They flew over the cuckoo’s nest if you believe the four councillors’ lame laments about the staff exodus

By Gerry Barker

June 16, 2016

In a story about Chief Administrative Officer’s (CAO) departure, the local twice-weekly newspaper asked councillors to comment on her departure. The responses reveal the political bias in that only four out of 13 councillors commented.

The four responses of course praised the departing CAO for her dedication and moving the city forward since her appointment in September 2011.

Councillors Cathy Downer, James Gordon and Phil Allt asked rhetorical questions as to why all these senior staffers were leaving the city. Coun. Karl Wettstein sidestepped the exodus question, instead praised Ms. Pappert for her “outstanding contribution.”

James Gordon said, “It will be a real challenge to keep the city’s governance moving forward … until we can provide a climate at city hall that will attract qualified executives as skilled as Ms. Pappert and Mr. Thomson.”

James, it’s not about attracting “qualified executives” when you and six of your colleagues, are party to promoting the discredited policies of the former mayor and her administration. And it isn’t about compensation. Ms. Pappert was one of the highest paid ($257,561) CAO’s in the small city category, (Kingston, Kitchener, Cambridge, Windsor). It boiled down to her failed performance over those years in charge.

So you have to wonder when Coun. Phil Allt blames the staff exodus on big money from “Halton and Toronto and elsewhere, can attract our well trained and seasoned staff, luring them away with more attractive compensation packages and working conditions.”

Well Phil, you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about working conditions and the poisonous culture left over from the previous administration. You, James and Cathy plus other members of the Group of Seven’s progressive caucus, are the enablers of this culture. It continues to plunge the city into deeper debt, destroy the morale of the rank and file workers, betray the public trust by conducting its business behind closed doors.

If you believe that people were lured away because of more money and a more comfortable working place, you’ve been listening to the arguments that Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO) Mark Amorosi, keeps floating to the top. Mark is a deep thinker that unfortunately, is concentrated on self-preservation until retirement.

Remember those DCAO’s; Mark Amorosi, Al Horsman, and Derrick Thomson were all given major league increases as well as the CAO. Who decided those increases? Why did Ms. Pappert receive a 17.11 per cent increase December 9, for 2015 when all members of council rejected any increase October 13, two months earlier? Why not ‘fess up now how that vote was conducted and who voted for the CAO increase?

Tell us, Phil, what impact do you think that had on the more than 2,100 city employees whose unions will settle on less that 2 per cent per year? This is a major power outage of staff leaving.

Then there is sad Karl Wettstein who refused to comment of the staff exodus with the throwaway line: “I wish her the very best. I thank her for her outstanding contribution and I will miss her.” That’s like lifting your stick when the puck is passed to you in front of the net.

Councillor June Hofland, is chair of the council finance committee and board member of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc since 2011. Last February when council approved a third party audit of GMHI, Hofland and Coun. Mike Salisbury voted against it. Either she didn’t understand what was happening with GMHI or she was hiding her role. Ms. Hofland, who, in 2010, was put in charge of city finances, won her seat by just five votes in 2014.

Councillors Leanne Piper, June Hofland and Mike Salisbury did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment. Along with Coun. Wettstein, they were on city council when some of these fiscally-mismanaged projects were approved between 2010 and 2014. In contrast Coun. Dan Gibson, Mark MacKinnon, Andy Van Hellemond and Mayor Guthrie were not on that 2016 to 2010 council. Two members of the present council, Christine Billings and Bob Bell, did serve on the Farbridge first term but along with Gloria Kovach, were in a minority position.

So while the Group of Seven councilors grope to discover why top people are leaving, they all can just look in the mirror.

On Monday night, June 13, council deferred discussing the staff reports on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Incorporated (GMHI). They already know what’s in the document but pushed the matter down into next month. The excuse was there was an agenda that had other issues that would not allow ample time to discuss the GMHI situation. Chief among them are GMHI issues about who put up the $65 million long-term GMHI loan. What is the collateral, the terms including duration and interest rate?

It is a chilling account of out-of-control spending of the public’s money on a scheme to put Guelph in the forefront of sustainable energy and reduce carbon emissions.

The price tag of this Farbridge-led, self-serving project has already staggered citizens by the financial complexity of the project. The cost of mothballing the two district energy projects to staunch the operational financial bleeding will cost $15.3 million, according to the staff report.

The most disturbing part of a staff report quotes: “The impairment of GMHI investments is $68.3 million.” That’s 46 per cent of all property taxes paid in 2015. It only took less than four years to occur, and who knew what was happening? As it is becoming apparent, quite a few were aware, including certain members of council.

The cost of writing down the Downtown and Hanlon district energy programs: $8.7 million. Tax losses: $7.3 million.

With these details coming to open council, is it any wonder why senior and middle management staffers are leaving Dodge?

This foray into unchartered waters of power sustainability and carbon reduction, without a proper business plan is tantamount to corruption of public policy. The trust of the citizens has been shattered by those ideologues that believe they know better and they had the political power to do it.

So when Councillors Phil Allt and James Gordon suggest the cause of the staff exodus is due to salary competition, they had better re-think their views. Those exiting staffers all bailed for good reason. They looked for another job because they knew what was going on behind those closed doors and didn’t want to be any part of it

As for Coun. Piper, Wettstein, Hofland and Salisbury, their silence on the staff demolition tells the story of abandonment of their sworn duty to faithfully represent the people.

This is no trifling matter that will not go away soon. Guelph’s reputation of managing staff is now out in the open. Until the administration culture changes, the staff crisis will only be solved by major changes in the governance rules that exacerbated the problem.

The power of the office of the CAO of hiring and firing anyone under the rank of the CAO, was wrongly imposed and council must become more involved in restoring the staff confidence.

Part of the change required is to place more power with council in controlling costs and staff management. It’s not just about the CAO but conducting its business in an open and accountable manner.

For new CAO Derrick Thomson, the job ahead can be compared to the captain of the Titanic, struggling to keep his ship afloat. We wish him well.

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5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

5 responses to “They flew over the cuckoo’s nest if you believe the four councillors’ lame laments about the staff exodus

  1. Rena

    Gerry you are absolutely right. Well said.

  2. Glen

    Gerry – Did you just suggest that Karl doesn’t know enough to “keep his stick on the ice”? Given the level,of “numeric illiteracy” it would come as a surprise if any of the group of 7 could keep score for a sandlot ball game let alone multi-million dollar feel good capital projects.

  3. Andre

    I wouldn’t let Derrick Thompson off the hook that easy. He has been around long enough to have his own baggage. As for how they appointed him without a job competition the group of seven kept him around to continue the Farbridge legacy (or like you suggest hide/delay the findings on gmhi and energy). It seems that he too quickly appointed another surrogate (DCAO announcement today) so his own department can’t get external fresh eyes from a new staff member. The city is still controlled by the group of seven-Amorsi-Thompson axis so don’t expect city hall salaries to come down or them seeking that special infrastructure level to pay for it. Nothing will change and the mayor still won’t be able to keep his promise to keep taxes at inflation.

  4. geo

    The new deputy has no financial experience or education in her background so hey, she’ll fit right in. But now, right from the get go the people of Guelph want to know exactly how much these two are to be paid!

  5. Eric

    I thought both the new CAO and deputy are the Mayor’s pick and he can’t hide behind the group of seven anymore as he pushed to move quickly and did the internal recruitment and not bring in new blood. Do we know how long their contracts are for and how much they each get paid?

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