By Gerry Barker
June 2, 2016
The newly named Mercury Tribune (MT) asked in an editorial: “Is city hall in trouble?”
Why did it take this long to figure that out? Does blowing $27 million on the new city hall project not get the paper’s attention? For eight years the owners of the Mercury and the Tribune soft-pedaled any criticism of the Farbridge administration.
Since the Mercury went to newspaper heaven, the newly named Mercury Tribune carries on the policies of the owners not to bite the hand that feeds you. That’s a reference to the city advertising that is published regularly in the Tribune. Ironically its titled “City News.” The cost is estimated to be $500,000 a year.
Why government competition regulators allowed two newspapers, owned by the same corporation operating in a relatively small community, remains a mystery. The day the Mercury died marked the end of responsible print journalism in Guelph.
To quote the late Lord Thomson of Fleet, a former newspaper baron: “News is the stuff we put around the ads.”
It’s another example of claiming an inanimate object is in trouble. No, It’s the people who run the show who are in trouble. It has been growing like a cancer in the workplace for the past nine years.
It started with the election of former mayor Karen Farbridge and a majority of council who shared her vision of a socialist nirvana and of being a world leader in environmental practices.
She ran the city as a dictator who believed it was the right thing to do for the City of Guelph.
Her policies included:
* Millions spent on waste management (organic waste facility, waste collection system, the Detroit recyclable deal, failure to collect waste from some 6,000 residences).
* Action to reject the use of fossil fuels that affect climate change (bike lanes, Guelph Transit, deliberate lane reductions in major roads … the war on cars).
* Enforced sustainability of green energy supply, (Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc and Guelph Hydro, the geo-thermal and district energy projects, high water and electricity rates).
* Housing intensification, (eliminating single family homes and failing to produce affordable housing).
* Creating financial mismanagement that has driven the city’s cost of living up by more than 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener.
How council hid behind closed-doors
And you know what? Most of it was achieved behind closed doors with little or no input from the citizens, except their so-called progressive supporters.
The MT editorial concluded: “Council needs to control things behind the scenes and mend the rife before it gets any worse.”
This coming from a twice-weekly paper that receives thousands of dollars in advertising from the City of Guelph called “City News.”
This isn’t Kansas Toto, and the people are awakening to realize that more closed-door sessions are not going to solve the problem of a city management dissolving before our very eyes. The only senior managers left are DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Scott Stewart. At this point, the people do not have the confidence that Mr. Amorosi should be considered as CAO.
It did not happen overnight, but has been building up for years. It intensified with the revelation of the Urbacon affair that cost the city more than $27 million over budget to build a new city hall and to renovate the old one into a provincial court.
That was the last straw for the citizens and, in October 2014, they defeated the mayor two of her supporters and there were two supporters who did not run for office.
To the astonishment of the majority of electors, nothing changed. The senior staff under CAO Pappert, in November 2014, before the new council took over, reorganized itself into a committee composed of the CAO and three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, (DCAO).
Then in March this year, we learned that the three deputies had awarded themselves with huge increases without council’s approval. The current regulation allows the CAO to hire and fire staffers. Only council must approve the CAO’s employment increases.
Well, that’s what happened last December 9, in closed session; Ms.Pappert was given a $37,537 base salary increase for 2015, plus $6,000 in taxable benefits. The public didn’t find out about this 17.11 increase, until last March when the provincial Sunshine list of civic employees earning more than $100,000 was released.
And the Mercury Tribune wants very complex operational change to be solved “behind the scenes?”
This newspaper and its defunct predecessor exacerbated the problem over the Farbridge years by rewriting city news releases. Rarely, I can remember, was there any investigative reporting or digging behind the scenes. And, there was no shortage of material to investigate.
The tiger representing the silent majority is awakening
Now city council has a tiger by the tail. The entire senior management structure needs a complete overhaul. The lower ranked members of the city staff need assurances and guidance to renew efficiency, productivity and restore morale.
There are three key positions that needed as a priority: An independent and professional City Manager replacing Ms. Pappert, a Chief Financial Officer, a Director of Operations. Mr. Scott Steward current DCAO of Environmental Services could be a candidate for the vital operations portfolio. Another possible candidate as a director is City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien.
Mr. Amorosi may want to move on as his responsibilities as head of Corporate Services, should be assumed by the new city manager.
None of this is going to occur overnight. Resetting governance and management polices including salaries and organizational structure will take months, if not years.
Looming immediately is the audit of the GMHI operations to be released shortly. In the fall there is the 2017 budget preparations and consideration of the staff that proposed 2 per cent property tax infrastruture levy for owners.
With the current make-up of city council, the solutions will not come easily. That’s where we the people come in. Tell our councillors to bury their political differences and work together to restore responsible government to Guelph.
If not, work to get rid of those who fail to meet their responsibilities.
If we don’t react, I’m reminded if the late Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo, who said in the Okeefenokee Swamp: “ We have seen the enemy and they is us.”