past five years. The email was explicit, cross referenced with media reports yet the Mayor states the content was “inaccurate, disturbing and potentially defamatory.”
Well before commenting further, let’s reprint the Mayor’s letter and Ms. Akerman’s reply.
Dated April 28, 2016
From: Cam Guthrie, Mayor, the City of Guelph on city letterhead
To: Rena Akerman
Re: Correspondence received regarding the CAO – Ann Pappert.
I am writing today to inform you that as Mayor, CEO of the Corporation of the City of Guelph and the employer of CAO Ann Pappert that the correspondence sent by you today is inaccurate, disturbing and potentially defamatory. I, along with council, take this matter very seriously.
I respect that as a citizen you are entitled to an opinion regarding the city’s operations. However, I caution you that crossing the line into publishing and distributing inaccurate and defamatory information is not acceptable.
I have already reached out to legal counsel. City council will be determining next steps which may include potential legal action that may be taken against you or others involved with this correspondence.
All employees of the City of Guelph are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. Therefore, a public apology to our CAO is in order before end of day April 29, 2016 and we ask that you cease and desist any further comments that disparage our employee.
There you have it. It’s a first for a mayor of a major city. Try to stop criticism of your administration by threatening legal action. Even more galling is the Mayor is using city funds and staff to make his sledgehammer attempt to protect an employee whose performance record was accurately documented.
The Mayor, in his zeal to defend his CAO, may have unwittingly provided the basis of legal action by citizens for defamation against the Mayor and Council.
But let’s review Ms. Akerman’s reply to the Mayor and Council.
* * * *
April 29, 2016
I acknowledge your email letter dated April 28, 2016
I do agree that the contents of my email are disturbing, as it should be to ALL taxpayers in the City of Guelph. Please be advised that my primary sources are the local media reports (Guelph Tribune Guelph Mercury) and other online documents. My opinions are based on these sources which I believe are valid. If these sources were inaccurate, surely you would have requested a correction or a retraction.
Taxpayers in Guelph put their trust, as well as their tax dollars in the hands of City Hall. I believe our trust and tax dollars have been abused and according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I can say so openly.
For the record, it is a sad state of affairs when you feel you have to threaten me with legal action. This could have easily been avoided if City Hall had not ignored the letters of concern which have been written by a great many people to the editors of our local newspapers as well as the councillors. I have simply taken citizen concerns to the next level through an action that is consistent with a parliamentary democracy, i.e., asking other citizens to directly express their concerns about how poorly Guelph is managed by the current CAO to their governmental representatives.
* * * *
Let’s sue the bastards – anonymous
What was Cam Guthrie thinking? That he could blunt any criticism of the public service staff when the level of competence is so patently obvious in the case of the city’s CAO? The simple responsibility of any CAO is to ensure the annual budgets are not overspent. Ms. Pappert approved millions in budgetary negative variances in her five years in office. That information is in the annual Financial Information Reports to the Province.
Yes, unbudgeted events such as an unusual weather event or encountering unanticipated legal expenses can create an unbalanced budget, a requirement by provincial law. It’s the CAO’s job to make sure the budget is not overspent.
But Ann Pappert ran up consecutive budget variances in her five years on the job. So one might ask, how did the city balance the books? They took money from the reserves. The biggie was the $8.96 million settlement cost with Urbacon Buildings Group Inc. In that case they raided three unrelated reserve funds for almost $6 million to partially pay off Urbacon.
For Mayor Guthrie and council to leap to the defense of Ann Pappert, considering the evidence, tells the story of nine years of mismanagement of our city and the millions that have been spent on an agenda controlled by former Mayor Karen Farbridge.
Now, her seven supporters, the Orange Crush, are using their council majority power to degrade public trust by ignoring the mistakes and ill-conceived concepts. Their perpetuation of the Farbridge policies has resulted in Guelph’s operating and capital spending costs to be 50 per cent higher than Cambridge and Kitchener.
That is why Guelph’s property taxes and user fees are so high because of the never-ending need to increase revenue to pay for the uncontrolled spending.
So when a citizen exposes the coruptive core of an administration gone wild, they threaten to take legal action because she had the courage to tell it like it is.
Why Mayor Guthrie does not get it, sinks him to the same level of mindless bungling of the citizens’ business. And, most of the council business is now held behind closed doors, far from the madding crowd.
When it comes to integrity, the Orange Crush represents the worst of municipal governance.
Early in 2015, there was a closed-door meeting to discuss CAO Ann Pappert’s salary and benefits. That was when the 17.11 percent salary increase was awarded for “performance.” And, Ms. Pappert was not alone in the biggest senior management salary boost in the city’s history. Three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson and Al Horsman all received increases ranging from 14 to 19 per cent.
An overdue apology by council is not forthcoming
Not one elected member of council, including the mayor, attending that meeting informed the public, and they still haven’t even acknowledged it. So, who should apologize for this outrageous deception?
The increase was not revealed until 14 months later when the Provincial Sunshine List of those employees earning more than $100,000 was published in March 2016.
This is a case of deliberate deception of vital public business and amounts to lying by omission. Those who approved those increase should hang their heads in shame. They cannot protest that they were bound by the code of conduct rules that prevents minutes of closed sessions be released to the public.
Now ask yourself, why would a mayor and his council, suppress knowledge of this huge increase in 2015 but have the nerve to threaten a citizen with legal action for revealing the shortcomings of the CAO?
Why? Because they could. They did not want the information to leak out because of its impact on the 2015 city budget that was completed two months later.
Another bumbling attempt to shut people up
Lets take the case of the firing of Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole, a 30-year veteran of city staff. He dared to inform the CAO of a serious breach of provincially mandated building code policy that all building projects require a building permit. He claimed the city failed to take out building permits of its own projects and he allegedly threatened to fine the city.
That got him fired. He has sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal and issued a statement of claim. The city has countered to defend its decision. Meanwhile, the city paid a $1,100 fine for failing to obtain a building permit for renovations to the West Recreation Centre. Is this the smoking gun in this case?
This week, Mr. Poole countered the city’s defence statement revealing that there are 70 city-initiated projects that failed to obtain building permits. One would assume that he knows what he is talking about.
This is yet another example of the Mayor not stepping in to mediate the situation to avoid the potential large expense to the city.
He was also silent in the case of Susan Watson’s frivolous claim that candidate Glen Tolhurst received an illegal donation from GrassRoots Guelph in the 2014 civic election. She lost and so did the citizens, as the cost of the procedure was more than $11,000.
Mayor Guthrie was silent following the walkout of a closed session by five members of the Orange Crush protesting, allegedly that they were protecting the “integrity of the corporation and the staff.”
Tell us Mayor, when do we citizens get the respect of our elected officials without the threat of legal action?
Wow! We elected a Mayor who promised to keep taxes at the CPI level and create a “Better Guelph.”
It is now clear that our Mayor has a different agenda that includes attacking a citizen who supported his candidacy in 2014 and who dares to challenge the competency of the senior staff administrator.
It seems like yesterday when Cam asked me to meet his election team in September 2014. I said at the time that he had to make sure he recruited council candidates that would work with him to carry out the necessary reforms. If he didn’t, the next four years as Mayor would be the worst of his life.
I guess as you sow, you reap.