How living in Guelph has become a stagnant pool of political mediocrity

By Gerry Barker

July 3, 2018

There was a report published recently that the mayor was not receiving a raise next year. In fact, his take-home pay, thanks to a change in the Federal income tax regulations starting in 2019, that denied the one-third tax-free portion of his gross civic salary of $122,724.

The irony is that the 12 members of council will receive $40,000 next year, an increase of $4,497. Councillors were paid $35,503 these past four years.

Now the initial report in the local bi-weekly was based on the recommendation of the Remuneration Advisory Committee. Names of those on the committee were not revealed.

By an 8-5 vote last Monday, council bumped the mayor’s pay from $122,724 to $152,oo, a 23.4 per cent increase. This decision was based on maintaining his current salary, about to be fully taxed take home pay. The same went for the 12 councillors who will receive $40,000 to maintain their take home pay.

Voting for the motion were Councillors Billings, Gibson, Downer, Hofland, MacKinnon, Piper and Mayor Guthrie. Voting against the motion were Councillors Allt, Bell, Gordon, Salisbury, Wettstein. Coun. Van Hellemond was absent.

It only took four days from the published report for council to perform an Olympic style back flip to ignore the Remuneration Advisory Board’s recommendation to stay any increase for he mayor’s pay for 2019.

This reversal by council is not only stunning in sheer alacrity to perform but presents an interesting split of the councillors rarely seen. Further, why is the mayor voting on an increase that involves histhe next mayor’s salary in 2019?

Here’s what one commentator posted on the Guelph Today website:

Gruntfutak – 18 hours ago – if you owned a business would you increase salaries for every increase in taxes? I doubt it. The Mayor and Councillors have had many years of reduced taxes (33% tax free salary). Let them join the rest of us. This is a tax and will be paid by all income brackets – some of the new minimum wage now goes to the city Mayor and Councillors.

Gruntfutak – 2 days later – If the federal government changes tax rules for the majority of workers those workers have to suffer the reduced income. Just because councilors and mayors have had their tax-free amount changed city tax payers have to pay the increase!!! City taxation has been increased with little or no discussion with the voters.

Without knowing who sits on the advisory committee, common sense was never a virtue of this council.

You have to wonder how city council can act so quickly to over-rule its own advisory committee regarding the salary for 2019 of the office of mayor.

A study in dealing with city hall.

The width of driveways in the east end of the city is being challenged by a bylaw that has ignited the anger of most residents. The fine for an infraction of widening your driveway is up to $600.

Coun. Dam Gibson has been meeting constituents and has filed a notice of motion to review the driveway bylaw. Council will discuss it July 23. If council agrees to debate that motion, it will occur sometime in September.

Council can move like lightning to secure its salaries but a pressing problem by citizens is swallowed by arcane procedure controls.

This is one of the reasons that the structure of council must clearly reflect the interests of all the people.

Here’s why ‘structure’ is not just a nine-letter word

People elect the mayor across the city. Each councillor represents a small minority of citizens in each ward. A mayoralty campaign can cost more than $80,000. Two councillors are elected in each of the six wards and the average election cost for each candidate is usually under $4,000. All cost estimates are based on the 2014 financial statements filed by each candidate.

Now here’s how that works. The progressives run and help finance more than 12 candidates. Dredging from memory, in 2014, the progressives (under Mayor Farbridge) ran some 20 loyal supporters in the wards. Costing that at an average of $3,000 per candidate the progressive regime spent an estimated $60,000 to elect seven progressive loyalists. That equals $8,571, the cost to the progressive organization for each successful candidate and control of council for four years.

And that friends, is the main reason for our city becoming one of the highest taxed municipalities out of the 445 in Ontario. Think about controlling everything before council. All it cost was $15,000 per year.

That’s a cheap way to gain and own power on Guelph city council.

So the power on council lies in the hands of 12 councillors elected in the wards. The current council has seven members in control. The mayor only has one vote and must rely on support of at least six members. The present Mayor can only count on four centrist councillors. One councillor is a ‘floater’ who frequently supports the majority bloc of seven.

Until this system changes the city is being used as a piggy bank to fund a number of failed experiments, indulging the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

Too harsh?

Lets cite a few examples. Start with waste management that has cost Guelph millions. The citizens paid the $34 million cost of the compost plant. The benefit is almost zero as truckloads of other municipalities’ wet garbage are delivered regularly. And it does not yet make a profit nor can the citizens obtain any of the finished compost.

Simply, the facility’s capacity was too great to handle just Guelph’s wet compostable material. It was a pet project of the former mayor who envirmental ambition exceeded the pocket books of citizen who financed it.

Then we go to the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., a flawed operation and still costing millions. The shareholder’s equity in this failed corporation is $60 million. Yet the former mayor was chair of GMHI and at least four of her councillors sat on the board. But the citizens were never told about the operations, the contribution of Guelph Hydro and the bills still to be paid for the Direct Energy operations.

And the biggie that has occurred under Mayor Guthrie’s watch is the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities. Council voted to give Guelph Hydro away for a pack of promises and a tiny 4.36 per cent share of just 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profit. If the Ontario Energy Board approves this merger 55,000 Guelph Hydro ratepayers will have been ripped off by some $300 million.

Here comes the punch line

The year 2016 was the nadir of council’s responsibility.

There were four top executives that, in a secret closed-session meeting of council December 10, 2015, were awarded $98,202 in salary increases. They ranged from 14 per cent to 19 per cent. The citizens discovered none of this until March 31, 2016 when the numbers were published in the provincial Sunshine list.

Of the four, only Derrick Thomson remains as Chief Administrative Officer of Guelph. He was rehired after resigning in January, and returned in June 2016.

He declared that he would reveal his salary and the term of his employment that turned out to be three years. Mr. Thomson said he agreed to a salary of $230,000 in each of the three-year term.

Well the 2017 Sunshine list showed that Mr. Thomson was paid $267,378.That’s a 15.25 per cent increase. In addition he has a taxable benefit of $11,236, the highest in the entire city staff.

What’s wrong with this picture? The Mayor, elected by the people, will receive a $30,000 increase next year to maintain his current take home pay.

Mr. Thomson has an ironclad contract. Mr. Guthrie, if elected, has a riskier position having to run to obtain approval of the electorate.

Okay, here’s another example of the dogs running the pound. In 2014, Mr. Thomson was making $177,000. That represents a 48.5 per cent salary boost from October 2014 to December 2017.

Here’s another one.

When Mr. Thomson was named CAO he immediately appointed Colleen Clack as head of the newly named Public Services. She was earning $142,000 in 2014 as head of Tourism and Culture.

Her salary in 2017 as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer was $208,109. That was an increase of $66,109 or 96.5 per cent from 2014 to December 2017.

In both these cases there was an increase in job responsibility. Nevertheless, they are only two examples of non-disclosure of staff salaries except for the Sunshine list. It all happens because council approves it in closed sessions.

This has to change and is deeply embedded in the administration’s operational and political culture of the city.

Only the voters can change it next October by electing candidates who are political centrists and not obligated to any political party and understand their fiduciary responsibility to the people who elected them.

The final award

It’s doubly ironic that when it comes to granting increases to councillors and the Mayor, an outside “Remuneration Advisory Board” performs it.

There is no measurement of performance, no revelation of expenses, payments by outside boards and no financial data provided to the public.

Now take the senior managers’ method of selecting salary increases.

They prepare a recommendation that is presented to council in closed-session. There is no evidence of who voted for the increases, no explanation substantiating the increases, no breakdown of travel and other expenses or changes in the contracts including details of severance settlements.

In my opinion, in Guelph there are two major pillars that control the flow of public information:

* Successive councils have ruthlessly abused the publics’ Right to Know;

* Those same councils have colluded with staff, secretly suppressing important details of the public’s business. Thereby having the exclusive franchise to choose the Need to Know option to suit their agenda.

“What we don’t tell them, they won’t know or care.”

 

 

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