By Gerry Barker
October 5, 2016
Comments on the www.guelphspeaks.ca this week have been informative and conducted with respect of citizens’ perspective of living in Guelph.
This shows that people are thinking about how their city has been managed. They are also articulating their point of view with respect. It’s refreshing if only the administration would listen.
Here’s how the owners of the Guelph newpapers and other media played ball with their power unequivacally supporting the administration, not for four years, not for eight years but to date almost forten years.
As a critic of the administration(s) for the past ten years, I am attacked from all sides, particularly by senior management and surrogates of the majority of elected officials. This group was most active prior to civic elections in 2010 and 2014.
For five years up to 2011, I wrote a regular column called Between the Lines in the Mercury editorial page that criticized the Farbridge administration’s mismanagement, particularly of city finances.
I received an email from the managing editor in the fall of 2011, saying I was fired because the paper was going in a different direction. For the record, not only that didn’t happen but also the publication folded last January. That event shocked most people but I predicted it a year before because there was not sufficient revenue to support the publication.
I charge that Ms. Farbridge and her confederates spoke with the Publisher of The Record in Kitchener who was also publisher of the Guelph Mercury, to stop using my column Between the Lines. The messenger was Lynn Haddrell, Editor in Chief of both papers to Phil Andrews, Managing Editor of the Mercury. I always respected Phil but I knew he was caught between a corporate decision and having control of the content of his newspaper. None of these people are part of the Guelph political scene today nor does the Mercury exist.
The relationship between former mayor Farbridge and the Guelph Tribune
As for Ms. Farbridge and four members of her former council, she is no longer in charge of our city.
Why did Ms. Farbridge have the power to do what she did to get rid of http://www.guelphspeaks.ca? Her leverage lay with he city paying an estimated $400,000 a year of taxpayer money to the Guelph Tribude to run “City News” pages in every issue of the paper.
This is nothing but naked power exercised to get rid of an individual consistently critical of the city operations.
Then in early 2012, the administration again tried to shut down http://www.guelphspeaks.ca. This time, Executive Director of Human Resources and Legal Services, Mark Amorosi, stated the city notified a Guelph blogger (not me) that the city would no longer respond to requests for information from “any personal blog website.”
I took it that he meant me.
Amorosi went on to say that the city only interacts with “legitimate media outlets” that follow the Ethics Guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ).
It appears that while Amorosi used the CAJ as the benchmark of who should have right of access to public information, he couldn’t have read the CAJ Ethics Guidelines. If he had, he would have read the following:
“News organizations- including newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television – provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. As such we (CAJ) seek to include views from all segments of the population.”
“Personal online activity, including emails and social networking should generally be regarded as public and not private.”
Believe me folks, it takes a lot of energy, research and dedication to produce a blog that is always available online to anyone and comments on events that city hall doesn’t want to talk about. And I do it using my own money because I believe it’s the right thing to do.
Government is for all the people not the chosen few
I do it because I don’t believe that any government, particularly in Guelph has the power to suppress, muzzle or deny information to which the citizens are entitled. This includes Provincial and Federal freedom of information laws.
Despite the information roadblocks set up by the administration, the ugly underbelly of gross mismanagement by an entrenched administration and majority of council is gradually exposed.. It includes neglect of vital civic issues such as affordable housing and family services, the aging infrastructure and wasteful spending on projects that were poorly planned and executed.
The evidence is there. Yet there is an element in this city that keeps saying it’s time to move on. They wish.
So let’s make it simple:
* How do we pay for the Urbacon $23 million excessive new city hall costs? How do we replenish the drained reserves?
* In 2011, Coun. Leanne Piper bragged that the city had more than $80 million in reserve funds. Most of this has evaporated as the reserves were used to cover up mistakes. These include lowball budget forecasting causing negative variances of the city budget at year end. The Province requires that the city accounts be balanced by year’s end.
* The sloppy and careless Community Energy Initiative has already cost $37.1 million and counting. The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GHI) has a staff costing $267,000 annually, yet its Chief Executive Officer says GMHI has no money. Add to that the Guerlph Hydro subsidiary, Envida Community Energy Corporation owes GMHI $11 million and it does not have any money.
Gee, do you think you could run your personal budget that way?
* The role of Guelph Hydro in this convoluted financing of a co-generation plan is murky because the GMHI meetings were all held in private sessions. The plan is supposed to not only generate 10 megawatts of power from each District Energy Node (gas fired pump) to the grid, but also supplies hot and cold water to a small number of nearby buildings. The outcome has been a financial disaster due to poor planning and execution with Ms. Farbridge chair of GMHI until her defeat in October 2014.
Yes we can fight city hall
Supporting this administration is the little paper that can’t, the Guelph Mercury Tribune. It’s biased with one-sided coverage of the administration has been revealed when the paper refused to publish Guelph citizen Pat Fung, CPA, CA’s expert analysis of the financial state of the City of Guelph. Not only that but the paper refused a full-page ad on the Fung analysis claiming it wasn’t documented, was inflammatory and too political.
And all this time we believed that more people would be able to read the financial analysis.
The administration. who received copies of Mr. Fung’s analysis, rejected his findings and this was dutifully echoed in the Tribune news pages. Instead of responding with reasonable questions following Mr. Fung’s five-minute presentation to city council last Monday, council waited until he left the chamber to bolster their opinion that his findings were inaccurate.
For the record, not one member of council or the senior management holds the Degree of Chartered Accountant or Certified Public Accountant. DCAO Mark Amorosi controls city finances. He does not possess degrees in either of Mr. Fung’s professional designations nor has his experiences, performing financial analysis and senior staff management for major corporations.
Now comes the next stage of getting the eight-page Fung analysis to as many people as possible. A group of citizens are supporting a complaint about the paper’s refusal to carry the report. They are in the process of contacting the National Press Council to complain about the Tribune’s rejection of a thoroughly researched report..
Think about this. The city has a communication department with 11 communication specialists plus someone on contract. It includes one of that number to be exclusively assigned to the Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson. Question, does Mayor Guthrie have his own communication specialist assigned to him? Just asking.
Let’s see, the cost of this department is just over $1 million not including taxable benefits. The Tribune has only two reporters covering city hall and they have to file reports twice a week.
Respect is won only when there is open and transparent government that is accountable to the people. And a community newspaper that has no competition openly covers both sides of the story.
Oh yes, whatever happened to Andy Best who was hired last year to bring that type of government to Guelph? Just asking.