Our 10th year covering the political world of Guelph and beyond

By Gerry Barker

A personal note by the editor of GuelphSpeaks

August 4, 2016

It started in the fall of 2006 when the Mercury refused to publish a letter I wrote complaining about the personal attacks on then Mayor Kate Quarrie. I met with the editor, Phil Andrews, and he said it was the policy of the Mercury not to publish partisan letters 30 days before the October civic election.

I suggested that perhaps I should complain to the Ontario Press Council for the paper’s arbitrary rule not to publish partisan letters. Isn’t the job of the paper to reflect the varied political interests of the community? Phil suggested that perhaps I would consider writing a monthly column, at the bottom of the editotial page starting after the election. My column, “Between the Lines,” was born.

It lasted for five years until Phil emailed me in December 2011 to say the paper was discontinuing the column. I was disappointed but not for long as guelphspeaks.ca (GS) was born.

Now most of those influential players of 2011 are gone. The list keeps growing: former mayor Karen Farbridge; Mercury editor Phil Andrews; death of the Mercury; Editor Chris Clark of the Tribune; Mercury municipal beat reporter Scott Tracey; former Police Chief Bryan Larkin; Janet Laird, architect of the waste management system; Hans Loewig Chief Administrative Officer and the killer of the Urbacon new city hall project; CFO Margaret Neubauer; CAO Ann Pappert appointed in 2011; Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole; councillors Lise Burcher; Todd Dennis; Ian Findlay; Maggie Laidlaw and Gloria Kovach.

And we shouldn’t forget the 2007 firing of CAO Larry Kotseff and CFO David Kennedy. The settlement to these fine public servants was more than $500,000. They were in the way of the Farbridge plans to change Guelph regardless of the cost. Now, how much did former CAO Ann Pappert receive on her recent resignation?

Last man standing

Today, of all those people, only Deputy Administrative Officer Mark, Amorosi, remains in senior city management. Since 2007, Guelph has had eight employees in charge of city finances including Amorosi but not the newly appointed Tara Baker.

That record in itself tells the story of a volatile and mismanaged state of city finances in the past nine years.

I wrote 92 columns for the Mercury and since June 2011, I have written 798 posts on guelphspeaks.ca. This translates into a growing number of viewers of the posts.

In the 31 days of July, thousands of viewers have logged on to guelphspeaks.ca. Readership is monitored daily through the Blog’s independent tracking system.

Summer traffic usually declines as folks go away. But not this July. The key is the blog content and I usually write three posts a week. This requires research including contacts, websites and a lot of background gathered in the past ten years.

July 2016 has been a major news month. The rain was falling inside city hall as the news of wasted funding and senior management changes prevailed, but not outside where real rain is needed.

Over the years, it has been extremely difficult to obtain facts and evidence because our city council still conducts most of its contentious business in the back room, in private. Fortunately, the number of contacts and supporters has grown that supply tips and details of how our city is being managed, or in many cases not.

Conducting the public business behind closed doors

To justify holding these closed-door meetings, the city clerk researches a reason to close the meeting according to the Ontario Municipal Act (OMA) regarding closed meetings. Inevitably the discussion bears no resemblance to the legal reason for closing the meeting under the OMA.

This was illustrated by a recent report by the Ontario Ombudsman regarding a closed meeting by the Oshawa council to discuss selling its hydro system. The legal rationale for holding this meeting behind closed doors was for “training and intelligence” reasons. The Ombud said that legal rationale was not only illegal but an attempt to prevent the public from knowing the details of a major issue. It only took four letters from residents to the Ombudsman’s officer to trigger the investigation.

In Guelph there is now ample evidence that the previous administration deliberately thwarted the intent of the OMA, by holding secret meetings, not only council but also by a wholly owned subsidiary, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI). This was an off-the-books corporation that was controlled by members of council who were paid a stipend.

It owned and controlled two assets, Guelph Junction Railroad and Guelph Hydro.

The result was taxpayers became responsible for spending $37.1 million on a project over which they had no say, no accountability and were kept in the dark like farm-grown mushrooms.

GS is a blog that never sleeps. It is available 24/7 and I am astonished to discover that viewers drop in to read the latest in the middle of the night.

GS is the only convenient and free professional news and commentary source that discusses serious critical issues facing the city. I have written enough about this city’s operations and personalities to fill three novels.

The controlling council denizens of the left are negatively vocal about guelphspeaks.ca. And the feeling is mutual. You see, I hate dictatorships and our city has been and still is controlled by a group of supporters of the policies of the previous administration. They are part of a nine-year dictatorship that has squandered millions of taxpayer dollars during that time.

Where did all that reserve money go?

Now the cupboard is bare. In 2011, there were 97 dedicated reserve funds holding $77,782,000. Today there are 26 reserve funds and consideration is underway to consolidate the number. It is believed there is less than $10 million in reserves remaining.

Just where did all that money go? This crowd of managers and councillors might as well have worn masks as they robbed the people’s treasure to finance their ideological projects and flagrant mismanagement of our money.

For the 2011 Financial Information Report, the city auditor, Deloitte and Touche, reported that using dedicated reserves to balance a budget is like using your credit card and being charged 22 per cent. The effect is the same.

The city administration has used reserves to balance its books every year since 2011. The management fails to forecast accurate budgets and then overspends to balance the books as required at yearend. The perfect example in 2014 was taking $5.7 million from three, unrelated reserves, to help pay for the $8.96 million required to settle a lawsuit. It followed a trial that found the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., general contractors of the new city hall project, before the 2014 municipal election.

Those reserves have yet to be repaid as promised by former CAO, Ann Pappert.

Our new Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, reports that the current nine-year capital-spending plan, after just the first year, has a $170 million shortfall.

One could say that it is the highest of compliments when the Bloc of Seven councillors strike back at GS for calling them out.

I intend to serve my fellow residents with the most accurate and informative commentary that is the hallmark of this independent blog. I have personally spent my own money to finance GS. I am beholden to no one. I do it because I believe we need true reform of city governance. There will be more on this later.

My name goes on all my posts.

The blog has achieved much and there is much more to cover and report.

I wish to thank the many supporters and contributors. Despite the council majority’s obstructionism, we are making progress.

Please join the growing GS movement to bring common sense and accountability back to our city. Only we can change it. Please let me know about your views and observations by using the pages of GS.

Our greatest opportunity to create change is by collectively challenging the status quo at 1 Carden Street. It means questioning our elected officials regularly by telephone, email and snail mail. Be free to use the comment section of GS to express your opinion.

Contact your friends and neighbours to follow GS and comment their views.

The more citizens who express their views is the key to getting the attention of members of council.

It may be the right time to send some letters of complaint about the closed meetings to the Ontario Ombudsman and request an investigation. A good starting point would be reporting the secrecy surrounding the Community Energy Initiative’s spending and the link to Guelph Hydro.

It’s time to take back our city and return it to the people who own it.

Sincerely,

Gerry and Barbara Barker, my editor, wife, best friend and severest critic.

 

Note: Upon checking the final copy, I discovered several typos.  As as two-fingered typist, they sometimes hit the wrong key. It’s a problem of bad light and errant fingers. GB

 

 

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9 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

9 responses to “Our 10th year covering the political world of Guelph and beyond

  1. John Valean Baily

    Gerry,

    I am sure there are a number of councillors and staff who vie for the position as your ‘severest critic’. 🙂

    John Valean (Val) Baily FBA Member Sent from my iPhone (416)619-0230, &, (519)546-2902

    >

  2. Tony

    It’s sad that the city pays so much for transparency but I have to come to a free blog to find out where my tax dollars are being spent or misspent.
    Keep it up. Your efforts made change possible in the last election. Think how much we would not be aware of if you hadn’t toppled Karen. Anyone can say what they want about you and they sure did during the election. Everyone said you were a cranky old man with an ax to grind. I haven’t heard them talking now; have you? No piper, No laidlaw, and no findley. It sure got quiet after all the boondoggles got exposed.

  3. Guido

    Without your blog, we wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on at city hall. Your efforts are noble and hopefully successful. What upsets me are all those closed meetings, that has to stop! Keep up the good work

  4. Eric

    Gerry – one thing you forgot to mention in the history of your local writing, is how your blog was a major contributor to unseatIng Farbridge in 2014. I don’t think Cam would have won without all the years you spent setting the stage by exposing everything – since neither the merc and trib ever did. Thanks for past 10 years and here’s wishing you another successful 10!

    • Marc

      Looks like this blog got rid of one spend thrift mayor only to have another one in elected. Guelph still definitely needs this blog especially since Guthrie just gave the Guelph Storm $5 million and is now talking about sticking it to us with a special tax. The new CAO hasn’t impressed anyone yet either – he hasn’t fired Amorosi nor changed course from his predecessor in asking for more taxes. His hiring was another disaster-decision by Guthrie – don’t get me started on that one. Like I’ve stated before, he’s either getting bad advice or just incompetent but regardless what it is, Guthrie’s decisions are now starting to cost us which is why this blog needs to continue.

  5. Rena

    Well done, keep up the good fight. All the best.

  6. Capricorn

    Thank-you Gerry. During the days of Mayor Norm Jary you may not have had much to write about. The past ten years are a stark contrast to those fair and innocent days for Guelph. Thank-goodness you have chosen to keep us informed.

  7. Glen

    Gerry: That it seems like you have been writing about the lamentable low brow carryings-on of council on for an interminable time rather than a mere decade illustrates the need for for your service. To paraphrase Mark Twain “In the 1st place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made the Karenista inspired Guelph City Councillors and like minded administration”. Keep up the good work and maintain the pressure on those who regard hard working taxpayers as ATM’s for their personal visions and self-centred legacies.
    All the best to you & Barbara.

  8. guelphspeaks reader

    Gerry, your blog has become a central part of politics in Guelph. If it wasn’t, nobody in a position of power would take time to discredit it.
    Your writing responds to growing problems like corporate media consolidation and the accompanying diminishing of journalistic integrity. Governments at all levels leverage the ad dollars they give to media outlets for reporting that suits their goals.
    The problem of ever-shrinking and corporate-driven private media works together, profitably, with in-house government “communications departments” that have on their payrolls more ex-journalists and PR specialists who must toe the boss’s line than all private media combined. Independent thinking is nowhere in that scenario.
    With the closed-door meeting custom protecting politicians, legal departments protecting staff, who is responsible to the public?
    The ratepayer is, as is often said here, nothing but an ATM, treated as if they all have the same kind of good wages, steady raises and job security in public sector workers’ collective agreements. According to James Gordon if a citizen does not love paying high taxes and get on board with every nepotism-saturated, multi-million dollar scheme, they do not belong in Guelph.
    All sides at city hall want the public to be uninformed and disengaged.
    Long live guelphspeaks!

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