Goodbye Farbridge culture, hello open governance culture accountable to the people

By Gerry Barker

June 8, 2916

For her eight years in office, former mayor Karen Farbridge imposed a culture that restricted access to public information and spent millions on policies that attempted to change Guelph forever.

Well, we now know that she didn’t fulfill her dream of turning Guelph into a world-class leader in eco environment policies. They were replete with a system of sustainable waste disposal, downtown development, and reducing climate warming by restricting carbon emissions.

They were actions that divided the people by favouring those who supported her plans. Her record delivered her stunning defeat by the people in the 2014 election

Ms. Farbridge was so determined to impose her plans re climate change, she commented in a recent post on her blog: “It’s the low-carbon economy, stupid.” It appears that anyone who doesn’t like her low carbon policies is, well: Stupid.

Statistically, Canada’s affect on global warming is 1 per cent. To create an island of isolated radical restrictions and policies by our political masters was folly and expensive. Now, what do we have to show for it, aside from the millions spent by her administration to indulge her climate change principles?

Creating traffic congestion on busy arterial roads, despite former Councillor Maggie Laidlaw’s prediction that fossil-fueled cars would be off Guelph’s roads in 20 years. That was seven years ago.

Contracting vehicle lanes to allow for dedicated bicycle lanes has increased vehicle congestion, not reducing it. Millions have been spent on creating bicycle lanes in Guelph that are used by a tiny minority of the 130,000 residents.

Sustaining a heavily subsidized transit system that is barely used by full-time residents. The system is primarily designed to serve the 20,000 students of the University of Guelph who, between September and April. Each student is charged a flat fee of $75 per semester to use Guelph Transit.

Maintaining a tight relationship with the University of Guelph, the city administration has done little to change the grossly unfair property tax system for post secondary institutions. It was imposed in 1987 by the province and the rate has not changed in 29 years. It allows the university to pay $75 a head in lieu of property taxes. The University of Guelph is the largest landowner in the city. The primary source of revenue for the city comes from property taxes.

Have your property taxes remained frozen since 1987?

Here’s more, mismanaging capital projects such as the new city hall, failing to fulfill a promised new downtown library and south end recreation centre.

Just before the 2014 election, the mayor and Coun. Leanne Piper, convinced council to approve a $34 million police headquarters renovation when the police only requested $13 million.

Police Chief Brian Larkin pushed that deal and then left Guelph to become Chief of Police in the Region of Waterloo. In the space of just 14 months, Guelph lost its Fire Chief to Kingston and Chief of Police.

In 2009, the Farbridge administration allowed a group of anarchists to shut down development of the city-owned Hanlon Business Park. It cost more than $1.5 million in damages to construction equipment and delayed development of the project. The police did not intervene to remove the trespassers.

Coun. Mike Salisbury, warmly greeted representatives of the occupiers when they came to city hall to demand a work stoppage on the Hanlon Park. Their argument was based on the existence of the rare Jefferson salamander. Further investigation by the provincial Natural Resources Ministry said there was no evidence of the salamander in the park. The project was delayed for a year and a half.

The Mayor changed the governance of the city to accommodate her tight control over the administration and council. She personally approved all senior management personnel of which only one remains, Mark Amorosi, hired in 2008 to head up Human Resources.

Under the former mayor’s control most public business was conducted in closed-session prior to an open council meeting. She created a 13-person communications department to control the message, even to reporters covering city hall.

The result was a neutering of any opposition to her policies.

With other staff defections the house of Farbridge is tumbling down. What did those managerial employees know as they took their leave? The staff of the city has a lame-duck leader in the office of the Chief Administrative Officer, but no senior finance officer, operations chief, engineering or planning leaders. The organizational chart is in a shambles.

To suggest at this point that Mr. Amorosi should take charge in rebuilding the corporate structure is ludicrous and a mistake.

Having said that, council last Monday appointed Derrick Thomson the new CAO of the city. Mr. Thomson recently gave notice that he was accepting a position with the Town of Caledon. He has extensive experience in senior management positions notably with the City of Brampton. Before joining Guelph in September 2013, he was the CAO of the Township of West Lincoln. This is a first step in rebuilding the tainted culture that has enveloped the city’s administration for nine years.

A first step should be revising the governance system imposed by the previous administration to make it more transparent and accountable to city council and the citizens.

Mayor Cam Guthrie has an opportunity here to turn the Good Ship Guelph around. To do so, he should appoint a special committee to examine all applicants for the Chief Financial Officer and Operations positions.

This would be the beginning of changing the culture of the city administration by bringing in senior qualified candidates without political ties or bias. Their mandate is to get the staff on board with new directions and create the necessary changes needed to restart the city administration.

For the Mayor, it will give him elbowroom to fulfill his election promises.

Of course there is some concern in recruiting top people to run the city. This is because of the city’s reputation for high staff turnover and perceived serious cultural problems that have led to a dysfunction of the administration.

The Farbridge loyalist Group of Seven has lost the support of the key staff and its power has been reduced. Their role now is to play along to get along. There is talent among them if they contribute responsibly.

It’s up to them.

The dog days of council dysfunction must cease.

Lets work together to make the Royal City a place in which to live within its means and enjoy the treasured opportunities of lifestyle in a well-managed city.

Coming up, reporting on the 274-page staff report on the Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. operations.



Filed under Between the Lines

6 responses to “Goodbye Farbridge culture, hello open governance culture accountable to the people

  1. Rena

    A good first step would be to make public the contract for the new CAO.


    Don’t recall any mention of ,nor comments about,a company called:’KAREN FARBRIDGE & ASSOCIATES’ -see its website at“GuelphSpeakers” should give it a boo and /or a boo-hoo.

    • David Birtwistle: I’ve alread mentioned her consultant’s efforts to provide a toolkit to prospectove elected officials on how to turn their municipality green. Suggest they check out her track Record in Guelph before buying into her proposal. Her blog quote is: “It’s a carbon-based economy, stupid.” Now that’s what I call a creative sales technique.

  3. I do trust all the ideas you have offered for your post.
    They’re very convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless,
    the posts are very brief for novices. Could you please lengthen them a
    bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

    • Thanks Valerie for your comments.One thing I have learned in the past ten years covering the Guelph political scene, is that you can please some of the people some of the time but you cannot please all the people all the time. The issues we face are many and daunting in terms of reforming an entrenched, ideological administrative culture. But that doesn’t mean we are unable to change it. Our senior staff is very thin on the ground, we lack a experienced, accredited Chief Financial Officer, a position that has not been filled since November 2014. We need a review and revision of all bylaws, many of which stifle open government and transparency of all operations. We need to elect candidates in each ward who are determined to change the culture.There are a number of dedicated employees working for the city. The first step of the new council is to conduct a staff rationalization study by independent experts. This is a first step in reducing the city’s operational overhead that is much higher than peer group municipalities. The first hundred days of a new administration should be executing an action plan that has the citizen’s support and achieves goals to restore the public trust.

      So the key is to recruit capable, dedicated and engaged candidates to defeat the current leftist majority in council. I believe that being a city councillor is not a part-time job but one that the remuneration reflects the real-life responsibilities of the position. We have more than 400 city staffers who are earning more than three times the payment the elected councillor receives. What’s wrong with this picture?

      The current power play to deny online voting led by the left on council and their outside and none elected political leaders, is proof that it is time to defeat this group whose interests to not match our needs and concerns, the people who pay the bills.

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