Monthly Archives: October 2016

Anatomy of deception, there are more questions than answers

By Gerry Barker

October 10, 2016

The operation of the city changed dramatically in early November 2014, when senior staff reorganized before the newly elected Mayor took office, December 1, 2014.

It is unclear to this day, who authorized this major realignment of tasks and responsibilities. The defeated mayor was still technically Mayor of the City of Guelph until the end of November. Was the new mayor, Cam Guthrie, informed of the senior management changes? Did he approve on behalf of the newly elected council?

The following is a series of questions to which citizens have thr right to answers from the administration.

In the November 2014 realignment, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, stated that the changes were discussed and approved by the outgoing council before the civic election October 27. Was there any input from the new mayor and his council?

Is it true that the CAO has the exclusive authority of hiring and firing of all city staff?

Why did the reorganization plan remove Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Al Horsman, who was reassigned as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO), of waste management and environmental services?

Yet another head of city finances

Was DCAO Mark Amorosi, of Corporate Services, assigned to be in charge of city finances plus head of Human Resources in November 2014? That’s a yes.

When asked about this $37,591, 17.11 per cent increase for CAO Pappert taking her 2015 salary to $257,248, DCAO Mark Amorosi, said the reason was the CAO did not receive any increase in 2014. In fact, according to the provincial Sunshine List for 2014, she did receive an increase of $5,052. Did Mr. Amorosi not understand the CAO did receive an increase in 2014?

Did all four members of senior management, CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson and Al Horsman, receive salary increases in 2014?

Were these salary increases part of the 2014 budget and when and which council approved them?

In the November lame duck period, did the outgoing Farbridge administration approve the 2014 senior staff increases before leaving office?

In his new position, was Mr. Amorosi also in charge of the Human Resources department policies including staff performance reviews, research of salary levels, recommending salary and or benefit increases for consideration of the CAO and council?

That being the case, does this new responsibility include members of the non-union management association, of which Mr. Amorosi is a member? Did he recommend salary and benefit increases based on his performance reviews and salary increases including his own?

Due to the change of city council membership following the October 2014 civic election, the 2015 budget was not approved until late March 2015.

Were the 2015 senior staff increases included in that budget?

Delayed action salary increases for the four senior staff managers

If not, why were the 2015 senior staff increases totaling $137,894 approved during a closed session of city council December 10, 2015?

That being the case, do the minutes of that closed meeting show which members of council voted to approve the four staff increases, for the 2015 budget year?

In view of Mr. Horsman leaving the city in August, there is a small adjustment in the 2015 Sunshine List because he did not draw his salary after August. Newly appointed DCAO Scott Stewart filled his position in November.

Did the CAO, and DCAO’s draw their increase during 2015 anticipating approval by council?

As DCAO, head of Finance, was Mr. Amorosi directly involved in how much, how and when the senior staff increases would be awarded?

Wearing his HR hat, did Mr. Amorosi present his recommendation for his fellow senior managers’ increases to the CAO? Did the CAO know about the salary increases prior to the closed council meeting December 10?

If council did not approve the increases until December 2015, did this not represent a major negative variance to the 2015 budget?

Why did the council and senior staff not inform the public of the 2015 senior staff increases?

Now, what about the senior staff increases for 2016?

Council approved the 2016 budget last December 10. Were there additional increases for senior staff included in that budget?

When will council inform the public of 2016 senior staff increases?

Mr. Amorosi has been in charge of city finances for the past 23 months. Why has he appointed to date, three General Managers and Treasurers in the finance department, two of whom are no longer with the city, Katrina Power and Janice Sheehy? Despite conducting a broad search by a professional headhunting company, why did Mr. Amorosi choose a junior financial analyst in the Finance Department to become the next GM of finance, Treasurer and CFO?

As of a month ago, why has the Finance department not completed the 2015 Financial Information Report? It was due to be submitted to the Province by June.

Why did CAO Ann Pappert resign last May? Why did Derrick Thomson resign to take another job with the Town of Caledon? Why did he return to the city as senior management to replace Ann Pappert and at what salary?

Did Mayor Guthrie vote to increase the senior staff salaries for 2015?

Why did Mayor Guthrie go out of his way to praise the senior management “team” despite evidence presented to council by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA? He detailed serious financial problems in the city, (go to www.guelphspeaks.ca to obtain a copy of Mr. Fung’s expert analysis).

Why did Mayor Guthrie admonish the public by stating “I find it a bit disturbed that people would come in here and challenge our staff in this way.” Does the Mayor believe the staff is so competent that it is above criticism?

Why did the Mayor make these comments when all members of council received a copy of Mr. Fung’s financial analysis last August 18? Who was he protecting?

These questions requiring answers will play a role in the developing the 2017 budget and beyond. Between the next 18 to 24 months, CAO Derrick Thomson’s new administrative plan becomes the new city business plan, I think. It means we are stuck with a flaky, non-specific and a no-goal plan, complete with meaningless pie charts that will take us to the next civic election.

It is now obvious that this senior administration and leftist-dominated council deliberately refuse to acknowledge the serious financial mistakes of the past. It means extending the system of closed meetings, closed minds and continuing irresponsible management.

We are captives of a secretive, uninformed and politicized management who don’t care what we think about their performance.

The sad part is our Mayor is going out of his way to praise staff incompetence employing secrecy and irresponsibility that is the trademark of the present administration.

We are all aware of the consequences following almost ten years of an administration gone wildand the truth is even more elusive.

 

 

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When respect cuts both ways

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.

 

 

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How a failing Guelph administration is protected by a Mayor defying criticism

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

Dear Donor:

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 gerrybarker76@gmail.com 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.

Sincerely,

Gerry Barker

Editor, http://www.guelphspeaks.ca

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