Guelph’s failed governance thrusts the city into a management crisis

NEWS FLASH: City council Monday night, appointed Deputy Chief Administrative Offficer Derrick Thomson as Chief Administratie Officer to replace Ann Pappert. Thomson had previously announced he was leaving the city to accept a position with the Town of Caledon.

By Gerry Barker

June 6, 2016

When city council decided to give Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ann Pappert, a $37, 581 raise for 2015 in closed session December 9, it broke its own Open Government plan.

Here is an excerpt from the consultant’s Open Government report:

It is recommended (by the consultant) not only that Guelph make a well outlined proactive disclosure policy a cornerstone of its approach to Open Government, but also that the roots of this policy be entrenched as much as possible in formal legislation to create a proper legislative framework that enhances the public’s right to information and will guide the implementation of policies.

This extensive report, initiated by the former Farbridge administration, cost an estimated $500,000. In March 2015, a Farbridge supporter, Andy Best, was hired on a one-year contract to implement this Farbridge-inspired transparency and accountability initiative. On December 9, just eight months later, council approved spending another $267,000 on the program in 2016.

Mr. Best was named by the CAO, general manager of the program without revealing if he was still on contract or became a permanent employee.

Now one would think, that as GM of Open Government, that Mr. Best would reveal the CAO’s salary increases, approved last December, and insist on it being made public.

No! Well, how can council justify paying a guy $92,000 a year to keep his mouth shut?

But that’s exactly what happened when it took four months to be revealed, not by the elected officials of the city or the GM of Open Government, but by the provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning more than $100,000.

Not only that, but council has never revealed its approval of the hefty increases the three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers (DCAO) received. No mention how these raises were established or by whom or when? Even more interesting is that among the 13 members of city council, who voted for the senior management increases and who did not?

The Ontario Privacy Commissioner made it very clear this week, that people paid with public funds exceeding $100,000 should be named and their salaries publicly reported. The situation arose when the province’s doctors, who are paid with public funds, lost a bid to have their membership excluded and their fees remain private.

John Higgins, the adjudicator with the office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, who heard the case of the doctor’s fees, concluded: “ The concept of transparency, and in particular, the closely related goal of accountability, requires identification of parties who receive substantial payments from the public purse.”

This is another example of how elected bodies abuse the public trust by concealing employment data of public employees. It’s no different here in Guelph when our councillors concealed those senior staff increases from the public.

One has to wonder what else is the council hiding as it does 80 per cent of its business behind closed doors? Who decides that a sensitive subject should not be discussed in open session? I’ve seen council agendas prepared by the city clerk, accompanied by a closed session notification allegedly authorized under the Ontario Municipal Act. The subject of the closed session is not revealed nor is there a follow-up reported in open council outlining the content of the closed session.

Most of our public business, yours and mine, is being deliberately covered up to protect the members of council and the senior staff management, not the public.

For instance, the Pappert case in which her salary increase was never announced by the city administration, nor has any councillor, apologized for this cover-up.

The city is in a crisis created by exits of seven top managers in 17 months

But let’s cut to the chase. Here are the names of former senior administration employees who have left or in the process of leaving the city since November 2014. The public wants to know and is entitled to know what severance payments were made to: CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO Al Horsman, DCAO Derek McCaughan, DCAO Derrick Thomson, Former head of Environmental services, engineering and planning Janet Laird, Police Chief Bryan Larkin and Fire Chief Shawn Armstrong?

In addition, there has been an exodus of middle managers including Don Kudo, Deputy Engineer, Bruce Poole, former Chief Building Inspector ($1 million wrongful dismissal lawsuit pending), Dean Wyman, manager of solid waste, Janice Sheehy, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer.

If this isn’t a crisis then I’m Inspector Clouseau.

This is classic civic corruption and council must stop using its power to thwart the public’s right to know about the management of its business.

Goodness knows we’ve had enough examples of mis-management, wasted resources; stupid social engineering projects and the people are paying through the nose for it. Our taxes are among the highest in the province. Our vital user fees such and power and water charge are exploding without recourse and are charged on top of our property taxes.

You only have to look next door at Cambridge and Kitchener to see that their operating and capital costs are 50 per cent lower than Guelph.

There is no rationale for this, excuses are not acceptable, it’s as if the city was being run by the deaf and dumber.

There are more troubles ahead that the staff and co8ncil are ill prepared to solve. Here are some of the top fiscal problems the city will face: Money for rebuilding the city infrastructure, the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc audit and disclosure of the losses. Restoring the depleted reserves that have been used for operations and balance the city books at year-end. It requires replacing and restoring senior management with competent and experienced executives. Most of all create a 2017 budget that limits property taxes to no more than 2 percent, freeze all staff positions, lock in user fees including electricity and water.

The city will benefit next year from increased property assessments as real estate sales and property values have increased dramatically. With judicious financial management, this could help to control the growth of taxes.

But we need top senior managers to accomplish the deed.

Guelph’s fiscal problems are not the result of lack of funding but of overspending. In the past five years, the staff has failed to control its own budget because it chronically over spent. The financial fallout is negative year-end variances and is usually solved by raiding the reserves to balance the books as required at year-end.

We are talking millions here, folks. The situation in 2014 was exacerbated by the Urbacon settlement when more than $5 million was taken from the reserves to pay the bill in order to balance the books.

The city’s management consultants, BMA, warned the administration that the reserves’ depletion was a “red flag” of caution.

Stand up people. We can change it through actively protesting to members of council to open its meetings and at times convenient to the public. Respond to questions promptly and rebuild the communications group’s responsibilities to accommodate the citizens, not the elected officials or senior staff.

Here is the Council contact list.

Email                                                Office

Mayor            Cam Guthrie           mayor@guelph.ca                          519 837 4643

WARD 1

Coun. Dan Gibson                     dan.gibson@guelph.ca                   519 822 1260 Ext 2502

Coun. Bob Bell                              bob.bell@guelph.ca                      519 803 5543

WARD 2

Coun. Andy Van Hellemond   andy.vanhellemond@guelph.ca   519 822 1260 Ext 2503

Coun. James Gordon                  james.gordon@guelph.ca            519 822 1260 Ext 2504

WARD 3

Coun. Phil Allt                             phil.allt@guelph.ca                       519 822 1260 Ext 2510

Coun. June Hofland                   june.holfland@guelph.ca            519 822 1260 Ext 2505

WARD 4

Coun. Christine Billings            christine.billings@guelph.ca       519 826 0567

Coun. Mike Salisbury                mike.salisbury@guelph.ca           519 822 1260 Ext 2512

WARD 5

Coun. Leanne Piper                   leanne.piper@guelph.ca               519 822 1260 Ext 2295

Coun. Cathy Downer                 cathy.downer@guelph.ca             519 822 1260 Ext 2294

WARD 6

Coun. Mark MacKinnon           mark.mackinnon@guelph.ca      519 822 1260 Ext 2296

Coun. Karl Wettstein                 karl.wettstein@guelph.ca           519 763 5105

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “Guelph’s failed governance thrusts the city into a management crisis

  1. Laura

    We are spending $250k on an Open Government department? What do they actually do and what other cities have this department? Why can’t existing departments just release their information without the need for another bureaucracy to do it for them. This sounds like that Wellbeing department Farbridge had which did the exact opposite and raised everyone’s blood pressure every time we read about it making us feel not very well at all. The Open Government seems to have closed the door on our government and kept everything private and in secret. Are councillors in on this stuff, or just to incompetent to understand what staff are pulling over the eyes? I wonder if councillors Gordon and Alt can shoot the breeze this week and explain what is and why we need an Open Government department and tell us which other cities have this same department.

  2. geo

    You could give this group $1,000,000,000 and they’d be back hat in hand looking for more because that’s all they know how to do.
    We need a Council that looks out for you and me, not enables stupid, reckless, secretive spending

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