The Farbridge Fallout: 10 years of a toxic administration leaves an enduring legacy

By Gerry Barker

August 6, 2016

Like most people in Guelph, we are beginning to understand the underground story of financial failure, secrecy and wasteful spending that is slowly emerging following eight years of a Farbridge administration. It is a litany of abuse of the public trust by the majority of elected officials. We have endured an administration riddled with absurd decisions and too much influence over those elected and entrusted with the people’s interests.

We are now witnessing the denuding of senior staff that shares responsibility for spending millions of public money with compliance of the former mayor’s majority of council.

Gone is Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert; Executive Director of Waste Management and Environmental Services, Janet Laird; Executive Director of Operations Derek McCaughan; Former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Al Horsman; Former General Manager of Finance and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; former manager of Finance (pre Horsman), Susan Arum; Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, now suing the city for wrongful dismissal; former Police Chief Bryan Larkin who played a major role in selling the $34.1 million police headquarters renovation along with former Mayor Farbridge and Coun. Leanne Piper.

Rising from the wreckage is CAO Derrick Thomson, former Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO), of Operations; General Manager of Culture and Tourism, Colleen Clack who takes over Thomson’s job as DCAO of Operations including Guelph Transit; Finance department analyst, Tara Baker, recently named Chief Financial Officer, General Manager, Finance and Treasurer. She does not assume the job until next year.

This is another example of moving people up whose experience or accreditation may not match their new responsibilities. Ms. Baker was selected even after the city used a headhunter to conduct a search for a CFO.

There is one senior employee who remains post 2014. Mark Amorosi has responsibility for human resources and city finances as DCAO of Corporate Services.

This situation, in which continuity and responsibility that Mr. Amorosi has artfully engineered, is by reaching in-house and ignoring a professional search. We still paid for it. Since his employment in 2008, he has been the architect of building a bloated bureaucracy that has increased in terms of full-time employees to more than 2,100 from 1,500. He is in charge of all personnel and their issues including salaries, wages and benefits. The city staff is now 80 per cent unionized. And, more than 80 per cent of all property taxes are used to pay the staf.

Staff morale is at an all-time low

The staff has reached the depths of low morale but most hang on because of the money and benefits. Working for the city or the University of Guelph provides above average pay, benefits and job security. But many staffers say it’s a lousy place to work because of a senior management that is erratic, lacks empathy and consistently changes the work plan.

Amorosi, in his unique position of power, also looked after himself and fellow senior staff with those unearned 2015 salary increases for the CAO and three fellow DCAO’s. Those increases ranged from 14 to 19 per cent and the people who paid them were never informed. That is not until the provincial Sunshine List of public servants earning more than $100,000 was released last March.

Talk about a sneaky attack on the public purse. It makes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour almost saintly by comparison. The Yanks at least knew what was happening in that day of infamy. Citizens were not informed about those increases until months after council approved the deal, in closed session.

What does it take to rid our administration of this individual who has been the author and executor of the city’s declining financial capacity? It is now apparent that Amorosi was picked to meet her objectives by Farbridge as her got-to guy to steer her now misguided and failed vision of Guelph.

In order to accomplish those Farbridge goals, and polices, procedural bylaws were passed by her majority of council supporters. She banned any revelation of what was discussed in closed sessions of council known as “in camera” meetings.

A Code of Conduct that would allow the mayor to censure any councillor who spoke out of line following an “in camera” proceeding, backed up the procedural bylaw. In 2010, the Farbridge council appointed an Integrity Commission whose function was to adjudicate alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct by any member of city council.

There were two such actions sent to the Integrity Commissioner. One was against then Ward Four Councillor, now Mayor Cam Guthrie, who along with a minority of councillors threatened to demand a public document that was refused by the staff. The other was against former Councillor Maggi Laidlaw accused of being belligerent with staff during a committee meeting.

Integrity Commissioner gets another five-year contract

The Integrity Commissioner’s report of both cases did not sanction either party. His bill was more than $10,000. The Integrity Commissioner was awarded another five-year term last March with an annual retainer of $5,000 plus an hourly rate when he was engaged.

That contract was approved in another “in camera” session and details were never revealed. It is another example of the public interest being blocked.

When the former mayor organized the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI), she appointed herself as chairperson and four members of council to hold a majority. The Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro and two Farbridge-appointed independents completed the board of directors. Newly appointed CAO Ann Pappert was named Chief Executive Officer. So there is no doubt about the tight link between the City Corporation and GHMI.

For five years, GMHI conducted its meetings in private session, beyond public access or transparency. In all those years, not one councillor who sat on the GMHI board said anything about what GMHI was doing.

And what they were doing was spending some $37.1 million on developing a District Energy plan that included connecting two Nodes (natural gas fired pumps) to a small number of nearby buildings to supply hot and cold water.

The trouble was that $37.1 million wasn’t enough to make the system function. The Nodes were located in the Sleeman Centre and the Hanlon Creek Business Park. A staff report July 18, 2016, detailed the financing of these projects and stated that it was badly planned and executed and required another $60 million to make it work and meet the original objective.

Spending more money on a failed project

GuelphSpeaks has written extensively about this situation and those posts may be found in the blog archives.

Council, on a staff recommendation, hired Deloitte as consultants to advise them what to do next. Council chose to continue the operation until March 2017. Supporting that motion was the Bloc of Seven Farbridge supporters on council plus Coun. Bob Bell. Deloitte’s bill will range between $130,000 and $160,000.

The only way to stop this growing financial disaster is to complain to the Ombudsman of Ontario regarding all those closed meetings held over six years conducted by GMHI, a wholly owned corporation of the City of Guelph.

If just four residents of Oshawa can complain about its council meeting conducted in camera to discuss the sale of its Hydro, it should not take much to ask for an Ombudsman staff investigation.

Here is an extract of how to complain. I’m sending one in, how about you?

Here are your Ombudsman choices

Have you already tried to resolve your problem with the organization’s complaint procedures? If you aren’t sure what options are available, you can speak to the organization directly or the Ombudsman’s staff can assist you.

Note – Yes, several times to no avail. GuelphSpeaks received one annual report (2014) that showed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. a wholly owned city corporation that included Guelph Hydro losing $2.8 million.

The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about municipalities and universities as of January 1, 2016.

Note – Guelph citizens can now make a complaint.

Fill in an online complaint form (for other options, see below).
It is also helpful to:

*  Get the names and titles of the people you have dealt with at the government or public sector body;

  • Keep track of the dates of your contact with them;
  • Keep all written communication relating to your complaint.

Note: Citizens were not informed of what was occurring during the five years the city was operating a separate corporation that was making decisions with no accountability, transparency or public input.

Submit a complaint online

Please note that we do not accept complaints through Twitter, Facebook, or any other third-party platforms.
Telephone  Our complaints staff is available 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You may also leave a voice message outside of office hours. Toll-free (inside Ontario only): 1-800-263-1830

Calls with our Office may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes and/or to ensure an accurate and exact record.

Email:  
info@ombudsman.on.ca

Fax:    416-586-3485

Mail:    Print our complaint form (PDF)
Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario
Bell Trinity Square
483 Bay Street, 10th Floor, South Tower
Toronto, ON
M5G 2C9

In person:  An appointment is recommended for in-person (walk-in) complaints. Please call 1-800-263-1830 to schedule an appointment.
The office is located at 483 Bay Street, (Bell Trinity Square, 10th Floor, South Tower), Toronto. Office hours are from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Review our Frequently Asked Questions. Or call 1-800-263-1-830 during office hours to speak to Ombudsman staff.

 

Please note:

If you want to complain about the closed-door operations of both the city and GMHI, try to include names and dates of staff or councillor conversations with whom you questioned plus their replies.

A starting point is requesting copies of the minutes of all those GMHI meetings, dates, names and motions. The source is the city clerk’s office.

If you need advice completing your complaint, please send me an email at gerrybaker76@gmail.com. Identification is a requirement. GB
 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “The Farbridge Fallout: 10 years of a toxic administration leaves an enduring legacy

  1. Joe Black

    Jail them all

  2. Marc

    We also need to investigate the back room meetings with the $5 Million given recently to the Guelph Storm and the hiring of the new CAO – Derrick Thompson. Was there even a job description posted for that position when Ann Pappert said she was not renewing her assignment this October? Are we paying for both her and Derrick Thompson until October when her contract is up? I guess we will find out next March again, which doesn’t bode well for Cam Guthrie’s leadership. We don’t know any details about the new CAO’s contract, any payout to Ann Pappert or how the Guelph Storm will be given the $5 Million. Both of these announcements came pretty fast with no record of any public meets talking about either, or giving citizens the right to show up to express their opinions, so Cam Guthrie isn’t any better in being transparent than Farbridge was. He is costing us money as taxes will be going up to pay for this stuff.

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