Commentary by Gerry Barker
Editor of Guelph Speaks
Recently our twice-a-week paper published an editorial saying, the press will not be intimidated. Really, Tribune, look inwardly when you pontificate about press intimidation. Your newspaper is the print parrot for the city administration and its influence has been bought and paid for.
Your corporate owners give journalism a bad name. The Tribune organization is geared to sell advertising and fill in the gaps with soft material usually promoting self-serving causes, including that of the city administration. Yes sir, the Tribune will not be intimidated.
Guelph deserves a real newspaper not a pretender.
When the city pays the Tribune to promote its causes employing so-called “City News” pages that is a subservient example of the advertising department running the content of the newspaper. The tail wagging the dog, so to speak
The kicker is that the citizens are paying an estimated $400,000 a year to purchase space for “City News” content to subsidize the owners, Metroland Publishing, a division of TorStar.
Last year, the Tribune refused to even cover the deep, independent analysis of the city’s operational and capital budgets. When the author, Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, revealed the high costs of overhead compared to peer cities, the Tribune refused to even print a story about it. The editor said the staff did not have the time to check the facts.
For the record, the “facts” were taken from the city’s own Financial Information Reports over a four-year period plus those of other cities and the BMA management consultant’s review of city operations.
There is nothing new about that excuse in order not to rile the city administration.
The paper then refused to accept an ad to detail the Fung report. At first accepted it, then refused to publish it.
Tribune readers were never informed of the Fung report details.
So the paper decided it didn’t want any support or commentary about this revealing report that affected citizens. Despite censoring the Fung Report, eventually it led to many key senior officials leaving the city.
This is how the only major print media in Guelph controls the message emanating from One Carden Street.
But you didn’t read in the Tribune why the management people were leaving the city.
Among them, City Solicitor Donna Jacques resigned. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, resigned May 26, 2016, ten days after co-signing a devastating report indicting of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Incorporated (GMHI), in which she acted as Chief Executive Officer for four years. Former Chief Financial Officer Al Horsman left in August 2015. Even the present CAO, Derrick Thomson resigned shortly after release of the 2015 Sunshine List but was reinstated following Ms. Pappert’s resignation.
But this developing story in which the top staff jobs were being vacated, along with a number of lower-level managers, received scant coverage in the Tribune.
This past week we learned of the audit performed on GMHI and Guelph Hydro by a top accounting firm, KPMG, revealing losses of $161.480 million. It included two senior unsecured debentures in which GMHI owes $103.450 million and has failed to pay the interest for two years on the greater of the two loans.
Yet the full report of the audit was carried on the city’s website for anyone to see.
Did Tribune readers learn about this in the week the news was released? As the saying goes, the Tribune doesn’t have time to check the facts. It was a professional audit covering 2015 and 2016.
Are Tribune readers informed of the multi-million losses by the city waste management department in the past eight years? Or why senior managers have left?
Did readers learn of the Rizzo Brothers deal to bring Detroit recyclables for processing in Guelph? Did they learn that an extra shift was hired to process the materials? Were they told that the deal collapsed and cost the city $1.5 million? Fuhgeddaboutit.
Has the Tribune revealed the number of homes in the city where garbage and recyclables are not picked up by the city? Our home is situated in Guelph Waste Management’s no pick-up zone. The delicious irony occurred this week when we received a colorful folder that explained how to sort our garbage, which bins to use and other useful information about pre-sorting and handling our waste. Trouble is, we were never issued bins.
For the 14 years we have lived in Guelph the city has refused to pick-up our waste. Our small community of homes must pay a private contractor to do the job. In all those years, council and staff have refused not only to service our street but also refuse to reduce that portion of our taxes that include waste services.
The Tribune ignores this travesty of responsibility that affects an estimated 6,000 condo and homes in the city not serviced by the waste management system.
Why doesn’t the Tribune write about the closed session meetings of council including one held December 10, 2015 in which four top managers were awarded $98,202 salary increases?
Three months later, the citizens were informed about these increases when the provincial Sunshine List was published showing the salaries of all public servants in Ontario earning more that $100,000 a year. This information is provided by the city but the citizens were not informed..
Did the Tribune interview citizens and, more particularly, members of council to investigate and report this story? Did the paper analyze the data in the Sunshine List pertaining to Guelph?
Why are the taxpayers being forced to pay for city advertising in the Tribune? What other newspaper has a deal like this? We are paying the paper to publicize the narrow interests of the city, not necessarily those of the citizens. Now put that together with the highly controlled news coverage of the paper that relies on city press releases and controlled interviews with employees.
The history of the failed GMHI program was barely covered in the Tribune, yet the investigation of the growing evidence of huge financial losses was presented starting in mid 2015.
Then along came the leak of some 53,000 confidential city emails to the lawyer representing the fired former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole. The electronic news source, Guelph Today, broke the story on a Friday but we didn’t read about in the Tribune until the following Tuesday. The Tribune may have put the story up on its website but the newspaper readers did not see it until four days later
In fairness, the Tribune only publishes Tuesday and Thursday each week. When the Mercury daily was operating in theory, it would have published the story the next day’s Saturday edition.
So we are a city of 131,000 people without a daily newspaper just the ad-laden twice a week Tribune. Advertising is a form of news that is useful to many readers.
But when the owners of the Tribune do not use part of that advertising revenue to cover the real news, then Guelph does not have a progressive, responsible print media
The real danger is a newspaper should be a permanent record of the events in the municipality in which it has exclusive print coverage
By skipping complex and important events and relying on the municipality’s slanted communications that frequently leaves out important aspects of the city’s
administration. The nuances of news events are rarely explored and reported.
Sadly, the Guelph Mercury Tribune has reflected a narrow point of view that does not fulfill the news needs of the citizens. It does cheerfully accept their tax dollars to publish non-news devoid of substance or interest.
Final point, The City of Guelph has 13 employees in the communications department. That’s more than twice the number of editorial employees at the Tribune.
No wonder this is the paper we get. That brings up the old adage: “You only get what you pay for.”