Monthly Archives: November 2016

It’s half time for Mayor Cam Guthrie and his administration and it’s not looking good

By Gerry Barker

November 28, 2016

Whether he knows it or not, Mayor Cam Guthrie is in an almost identical political pickle as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

The Premier charges donors to pay for access to her ministers at classy soirees.

Cam Guthrie allows the Guelph Chamber of Commerce to charge citizens $50 to attend a breakfast meeting in which he will deliver his “State of the City” address next January. You can save $5 if you buy your ticket now. Talk about a captive audience.

Sounds like it’s a twist on the Wynne pay for access fund-raising tactic that has forced her to change the rules of corporate donations to political parties.

Last week, a misty-eyed premier admitted to some 850 Liberals, gathered in Ottawa, that she had made mistakes about hydroelectric power and its high cost to citizens.

Mistakes? Really, Madame Premier, get a grip on reality and skip the crocodile tears.

But let’s get back to our own reality show

This is budget season. The city administration has been bending over backwards to inform the citizens of the details of what I call “budget prep.” The city website is loaded with information that leaves out all the hoary details of the cost of running the city. Depending on the average citizen’s ability on a computer to wade through the labyrinth of detail that, in most cases, artfully only tells part of the story. Only the part that they want you to see, that is.

It’s a carefully designed plan for the administration to claim that it is running an open and transparent government.

The operation, that falls under the management of DCAO Mark Amorosi, who wears so many hats as head of Corporate Services that gives him complete control of the message.

Here’s how: Mr. Amorosi is chief of Finance, Human Recourses, the City Clerk’s Office, Corporate Communications and Services, Information Technology, Project Management and Court Services.

It’s safe to say that Mr. Amorosi has a lot to say about the 2017 budget, his third since taking over the city Finance department in November 2014. That’s a lot of power vested in one senior manager.

Tomorrow night, November 29, at the West End Community Centre just off the Elmira Road, Mayor Cam Guthrie will hold a Town Hall meeting to answer questions about the 2017 city budget: It starts at 7 p.m.

Getting the handle on the truth and facts

If anyone should know what’s going on in the run-up of approving the 2017 budget on December 7, it’s Mr. Guthrie.

As a public service, offers the following questions for the Mayor’s response.

*  You promised in the 2014 election campaign to keep property tax increases to the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In your first budget, your council approved an increase of 3.96 per cent while the CPI for 2014 was 1.99 per cent. What happened?

*  On the final day of approving the 2016 budget, December 10, 2015, you convened a closed-session of council to approve 2015 pay increases to three top managers of more than $98,000. Do you believe this decision failed the test of open and transparent government?

*  Why did you believe it was necessary to convene a closed session to approve the 2015 top management increases when the fiscal year was almost over?

*  Were these increases included in the 2015 budget, approved by council March 25, 2015?

*  Did you vote to pay those increases?

*  Whose interests do you serve? That of the people, whom you represent, or the public staff that received those large increases?

*  When did you know that Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) Ann Pappert, was leaving the city?

*  When did you know what the three senior managers were proposing in that December 10 closed-session meeting?

*  Do you believe that the public has the right to know details of staff compensation?

*  The Provincial government policy is to reveal the names, compensation and job title for every public servant in Ontario earning more than $100,000, why do you not believe it applies to Guelph?

*  Why did you agree to not reveal the council closed-session decision, knowing full well that details would be published in the March 2016 Sunshine List?

*  Were any of the three senior managers receiving those increases involved in conducting performance and market reviews to determine who gets how much and why?

*  Why did you threaten legal action against citizen Rena Akerman who distributed a documented list of the failed performance of CAO Pappert over four years?

Why did you comment that you were disturbed that that staff was being questioned in ”this way?”

Why do you consistently ignore the public and defend the senior staff?

This would not happen in a private corporation

In a private corporation, if top managers tried to line their pockets such as this, without supporting their action with facts and figures, they would be out of a job. The problem in Guelph is that oversight of top management is almost non-existent.

Typically, the council should be responsible for protecting the public interests because they are the elected representatives of the people.

That December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting of council revealed the weakness of our elected officials to stand up to such blatant misuse of power by the paid senior managers.

Today, the stark reality of a paucity use of power by our Mayor only perpetuates as long as he holds office. He is not alone as the council majority continues to control the city’s public business with obstructive interference or no remorse.

Consider this: If the three top administration managers can persuade a gutless council to approve $98,000 worth of pay increases in secret session, why can we expect anything to change?

The cities of Brampton and Ottawa have figured it out by gutting paid management staff to improve efficiencies that will work for the electorate and not the hired help.

One final fact: The Guelph staff is proposing a staff increase of 13 for 2017. Of that number, seven are earning more than $100,000 a year. The total 2017 cost for the 13 is $1,304,850.

Since the 2014 election there have been some 45 new employees added to the staff.

These hires contribute to the excessive operating overhead that has been created in the past ten years without any serious staff rationalization.



Filed under Between the Lines

What do Toronto and Brampton recognize that escapes the administration of Guelph?

By Gerry Barker

November 26, 2016

Recently, Mayor Guthrie told a citizen that because Brampton terminated 25 city managers last September, that such a culling was not in the cards for Guelph.

Breaking News! According to the Toronto Star, the city of Brampton is preparing to dismiss another 20 managers. Now Brampton is a city of more than 400.000 people. Guelph has a population of 130,000. That’s about 33 per cent of Brampton’s population.

Our city staff is more than 2,300 including city hall staff, police, fire, EMS and managerial staff. Yep! There are a lot of managers that are rarely accounted for when the HR departmemt publishes its annual report. We do know that 1,940 Full-time Equivalent, (FTE’s) emplyees belong to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, OMERS. But that does not include the managers who belong to their own association with their own benefits package, part-timers or contracted employees.

The delicious irony is that Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffery, was Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in 2012 when she refused to send in a forensic audit team to investigate the City of Guelph’s finances. The petition was requested by GrassRoots Guelph, signed by 162 Guelph Citizens when only 50 were required . Instead, her letter welcomed citizen participation in public affairs but the parties had to sort this out themselves. She left the Ministry and the Liberal Party four months later

The irony? As mayor of Brampton, she’s now asking the Ministry to assist the city to sort out the financial mess in Brampton she inherited. Welcome to the club!

This is just one example of how our city management approaches the excessive costs of overhead with which taxpayers are annually saddled. You have to question why two cities close by, Kitchener and Cambridge, have operating and capital budgets costing 50 per cent less than Guelph.

This is not a fact that was pulled out of the air to make political hay but the unvarnished truth developed from the three cities’ audited financial reports in 2014, going back to 2011. 2014 was a benchmark year for civic government because it was an election year.

This was the data analyzed by Guelph Resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, who, using the official audited statements of Guelph, Kitchener and Cambridge, developed a comprehensive report that Guelph’s council and senior staff has ignored. Part of that eight–page study was ridiculed by members of council and staff after Mr. Fung completed his five-minute presentation, and had left the chamber.

And yet Mark Amorosi eschews the comparison telling us the city is in “sound financial condition.” As a Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO) he is Guelph’s senior manager overseeing Finance, Human Resources, and the City Clerk’s office, Information Technology, Project Management and Court Services.

He insists that Mr. Fung’s analysis, observations relating to citizen’s cost per-capita is irrelevant. If Mr. Amorosi doesn’t care about what citizens must pay to live in Guelph, why doesn’t the city council?

Mr. Amorosi today is still also chief advisor reporting to Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) Derrick Thomson. As such, according to city documents, he is playing a major role in planning the city’s 2017 operating and capital spending budgets. Last year the city budget hit a record $382 million. This is Mr. Amorosi’s third city budget since taking over Finance in November 2014.

For 2015 and 2016, annual budgets, including property taxes have increased by 6.92 per cent. This year, employing a couple of deft financial maneuvers, the cost to citizens will range between 3.5 and 5 per cent. On December 7, we will get the final figure when council approves the 2017 budget.

Here is something to keep in mind. The assessment of all properties in the city will automatically increase in 2017.That allows the administration some wiggle room to cover additional overhead instead of seeking ways to reduce operating costs.

One minor adjustment was to shift storm water system costs to the non-tax supported account that will be payable through your hydro bill same as potable water services and electric power. It’s not a huge deal but it requires addition staff, estimated to cost $400,000 annually to service the storm water billing.

The second hit to the pocketbook is a staff-proposed .5 per cent infrastructure levy for ten years that will be added to the capital spending budget instead of the operating budget.

It will affect property tax but is excluded from the operating budget. No matter how you slice the salami, it’s still salami.

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory made it clear yesterday that raising property taxes cannot finance infrastructure and transit expansion. Instead he proposed making the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway as toll roads with revenue dedicated to maintain the city’s aging infrastructure and finance needed transit expansion that has been underfunded for 20 years.

Is this starting to ring a bell in Guelph? In eight years the former administration headed by Mayor Karen Farbridge, did not address the aging infrastructure despite being warned by the Association of Ontario Municipalities, (AMO) which estimates the infrastructure shortfall in the City of Guelph is $260 million. That estimate was two years ago.

Bottom line? Guelph has a spending problem where millions have been wasted on projects that have consumed your tax dollars to create a “world class city in terms of funding of waste management, environmental projects with no basic business plans and mismanagement of city projects costing more than $120 million.

On a Personal Note

Folks, I’ve been reporting the City of Guelph management for ten years. I’m a citizen and pay taxes here. I’m just a guy who has spent a lifetime covering everything from the Beatles first North American Tour for the Toronto Star, to be an Assistant Managing Editor of the 370-person Star newsroom. It was one of the most dynamic and accomplished editorial staff in the country. I also managed municipal, provincial and federal candidates’ election campaigns. I have no particular political affiliation, but when asked, I describe myself as a Red Tory who believes in fiscal management of our affairs and supporting the social issues that make our country great.

I care about this city where my wife, who was born here, and I live.

It angers me that our management is continuing the action plans of the previous administration that were rejected by the voters in Octrober 2014.

I am proud that many citizens, all of whom have joined the opposition to waste and spending by a politicized administration.

It is interesting that the Guelph Mercury Tribune reporters and editor keep referring xertain individuals as being part of GrassRoots Guelph, a citizens activist organizations that has been silent for more than two years.

If there ever was a newspaper, I use the term loosely, that is so married to the city’s communication department, it’s the Guelph Tribune.

It’s as naked as a jaybird not willing to investigate or support any opposition by our citizen, but just using the self-serving pablum being fed by the 12-person city communications department.

Did I mention that the city communications staff is also overseen by DCAO Mark Amorosi?

This folks, is how managed news creates absolute control of the message and political power.

Our city administration cannot keep jacling up taxes to pay for failed programs and projects that were mismanaged.











Filed under Between the Lines

Guelph’s high electricity bills can be traced back to the losses of the Community Energy Initiative

By Gerry Barker

November 22, 2016

If I was running Burger King, Premier Kathleen Wynne told 850 Liberal delegates just told a whopper! I made a mistake she told delegates to the Liberal Convention over the high cost of power to the people.

I don’t know about you, but our two-person household received a Guelph Hydro bill that was $95.83 less than the previous month. The adjustment over the month before and the month before that when our monthly bill averaged $340 including water. How about you? Did your hydro bill take a sudden drop in power costs?

Water is a small amount of the bill considering the city would not let us water for five months.

There’s something fishy here. Are the smart meters over billing?

How about all that money that Guelph Hydro sent over to Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) at the bequest of the former mayor, chair of GMHI with a majority of her supporters basking in her environmental radiance.

That all changed following the 2014 election when it was discovered that GMHI had bungled a scheme under the umbrella of the Community Energy Initiative to create alternative energy systems downtown and at the Hanlon Business Park. The plan called District Energy natural gas-fired Node pumps was to power a co-generation thermal hot and cold water system to a handful of nearby downtown buildings including the Sleeman Centre and RiverRun Theatres. GMHI, through its partners, entered contracts to supply 10 megawatts of power from each of the Nodes annually

I have written a lot about this financial debacle, one that the citizens of Guelph are going to be paying off for years to come. Suffice to say the costs are running close to $107 million and counting. There is little return to support the investment.

It’s sad that the city administration is not leveling with the people who pay the bills.

Instead, it is now scurrying to cover it up. Here’s how they are doing it.

Where does the city find $106 million? Well, Premier Wynne in her mea culpa explanation to the Liberals says they are going to seek efficiencies by streamlining the 70 small municipally owned public utilities in Ontario.

That’s Wynne-speak for amalgamate or else. Remember when former mayor Karen Farbridge tried to sell off Guelph Hydro to a consortium of Hamilton and St. Catharine utilities? The people said “no” and it was one of the few times her loyal caucus turned on her proposal.

Now we have the Premier trying to unwind ten years of Liberal mismanagement of electric power in Ontario by forcing amalgamation of Guelph Hydro with larger distribution utilities.

Sure, there is a lot of money in it for the city. The estimated book value of the city-owned power distribution system is around $170 million.

The city has already brought Guelph Hydro into city control as just another department controlled by city council. They did this by wrapping up GMHI in which the former mayor folded Guelph Hydro into GMHI with its enormous debt.

Then, the city absorbed the $69 million impaired investment from GMHI, posting it as an asset. That money came from a Guelph Hydro subsidiary.

Are you starting to get the picture?

The so-called asset now sitting on the city books cannot be supported by GMHI that has no financial ability to even pay the interest. The original loan was $65 million. In the 2015 annual financial report, it had grown to $69 million.

The problem is that asset sitting on the city books has no underlying hard assets, particularly now that the city has it sitting on its books.

What a dilemma! Along comes the provincial government to the rescue, led by a premier with a 14 per cent approval rating. Her so-called streamlining of the 70 municipally owned electric distribution centres would see Guelph Hydro disappear when pushed into a Hydro distribution consortium.

Fasten your seat belts! This selling of Guelph Hydro is going to be presented to a council that has squandered millions of poorly planned and executed projects. The loss of this $170 million facility may suit the administration in the short term but the fallout will affect the ability of life in Guelph for years to come.

The irony of this is that two members of the present council were on the GMHI board for four years and never said a word about the money flying out the door to create an environmental nirvana.

Last, but not least, the former Chief Administrative Officer of the city, Ann Pappert, was the Chief Administrative Officer of GMHI for four years. So, ask yourself, why did city council, in closed-session Dec. 10, award her with a retroactive pay increase of more than $18,624, a vacation pay-out of another $18,580, plus a 2 per cent increase that took her 2015 pay to $257,248?

Where is the oversight? Where are the checks and balances to prevent the abuse of the public trust?


Filed under Between the Lines

The stuff the administration doesn’t want to talk about report

By Gerry Barker

November 17, 2016

The following are extracts from the city website regarding how, why and where public funds are used on your behalf. But why allocation of funds in the budget is important? The city administration does not want to talk about the basic overhead costs for which citizens are responsible.

What is overhead? It’s the costs of the city that can be controlled and are concealed by the administration, including council. It’s to avoid public participation in the details that could lead to the three dreaded “D’s” distrust, discontent and distraction. These financial details are usually fixed costs that grow exponentially with more public services and population growth.

For example, why don’t they inform us of the total cost of staff whose pay and benefits are paid by the citizens? Since 2007, the staff costs have escalated along with adding some 550 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees in the past ten years. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi has been in charge of Human Resources since 2008. His department is responsible for hiring and firing, employee performance and increases in remuneration of existing members of staff.

The HR department reported there were 1,440 FTE’s in 2015. But that’s only part of the story. It doesn’t include the Police, Fire or EMS staff that according to the 2015 city Financial Information Report, there are 1,944 Guelph FTE’s members of the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System (OMERS)

So why does HR each year not tell the total staff numbers story? One possible explanation is that the Police and Fire departments have their own HR staff.

Ask yourself why, when their pay and benefits come from the same public purse?

Lets now look at what the administration tells us how $216 million was spent in 2016.

From the city website:

Before we even looked at the numbers, we determined our four focus area—the things that will help ensure we build a budget that’s realistic and sustainable.

  • Establish a budget that builds stable foundation for the year and future years
  • Build a budget that is a realistic plan to take care of us today and tomorrow
  • Focus on delivering service and value to the community
  • Community participation—the more involvement from the community, the more reflective the budget will be of the community’s needs and value

Of every dollar the City collects in property taxes in 2016, $0.23 is provided to province for education, $0.27 helps funds the City’s local boards and shared services and $0.50 directly helps fund the services the City provides to you and your family.

The following shows where your $0.77 was directed.

City delivered services

  • Fire 11.7%                                                                        $25,272,000
  • General&capital financing 10.6%                        $22,896,000 (controllable overhead)
  •                                                                                              How was the money spent?
  • Administrative services 7.2%                                $15,552,000 (controllable overhead)
  •                                                                                              How much went to staff?
  • Roads and sidewalks 7.1%                                       $15,336,000
  •                                                                                             Where was the money spent?
  • Transit 6.8%                                                                  $14,688,000
  • Waste 4.9%                                                                    $10,584,000 (controllable overhead)
  •                                                                                             How much money is used to pay down
  •                                                                                             fixed costs debt?
  • Parks and forestry 4.2%                                          $9,072,000
  • Culture and tourism 2.8%                                      $5,048,000 (controllable overhead)
  •                                                                                             Does this include the Sleeman Centre
  •                                                                                             RiverRun Theatre, Civic Museum
  •                                                                                             Market Square, Wellbeing?
  • Emergency medical service (EMS) 2.5%         $5,400.000
  • Planning & economic development 2.3%        $4,968,000 (controllable overhead)
  •                                                                                            How much goes to staff and promotion?
  • Other services 1.8%                                                   $3,888,000 (controllable overhead)
  •                                                                                            What, why and where this was allocated?
  • Recreation 1.7%                                                          $3,672,000
  •                                                                                           Where did this money go and to whom?
  • Infrastructure 0.9%                                                $ 948,000
  •                                                                                           Which leaky pipe did this fix?
  • Mayor & Council 0.4%                                            $ 864,000

Local boards and shared services

  • Police 17.4%                                                               $37,584,000
  •                                                                                        Was any part of that used to pay for the HQ                                                                                                                renovation?
  • Social services 11.2%                                            $24,192,000
  • Library 3.9%                                                            $   8,424,000
  • Public health 1.8%                                                $   3,888,000
  • Long-term care (Elliot) 0.7%                           $   1,706,400

Now you know where your money was spent in 2016 according to the city’s own, and we presume audited, numbers.

What is the total debt owed by the city? What was it in 2013 and now in 2016?

What we don’t know is how each category used the money. How much of each of those allocations went to support the staff? What percentage?

There is no mention of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) or the role of Guelph Hydro in one of the most expensive, poorly planned and poorly managed social engineering adventure in the city’s history. Why not tell the public about that $69 million note, listed on the books as an impaired asset? Why not tell them why Guelph Hydro is now another city department controlled by council? It was a loan that came from a Guelph Hydro subsidiary to GMHI. Trouble was there was no way it would ever be paid back and will eventually become a liability on the city books.

What is the travel and other job-related expenses and memberships received by council and administration staff in 2015/16?

How much money was allocated in 2015/16 in order to balance the city books to replenish the reserve funds that had been used to cover negative budget variances. How about the $5.7 million taken from three reserve funds to pay for the Urbacon lawsuit charges?

What was the capital budget spending in 2016 and where was it spent?

What does council consider as direct public services and not to be changed?

How much public money did the city give away in 2015 and 2016? And to whom and why?

Why is the city spending $300,000 a year developing bicycle lanes when only $948,000 was spent in 2016 on infrastructure having leaky water pipes?

Since Mark Amorosi took over Finance in November 2014, the city has had three general managers of Finance and Treasurer. The person in the job right now is temporary carrying the workload, knowing when Mr. Amorosi’s pick for the job returns next year from maternity leave. Do you believe this track record of four Finance GM’s delivers continuity and control of the city’s finances? The man responsible is now working on his third city budget with the predictable outcome of no cuts in overhead.

During the first year of Mr. Amortosi’s financial responsibility, the city changed external auditors without explanation. For many years Deloitte-Touche was the auditor for the city. Now that responsibility has been turned over to KPMG.

Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, has used the city’s own audited Financial Information Reports going back four years to produce an eight-page analysis of the administration’s handling of the public money. He also used material from a city consultant’s report that compared similar-sized cities and management of their costs to that of Guelph. The consultant warned the city using the term “red flag” of deteriorating use of reserve funds.

Mr. Fung’s analysis included a plan of action to reduce costs and enable the city to conduct a robust infrastructure-rebuilding program that would not impact taxes. The staff is recommending a ten-year, .5 per cent special tax levy on property owners to pay for the infrastructure program.

I regret to report that staff management and some members of council has largely ignored Mr. Fung’s thorough and professional analysis.

If this is Cam Guthrie’s “Better Guelph” then I’m Ashcan Phil who can’t pay the bills.

I apologize for the formatting of the city chart. While still readable, it refused to conform when transfered fromm the city website to guelphspeaks.

Look for more guelphspeaks on Facebook and Twitter. It’s the blog that never sleeps!








Filed under Between the Lines

Are we, the “per capita” class, so irrelevant as Mark Amorosi describes us?

By Gerry Barker

November 14, 2916

The man in charge of our administration finances has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh the documented proof that compared per capita costs with other Ontario cities is irrelevant when it comes to Guelph’s financial situation.

I give Mr. Amorosi the silver tongue award for twisting and manipulating the facts. Here’s an example:

Guelph citizen Pat Fung, CA, CPA presented to council in September referred the statement made by Mr. Amorosi during the 2016 budget talks last December.

“The DCAO (Amorosi) stated the staff budgets has been reduced in successive years.”

Well, what’s Mr. Amorosi’s definition of “budgets?”

Here’s his explanation: Mr. Fung used the city’s official audited statements to show that expenses have increased by 52 per cent since Mr. Amorosi joined the staff in 2008. The chief of city finances claimed that he was referring to “reduced budgets in successive years” as part of the budget preparation. He referenced using data from starting point to presentation to council as evidence to support this – Mr. Fung’s statement disregards this context.”

Welcome to Amorosi-Speak.

The DCAO, responsible for the most important portfolio in the City of Guelph’s Corporate portfolio, shoots down the legitimate analysis prepared by a financial expert, that clearly shows our public finances are not on a “solid financial foundation” as Mr. Amorosi keeps saying.

Is he now telling council that Pat Fung does not understand budgeting? Is he saying he doesn’t understand “context?” For the record, Mr. Fung has done more corporate budgets and analysis including, reducing overhead costs than Mark Amorosi has ever experienced as a Human Resources trained specialist.

So if Mark Amorosi believes that city expenses did not rise by 52 per cent in eight years, why have our citizen’s expenses living in Guelph payable to the city, its subsidiary corporations and cost sharing with outside institutions, have collectively increased by an estimated 80 per cent? It is particularly interesting when the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by only 16 per cent during the same period.

Let us count the ways of how our Guelph costs have risen during the same eight years. Property taxes have almost doubled; electricity charges have increased by 42 per cent in four years; water bills have increased by more than 83 per cent since 2007; transit subsidy of 15 million a year; bicycle lanes development annual subsidy of $300,000; waste management operational losses of $270,000 a year; now the city is charging residents wanting to deliver trash to the multi-million dollar Waste Management Innovation Resource Centre $5 to use the facility the citizens financed.

The liability nobody in charge wants to talk about

But the biggie current white elephant liability is the cost of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI), managed by Guelph Municipal Holding Inc (GMHI) that has worthless assets. GMHI is bound by legal contracts that must be unwound. Add a debt load estimated to be $90 million including an impaired asset of some $69 million, as stated in the city’s 2015 annual audited financial statement. It’s now sitting on the city books as an impaired asset that GMHI has no financial ability to pay back or even hold tangible underlying assets.

That was originally a loan from Guelph Hydro that GMHI controlled when the former Mayor and her GHMI board folded Guelph Hydro into GMHI. Now the city has moved Guelph Hydro to become a city-controlled department eliminating any former arms length relationship with the utility.

Why did council do this? Because it is paving the way to sell Guelph Hydro to pay off the GMHI debacle and get that impaired asset off the city books. It is possible that the sale could bring in some $150,000.

Do we really want to have Mr. Amorosi get his hands on $150 million after the dubious track record of the previous Farbridge administration and now the Guthrie administration? Is it oblivious of what has occurred to the city’s finances in the past two years?

Mr. Fung’s analysis is dead on. Guelph has serious spending problems that is not going away.

Here’s why. There are the political reasons and there is the cost of operations.

First, let’s consider finances. As Mr. Fung has accurately pointed out, the city has a very high cost of operational overhead. It’s 50 per cent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge. In his analysis he pointed out that staff costs are eating a large piece of the operating budget. This area is manageable and does not affect services to the public.

Cutting the city administration overhead is not being considered

But Mr. Amorosi refuses to even consider reducing staff. In fact in his first two budgets as chief of finance, he persuaded council to add some 40 additional full-time staff.

Judging from the reports coming out of city hall regarding the 2017 budget, we could be facing a total city tax and user fee increases of 5 per cent. First, there is the staff proposal of 1.96 per cent; then add the proposed .5 per cent, ten-year special levy for infrastructure maintenance; then add the annual assessment increase on property; the storm water levy of $4 a month added to your hydro bill; your water levy that will be increased by 4 per cent starting in January; your hydro bill over which the city now has control; Premier Wynne’s carbon tax will be billed starting in January on your hydro bill; the high cost of just moving around in Guelph, transit, parking, increased traffic congestion.

These are citizens’ pocketbook costs that Mr. Amorosi fails to calculate when the 2017 budget is being presented, not just to city council but to we “per capita citizens” who actually pay the greatest proportion of the approved budget.

According to the city Human Resources department there are some 1.440 city-staff only employees. of which 55.5 per cent do not live in Guelph including Mr. Amorosi and Mr. Thomson. Wonder why some 799 city employees don’t live where they work or don’t pay taxes? Is it possible that Guelph is too expensive in which to reside?

Council still doesn’t get it

It is interesting that council voted 11 to 1 to adopt the ten-year property tax special levy to pay for the infrastructure backlog that eight years of the Farbridge administration failed to address. Failed that is because of investing in other priorities such as bike lanes; vehicle lane reductions; Urbacon lawsuit; overbuilt Waste Management Innovation Resource Centre on Dunlop Drive; the Communality Energy Initiative and focusing on downtown redevelopment.

But the Farbridge administration had no capital to build a south-end recreational centre or a new downtown library. Unless the operational overhead costs are not substantially reduced, don’t expect either of these projects to be built in the next ten years. The Chief Administrative Officer has stated that the nine-year capital spending budget is already $170 million short of capital and it’s only a year old.

It’s more than establishing priorities; it’s about serving the needs of the people, the “per capita citizens” whose needs have been ignored and left behind. Not by just the dedicated Ms. Farbridge loyalists, but present control of the city by James Gordon and the rest of the Bloc of Seven on council.

With thousands of litres of water leaking from municipal pipes why is council talking about Nestle?

And what are they talking about? It’s about the underground aquifer from which Guelph and other communities draw their water. Instead they focus on Nestle drawing water at Aberfoyle urging the province to control bottled water operations.

Yet they say or do nothing about the tremendous leakage of water from the city’s aging pipes. The amount of water taken by Nestle is miniscule compared to the water wasted and leakage problem in Guelph. Their solution? Increase taxes to pay for repairs.

Do we really trust this administration to use our money to be spent on infrastructure repairs with its record of tapping into dedicated reserves over the last ten years to balance the city books?

Sorry that my trust in this administration to work for the people has long vanished.

I am reminded of a motion, I believe it was in the 2015 budget to spend $50,000 to solve the infestation of Canada geese in the city parks, particularly those located adjacent to water. Recently during my wife’s morning walk; sidestepping the goose pooh, she counted 127 geese in Riverside Park.

If council and staff can’t handle the goose problem, how can we expect it to solve the mismanagement of our “per capita” finances?

If you have not read the Fung analysis, it can be obtained from http://www.guelphspeaks



Filed under Between the Lines

Former CAO Ann Pappert’s generous goodbye party

By Gerry Barker

November 10, 2016

It is now evident that Guelph citizens are starting to catch on to why and how those huge salary increases were awarded to Ann Pappert, Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson last December 10, 2015 in closed session.

Coun. Cathy Downer asked Human Resources for an explanation of the former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ann Pappert’s 17.11 per cent increase in 2015.

The explanation is a study in obfuscation and corruptive practice. Most interesting, did Ms. Downer break council’s Code of Conduct by asking HR for details of Ms. Pappert’s 2015 increase? The Code of Conduct binds councillors not to reveal details of closed-session meetings or face investigation by the Integrity Commissioner.

First, here is how the City of Guelph power structure works:

Under the present bylaws, the CAO has absolute control over all members of the staff. Council can question the CAO but is prevented from questioning the performance of the staff reporting to the CAO without his or her consent. This would include the Deputy Chief Administrative Officers Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson.

Council does have the power to select the CAO and it is essential there exist a cozy relationship between the CAO and council. Otherwise why would council appoint someone with whom they could not get along? In this case,council chose Derrick Thomson to be CAO.

During the eight-year twin terms of the Farbridge administration, the former mayor selected just two CAO’s, Hans Loewig and Ann Pappert. This gave the former mayor absolute control over her two hand picked CAO’s.

This ended October 2014 when Cam Guthrie defeated the mayor.

Starting December 1, 2014, Mayor Guthrie inherited most of the senior staffers who had been appointed during the Farbridge years. These included CAO Ann Pappert, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi, DCAO Derrick Thomson and former Chief Financial Officer Al Horsman who was demoted to DCAO of Waste Management and Environmental Services. He resigned and left the city in August 2015.

The job of overseeing Finances was handed to DCAO Mark Amorosi who already was in charge of Human Resources (HR).

The stage was now set for council to complete the 2015 budget. It pulled the blind down on public participation until the 2016 budget meetings held in November and December of last year. But it did not include details of the December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting when council awarded that hefty remuneration increases to three top staffers.

Fast forward to October 2016

Two budgets later, the bloom was coming off the rose of Ms. Pappert’s five-year career as the city’s CAO. Last March, when a citizen publically questioned the performance of Ms. Pappert for those five years, Mayor Guthrie threatened legal action against the citizen. Cooler heads prevailed and the threat disappeared.

Now this occurrence was key to what really happened during the Dec 10 closed session

Coun. Cathy Downer asked HR for an explanation of the 17.11 per cent raise for Ms. Pappert. She was told the CAO’s increase was only two per cent for 2015 or $229,639. That was an increase of $9,982.

But then HR reported they were advised that in 2015, the date not identified, council approved a two-year retroactive performance-based increase for Ms. Pappert with an effective date of October 17, 2013. That retro pay increase of $18,624 was included in the 2015 pay package for Ms. Pappert.

Now common sense would say that the performance payment would increase her 2015 base salary to $248,263 or an increase of $28,606. At this stage, that is a 13.20 one-year increase. But there is more, follow the bouncing ball for clarity.

According to HR, council also approved a vacation pay top-up of $18,589. But there is a need for explanation here including why the numbers do not add up, (248,263 + 18,589 = $266,852).

The city reported to the Province that Ms. Pappert’s 2015 salary as $257,248, that is $9,604 less than the $266,852.

How is it possible for citizens to follow this when it is covered up?

Let’s look at that vacation payout to Ms. Pappert. According to HR, the Non-Union and Management Compensation policy to that staff only permits a carry over of one week of vacation a year. At her rate of compensation for 2015, Ms. Pappert carried over the equivalent of 3.757 weeks in the 2015 pay period.

Ms Pappert’s base salary including that two-year retro increase adjustment became $248,263. But in 2014 she received an increase of $5,055.

Why did the present council decide to give Ms. Pappert such a generous performance increase backdated for two years on top of the 2014 increase of $5,055? Especially when the former CAO was under fire for performance issues related to her job?

Mr. Amorosi is on record stating the Ms. Pappert did not receive an increase in 2014 because she did not request one from the HR department. But that’s not what the Sunshine List says. Her 2014 salary was $219,657.

The Sunshine List can only report the salary information provided by the city. In this case, the city HR department is trying to justify exorbitant senior staff salary increases by claiming that retroactive payments and a vacation roll over charge of $18,589 are one-time events.

Sorry HR but performance payments once awarded are permanent and not one-time events. Performance recognizes the employee’s contribution to the job and increases the base pay. In this case it is academic because we now know Ms. Pappert was leaving.

What about the two other big salaries increases to Mr. Amorosi and Mr. Thomson?

Ms. Downer did not ask for an HR rationalization of why Amorosi and Thomson were also awarded large increases. Remember, CAO Pappert would have recommended those increases to council as Amorosi and Thomson reported to her.

The question remains: Who decided what Ann Pappert’s retroactive bonus would be? Was it Mark Amorosi’s responsibility to measure the performance of staff? If he played any role in setting the Pappert retro payments, he was in a conflict of interest because he reported to her.

Here’s what I think really happened December 10

It’s plain that Ann Pappert was planning her exit from Guelph. The clues are her acceptance of a vacation allowance totaling 3.75 weeks, not one week each year, as allowed under the Non-Union and Managerial compensation policy.

Confidentiality was vital to concealing the details of this monetary transfer of power. Pappert was on the hunt for a new job and she landed with the Ontario government as an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Tourism, Culture and Sport Ministry In October. At the start of 2016, she needed that four months, employed by the city, to keep the lid on her personal action plan until the Sunshine List hit the news in March.

Did Guelph MPP and Liberal Cabinet Minister, Liz Sandals, play a role helping Pappert land her new job?

Ms. Pappert resigned 56 days after publication of the Sunshine List in March. Derrick Thomson was appointed to replace her shortly afterwards. Mark Amorosi was still in charge of Finances and HR plus City Clerk’s office, corporate communications and customer service, court services, information technology, and the project management office.

Why on earth was there any reason to award Ms. Pappert that retroactive pay increase dated back to October 2013 when it was clear she was leaving? Easy, it was needed for her resume’.

If the previous council failed to award a performance increase to Ms. Pappert for more than a year prior to 2015, why did this council feel it was necessary?

Wasn’t it obvious why Ms. Pappert was allowed to roll over all that unused vacation time of $18,589 in direct conflict with the None-Union Management protocol? It is one that only allows one week per year? It appears she received part of it for the budget years 2013, 2014 and 2015 plus the four months and 26 days for 2016. How did HR document that in it submission to the Province?

Were these council decisions regarding the three senior staffers made December 10, 2015 in closed session?

Why was it imperative for council to approve backdated performance increases that were never reported in the 2014 or 2015 Sunshine Lists?

Did Ms. Pappert tell council she was leaving during that Dec. 10 closed meeting?

This whole Pappert bundling exercise is nothing but HR window dressing. It remains a cover up by city council with the assistance of the HR staff led by Mark Amorosi. Regardless of the HR staff explanation and outcome, Ms. Pappert’s salary for 2015 was $257,248 or $37, 591 over her 2014 Sunshine salary of $219,657. It is not two per cent but 17.11 per cent.

HR can slice and dice it whichever way they choose but Ms. Pappert’s 2015 pay package increase was 17.11 per cent. The same people who were in on it reported that total to the Provincial government December 31, 2015.

This is further proof that the former mayor’s controlling bylaws and secrecy continues to allow elected officials to conceal the public’s business.

It’s time for it to stop

Having said that, it is refreshing to see that CAO Derrick Thomson is opening up details of his compensation package and identifying three city operations to be examined this year in rationalization studies.

It’s one small step for clarity and one small step for Guelph. (Attribution: Astronaut Neil Armstrong landing on the moon).

The good news is that finally the truth of this closed session meeting is being revealed.

Other good news is that I have issued a complaint to the city’s hired Closed Session Investigator, requesting the minutes and voting of that Dec. 10 meeting of council that gave out these increases to three top managers. The detailed complaint, (it will be published later in was delivered to City Clerk Stephen O’Brien on Monday, November 7. Stay turned, the outcome of this investigation will be reported in


1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

Is Mark Amorosi, the man for all reasons?

By Gerry Barker

November 7, 2016

The most powerful civil servant in the Guelph administration is Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi.

His field of management control covers the spectrum of staff responsibility. According to the city staff organization chart, Mr. Amorosi is chief of Finances, Human Resources, Corporate Communications and Customer Services, Court Services, Information Technology, Project Management Office, and the City Clerk’s department. Senior managers in those key departments report to Amorosi.

Mr. Amorosi, an eight-year veteran of the administration has climbed steadily in the ranks. He was hired to head the small (at the time) Human Resources (HR) department that included control over, union and management association negotiations; hiring and firing, staff benefits, personnel performance reviews, and examining personnel markets in competitive jurisdictions.

In short, all personnel matters filter through his field of responsibility. The staff in 2008 was growing rapidly as the new council under Mayor Farbridge was fulfilling its agenda of changing the city. The size of the city staff in 2008 was about 1,400. However for discussion purposes, Mr. Amorosi’s HR department did not report the details of the police, fire and EMS staffs who are also city public employees.

Currently the 2015 city staff count is 1,944, all of whom are members of the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System (OMERS). It does not include those employees who are members of the managerial association or other organized units within the staff. All city staff is contributing to their respective retirement organizations and their defined pensions. This means the municipality is bound to paying retirees the indexed benefit for their lifetime of the employee as well as surviving spouse.

Did I mention that the average age of retirement of OMERS members is 55? For actuarial purposes, the life expectancy of a 55 year old is an additional 25 years. It is a huge and growing liability to Ontario’s 445 municipalities. Guelph has two future retirement liabilities on it balance sheet totaling $31 million and growing by $3 million a year. That is not cash on the books but an entry to track the future liabilities of staff retirement, both unionized and managerial. Currently there are two cash reserves dedicated to support the liabilities. The OMERS liability of $14,519,000 has a reserve fund of $1,799,000. The liability of the managerial staff is $16,850,000 with a reserve fund of $1,147,000.

The cash coverage of those future liabilities is just 9.3 per cent.

Again it’s pushing the ball down the line with expectation of the next 50 years, for example, the council will have to have the financial underpinning to guarantee the promised benefits for its retired employees who could number in the thousands. It is even scarier that OMERS is underfunded by $7 billion. If salaries of public workers keep escalating it will only make matters worse.

Mr. Amorosi has been in charge of HR since was hired and within two years took on Legal Services in his Executive Director managerial portfolio. On the surface, at the time, this looked like a good fit because HR needed legal support due to the numerous contract negotiations and staff movement. On his watch, the city staff has grown beyond the growth of population.

Currently, CAO Derrick Thomson is in charge of legal services and the city solicitor’s office.

Mr. Amorosi’s next major move up the senior management ladder came in November 2014 following the civic election. Within a very short period of time, CAO Ann Pappert announced a major shift in responsibilities before Mayor Elect Cam Guthrie took over December 1, 2014. It is not known if Ms. Pappert briefed the mayor of the senior staff reorganization or not.

Executive Director Janet Laird resigning, and Executive Director, Derek McCaughan, leaving the city staff for unknown reasons caused this change.

This action was the birth of the title, “DCAO.” There were three DCAO’s plus Ms. Pappert remaining: Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson and Chief Financial Officer Al Horsman. Ms. Pappert left the city in May this year to take a job with the Ontario government. Mr. Horsman left in August 2015 to take the job of CAO of Sault Ste Marie.

As it has turned out, Mr. Horsman was the city’s last CFO. Under Amorosi’s watch, he has gone through two General Managers of Fincance and appointed a third as CFO, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer. That individual is currently on maternity leave until next year. Horsman’s job was handed to Mark Amorosi who has been operating the Finance department for the past 24 months. He has played a major role in two city budgets and now is involved with the 2017 budget with CAO Derrick Thomson.

This is where Mr. Amorosi chooses to ignore a thorough analysis performed by Guelph resident Pat Fung; his credentials include being a Chartered Accountant and a Certified Public Accountant. Designations not possessed by Mr. Amorosi.

Mr. Fung presented his financial analysis of the city’s finances to members of council August 18 and again two weeks ago at a meeting of council. During his five-minute presentation he asked a direct question of Mr. Amorosi and the Mayor intervened saying he cannot question the staff “in this way.”

The Fung report documentation for his analysis was based on the city’s own published financial statements over four years and a report in 2014 to the city by BMA management consultants of Hamilton.

Not only did Mr. Fung demonstrate how Guelph’s operating costs were higher than Ontario cities of similar size but also were 50 percent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge.

The figures clearly show a four-year pattern of wasteful spending with major negative variances, (excessive spending over budget) at year end. This resulted in a depletion of reserves every year that CAO Ann Pappert was in charge.

Before the 2014 civic election, Ms. Pappert when revealing the settlement with Urbacon Buildings Group costing $8.96 million, announced that $5.7 million was used to pay the lawsuit costs. Ms. Pappert said the three reserves used would be repaid with annual replenishment of $900,000 a year from operating budgets.

Then Mr. Amorosi, now head of finances, was involved in the 2015 budget in which Coun. Karl Wettstein moved to reduce the payback to $500,000 a year and the majority of council agreed. After reviewing the 2015 Financial Information Report, I could find no reference to any money being used to replenish those specific reserves.

Then along came the Dec 10 closed-session Council meeting that awarded three senior managers, Mark Amorosi among them, increases ranging from 14 to 19 per cent for 2015. The public did not learn of these excessive increases until they were revealed when the Provincial Sunshine List was published in March 2016.

The Guelph council or the three recipients have never admitted or commented on the salary increases or the reasons for awarding them.

When you translate this egregious deliberate cover-up to the way the city is being managed, the Fung Analysis becomes more pertinent, particularly his recommendations to reduce operating and capital spending costs.

I have contended for some time that this is the way three terms of councils, supported by city staff, have misled the citizens who are taxed excessively and forced to pay high user fees for a wide range of “services” ranging from storm water maintenance to waste collection.

Mr. Amorosi heads Court Services as part of his management control portfolio. The 2015 annual official Financial Information Report reveals that amount of fines levied in the provincial offenses court located in the old City Hall for 2015 was $14,337,000. But $8,022,000 of that amount is considered uncollectable or 55.9 per cent of those fined got away without paying.

Hmmm. If Mr. Amorosi was in private business and was responsible for company revenues, how long would he last when he reported a 55.9 per cent failure to collect court-awarded revenue?

Ask yourself, does this demonstrate the rationale that led to his 2015 salary increase of $26,868?


1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

How the Guelph administrative system works against the interests of the people

By Gerry Barker

November 4, 2016

In the past week, I have attempted to obtain a copy of the minutes of that closed-session meeting of council that approved those three elephant-sized increases to the three top senior employees.

The meeting was held last December 10. There was no public announcement of the outcome, the reason, or how council decided the increases were warranted. Council obviously approved the increases.

In March, the size of the increases was published in the Provincial Sunshine List naming all employees in the province earning more than $100,000 per year. The List named the employee, the before-tax salary plus taxable benefits and the individual’s job title.

The city clerk turned down my request stating that closed-session council meeting are not a matter of the public record.

Last Friday I asked the Ombudsman’s office to investigate this closed-door meeting. I was informed that the Ombudsman could not investigate because Guelph has it’s own Closed-Session Investigator. As it turns out, the same designated investigator has been on the job since January 1, 2008.

There is only one investigation listed on the Closed-Session Investigator website. That’s over ten years.

It took another email to the clerk to be told how and where on the city website I could file a closed-session complaint. You have to wonder why Mr. O’Brien did not inform me of this when I asked for the minutes.

This is another example of how the City of Guelph has rules and procedures that for the most part, are designed to protect the interests of council and staff as opposed to the interests and trust of the people who pay the bills.

After eight years of the virtual dictatorship of the former mayor who created this Byzantium labyrinth of self-serving controls, there seems to be little change, instead of serving the public openly and with accuracy.

Any time when I attempt to obtain information from the administration I think I’m living in the Guelph Gulag.

These Farbridge inspired rules of procedure and control are still in place today. In fact there is a 2016 procedural bylaw, signed by Mayor Guthrie that is an echo of the former version that dominated public affairs for eight years.

Earlier this year, he attacked a citizen’s criticism of Ms. Pappert and her record in office for five years. The trouble was the report signed by Rena Akerman, ignited his honour to threaten legal action. It never happened.

Oh, it is now easy to understand the Mayor’s loyalty to the senior management. He stuck with former CAO Ann Pappert at the expense of citizen’s having an uncomfortable feeling about his threat and their rights of freedom of speech.

So here we have a citizen relating facts about Ms. Pappert’s performance and being threatened by the Mayor, using the power of his office to unleash the city legal department.

Recently this apparent staff loyalty problem surfaced when the Mayor commented when Pat Fung dared to direct a question at DCAO Mark Amorosi presenting his report to council. The Mayor said: “I find it a bit disturbing that people would come in here and challenge our staff in this way.”

Gee! I didn’t know we elected a King instead of a Mayor

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 representing 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?

Well, we now know that Mayor Guthrie convened that closed-session meeting last December 10. It resulted in three top managers receiving excessive salary and pension benefits. And he and members of council never said a word. Not even after the provincial Sunshine List let the cat out of the bag four months later.

It shows that we have a council that doesn’t really care what the people say or think. These so-called town hall meetings that some councillors are conducting to get public opinions to the upcoming 2017 city budget, are an empty gesture to the myth of accountability in Guelph.

When it comes to two-way conversations with the administration, we don’t need more examples of suppression of information, stonewalling and lying by omission.

For example, why did Mayor Guthrie convene that Salary-Gate meeting when he had the power to say no?

Or, why did he complain that he didn’t like citizen activism questioning senior staff?

Why does he have temper tantrums with people who make statements he doesn’t like?

Why is he so beholden to senior staff? One that has been shattered under his watch with firings without cause, resignations, rescinded resignations, and a senior employee lawsuit demanding $1 million for wrongful dismissal?

Through it all, he remains impervious to any criticism from informed citizens such as Pat Fung, a Chartered Accountant and Certified Public Accountant, who is an expert about finances. There is not one city official that has his financial accreditation and experience. Not on council and not on staff.

Yet, council and the administration ignore Mr. Fung’s analysis of city finances and a plan to fix the growing financial status of the city.

However, despite the Guelph Mercury Tribune blocking publication of the report, the details are out and more and more citizens are becoming aware. There is no doubt that this will be a major election issue in 2018.

Accordingly, Mr. Fung and I have appealed the Tribune’s refusal to carry the story and refused a full-page ad, to the National NewsMedia Council.  Here is part of that submission:

To the National NewsMedia Council

From Gerry Barker & Pat Fung CPA, CA

Subject: The following is a complaint regarding biased coverage of the Guelph Mercury Tribune newspaper, subsidiary of Metroland Publishing Corporation, owned by TorStar Corporation

August 18, 2016 – Pat Fung delivered a copy to all 13 members of city council and to the Mercury Tribune of his analysis of the City of Guelph’s finances all taken from public documents either from the City or Public Salary Disclosure. Attached is a copy of that letter.

After several emails back and forth and cutting down the August 18 letter to about 400 words as requested by the editor of the Mercury Tribune, attached is an August 25th email from the Trib. The following response was received on August 30th:

“In the form of a letter to the editor, the statements and questions posed here are framed as fact for political purposes. We simply can’t publish this as is.”

August 25, 2016 – Mr. Fung contacted Mr. Barker, the editor of the blog known as Barker believed that Mr. Fung’s message was important for all citizens of Guelph to read. Barker split the analysis into two parts and published it on his blog. He said he would raise money to buy a full-page ad in the Tribune (controlled circulation of 45K on Thursdays) so citizens would read the analysis.

The blog’s viewer response set a three-day response record.

September 26, 2016, Barker delivered copy for a full-page ad to the Tribune advertising representative with a cheque for $2,083. Concerned Guelph residents raised the funds and the ad was to be published in its September 28th edition of the Tribune.

September 28, 2016 – Two days later, Barker received a call from the Tribune ad rep saying there were “red flags” raised about the ad copy. Following questioning by Barker, the ad copy was refused by the Tribune on the grounds it was not documented, lacked sources of the information and was “inflammatory.” When asked for specifics, Barker was told that they would verbalize their objections but would not put their objections in writing.

The result was a totally incomplete and unreasonable verbal explanation, the ad never ran and the cheque was returned. Mr. Fung and Mr. Barker are well aware that a publication has the right to turn down advertising if it chooses.

But in this case, the Tribune Editor made it clear the Fung analysis or any form of it was not going to run. When the Editor told Mr. Fung his work is too “political,” and the advertising department claims the ad copy was “inflammatory,” you can only conclude it wasn’t going to run in the Guelph Mercury Tribune.

Mr. Fung’s presentation to city council and the ad copy is attached.

In this case, it was clear this newspaper, publishing twice a week, was deliberately blocking a legitimate news story that affected the entire community. The attached copy of Mr. Fung’s original statement clearly states his sources to make the analysis, including examining years of city Financial Information Reports submitted annually to the Province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs. He also used information contained in the BMA management consultant’s report in 2014. This information compared basic costs of operations in Guelph with other similar sized cities in Ontario.

In our opinion, the newspaper, the only print newspaper publishing in the City of 121,000 residents, has made the analysis “political” because it has denied exposure of this important report that affects all citizens. The paper’s Editor made no attempt to assign a reporter to check the report or even interview the author.

The Editor’s demand that Mr. Fung reduce a 2,800-word document with supporting charts, to 400 words was nothing but a misguided excuse not to publish it at all.

One of the reasons management is refusing to publish the report, may be the paid advertising linage the paper receives from the City of Guelph titled “City News” that is funded by the taxpayers. The city refuses to reveal the cost of this advertising but the volume of full and partial full-page ads per week would indicate a cost estimated to be more than $450,000 a year. This is based on buying the equivalent of six full pages weekly each year. This advertising volume is estimated to make the City of Guelph one of the largest advertisers in the Tribune.

As a retired newspaper executive, Barker has experienced several cases of print media bias, particularly among the smaller community newspapers. He knows because he owned a community newspaper in a small town. He is a past president of the former Ontario Weekly Newspaper Association in Ontario.

But Guelph is not a small town and the record of extreme editorial support for the city administration borders on a tainted editorial responsibility that belies fair journalistic standards.

In Barker’s experience as a professional newsman working for the largest newspaper in Canada and owning one of the smallest, he has never seen such blatant abuse of editorial responsibility refusing to present both sides of an important and thoroughly documented story.

It’s no wonder the media today is held in such disregard. Newspapers are not elected to office nor should they be lap dogs for special interests.

In this case, this newspaper and its controlling corporations put their special interest first before their readers. And we wonder why newspapers are disappearing. One of these included the Metroland daily, The Guelph Mercury, that was shut down last January. It was the paper of record for more than 100 years.

We, on behalf of fellow citizens of Guelph, respectfully request that the National NewsMedia Council sanction the actions of the Guelph Mercury Tribune, if for no other reason than to remind owners and citizens of responsibility to report important factual information to it readers.



Filed under Between the Lines