Expose! A trilogy of events by a city administration out of control

By Gerry Barker

February 6, 2017

Note from the Editor: This column is in two parts that covers and comments on recent events that reveal the toxic culture existing in our city administration. What you will learn in Part One, titled Triology, is how three events learned last week, have exposed the underlying weakneses of a management that is out of control.

In Part Two, titled Expose, are the details of some 53,000 emails sent chiefly by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, revealing the secretive and personal misuse of the city servers by senior staff.

We encourage everyone to pass this column along to let as many people as possible learn the truth about secrecy, closed meetings and communications on the Internet city staff and council. And it has been going on for years behind the public’s back and is our right to know.

There were three events this past week that revealed how our city is being mismanaged by not only senior staff but by an element of city council.

Part One – Trilogy

BREAKING NEWS

CAO Derrick Thomson said Friday, February 3, that the 53,000 emails obtained by Bruce Poole’s counsel were sent in error. Apparently an external drive containing the emails was handed over to Poole’s counsel. When the story broke about the contents Friday morning, the city administration went into panic drill and requested the drive be returned. So far that has not happened. The CAO said if it is not returned the city will ask for a judge’s order to return it.

Sorry sir, that fox is out of the hen house.

The larger question is who handed the drive containing the 53,000 emails over to the Poole Counsel knowing what was in it? More on this in Part Two – Expose.

Here is the list of the three devastating revelations of how our city is being so poorly representative of the people’s rights, interests and concerns.

* We start with the announcement that city Solicitor, Donna Jaques, was leaving this week. She had been with the city since 2011 in charge of all legal matters including contracts, bylaws and litigation.

This development was followed after with 53,000 emails produced mostly by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman. Former Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole’s lawyer obtained the emails as part of his examination for discovery. You will recall Mr. Poole, a 30-year veteran in the building department, was fired in mid-2015 and sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. That lawsuit has still to be tried or settled in court.

As a public service, here is the list of witnesses if this case goes to trial: Former CAO Ann Pappert; former City Solicitor, Donna Jaques; former General Manager of Finances and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; former CFO Al Horsman; current CAO Derrick Thomson; former Executive Director, Derek McCaughan; City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien; and General Manager of Human Resources, David Godwaldt.

Perhaps this is a good time to tell you about a city Bylaw known as the Indemnification Bylaw. This protects any staffer or elected official from being sued by any citizen. If they are, the staff’s legal costs will be paid by the taxpayers. It was signed by former CAO Ann Pappert and Mayor Cam Guthrie in 2015 following the Susan Watson case against Glen Tolhurst regarding receiving a $400 donation from GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). Both Mr. Tolhurst and GRG were cleared of any wrong doing by an independent auditor.

* Then came the report of a committee charged with examining the future of Guelph Hydro. Their findings were essentially flawed and biased. They commenced deliberations last fall and despite overwhelming public comments to not sell or merge the utility, they are seeking permission to sell or merge with another municipally owned Local Distribution Company (LDC).

The report states: “At this stage in the process, a large segment of those who commented want to maintain local control and public ownership, and there is low-level support for a sale, especially with a privately-owned utility.”

“The public engagement done so far also shows “no support for Guelph Hydro to buy other utilities,” the report says. And “if a merger is considered, participants prefer other utilities in the region and those who are ‘like-minded’ with Guelph Hydro.”

This is Important: So why is the committee, after five months of deliberations, recommending that the city dispose of Guelph Hydro? Their recommendation will be voted on at the February15 council meeting. If you want to address council on this matter, your have until February 10 to register, four days from now.

Let’s stop and think about these three developments and how they are linked and not necessarily in favour of the citizens. In my opinion, these developments are part of a conspiracy to misdirect, suppress, and deny the public their right to access this information.

* Ms. Jaques’s departure was not sudden despite appearances. It would take at least three to four months to search and get another job. But she had to know of the existence of those 53,000 emails and most likely was directly involved in the turnover during the examination for discovery in the Poole lawsuit case. She had to know how damaging those emails are when the reputation of her colleague’s ethics and credibility are at stake.

The remaining question is how many thousands of emails were exchanged between senior staff and still out there? Discovering the emails sent by the former CAO, Ann Pappert, would be useful to investigators by an independent audit of city operations

Chalk it up to the way the staff runs the city. They used what they believed were private confidential emails to chatter, gossip and express opinions about fellow staffers. Heck, even look for a job, with our employer in the dark. Manage your personal finances and discuss marital and health matters with other staffers. The sheer volume of those emails, averaging 125 emails sent every day Mr. Horsman was on the job. (He wrote 53,000 emails over a two-year period divided by 422 actual working days over two years).

I don’t know about you, but that’s a ton of emails, most of which concerned the fundamental operation of the city. This info was coming from the CFO, the person who handled the money.

As an aside, Mr. Horsman was the last CFO employed by the city in the past two years and two months. He lost his position in November 2014 and left the city in August 2015 to take over as CAO of Sault Ste Marie.

The evidence now persists that nothing has changed. The city administration operates chiefly in secret. They do it to prevent exposure of self-serving issues reaching the public domain. The proliferation of emails is an indicator of the manipulative strategies employed by both senior management and members of council.

It may explain why so many senior managers have left the city since the October 2014 civic election. Most of those leaving have left a legacy of mismanagement and problems caused by the policies adopted by three administrations. The situation was aided and abetted by inaccurate forecasting of budgets, lawsuits, and off the books major funding of the failed Community Energy Initiative that was controlled by the former mayor.

Here’re some of the former senior managers who have left the city since November 2014: Executive Director Janet Laird; Executive Director, Derek McCaughan; CFO Al Horsman; GM of solid waste management, Dean Wyman; Lawyer Scott Worsfold; GM of Finance and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; CAO Ann Pappert; City Solicitor Donna Jaques; Acting GM of Finance, Susan Arum; Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole.

The tab, so far, is estimated to be more than $96 million misspent by the former Mayor’s Community Energy Initiatives.

This bring us to the proposed recommendation by a five member committee chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson, to dispose of the jewel of the city of Guelph, our hydro electric distribution system.

It is a desperate move to conduct an asset fire sale to cover up the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. losses of $96 million and counting.

The book value of Guelph Hydro is estimated to be $150 million. Its value is increasing because there is a great demand to get control of these LDC’s. Hydro One gobbled up more than 89 between 1996 and 2001. You will recall that Hydro One is being gradually sold off to private enterprise. Today there are only 70 remaining LDC’s in the province. You can appreciate the primal urge by the administration to liquidate this asset because they need the money.

I urge everyone to make their feelings heard with their councillors by telephone, emails, snail mail or personal contact to stop this recommendation February 15. Just showing up will help prevent this ill-advised effort to sell off Guelph Hydro.

Personally, I believe the motion, if made, to dispose of the utility should be amended to table the recommendation to allow more measured public input, not just seven business days.

In 2008, former mayor Farbridge attempted to convince council to sell Guelph Hydro because the city did not have sufficient capital to pay its $23 million share of the Federal-Provincial infrastructure grant plan. She was soundly rebuffed by an 8-5 vote. Then she called a $30 million note that Guelph Hydro owed the city to pay the infrastructure bill that grew to $27 million, due to add-ons including bike lanes and a time clock in the Sleeman Centre.

It now appears nothing has changed.

On or before February 15, please exercise your right to object and inform civic leaders of your opinion. We only get one chance to stop this and now is that time.

So, if council does approve selling or merging of Guelph Hydro, what are the alternatives?

Assuming the city receives an estimated $150 million for Guelph Hydro, citizens lose control of the operation, including what they pay for service as set by the new owners.

The proceeds will pay for the GMHI losses. The new owner could claim the $65 million stranded Guelph Hydro loan to GMHI. It currently is on the city books as an impaired asset, is due and payable. That could reduce the net proceeds. Do not be surprised if that loan is not on Guelph Hydro’s books.

The proceeds, I predict, will disappear before the civic election rolls around next year. Suddenly there are funds to build the South End recreation centre, the Wilson Street parking garage and perhaps the Downtown Library.

This will be a bonanza of political good will that could guarantee the re-election of the same council majority we have now.

It’s our choice and it happens next week.

Next: The Bruce Poole story and how it will change Guelph forever.

The day the administration was exposed as running a ship of fools

By Gerry Barker

February 6, 2017

Part Two – Expose

Let’s start by praising Bruce Poole for having the guts to go after the city he served so well and loved for 30 years. They did him dirt by firing him for challenging the administration for failing to follow its own bylaws regarding obtaining building permits for ALL such projects in the city.

The revelation that there were 50 such projects, all conducted by the city administration in which no building permits were requested for approval. It became the genesis of the former Chief Building Inspector’s $1 million lawsuit for wrongful dismissal.

Then, last Friday a report in Guelph Today, written by Tony Saxon, detailed how that, during the examination for discovery, some 53,000 confidential emails, authored by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, were turned over to Mr. Poole’s lawyer.

A cursory examination of the email-gate reveals a fascinating collection of critical personal opinions, paranoia. petulance and what senior staff thought about their colleagues.

These include performance reviews of city employees; details of legal matters discussed in camera; criticism of city staff members; details of acute city operations; and even discussions about personal marital and health issues.

It’s a sorry cultural soup reflecting how messed up and irresponsible the members of the senior staff and others, including certain members of council.

The bottom line is, these emails, many marked confidential, were sent through City of Guelph servers. This makes those 53,000 documents that the users believed would never be made public, now part of the public record.

Kudo’s go to Bruce Poole’s legal counsel for obtaining these emails from the city ensuring the public’s right to know.

Across Ontario can you hear the shredders humming and emails being deleted?

(Suggest it would be better to use an expert for that process).

The source of these emails came from the former Chief Financial Officer of Guelph, Al Horsman. He left the city in August 2015 to become Chief Administrative Officer of Sault Ste Marie.

Email-Gate shows he used the city’s Internet servers to apply for another job. It even included preparing a power point presentation to the Sault’s selection committee. Using Guelph’s resources, Horsman landed his new job.

It makes one wonder how senior employees across the province are properly vetted when seeking new jobs. Is the process flawed? Are questions not asked? Why is the person leaving? Are references requested?

This applies to our former Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert who left the city to be appointed an Assistant Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Sport for the province.

Let’s review her leaving May 26, 2016. She was awarded an increase of $37,501 in a closed meeting December 10, 2015. So the question is, why did she leave a $257,501 job for one that probably pays much less?

She should be Bruce Poole’s most important witness as his case proceeds. The evidence is pointing to her as the fox among the chickens. In case you are wondering who are the chickens? They are us! These bureaucrats have suborned their responsibilities to the people by communicating by emails and conducting the public business in closed sessions.

I am astonished about the volume of Al Horseman’s emails for the two years he was a senior member of the administration totaled 53,000. The man is on the job 211 days a year reduced by weekends, vacation, statutory holidays and city shutdown periods

Just doing the math, Mr. Horsman wrote 125 emails a day. Further, that’s an average of 15.6 every hour for his eight-hour workday.

But it should come as no surprise because this is the way our city managers have operated, far from the public view or access for the past ten years.

Here are some examples of the email content delivered to Mr. Poole and his lawyer:

  • 30 individual staff performance reviews
  • Who were these employees and who conducted the reviews?
  • A calendar entry titled “Linamar – foregoing and/or deferring property taxes or development charges on future Linamar properties.

            It would appear that Linamar is getting a tax break on its property taxes. What are the details?

  • Confidential and private information in regard to the Urbacon action and settlement details” “Confidential and private information in regard to the Dolime legal action and settlement details.
  • What did Mr. Horsman know about the Urbacon situation and what was his role in the settlement?
  • Confidential emails between Horsman and his bank regarding personal investments.
  • Not a good idea to use your business computer for such private information or to seek another job.
  •  
  • Confidential email exchange between Horsman and CAO Anne Pappert regarding concerns about the performance of a senior city manager still with the city.

Well now, we are getting to the meat of the email exchange. Who is this senior manager and his/her job responsibilities? Did that person receive an increase in remuneration in 2015?

  • Confidential email exchange between senior management staff members in regard to “Terraview complaint re: Development charges @ 72 York Road.

Isn’t this public information? Where are the details? We have 13 employees in the  city engaged in communications. Why weren’t the details reported?

  • Several “corporate communications watch list” reports, including one item listed as “investigation of bacteria incident at City Well (Membro) – information protected under client-solicitor privilege.
  • And the people were never told?”

Nothing today in a public corporation is confidential. The exceptions are in the provisions as outlined in the Ontario Municipal Act to conduct closed sessions. With this revelation, it is apparent that cyber communication between senior staff often bypasses the OMA closed session regulations.

  • “Numerous occurrences where Al Horsman was using the City of Guelph’s computer system to seek and respond to several new and alternative job opportunities.”

Earning $182,000 a year does not include using your city computer to get another  job.

  • Negative comments (via email) about Mayor Cam Guthrie from a current member of council that was shared with others

No! Say it isn’t true. The Mayor thought all you senior staffers and council were  his friends.

  • Several emails detailing confidential terms of settlements in several legal matters.

This is not good but as CFO he was within his right. Legal cases are touchy and  the former mayor became known for her litigious bent. Now the city solicitor has left for greener opportunities in North Bay. Her leaving coincides with the  revelation of the 53,000 emails.

  • Confidential email exchanges between senior staff members in regard to concerns about a senior city manager who is still with the city.

            Yikes, if the senior staff had reservations, why is this person still with the city?

  • Private and personal emails between Horsman and other executive staff members in regard to personal matters such as marriage and health. 

Was this on city time?

  • Copies of confidential information shared by Horsman with former city staff.

This smacks of the existence of an elitis city staff club. Why would Horsman seek  conversation with former staffers?

  • “Confidential email exchange between Corporate Finance staff and senior management staff in regard to DGBA (financial concerns with the Downtown Guelph Board Association).”

It must be noted again that emails on the city servers are not confidential, as many have been titled. They are in the public domain.

There is indication that people are enquiring about obtaining the details of all those emails through the Freedom of Information Act (FIA).

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7 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

7 responses to “Expose! A trilogy of events by a city administration out of control

  1. Joe Black

    Beautiful….

  2. Glen

    Absolutely mind boggling. Are the 3 Stooges running the city? Who’s on 1st, What’s on 2nd? Now let’s see which councillors & staff start diving for cover while pointing fingers at each other. Will the city hall revolving door kick into over drive as escapees bolt the stench?
    Please follow Gerry’s suggestion to e-mail ALL members of council telling them NOT to sell or merge Guelph Hydro. It is a well run asset that generates revenue for the city. Why sell a cash cow? Also, become a delegate to the 15 Feb council,meeting either by a written submission or an in person verbal presentation perhaps backed up by a written copy of your presentation opposing any hydro sale or merger. Contact Stephen O’Brien, City Clerk, via e-mail Stephen.OBrien@guelph.ca to submit your request to be a delegate. Let all members of council and staff know your opinion on the discussions on the sale of Guelph Hydro. Pack the council chamber!

  3. Rena

    Once more we have confirmation of just how disfunctional City Hall is. Sad

  4. guelphspeaks reader

    The goal of the District Energy idea was self-sufficiency. If councillors who supported DE vote to sell Guelph Hydro, that is in direct opposition to self-sufficiency.
    If Mayor Guthrie wants to run the city like a business, selling a stable revenue-generating asset to pay for non-revenue generating projects is also contradictory.
    The special levy was voted for by both sides to pay for basic infrastructure so those needs should not have bearing on whether to sell Guelph Hydro.

  5. guelphspeaks reader

    Selling Guelph Hydro ends the revenue the city gets from it. What will fill that significant void in operating funds? The answer is obvious.
    If DE and other money losing plans have the city in a bind they must get out of, it seems a better plan is to negotiate paying off the debts over time with the help of continuing revenue from Guelph Hydro.
    Along with some major cost saving initiatives.
    I hope the business community comes out to council against this report’s short-sighted and politicized recommendations.
    It does not matter that hydro rates are regulated by the province.
    Selling Guelph Hydro just offloads the problem for a very short time. Election cycle operating is hurting everyone except the politicians and staff.

  6. Fred

    Guelph Today:
    “As for access to city services, Gordon said it would clearly show undocumented immigrants that they need not feel hesitant about accessing city services.

    It would also make it clear to those providing those services that they can do so with full confidence that they aren’t sidestepping any official regulations.

    Gordon said he doesn’t expect any opposition to the motion”

    This is nuts. When will Guelph be going bankrupt.

  7. Laura

    Breaking news Mark Amarosi has been terminated by the city because of the leak of confidential documents

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