By Gerry Barker
October 3, 2016
When Mayor Guthrie announced his intention to run for mayor in January 2014, he talked about “For a Better Guelph.” He also mentioned the “Guelph Factor” as part of the problems facing the city and his reason for running.
But then, he campaigned on holding property tax increases to two percent or the
Consumer Price Index (CPI) that in 2015 was 1.1 per cent. In 2015, his first year in office, the Guelph property tax increase was 3.96 per cent including the effect of the assessment increase on properties.
On December 10, the Mayor presided over a closed session of council that approved paying four senior staffers $137,894 in salary increases for 2015. As this was a closed session, the reasons for including the discussion and vote have yet to be made public.
The four senior managers, CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson, and Al Horsman received excessive increases that became public with the publication of the Ontario Sunshine List last March. Mr. Horsman resigned in August 2015. Ms. Pappert resigned last May. Mr. Thomson also resigned in April to take another job but was brought back to take over the CAO position in June.
Is this the Mayor’s new interpretation of “A Better Guelph?”
Then along comes a Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA CA who examines the audited Financial Information Reports published by the city for the previous four years. He also examined the 2014 BMA consultant’s report of city operations.
This culminated in a detailed analysis of the city’s operational costs, compared with similar sized cities. It broke out the costs of the various departments and institutions of the city and compared them to the Ontario averages.
Mr. Fung, acting as a concerned citizen, sent each member of council a copy of his analysis August 18. Last Monday night, he made a five-minute presentation summarizing his findings. The council response was zero, although the large crowd in attendance applauded the presentation.. In fact, the Mayor shut him down when he directed a question to DCAO Amorosi.
The Mayor followed it up commenting: “I find it a bit disturbing that people would come in here and challenge our staff in this way.”
What does Mayor Guthrie mean when he adds, “in this way?” Are the people he represents not supposed to complain when accurate facts of financial mismanagement are exposed? Which “way” should the people react and respond?
Our Mayor seems to have drifted away from the people, who supported him, to go out of his way to protect the hired help. Does he seriously believe that there aren’t people in the city who clearly understand the gross mismanagement of the city that he promised to correct?
How does a credit rating reduce operational costs?
If the Mayor doesn’t understand the financial state of the city, how does he fulfill his promise of a “Better Guelph?” Does he believe that an AA+ credit rating by Standard and Poors (S&P) makes it all better?
You remember the S&P rating company. Between 2006 and 2008, it gave inflated credit ratings to mortgage-backed securities sold by most major U.S. and global banks. The S&P ratings nearly collapsed the global economy when millions of so-called investments were found to be worthless, except for the people who sold them using S&P credit ratings to support their validity.
Some Questions: The staff reported that S&P gave the city the AA+ credit rating in 2013 same as it is today. Did the city pay for this S&P report and how much did it cost? Why is there a three-year gap between the reports? How does this pat on the back credit rating affect operational costs of the City of Guelph? Answer: It has nothing to do with operational costs. Finally, when the city borrows money, it backs the debt with the assets of a $500 million corporation as collateral. This applies to most Ontario municipalities who borrow money. But then, Guelph already exceeds its debt ceiling as set by city councils.
Aren’t the city staff and some members of council applying the same tactic to misinform the citizens and lull them into not complaining? It appears that the Mayor has joined in that chorus of dumbing us all down.
Which brings us to the public financing of the Guelph Mercury Tribune
When Pat Fung took his report to the Tribune for publication, he was told they couldn’t run it because it was “too long and too political.” At no time did Editor Doug Coxson offer to have a reporter review Pat’s analysis to develop a news story.
By any interpretation, it is a news story and worthy of coverage.
I spoke with Pat and suggested we take out an advertisement in the paper to print the details of his report. I also agreed to raise the money for the ad.
I delivered the copy to the paper last Tuesday that the ad representative accepted and downloaded from UBS drive. I also presented a cheque for $2,083 to pay for the ad. On Wednesday morning, I checked to see a finished proof of the ad and was told there were “red flags” about the copy. And there had to be changes.
I asked if the ad was to run Thursday and was told no, not until the paper approves the copy. I requested the objections in writing and was told they would not comply but the ad rep would give a brief summary of the objections. These included lack of documentation, inflammatory content and details of who was placing the ad and contact numbers.
It was obvious, Metroland Publishing, the owners of the paper, had made a decision not to support the Fung analysis, either in the editorial section or a paid ad.
Now this deliberate blocking of free expression is going to be forwarded to the National Press Council for adjudication. The complaint will name the owners, TorStar Corporation, its subsidiary Metroland Publishing and The Guelph Mercury Tribune.
It’s astonishing, that in this day and age that a newspaper, enjoying a monopoly as the only paper in the City of Guelph, refuses to print a legitimate and accurate analysis without even attempting to review it or write a news story.
Instead, the paper published a news story with the heading: “Persistent city finance critic rebuffed at Guelph Council meeting.” Had the reporter read the Fung analysis? Did the editor even consider doing a news story about a citizen, trained and experienced in his profession, regarding the financial status of our city?
The answer my friends, is simple. The Mercury Tribune receives an estimated $350,000 to $500,000 a year from the city for publishing the “City News” pages in every edition of the twice-weekly newspaper. Those ads are paid by public funds so we have forcibly become partners with a newspaper. A newspaper that is biased favouring its city ads client and refuses to recognize its responsibilities to its readers who have legitimate causes and deserve space in the paper.
Citizens are victims in this unholy alliance between the city administration and this newspaper.
So much for democracy and free speech.
* * * *
An important message from the editor
In the last three weeks, I solicited funds to pay for a full-page advertisement in the Guelph Tribune to reproduce the excellent analysis of the City of Guelph’s financial condition, compiled by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA.
I regret to inform you that the Guelph Tribune refused to publish Mr. Fung’s report as editorial comment using the excuse it was too long and too political. But then, the paper refused to allow citizen’s to purchase ad space to expose Mr. Fung’s details of the state of city finances.
I am personally embarrassed over these developments that I believe is nothing but planned suppression of the news that affects our community. I made a commitment to all donors to ensure that more residents would receive the Fung analysis. I can say now that it won’t happen, using the Tribune.
But, there is active planning to pressure the Tribune and extend the reach of www.guelphspeaks.ca, the only consistent critic of the city administration and supporter of the Fung Report.
We are appealing to the National Press Council to adjudicate a complaint that the newspaper, restricted fair comment by denying accommodating coverage of the Fung report on the news pages, but denied our attempt to publish the details in a paid advertisement. This is a clear violation of journalistic ethics and responsibility to the readership by suppressing information of vital public concern and interest.
We are not going to let up spreading details of Pat Fung’s analysis of the financial condition of our city. Doing this will require accumulating funds to inform residents of the details. Without access to the newspaper, we must seek other means of communication to express our points of view, both in print and social media using the Internet.
Accordingly, I will refund any donation made for this cause, if requested.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want your donation refunded. Please include your full address and email ID.
Remember why we are here. There will be an election in 2018. If we fail to plan and fund our point of view now, the outcome will not be attractive.
Next time we have to be sure. This is only the beginning of a long march to create real change.
Thanks again for your support and I hope we can count on you in the future.