Noted on returning Guelph’s administration to common sense and sensibility

By Gerry Barker

June 20, 2016

The rapid changeover of senior management of our city staff indicates that there will be a return to responsible management or will it more of the same?

It is now well established that there have been many instances when public money has been wasted and money-losing operations rampant throughout the city.

Two city icons of sports and the arts, the Sleeman Centre and RiverRun Centre are examples of where your money is being wasted.

Coleen Clack, the new Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO), is now in charge of operations, replacing newly minted CAO Derrick Thomson. Ms. Clack was formerly general manager of Culture and Tourism, the department in charge of the two city-owned facilities..

In response to a query by Tim Girouard, July 18, 2014, Ms. Clack said the two city-operated facilities were budgeted to lose $780,801 in 2014. The RiverRun lost $531,440 while the Sleeman lost $249,361. Operational budgets are not available for years 2015 and 2016. Regardless, it now is apparent that these losses, paid by the taxpayers, are the rule and not the exception.

The problem of course, is how long have these two facilities required a substantial subsidy to remain open? The main client of the Sleeman Centre is the privately owned Guelph Storm junior hockey club. There is little attempt by management to utilize the facility that is manned by full-time staff. In fact, the ice is removed for three months in the summer and the staff are either laid off or redeployed to another city position.

The city has not revealed the terms of the Storm contract. One curious aspect learned is that the advertising revenue on the time clock, is retained by the hockey club. The clock was purchased by the city in 2010 based on the demand of the team allegedly to match the facilities in other arenas where the Storm played. The $75,000 new clock replaced a perfectly operating time clock. Further, it was paid out of the 2009 federal/provincial/ municipal infrastructire fund to create jobs after the financial collapse in 2008.

In her reply to Mr. Girouard, Ms. Clack said to track usage of the RiverRun Centre was measured in “event numbers.” She stated that the number of events average over the previous three years averaged 436 per year.

So here’s how that works: One event counts as a single space use for one day. Single space means only one of the two theatres is used. When two theatres are used in a single day, that counts as two events. David Mirvish, where are you when we need you?

That is how the cost of operating the RiverRun Centre is calculated, not revenue collected at the box office. How do these “event” days have any bearing on managing the facility? The basic costs of opening the doors every day, promotion of productions, salaries and benefits, insurance, maintenance, fees and taxes, depreciation and performer’s fees. These are the basic considerations when preparing a budget. Then, how many days are the theatres dark?

Obviously, in four years there has been little change in increasing revenue and reducing costs. It just became too comfortable letting taxpayers to pick up the annual tab of more that $500,000.

In the case of the Sleeman Centre, Ms. Clack says the administration calculated the annual loss as $249,361. She adds that they use 3,000 hours of use as the base for budgeting. Let’s see, there are 8,760 hours in a year. Let’s knock off 2,529 when we all asleep (8 hours a night). That leaves 5,840 hours. When reducing that by the three-month shutdown and statutory holidays, (100 days) we are left with 3.490 hours. That’s a 17.1 per cent overage from the 3,000 hours used by the administration tocalculate the cost of operation..

The question is, was the three months of closing the Sleeman Centre each summer part of the $5.7 million instalationof the District Energy plant to provide power to the grid and heated water via a thermal energy exchange network downtown?

Is this more Farbridge voodoo financial planning?

How this makes sense in preparing the annual budget appears to be accepted by staff and the Farbridge dominated council for at least four years.

Multiply the admitted total annual subsidies to the two facilities by the average of just a four-year span, 2011 to 2014, and it totals $3,123,2014.

By her own admission in July 2014, Ms. Clack revealed these details and did not question why this was the consistent case or what should be done to reduce the annual liability of these two facilities.

In my opinion she was snared in the Farbridge web of wasteful spending, mismanagement and special treatment of the mayor’s friends.

We can only hope that Mr. Thomson, Ms. Clack, Scott Stewart, the new, yet to be named, Chief Financial Officer, and Mark Amorosi start cutting costs to return an open and transparent government to the people.

There are five pillars of change that the new senior management team needs to adapt to return the public trust and fiscal responsibility.

Finance

* Improve budget forecasting; report the city financial status to the citizen’s, quarterly.

* Commence restoring the depleted reserve funds

* Staff to recommend a workable restrained spending budget and stick to it.

* Avoid political influence by certain members of council – always remain neutral.

* Involve the public when planning the budget.

* Streamline financial reports to allow the public to understand the documents.

* Ensure that Council receives a monthly financial statement of city operations.

* Restrict travel and membership expenses.

* The new CFO to have carte blanche to investigate all department budgets.

* The 2017 budget to emphasize updating the city infrastructure.

Governance

* Review procedural bylaws allowing councillors to participate without fear of        retaliation.

* Cancel the Integrity Commissioner’s contract.

* End the council’s closed sessions by only being used for the basic reasons such as union contract bargaining, real estate negotiations, and personnel discipline issues.

Open the city administration to open and transparency of doing the city’s business.

Communications

* Cancel the city advertising in the MercuryTribune with the exception of legal notices.

* Rebuild the city website to make it more accessible and organized to serve the public.

* Reorganize communications to integrate facilitation of the Internet and social media.

* Publish minutes of committee and council meetings within 24 hours on the city web site.

* Set up a graphics and video team to improve citizen comprehension.

* The mayor holds a monthly media conference to comment on city business.

Political

* Council committee to select members of a consultative Mayor’s Citizen roundtable.

* Reset the membership of committees and board memberships of councillors.

* Appoint June Hofland to permanent staff position to coordinate external meetings.

* Hold a ward three bye-election to replace Ms. Hofland.

* Conduct an off-premises council retreat without staff or advisors to resolve differences.

Operations

* Conduct a study of effective manpower use and overtime costs.

* Conduct overviews and cost reduction measures with Guelph Transit management.

* Survey all first responder services on improving efficiency and management.

* Review Service Guelph operations to improve service and citizen needs.

* Open city hall to the public and access to all departments.

With respect, a lot of this will take years not months, to accomplish. The cue is for council to focus on serving the needs of their constituents. This is accomplished by dropping the political baggage that had created a cultural of waste and mismanagement. Worse, it has created a dysfunctional council that the new senior management team will attempt to turn toads into frog’s legs.

We wish them Godspeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

4 responses to “Noted on returning Guelph’s administration to common sense and sensibility

  1. Joe Black

    A lot of great points but my question why are they not already implemented already It’s not has if we just incorporated the City. So who pocketing the money ??????? Sound a lot like Montreal’s corruption problems.

  2. Glen

    Gerry seems to have had a half dozen too many martinis whilst sitting in the sun during the recent heat wave whilst scribbling his comments about Hofland. What in the name of sanity led him to suggest that Hofland, a well known supporter of the past mayor, should be appointed to a permanent position to co-ordinate external meetings? Surely councillors and civic administration personnel are swift enough to use Microsoft Outlook Calendar, as do a large portion of businesses, to set up meeting time slots. Then he staggers into making the comment that a ward 3 bye-election be held to replace her. Why waste the money when the person who lost to Hofland by 5 votes should be appointed to replace her for the balance of the council term? There is absolutely no reason to perpetuate the legacy of Karenistas and bloc of 7 members, particularly when the actions of the various board members of the district energy money losing pit have not been brought to public accountability thru an external forensic audit.
    Gerry -cheers with a Perrier!

    • Glen: The Hofland suggestion was a small joke. It’s about the only way to move her off council other than waiting two more years of her chairing the finance committee. Of course she could resign. Just dreaming!

  3. When the Civic Center was being built we were told “The building will pay for it’s self in 3 years. When the library was built we were told it was built to be able to expand when needed. How on earth can we believe “anything” we are told. We have no recorse. Hard to see our hard earned taxes wasted.

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