Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

 

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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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Guelph’s civic operational crisis took nine years to fester and the solutions will not come soon or easy

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.”

 

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