Monthly Archives: March 2017

Coun. James Gordon, Godfather of the left, walks away from turning Guelph into a “Sanctuary City,” for now

By Gerry Barker

March 30, 2017

My goodness. is Trumpism creeping into Guelph.?

Just last week, the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, announced a crackdown on those U.S cities that have declared they are “Sanctuary Cities.” There a number of them and even the State of Maryland, is considering making the whole state a Sanctuary to protect the oppressed, illegal immigrants and the alleged underclass suppression by law enforcement.

Session threatens to withdraw federal funding by his Justice Department that will impact local police and support staffs.

Tell me, James, does that sound like Guelph?

Are we in such danger that the feds will cut off the gas-tax rebate?

This was another cute way of spending more money on the supporters of the left and for your benefit coming October 2018. James, you commented that you have received a lot of support as well as criticism. If the comments published online in Guelph Today are any indication, it indicates the greater majority is negative about your proposal.

Otherwise, why would you pull your own bill, seconded by Phil Allt, off the table?

Instead, you said there is a movement to have a “ made in Guelph” solution. You claim that a number of community and faith groups were working on the alternative “made in Guelph” solution to a problem that does not exist.

Perhaps your friends at 10 Carden Street, the motherlode of social action, were standing too close to the campfire when this was cooked up.

Reading from a prepared statement, Gordon said: “A diversity of perspectives has come forward in this regard with ideas to further our reputation as a safe, welcoming community.”

So help me, I can’t make this stuff up.

Let’s step back a bit. Remembering that for every action there is a reaction, one is reminded of how Donald Trump was elected President of the U.S. For example, he artfully created a problem such as America is weak militarily and is now proposing to spend $58 billion expanding the military. He claimed America was weak and unprepared and are terrible trade negotiators. And the people believed him when he said he would fix it if elected president.

Coun. Gordon pulled his “City of Sanctuary” motion right out of the Trump playbook.

Create a negative talking point, true of not, and propose a solution.

If council ever approves his proposal, immediately the Guelph Police Service personnel would face serious problems in carrying out their responsibilities. Once the word gets out, Guelph will be a magnet for individuals looking for trouble and breaking the law.

The fallout would include a lot of civil rights lawsuits brought against the police who are charged with keeping the peace. It would also affect the hospital and city maintenance staffs, firemen and EMS personnel.

We live in a diverse and peaceful city. It would be a mistake to say we are perfect but there is no way to adapt and employ the tactics in U.S. Sanctuary cities.

We are a welcoming community regardless of race, religion or politics.

To suggest otherwise is the root and effort of a minority political group who believe it’s broken and needs fixing.

In my opinion, as independent citizens without malice or prejudice, we should be prepared to elect a more balanced and independent council next year. The last ten years have witnessed dozens of proposals from the left for which we have all paid dearly

Think of what has prevented the downtown library project, South End recreation centre, the Niska bridge repair, repairing aging city infrastructure, just being able to park downtown.

The money was spent elsewhere on self-serving pet projects accompanied by financial mismanagement.

Just track your tax bills for the past few years to see where the money goes, from us to a council to be carelessly spent.

This is just another example of how our money is wasted.

 

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Donald Trump, America’s Nero, fiddles while the country burns

By Gerry Barker

March 27, 2017

After only 63 days, U.S. President Donald Trump has faced two defeats as he rushed to fulfill his promises to his supporters. They were the ones that he promised to get their manufacturing and coal mining jobs back.

He promised to protect the country from radical Muslim attacks by ordering travel bans from countries where the majority are Muslims. Two bills have been challenged in the courts. He promised to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. to stop the “criminals and rapists” from entering the country. He promised that Mexico would pay for it. He promised to deport the estimated “bad” illegal immigrants to their home countries.

Maybe it’s not the right time to take off the training wheels.

Last Friday, his promise to repeal The Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, and replace it with a better plan that was to cost less and be run by the states. It failed before the vote occurred in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He promised to do all this in the first 100 days in office.

His attempt to destroy the rights of all citizens to affordable health care died as the Republican-dominated House of Representatives did not have enough votes to pass the bill. Speaker Paul Ryan pulled it off the table. The bill included tax breaks for the upper two per cent of the U.S. population the cancelling of federal support of Planned Parenthood and would leave 24 million Americans without federal supported healthcare by 2026. Some 14 million would have been affected in 2018 according to the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

But most alarming was the virtual elimination of Medicaid, the last support of millions who required medical attention, because, the individual states would now be responsible. What may work in California will not work in Mississippi. It illustrates the need for a National healthcare plan that allocates recourses to those states where there is need. Finally, no matter where you live or move in the U.S., the Federal umbrella will cover you.

America is the last in providing universal health care to its citizens

Yes, it is creeping toward universal healthcare for 325 million Americans. The U.S. is the only country in the G20 of countries with the top economic power in the world that does not have universal, single-payer health coverage.

Following the bill’s failure, Trump did not admit the defeat was a loss. Instead, he blamed the Democrat minority in the House for the defeat saying they own Obamacare that remains as the law of the land. Four times he said that Obamacare would “explode” and be a disaster, harrumphed Trump.

But here is the truth. Trump not only fails to understand his job but also has little knowledge how the U.S. government works. He fails to know the party he leads. It is composed of factions that worked fine when in opposition. The House of Representatives voted more than 140 times to repeal Obamacare in the past seven years with each attempt either dying in the Senate or being vetoed by President Obama.

The so-called ultra right-wing Freedom Caucus of the Republican majority in the House was chiefly responsible for derailing their own party’s bill. It marks the differences that exist within the GOP (Grand Old Party) the party of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and, did I mention, Richard Nixon?

It is convenient and easy for Trump to blame the Democrats for the failure of his lousy statute that came within a few votes to become law. But Trump’s arrogance and a willful House Speaker, Paul Ryan, were confident they had the votes without the Democrats who were obviously not in favour of the Republican American Care Act (ACA).

Here’s another historical tid-bit. The cost of Canada’s universal, simgle-payer health care system, averages, per person, just half that of the the U.S. system. The U.S. plan does not cover all its citizens, is frequently described as the finest medical system in the world … that is if you can afford or access it.

When you believe you are omnipotent, failure will magnify incompetence

Even the most ardent Trump supporters must now question their president’s ability to fulfill his wide range of promises made during the campaign. It is obvious that his so-called business acumen does not easily translate into running the world’s largest economic and military power.

Remember during his rallies that he said he knew more than the Generals, then turned around and hired four of them for his cabinet. General Flynn was dismissed early in the term.

His inability to understand his job and how his government works will haunt him for his term in office if he survives. He will discover that insulting and threatening your friends and allies will not work and only diminishes the reputation of a great country and people.

I call it impeach creep

The man has neither conscience nor the ability to admit he made a mistake trying to placate his supporters with his reputation of being decisive. They believed Trump would “drain the swamp” of Washington bureaucracy. There are still 100’s of federal government management positions unfilled.

It has affected productivity across many federal goverment departments.

He has fought publicly his own intelligence services. He was forced to fire his National Security advisor, General Mike Flynn, for lying to Vice President Mike Pence, about contacts he made with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.

His cabinet is loaded with millionaires, billionaires and generals. His Secretary of the Environment is an Oklahoman who doesn’t believe in climate change. His Health Secretary is Tom Price, a doctor and author of the ACA who has managed to alienate the American Association of Retired Persons, (AARP), the various doctor organizations, veteran’s and hospital organizations across the country.

The benefactors of this terrible bill were the Health Insurance Corporations who were salivating over passage of the bill. Such an event, if it had happened, would have pushed American healthcare back to the dark ages of the 50’s and 60’s. That’s when millions, particularly the disadvantaged and poor, could not afford health insurance and were dependent on Medicaid and the generosity of hospitals who had to scramble to raise money to pay for services to the non-insured.

He promised to renegotiate trade deals, especially the 30-year North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in which Canada and Mexico along with the U.S. are partners. He keeps repeatedly calling it a disaster and it will be re-negotiated. He ignores the fact that Canada is America’s largest trading customer and the U.S. is Canada’s largest trade customer. He repeated the NAFTA disaster comment during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkle as if she cared.

The guy is a legend in his own mind.

He has insulted the leaders of Britain, Germany, and the member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,(NATO). It is a 60-year mutual defence combine to prevent attacks on European nations as well as North America. He has accused the member nations of not paying their share, citing Germany as one of those failing to spend two per cent of Gross Domestic Product on defence. Canada is up to date in that regard.

He has promised to spend $58 billion to upgrade the military that he claims has been neglected and weakened under former President Barack Obama.

The man and his words

He is continuing to run a campaign of fear, loathing, insecurity, lies and unfulfilled promises.

And it’s not going to get any better.

In Canada, we can only wait and see how he attempts to destroy the world’s most effective free trade agreement. That’s not saying there are things that should be fixed including the softwood lumber agreement in which American lumber interests accuse Canada of dumping product at lower prices.

The U.S. wants access to our agriculture markets that are currently controlled by producer-operated Marketing Boards. These include milk, eggs, poultry, cheese, pork, beef, and grains.

These various Boards were originally designed to protect the interests of the producers of these products. The winners are obviously the producers. The problem is that it’s not so good for the Canadian consumer because the Boards control prices.

These are some of the obvious changes that will come up when Trump attempts to dismantle NAFTA.

The most dangerous proposal by Trump is to establish a border tax for non-American goods and products entering the U.S. Already cooler heads are saying such a move will drive up prices to U.S. consumers.

It won’t serve to create jobs that no longer exist in manufacturing or coal mining. It is due to technological change and reduction of coal usage to drive power generation across the country. Yet Trump continues to promise a return of those jobs.

Mr. Trump, I hope is a quick study and abandons the shallow promise of America First. His country has always been first. It’s just that he doesn’t care and creates these problems that incite a segment of society.

Impeachment is on the move. But it has to be generated by the congressional members within his own party.

If the GOP is smart, they will separate themselves from Trump and leave those who believe in him to function as the Trump Party.

 

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For Sale: Guelph’s Light and Power Corporation and collection agency

By Gerry Barker

March 24, 2017

As the resident curmudgeon of the Royal City, I have learned to accept the good with the bad.

Yes, I do have my detractors, those folks who accuse me of being cranky (at times true), angry, (ask my wife), boring. (same answer as angry), disappointed, (often), right, (most of the time but make mistakes), trapped, (gotta keep doing what I do because no one else is doing it). Most people know what IT is.

Then there are the good folks who understand what I am writing about and there are thousands of them who drop into www.guelphspeaks.ca regularly. Their support and comments really keep me motivated to expose the way our city has been mismanaged for the past ten years, and the price it has cost us.

Simmering on the back burner is an issue that most citizens were not aware of until recently, the secret record of Guelph Hydro (GH) and it impact on all citizens.

The wholly owned subsidiary of the city, GH came under the control of former Mayor Karen Farbridge. The two-term mayor had an agenda to turn Guelph into a paragon of environmental practices and standards; attain self sufficiency in electricity supply; remake the downtown; reduce the city’s carbon footprint by reducing vehicle lanes on major roads to accommodate bicycle lanes; reduce waste going to the landfill by creating a organic waste facility in a large, waste management complex on Dunlop Drive.

I am very concerned about the current administration’s efforts to sell/merge Guelph Hydro. In fact, Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson heads the Strategic Options Committee (SOC), composed of five non-elected individuals. . The committee is now in phase two of disposing of Guelph Hydro.

Don’t be misled. This is a full-court press by the Guthrie administration to liquidate the jewel of city properties. It’s going on right now as the SOC seeks bids to sell/merge Guelph Hydro to the highest bidder.

“The Committee may also engage in discussions with potential partners, develop draft agreements, and develop an implementation plan.” That’s from the “Energizing Tomorrow” website the online voice of the SOC. Who are the members?

The chairman is CAO Thomson. The co-chair is Pankaj Sardana, CEO of Guelph Hydro. The third member, Bo Bell, is a board member of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems. The “public” members are Mark Goldberg, former member of the GMHI board of directors, and Ron Puccini a retired engineer.

According to the Energizing Tomorrow website, only Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Puccini live in Guelph.

There are no elected representatives on this committee. There are two individuals, Mr. Sardana and Mr. Bell who are closely associated with Guelph Hydro.

So, we can conclude that this operation that not only includes the SOC but also Guelph Hydro Electic Systems. The Board of Directors of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems include: Ms. Armstring. Ms. Foutain, Mr. Bell, Bruce Cowan, Ted Sehl, Rick Thompson and Ms. Jasmine Urisk.

Under no circumstances am I suggesting that these folks were complicit in the GMHI financial disaster.

There is not one elected member of city council serving on these two key organizations that govern Guelph Hydro. The utility is charged with the sale or merger of the utility that serves some 53,000 customers in Guelph and Rockwood.

There does not appear to be any checks or balances or direct oversight of this potential disposal of the most valuable asset of the city’s assets. Granted, council must have the final say but its members are not directly involved in this exercise being handled by the SOC,

It also comes as a surprise that there are certain members of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems who had exposure to the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) financial disaster that cost the city $26.6 million. These include Jasmine Urisk, Ted Gehl, Jane Armstrong, Judy Fountain and Robert (Bob) Bell.

Mr. Goldberg of the SOC served on the GMHI board of directors. Mr. Sardana, co-chair of the SOC, was formerly CEO and CFO of GMHI.

Now most residents and businesses are aware of the huge increases in electricity distributed by Guelph Hydro, The price zoomed in four years by 42 per cent compounded.

In our house, our two-month mid-summer bill was $662 (including water). Last summer our monthly bill in July was $245 or $172 less, based on the old two-month billing cycle.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why our property taxes and user fees are approved by our elected city council. In Hydro’s case, those electricity and water charges are approved by a faceless, appointed board of directors.

It’s time to form a Hydro Commission that is elected by the citizens.

Doing some checking on what other provinces are paying for power. Better fasten your seat belts. Here are the results:

The cost of 1,000 kilowatts in Ontaro is $226.03

If you lived in Quebec the average cost of 1,000 kw is $67.89. That’s 70 per cent lower than Ontario.

Living in British Columbia the cost is $89.12. That’s 61.per cent less than Ontario.

Switching over to Manitoba, the cost of 1,000 kw is $81.09 or 64 per cent lower than Ontario.

So why the huge difference?

Ontario decided in 2006 that it was going to replace its coal-fired generating plants with energy systems using the wind and the sun to generate electricity. What has proved to be a disaster by the McGuinty and Wynne governments, has driven the cost of power to be the most expensive in Canada.

They did this by inviting private solar and wind-power producers to develop wind farms and large solar arrays across the province that incorporated renewable energy. The incentive was a guarateed kilowatt fee for 20 years of some 17 cents. The Adam Beck waterpower generation plant on the Niagara River costs about 6.5 cents per kw. Throw in the high cost of the nuclear power generating plants and Ontario, within a few years, priced itself out of the market.

The Green energy plan was so poorly managed that the Ontario Power Generating Corporation, (part of the old Ontario Hydro) was giving surplus power away to border states because of oversupply. You can’t store electricity.

Which brings me to an interesting story about a new electricity storage system developed by Tesla, the electic car and battery manufacturer. It’s called the Teslan Wall and it hangs on the wall in the garage storing power overnight.

The story said the cost per unit starts at $8,500 (US$) or the latest version is $11,500. This does not include the solar panels needed to feed the power in the household. The story goes that one client spent $31,000 adding extra battery packs. The lady is 81 and obviously optimistic that she will eventially recover her investment.

I bring this up because the SOC members told council that household electricity storage units will be commonplace in the future. Right now, the industry is a baby and it will take years for affordable power storage units to be available to most people.

Guys, I’d take that one off the table. This is today, not tomorrow.

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Royal City Blues: A documentary

By Gerry Barker

March 20, 2017

If there ever was the opportunity to develop a documentary to describe the woeful record, it is now outlining how three administrations have lost more than $136 million in ten years. Perhaps it’s time to reconcile the city’s finances by hiring a Chief Financial Officer with experience and savvy.

Here is a draft outline that details the events that have drained the financial resources of the city, to the extent that the current Guthrie administration is engaged in selling Guelph Hydro to rebuild the financial losses of previous administrations.

The Guthrie administration is hamstrung to even pay for needed infrastructure repairs and replacements, let alone reducing costs. A new city report clearly states that it is going to cost double what the administration estimated when approving the 2017 budget.

And council couldn’t even get that straight when it voted to double the so-called special property tax levy from one per cent to two percent. The staff recommended a one per cent levy to help pay for the infrastructure costs but council added another one per cent to pay for “city buildings.” The reality? It is an attempt to start construction of the $60 million South End recreation centre.

Trouble is there is no capital funding for this project. So council approved shelving some $700,000 to replace the parking meters downtown, a project in the 2016 budget, to produce parking revenue. Then council turned around and spent some $650,000 toward pre-construction costs of the South End recreation centre.

Most people would believe this is a commitment to proceed with the project. Most people will figure out what is occurring is a back-door attempt to force the next council to come up with the capital funding for the project.

Both Ward Six councillors, Karl Wettstein and Mark MacKinnon, pushed this attempt to force future councils to pay for it.

Is this any way to run a city? Any way to mortgage future generations of residents to pay for something they did not vote for? Is it right to ignore the costs of infrastructure to assuage the desires of a minority of citizens?

Already, there are decisions being made to ensure the re-election of the present majority of council including the mayor. A key problem is the greatly diminished level of reserves that have been used to shore up projects and balance sheets for far too long.

That’s where we stand today. But let’s look back at how and when we got into this mess.

Back to the future, Guelph style

In February, City Solicitor, Donna Jaques, resigned and left for a job in North Bay with the Ontario Northland Railway. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi, who was dismissed, followed right after her departure. They are yet further additions to the exodus of senior executives leaving the city since Mayor Cam Guthrie was elected. Scott Worsfold, another city lawyer resigned last fall.

More than 20 senior managers have left the city since 2014. These are the people who administer the operations of our corporation. In any business, the adage is it’s more difficult to replace a key employee than to fire the incumbent.

An example is the recent announcement that the General Manager of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI), Rob Kerr, has been dismissed. At the same time the city is setting up a Climate Change Office. Is this really needed? Premier Wynne is already taxing us through our Hydro bills for our use of household fossil fuels. These include use of natural gas in a variety of appliances including barbeques, stoves, dryers, fireplaces, furnaces, and water heaters.

And now we need a Climate Change Office?

What follows is a documentary of how our city investments have been squandered by three administrations. Since 2007, these administrations have created social engineering projects that most people did not request or want.

It documents abuse of the public trust, its right to know and participate. We have been subjected to absolute control, secrecy, distortion of facts and unparalleled arrogance. So, we can only blame ourselves as we elected them. Here is a record of how our money was misused and managed without recourse on our part.

Scene One: The genesis of a financial disaster

It’s early in January 2007 when the newly elected Mayor of Guelph, Karen Farbridge, persuades leaders of organizations across the city to join, creating the Community Energy Initiative. More than 20 prominent individuals accepted her invitation to join and participate. They represented the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, The University of Guelph, Guelph Hydro, Industrial and commercial leaders and energy experts.

Little di we know then of the impact on city finances of this project.

Scene Two: Spending $16 million renovating a derelict building on someone else’s property

Mayor Farbridge becomes immersed in running her city and introducing a number of initiatives. These included approval of spending $12.7 million to move the Civic Museum into a leased former derelict convent next to The Church of Our Lady. This project took five years to complete and cost more than $16 million. Of that amount, the federal and provincial governments provided roughly $6 million. As an aside, more than $1 million was spent landscaping the hill in front of the Museum, on land the city does not own.

Scene Three: The $33 million great landfill diversion scheme

With little public input, council approved a new solid-waste management system. It included spending $33 million on an organic waste-processing facility that had a processing capacity that was three times the needs of Guelph for 20 years. It was operated by Aim Environmental a subsidiary company of the builder of the plant, Maple Reinders. Another Maple Reinders subsidiary called Organix sold the compost produced.

Details of the organic operation were never revealed to the public, including the sale of the composted material. The city management said it could not reveal the details because of “private proprietary interests.” An internal audit of the waste- management operations in 2016 revealed it was losing $270,000 a year. The Executive Director of Environmental Services, Janet Laird, resigned after the 2014 election. Her General Manager, Dean Wyman, left in December 2015 for a job in Edmonton.

The department is now undergoing a rationalization study to develop a greater degree of effiency and reduce reduce costs of an operation that is losing $270K a year. This is under the leadership of Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO) Scott Stewart. Good luck, Scott.

Scene Four: A fateful decision to get tough and lose millions

It’s spring 2008. Mayor Farbridge was getting impatient about the progress of General Contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Corporation, building the new city hall and renovating the old city hall into a provincial court. The original contract was $42 million for both projects. On September 19, 2008, Acting CAO Hans Loewig ordered Urbacon off the site, supported by Guelph Police.

For his loyalty, former CAO Loewig was given a four-year contract starting at $199,000 plus generous benefits, including several weeks of vacation annually. Ann Pappert replaced him in 2012.

Urbacon responded by suing the city for breach of contract and sought $19,184,181.71 in damages. This began a legal wrangle that lasted for five years and eventually included five lawsuits. Fast forward to March 2014. Justice Donald MacKenzie delivered a stunning verdict in favour of Urbacon and chastised the chief city witness, the site manager, Murray McRae for his testimony. The mayor’s impatience cost a $23 million overrun of the new city hall, from $42 million to $65 million.

Here is a comment from a guelphspeaks posting September 9, 2014:

“This remains an epic error in judgment for which the Farbridge administration must take responsibility. How can they say, with a straight face, that the costs are covered and there will be no impact on taxpayers? They’re manipulating your money to suit their agenda and again avoiding responsibility.”

As it turned out, it was CAO Ann Pappert, who made that claim misleading the citizens.

Scene Five: The year of multi-mistakes leading to the defeat of the mayor

Election year 2014, witnessed several events. They included the Urbacon decision, transit strike and approval of the $34 million police HQ renovations which would take more than five years to complete. These events impacted the future of Mayor Farbridge and four council supporters who either decided not to run or were defeated.

The progressives were stunned over the loss of their leader. Changes came swiftly. The top senior staff was reorganized when Janet Laird retired to Whistler, B.C. and Derek McCaughan resigned. The shuffle occurred before Cam Guthrie took over as the city’s new mayor, December 1, 2014.

Observation: The city administration does not have much success when it comes to constructing major capital projects and staying on budget. Besides Urbacon, there was the Civic museum, both of which exceeded contracted costs by $33 million.

Scene Six: It’s 2015 and we’re off to a rocky start

Early in 2015, there were events that would shape the new council that was dominated by seven supporters of the previous Mayor and her policies. In January, Mayor Guthrie attacked me in an email urging his followers to ignore me. The outburst was attributed to a piece I published in guelphspeaks.ca in which I said the council was reviewing CAO Ann Pappert’s contract.

The Mayor, for whatever reason, supported Ms. Pappert until the day she gave her notice in April 2016 that included her extravagant retirement payoff estimated to be more than $150K. Early last year, concerned citizen, Rena Akerman, sent a detailed email to other citizens outlining the performance of the CAO in the past four years. Mayor Guthrie threatened legal action against Ms. Akerman. Fortunately for him, that didn’t happen.

Scene Seven: the Guelph Municipal Holdings debacle

In 2015, there was an even bigger scandal brewing. Mayor Guthrie and Coun. Karl Wettstein were appointed as council representatives on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) board of directors. The former mayor said GMHI was to manage the city-owned assets including Guelph Hydro, its subsidiary Envida Community Energy Corp. and the Guelph Junction Railroad.

Simmering below the surface was this disastrous experiment created by the former mayor. It is a wholly-owned corporation of the city. Mayor Farbridge appointed herself as chairperson of the GMHI board of directors, composed of a majority of her council supporters, plus two members of Guelph Hydro and two independent directors. CAO Ann Pappert was appointed Chief Executive Officer of GMHI and remained in that job for four years.

On May 16, 2016, the truth was revealed in a GMHI situation report signed by Ms. Pappert in her capacity as city CAO, and Pankaj Sardana, her successor at GMHI. In fact, in its five years of existence it has never made a dime but the losses climbed to more than $26.6 million. This loss, according to a May 16, 2016 was reported and presented to council, jointly by CAO Ann Pappert and Pankaj Sardana, CEO and CFO of GMHI.

The report stunned everyone when Mr. Sardana said GMHI had lost $26.6 million and had no financial ability to continue operations. It turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg. GMHI had accepted a loan of $65 million from Guelph Hydro to expand its projects to achieve electric power self-sufficiency for the city. That loan is now an impaired asset on the city’s books and was on the 2015 Financial Information Report valued at $69 million. “Impaired Asset,” means that the receiver of the funds, GMHI, has no money to pay the interest on the loan. Also it has insufficient assets underlying the loan.

Over time, this large loan will have to be written off. Unless, the city can sell Guelph Hydro and profit from the estimated proceeds of more than $150 million. Later this year, the Strategic Options Committee will make its recommendation after shopping Guelph Hydro in the market place.

It is only recently revealed the former mayor and the GMHI board had secured land in the Hanlon Business Park and Downtown to build large natural gas-fired generation plants as part of its Community Energy Initiatives. Again, public input was not invited or considered.

The two natural gas plant sites were obtained when the Guthrie administration shut down operations. Guelph Hydro was brought into the city as part of its finances.

It is now plain what the former mayor was bent on accomplishing. Electric power self-sufficiency and sell Guelph Hydro to the highest bidder to get rid of the losses.

Please think about this: If Ms. Farbridge had been re-elected in 2014, we would still be kept in the dark while millions were poured into a scheme to make our city self-sufficient in electricity supply. If fact, Mr. Sardana said that in order to make the two $8.7 million District Energy Nodes to break even, it would require an additional investment of $60 million.

Did the former mayor ever consider the billion it cost to dismantle two partially built gas-fired plants by Premier Dalton McGuinty to save four Liberal seats?

Well folks, so far it’s only cost you and me $96 million including the $65 million loan from Guelph Hydro. It will eventually disappear into the mists of One Carden Street.

For comparison, the Ontario gas plant tear down cost just over a billion dollars. The population of Ontario (including us) is more than eight million people. So Guelph loses $96 million spread over some 121,500 residents and businesses. Our loss will cost $790 per person, babies, young, old and the infirm. That money has gone.

McGuinty’s gas plant loss cost each of the eight million population of the province $12,500.

But wait a minute! We are included in the Provincial figure so that means every citizen of Guelph is responsible for $13,293. A high price to pay for badly managed, high cost social engineering schemes, all of which failed on both levels of government.

The real problem is that it’s public funds that have been misspent. Regardless of whether it’s posted in the Guelph Hydro books or the city books, it’s a stunning loss and misuse of public money. The city has no choice but to write it off.

But here’s the concern for all citizens: Until there is an independent investigation and forensic audit of the whole GMHI debacle, the people will never know the truth. Most recent development is the dismissal of Rob Kerr, general manager of CEI and the formation of ”Climate Change Office.”

Is this what Karen Farbridge promised when she campaigned in 2006 to “Put Guelph back on track?” Just asking.

Scene Eight: Revenge: Thy sting is not so sweet

In early 2015, Susan Watson, a strong supporter of the Farbridge administration, hired a Toronto lawyer to represent her in an action before the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC). It was in regard to a $400 donation that had been given to former Ward Six candidate Glen Tolhurst by the civic action group, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). Her lawyer argued that GRG was not permitted to donate to candidates under the Ontario Elections Act (MEA).

Two of the three CAC members voted to have an independent auditor examine Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial statement and the role of GRG. As members of GRG, my wife, Barbara, and I, were subpoenaed to appear before the auditor, William Molson of Toronto. We were questioned for an hour and a half. A couple of weeks later the auditor presented his findings to the CAC committee exonerating Mr. Tolhurst and GRG of any breach of the Municipal Elections Act.

The estimated $11,000 costs of this procedure were paid by the taxpayers and not by Ms. Watson who initiated the complaint.

Scene Nine: Along comes the mother of municipal financial failures

Starting in 2011, GMHI annually deposited a $1.5 million dividend to the city. In 2015, GMHI said it had sent a total of $9 million to the city as dividends. The only problem was the GMHI never made any money. Ten days after signing the report, she left the city to work for the Province of Ontario.

So far, more than $8.7 million, the cost of installing the two District Energy nodes, has either been written off or written down. But there remains a number of unresolved issues including contracts with those buildings connected to the co-generation thermal system supplying hot and cold water. The city cannot afford to subsidize these already installed connections to five large buildings. The statement has been made that it will continue to supply the service. The city has maintained that the Community Energy Initiative is under review with decisions to be made when a staff report is presented to council.

The real problem lies with the $65 million Guelph Hydro loaned to GMHI after board chair Karen Farbridge and her board voted to fold Guelph Hydro and its subsidiaries into GMHI. Since then, the city has taken control of Guelph Hydro. But a major problem remains. In doing so the city has shifted the Guelph Hydro loan to GMHI into its own books as an asset, although impaired. That means that in 2015, that impaired asset had grown to $69 million because GMHI had no money to even pay the interest. The huge problem is that there are no assets in GMHI or funds to even pay the interest on the loan.

Well, the fact is the city now has the loan on its books it’s like lending your son or daughter $25,000 to go to college and never expecting it to be paid back. It’s all in the family.

Scene Ten: The fallout of financial mismanagement will affect all of us for years

Please think about this: If Ms. Farbridge had been re-elected in 2014, we would still be kept in the dark while millions were poured into a scheme to make our city self-sufficient in electricity supply. If fact, Mr. Sardana said that in order to make the District Energy Nodes to break even it would require an additional investment of $60 million.

It is only recently revealed the former mayor and her colleagues on the GMHI board had secured land in the Hanlon Business Park and Downtown, to build large natural gas-fired generation plants as part of its Community Energy Initiative.

Again, public input was not invited or considered. Did the former mayor ever consider the billions it cost to dismantle two gas-fired plants, partially completed by the McGuinty Liberals to save four Liberal seats?

Well folks, so far it’s only cost you and me $96 million including the $65 million loan from Hydro.

When you stop and think, imagine what that $96 million could have done to capital spending in the city. Particularly for a new downtown library, the former mayor promised that 19 years ago. Or the South End recreation centre that was promised by the same mayor nine years ago as a priority.

These are bread and butter issues. We have been held hostage for ten years now by a radical group of progressive councillors who are “big picture” representatives. They obsess about climate change, energy, bicycle lanes, public transit, water sold commercially from the aquifer, protecting the environment.

Running a city is not rocket science. Councillor’s primary responsibility is to make sure everything works. It includes roads, water supply, waste disposal, parks and recreation, cleaning the streets, picking up the garbage and creating jobs.

And please don’t tell me that we are better off than we were four years ago adding more than 400 new full time equivalent employees, with property taxes soaring by 14.2 per cent and user fees for using our own dump and managing our storm water.

 

 

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Former CAO Ann Pappert received $489,818 for 17 months work when she resigned

By Gerry Barker

March 16, 2017

I woke up the other day to read a city press release about the City of Guelph’s Sunshine list of employees earning more than $100,000 a year. I was not aware the city had its own Sunshine list.

There were some astonishing inclusions and exclusions.

According to the just released 2016 Provincial Sunshine list, former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, was paid $263,757.32 in 2016. Now you would assume that was for the year but Ms. Pappert left the city May 26, 2016, Seems like a lot of money for less than five months work.

So I checked the 2015 Provincial Sunshine list and it showed Ms. Pappert was paid $226,060.96.

The only possible conclusion was that Ann Pappert was paid $489,818.26 for 17 months work as CAO, from January 1, 2015 to May 26, 2016.

This was reported by the city to the Province for inclusion in the 2015/2016 official Sunshine lists of those public employees earning more than $100,000 a year

First, let’s do a little math. We’ll divide the money the Province says she received in 2016 by 5 = $52,757 per month. Now multiply that by 12 to determine what her annual salary would be, $633,084. That can’t be possible.

But, the 2015 salary reported last March showed that CAO, Ann Pappert, received a $37,591 increase for 2015. This increase was 17.11 per cent more than her previous base salary of $219,657 earned in 2014. Apparently, it has been assumed, Ms. Pappert was paid $257,248 in 2015. That was not the case. According to the 2015 Sunshine List, she received $226,060.

Hmmm, there remains a serious difference of Ms. Pappert’s employment payments.

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi explained that the payment to Ms. Pappert was discussed in closed session prior to the approval of the 2015 budget, March 25, 2015.

For the past year, guelphspeaks has been trying to get at the truth because Mr. Amorosi said the increases decision was made by council in closed session, December 10, 2015. It included a retroactive payment of some $28,000.

Why does the Sunshine List show Ms. Pappert received $263,757 for five months work in 2016?

Does the city report what it pays its employees each year in the audited Financial Information Report (FIR) as required annually?

Or does it play games shoving expenses to the next year to avoid a negative variance that the city is not allowed to do and is required to balance its books when presenting the FIR at year end.

For the past five years of Ms. Pappert’s tenure as CAO, there has been a negative variance each year. That means the budget, of which Ms. Pappert oversaw, was overspent and money was taken from the reserves to balance the books as required by law.

Trouble is the reserves became seriously depleted dropping from a reported $70 million in 2009 to around $11 million in 2015. The BMA consultant group warned the city in 2014 that the reserves were in a “red flag” condition and required action to replenish.

Why was this allowed to occur?

But there is more:

Former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, left the city in August 2015. Today his name shows up receiving $188,999 in 2016, the equivalent of a full year on the job. Not bad for eight months work … in 2015. The question is why did Horsman leave? He was deposed as CFO in the November 2014 reorganization of the senior management and switched to the Waste Management, Environmental Services and Engineering portfolio.

Horsman took over to discover the debacle of the deal made with the Rizzo brothers of Detroit to recycle material shipped from the motor city. The deal fell apart and was reported to have cost Guelph some $2.5 million. In December 2015, Solid Waste Manager Dean Wyman, who was involved in the Detroit deal, left for a similar job in Edmonton.

With Horsman gone, it left just three Senior managers, CAO Ann Pappert, Deputy Chief Administrative Officers (DCAO) Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson.

The revelation of the large increase awarded by council to the remaining three top managers in March 2016, triggered the resignation of Mr. Thomson who said he was taking a job with the Town of Caledon. In April, Ms. Pappert announced she was resigning.

Along with her duties as CAO, Ms. Pappert was also Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), for four years. As CAO she signed off, along with her successor at GMHI, Pankaj Sardana the jointly presented the report to council, acting as shareholders, May 16, 2016. It revealed that the city-owned GMHI was broke and had lost $26.6 million. Ten days later she left her job.

In June, the city persuaded Mr. Thomson to return and take over as CAO.

The 2016 Provincial Sunshine List states Mr. Thomson received $214,026. Due to turbulence in the executive offices, Mr. Thomson revealed in October his new CAO salary is $230,000, plus a taxable benefit of $9,664. Sigh! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Last week, the 2016 city’s “Sunshine List” release said that in 2016 Mr. Thomson earned $245,302 plus the taxable benefit for a total of $254,966. Mr.Thomson should be commended for giving the citizens his salary details despite the fact that they do not jibe with the official provincial data.

Here’s another strange development. DCAO Scott Stewart was hired in November 2015 to replace Mr. Horsman. There is no record in the provincial Sunshine Lists of his hiring including pay details, in either the 2015 or 2016. He obviously performed his duties in 2015 and 2016 but the record shows he doesn’t exist. Well he does and he is doing a fine job.

Yet another example of Voodoo accounting

In the case of DCAO Colleen Clack who was promoted in June to replace Mr. Thomson as chief of operations and public transit, there is no evidence that reflects her new responsibilities. She is listed at $145,316, the rate of her former job in 2015.

I believe that when someone holds a job in the calendar year, his or her remuneration should be reported in that year. How can the administration budget accurately when it conducts its business this way? We’re not talking about a few dollars here but thousands. It represents a deliberate distortion of the staff costs in the reporting year.

In 2015 the city listed the payments made to police staff earning more than $100,000. This year according to the city release, the police are not included because they file their own Sunshine List to the Province. But are the police numbers included in the total staff count?

Finally here is my favourite example of Voodoo management practices.

In 2014, Guelph Police Chief Bryan Larkin is pushing the Police Services Board to spend $33 million for a major renovation of police headquarters.

The city representatives on the Police Board, Mayor Karen Farbridge and Coun Leanne Piper support him.

Remember in June 2014 he announced that he is leaving August 31 to take over as Chief of the Region of Waterloo Police Department.

That did not stop Larkin from promoting that the city coughs up the money for the renovation. So his final payout of $183,553.80 was reported in the 2015 provincial Sunshine list. He only worked eight months in 2014, but received a full year of pay,

But citizens in 2015, were also paying his replacement, Jeff Deruyter $188,283.56. According to the Provincial Sunshine List in 2015, the cost of two police chiefs was $371,836.

When the 2015 budget was prepared after Mayor Guthrie took over, the finance department had ample time to adjust the 2014 Larkin figure to reflect the exact time he was on the job. It is now clear that our city, despite the fact that he resigned in August 2014, paid him for the whole year.

And you wonder why our taxes and user fees outpace the Consumer Price Indexes promised to be reduced by Mayor Guthrie in his election campaign.

The 64 firemen plus those paramedics in the $100K bracket are included in the 2016 list.

These folks are public employees and the public has the right to know who they are and what they earn if it’s more than $100,000. It appears the same rules do not apply to the non-union managerial staff.

When comparing the two Sunshine lists, 2015 and 2016, the number of employees who have left the city also struck me.

The city release states there are 2,235 full-time and part-time employees. But what is the composition of staff and where do they work? How many full-time and part-time contract workers are employed and are they counted in the staff total?

This mismanagement of senior staff salaries, bonuses and taxable benefits has to stop. It is not transparent or accountable.

The people have to act to hold their elected representatives accountable. That means the council must stop conducting the city’s business in closed sessions thwarting the public’s right to know. Finally they must stop making stupid decisions that end up costing citizens its treasure.

The reserves are depleted, the debt is up and too many deals have been made based on potential future revenues such as the Police Headquarters project that is dependent on future development fees.

I hate to use the word “purge” but it applies here based on the evidence of financial mismanagement.

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GuelphSpeaks annual Top losers and winners for 2016

By Gerry Barker

March 12, 2017

It’s time to review 2016 when we look back and pick those events and people who won some and lost some. It was not a great year for our city as political reform is still a bridge too far. No matter what good things happen and there are a number, they are offset by the frequent absence of transparency, accountability and common sense governance at City Hall. Feel free to add or pooh-pooh the picks.

Coming up is the 2016 Sunshine list in a couple of weeks that will reveal all the names of public employees earning more than $100,000 a year. In June the 2016 audited Financial Information Report should be made available to the public on the city website.

First, Here are the losers:

  1. Mayor Cam Guthrie abandoned his promises to reduce property taxes to the equivalent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In three budgets over which he has presided, the property taxes approved by council were increased by 10.08 per cent. He, along with eight councillors, voted to approve the 2017 budget.
  1. Waste management and the struggle to unwind costly business practices and losses by the former management of waste control, collection and environmental services. The leadership is gone but citizens remain stuck with the financial fallout. The former internal auditor said the waste management operation was losing $270,000 a year. That flies in the prediction that controlling waste and diverting it from the landfill would be self-liquidating. Help is on the way, (see number 5 in winners).
  1. The hundreds of Canada geese who make their year-round home in Guelph paddling in the rivers and munching on parkland grass. Well, you know the rest of the story when they leave their calling cards. What ever happened to that $50,000 approved by council a couple of years ago to study the goose problem?
  1. Those two councillors, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein, who were members of the GMHI Board of Directors for four years and paid for their service, never said a word about the collapse of GMHI. During a GMHI discussion by council, Wettstein recused himself because he had a “pecuniary interest.” That’s not all he had.
  1. The privately owned Guelph Storm Junior Hockey club successfully extracted $5 million over ten years in a new rental agreement with the city. It effectively ties up the Sleeman Centre for 12 months each year. Under the old agreement, taxpayers were subsidizing the arena by $249,000 a year. Release the details of that contract including revenues, expenses, cost sharing and insurance. Go figure!
  1. To the eight councillors who usually vote as a bloc. They believe in the agenda of the former mayor and perpetuate her theories of a new Guelph. A city with a vibrant downtown, self-liquidating waste management, reduction of carbon emissions and approving high-density development but few single-family homes. Is this what you voted for?
  1. To Coun. Mark MacKinnon goes the annual Chutzpah Award for his assertion that paying taxes is not only an obligation but also a privilege. His rationale was because house prices have increased then people should be prepared to meet their ever-increasing tax bill. Even if it means taking out a second mortgage to pay their taxes. This sounds a little self-serving, isn’t Mark in the mortgage business?

Tah Dah! The Winners:

  1. Those three city councillors, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Bob Bell, who had the courage and understood their responsibility to protect the public trust in city government. When the mayor called the vote to approve the 2017 budget, these three Councillors voted no. They deserve your support no matter where you live in the city.
  1. While GS is not a big fan of Coun. Phil Allt, he performed a courageous act donating a kidney to his brother.
  1. The approval of a rationalization of the waste management and environmental services is the right step cleaning up a system that is out of control. Citizens spent $33 million building a compost plant but we cannot even buy the finished composted mulch. It’s sold privately.
  1. The resignation of Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert who left May 26 only after she had secured a job as an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Culture Tourism and Sports Ministry. Goodbye, hold the luck.
  1. The unfolding details of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. story of mismanagement, deception and a loss of $26.6 million. There are still many questions about this abortive project that conducted its business in closed sessions led by the former mayor. This is what happens when you operate in an opaque vacuum shutting out public participation.
  1. To former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired without cause and sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. The case broke wide open when, in the process of examination for discovery, Mr. Poole’s lawyer received an external drive from the city Information Technology department that contained 53,000 files, most confidential and unrelated to the case. The city demanded a return of the drive after the story broke in Guelph Today. The result was a rapid mediation of the Poole case that produced a settlement. The outcome remains confidential. Well, I guess this is another case where the city loses another lawsuit. City Solicitor, Donna Jaques, has left for greener pastures joining the exodus of more than 14 senior and upper management employees who have left the city administration in the past 17 months..

 

 

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City staff report places infrastructure bill at $491 million, double recent estimates

By Gerry Barker

March 8, 2017

The city’s Corporate Asset Manager, Daryush Esmaili, told a meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole earlier this week there is $491 million worth of city assets.

The dollar figures only include those assets requiring repair or replacing aging assets including roads, sewer and water services, rinks and technology used at City Hall.

The report broke on Guelph Today Tuesday and was written by Tony Saxon.

Cited by Esmaili as being in “the red zone” with less than 40 years of lifecycle remaining, includes city parking assets, where 72 per cent of those assets have less than 40 per cent of their lifecycle remaining. Other red zone assets include Guelph Transit, information technology and culture and recreation.

The most startling statistic is Esmaili’s projection of keeping up with infrastructure repairs and replacement that will cost the city $125 million a year for the next 100 years.

Last fall, city council approved a 2017 infrastructure budget of $93 million.

Council also approved a special property tax levy of 1 per cent to fund infrastructure. That doesn’t even come close to raising $93 million. But then Coun. Mark MacKinnon moved that the levy of property be increased to two per cent. But the extra one per cent was dedicated to “City Buildings.” The motion passed and Councillors MacKinnon and Karl Wettstein were happy, as more money would be dedicated to the $60 million South End recreation centre.

At the same 2017 budget meeting, council delayed spending $700,000 for new parking meters on Wyndham Street. Instead council would use most of the money to start the architectural planning of the recreation centre in MacKinnon’s and Wettstein’s Ward.

That was a backdoor move to use capital money to fund their pet project.

Those two decisions, made in open council, were, as it has turned out, a monumental error in judgment by a council that had to know what the City Asset Manager and his staff, were working on.

The fall-out is a much needed parking control and added revenue is shelved until next budget. The two per cent property tax levy is halved to accommodate the wishes of the councillors representing Ward Six.

Just for the record, those same supporters of the “City Buildings” levy were told that any pre-contraction planning, estimated to cost $3.5 million, might have to be reviewed and increased because there is lttle hope for the capital spending budget to even think about the south end project. It is particularly important in view of the City Asset Manager’s report on the real cost of infrastructure repair and replacement.

The staff report states that the infrastructure estimates used during the 2017 budget were $259 million, almost half of what the staff is telling us today.

Now, we run a billion dollar corporation like the village idiots who are incapable of making the tough decisions to properly maintain our city and its core systems.

Instead we are trapped in a series of terrible management mistakes ranging from the $34 million police headquarters to the $26.6 million lost by GMHI. Throw in the $23 million paying 50 per cent more for a new city hall, and it’s easy to see that Guelph cannot afford these grandiose schemes any more.

The biggest cost to the city is the overhead costs to run it. Starting with a staff that is bloated and laden with special interest projects that cost money.

Our council, except for a few responsible members, is tone deaf to any criticism. The majority are self-absorbed collection of elected officials. Most of whom are so reliant on staff that much of their judgment is flawed and incompetent.

The loss of management talent, with a few exceptions, has denuded senior staff of key personnel, leaving chaos and mistakes.

The eight-page report by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, that detailed how the city could reduce its overhead but not cut services, was delivered to all councillors and Mr. Fung made a personal presentation to council.

We learned later that council dumped on the report making fun of it after Mr. Fung left the chamber.

Did we elect six-year olds to run our city? Their words and conducting our business behind closed doors would seem to be the case.

October 2018 cannot come soon enough to get the majority of this council out of the civic sandbox.

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