Why did the Guthrie administration shut the water off when the house was on fire?

By Gerry Barker

February 27, 2017

Late last week, I finally received a response from the Closed Session Investigator, employed by the city, after almost four months of “investigation.” On November 2, 2016, I requested that the minutes of the closed session council meeting of December 10, 2015 be released to the public.

The reason? That was the meeting in which the public learned four months later, that the top three senior managers of the city had been awarded a total of $98,202 in increases for 2015.

That decision was hidden from the citizens until March 31, 2016 when the provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning more than $100,000 a year was published.

And there it was. Chief Administrative officer, Ann Pappert, got $37K, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Derrick Thomson, $33K and DCAO Mark Amorosi, $26K

The city administration currently led by Mayor Cam Guthrie and CAO Derrick Thomson has never publicly acknowledged even paying the increases let alone the rationale.

The conclusion by the special closed session investigator Amberley Gravel, stated: ”That the council did not breach the provisions of the Municipal Act where it went into closed (sic) for consideration of the non union compensation adjustment on December 10 part of the council budget meeting of Dec 9 and 10 2015.”

This five-page report detailed how the Amberley Gravel investigator arrived at this conclusion.

First, the open public discussion of council to approve the 2016 city budget was spread over two days. I know because I covered it both days. During those deliberations, council sandwiched, in a closed session, to approve the non-union compensation isncreases of the three top managers. The details of which were not revealed.

The reason for the closed session as stated in the Municipal Act was s.239(2) (d) was “with respect to labour relations or employee negotiatio

Denying the right to know what we are paying our staff

Do you think this explanation gives council the right to deny the public to know what stakeholders are paying their professional staff?

How long had these labour negotiations with the three senior staffers, occur before that Dec. 10 meeting? In my opinion council, before that meeting, had an excellent grasp of what the three managers were going to receive. All they had to do was vote to approve it and they did it behind closed doors which the Amberley Gravel reports interprets as quite legal under the Municipal Act.

There was no one to protest or comment as for four months the people were unaware. Our society demands that public boards apply the rule of law and ensure checks and balances. City council abandoned this responsibility and acted to cover it up. To me this was moral turpitude and cowardice.

The report states: “At 8:45 p.m. December 10, Council reached the matter identified as the 2016 Non Union Compensation adjustment recommendation. This is identified as item #8 of the 2016 Tax Supported 4 (sic).”

Okay let’s offer an explanation of this Amberley Gravel statement.

They are referring to the 2016 budget. I contend, and the provincial Sunshine List concurs, that those increases were awarded for 2015, not 2016. If Amberley Gravel can’t keep it straight, how do they expect the citizens to understand … or maybe they don’t.

The top three managers’ increases were for 2015. In my opinion, this only exacerbates the sloppy financial management that has plagued the citizens.

Here’s why. In March 2015, council approved the 2015 budget. It is certain that non-union compensation for 2015 would have been included in that budget. Why did it take a special closed session meeting Dec. 10 to approve the $98,202 staff increases? Would this not generate a negative variance of the 2015 Budget when the 2015 Financial Information Report (FIR) is filed to the province?

As an aside, the 2015 FIR was not completed until August 2016 chiefly because the financial staff was missing two key employees, General Manager and Treasurer Janice Sheehy, who resigned in March 2016 and Tara Baker, a financial analyst who went on maternity leave mid year.

Now, two of the recipients of this Dec 10 event are gone, leaving just CAO Thomson as the third employee who received the increase in 2015. And neither he, nor any member of council who approving the award, has said a word about this exorbitant public expense that has been covered up for the last 14 months.

Was it just coincidence or a cover-up?

Even stranger, there was another closed session of council, just four days later, December 14, 2015, to approve the Indemnification Bylaw. Thus it authorizes repayment of legal costs incurred by any staff member, or elected official if they are charged with a legal procedure onitiated by any citizen or corporation.

There is one legal case currently in play in which a former city official has sued a citizen for alleged defamation. This case is a reversal of the intent of the Indemnification Bylaw.

Even more important, was it just coincidence that after the recipients received a boatload of money council, in its wisdom, decided to make sure that no one complained and sued the city or its officials?

On November 2, 2016, I requested an investigation by the city’s closed session investigator who was on a retainer with the city since 2008, the request was denied. As far as I can find out, this is only the fifth such request that has been investigated since 2008. None of them were granted or in favour of the complainant.

This investigator is a part-time employee of the city who represents the staff and elected officials but not the public interests.

I should point out that an investigation implies that all affected parties are interviewed. I never heard from the Investigator, Amberley- Gravel, located in London.

Why are citizens paying for this “independent” service that apparently always sides with the administration? Particularly when more than half of the 445 Ontario Municipalities use the services of the Independent Ontario Ombudsman’s office for such closed session investigations.

This is another tactic used by the administrations headed by the former mayor, Karen Farbridge, to suppress public opinion and participation in the business of the people’s government.

In the past nine years, the record is full of examples of the misuse of closed public sessions of council to conceal, thwart or de-politicize important events and decision involving spending the public’s money.

So the cover-up remains. Mayor Guthrie and his council could have prevented this abuse of the public purse and right to know. I know there is a minority of council who probably did not go along with this decision to grant large increases to three staffers.

But because of the implied threat of being investigated by the Integrity Commission for speaking out about the details of closed session meetings, they are politically hogtied. That’s how the former mayor kept the troops in line.

While the majority of council sits back and believes they are immune from criticism and confrontation when the public objects, they will discover the wrath of the public come the next election in 2018.

I think about this a lot. Our city is being run by a collection of weaklings on council and a depleted senior staff. That is a double whammy against the citizens. Nine years of abuse of the public trust has done n irreparable damage to the citizen stakeholders.

This is why the cost of operations in Guelph are 50 per cent higher that comparably-sized cities. That’s why our taxes are among the highest in the province. That’s why our user and service fees are higher than other municipalities of similar size.

Administrative weakness at the top

Today, there is little strength at the top of city management. By the latest count the city has lost 12 senior managers since Mayor Guthrie was elected. The city has no Chief Financial Officer, no City Solicitor, is minus two DCAO’s and a bloated city staff that needs rationalization.

It’s ironic that in the 2016 budget discussion, there was an attempt to conduct a total staff rationalization to strengthen the administration. The majority of council pooh-poohed the plan saying it would cost too much and the current senior staff had made all the staff realignments to reduce costs that were possible. It was defeated.

In the preparation of the 2917 budget, council approved hiring 13 additional employees costing more than $1million annually.

Yet, February 15, 2017, this same council voted to spend $500,000 to conduct a search of options available to sell, merge or just leave Guelph Hydro alone. The irony of this decision is to hire some nameless outside consultant to solve their problem in the next four months is like shutting off the water when the house is on fire.

For those members of council who are planning to seek re-election, here is some advice: Vote to conduct an independent audit of the city’s finances; conduct a public hearing to review all bylaws, particularly those passed by the three administrations.

Open all city meetings. If a legitimate closed session is necessary, publicize the reason and conclusion of the discussions and recommendations conducted in private.

Memo to council: Please stop treating your constituents as dummies who are manipulated and coerced. Remember whom you work for.

Just think about that

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10 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

10 responses to “Why did the Guthrie administration shut the water off when the house was on fire?

  1. Joe Black

    Just over a year and hopefully we will have a new Mayor and counsel.

  2. Great question! Here’s another example of the same kind of thinking: “Why did the Guthrie administration shut Bailie Bridge (starts Feb 28) when the logical answer was to bring either Stone or College over to 124?” The real answer may be hidden in “Shhh, …don’t tell!” -a city purchase of land immediately east of the Niska Road bird sanctuary. Could this be the designated location for the proposed south end rec center? Shhh, …don’t tell! IMHO safety was used as a scapegoat of choice to take sin out into the dessert. Is it truly safety, or a lucrative contract to widen a bridge? You decide! Sorry for hijacking to a slightly different topic, but the problem is the same: disclosure is sadly lacking. Conseal and thwart describe these council actions well.

  3. Rena

    Most definitely it has become very apparent that what Guelph needs is a mayor and council who have the coohonas to stand up for the citizens.

    Please think very carefully before the next election.

  4. I’m from Ward 6, Cam, Karl and Mark. Are you reading this. Prove that you care about the citizens of Guelph. End the indemnification and the closed door meetings!

    David Starr

  5. guelphspeaks reader

    I’m not a fan of using terms like fascism and socialism in selective critical ways. They are too open to interpretation and historically loaded. But also not uncommon lingo in today’s political climate and civic exasperation. However, a term like, say, totalitarian – could be closer to describing what is going on. For example, passing a bylaw in secret that forces taxpayers to pay for lawsuits launched by civic officials against citizens who say things they don’t like, even after those officials are fired. Call me a groupie if you want, R4A, but I don’t see my position as a slavish pandering to one person.

  6. DAVID BIRTWISTLE

    In reading journalist Terry Anderson’s daughter’s(Sulome Anderson) book”The Hostage’s Daughter” one of the chapters had a quote from Will Rogers which certainly describes the lack of knowledge of the City’s ‘modus operandi’ regarding transparency as described in many of your blogs.The quote:”All I know is just what I read in the papers,and that’s an alibi for my ignorance”.Recall Terry Anderson was the Middle East bureau chief for the Associated Press in Lebanon and held hostage for 7 years “…by a Shiiite Muslim militia associated with the Hezbollah movement…”

  7. guelphspeaks reader

    In my opinion, David Birthwhistle’s statement above was made for one purpose: to fan the flames of islamopobia that runs rampant in Conservative ranks. it is both an insidious and overt agenda that is repugnant. I will not participate on any forum that permits such out-of-context rhetoric. Nor will I respond to any further comments regarding Birtwhisle’s words and choices.

    • geo

      Read it again; carefully.

    • guelphspeaks reader

      I have done that, geo. It lacks clarity. Talking about Muslim-related anything has nothing to do with the blog content. If a parallel is being made, it is left unexplained. This is no time for filling in the blanks about people’s unspoken motivations.

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