By Gerry Barker
November 15, 2018
Guelph is a no man’s land when it comes to accountability and transparency.
Yet a Guelph Today writer seem to believe that holding closed=session meetings is okay. In the first two years of the Guthrie administration, there were 84 closed-session meetings held by council. It is impossible to obtain the minutes of those meetings.
I know from personal experience when I requested a copy of the minutes of a closed-session held, December 10, 2015. It concerned the pay increases for four top city managers. The request was referred to an outfit in London, known as the “Closed Session Investigators” who took four months to deny my request.
The organization has been on retainer with the city since 2008. Since then there were three requests for minutes of closed-session council meetings all of which were denied.
That’s transparency Guelph council style
It’s a political island in a provincial sea of blue. It has elected a member of the Legislature who is a party of one, the Ontario Green Party. He is a member who is politically left of the late NDP leader, Jack Layton. A man who is bent on creating a David Suzuki brand of an environmental green nirvana that most Ontario electors voted against last June.
The election was a total repudiation of the Liberal government’s policies of structuring a disastrous energy file, the cost of which has yet to be determined. The Kathleen Wynne government imposed a long-term residential development plan on every municipality in the province. The focus of the plan was building residential housing incorporating “Intensification” by eliminating single-family development. By condensing more housing units on smaller acreages, the result was low-rise condos accompanied by strip attached townhouses with little open space.
The evidence of these ghettos of intensification is concentrated along Victoria and Clair Roads. Tiny garages, open space parking for condo owners, and jammed together like sardines.
The bonus to the city was increased assessment that created increased revenue. The downside is these developments do not produce any affordable housing.
All this happened in eight years under former Mayor Farbridge’s two-term councils. And it still continues to this day. City planners have allowed development that has inadequate driveways and narrow streets with little visitor parking.
The Wynne plan called for Guelph to have a population of 175,000 by 2031. However it is predicted that the city is rapidly becoming a bedroom city, occupied by commuters heading for jobs in the GTA.
Successive progressive dominating councils, have ignored eight years of failure of the economic development department to seek and encourage industrial and communications companies to come to Guelph to create jobs.
Economic development, what’s that?
Since 2006, the city’s ratio of residential assessment compared to commercial/industrial has not changed. Some 84 per cent of all city assessment is residential. This places an enormous burden on property owners whose taxes and special levies average more than 3.5 per cent annually.
Just remember that the man just re-elected Mayor, promised in his first campaign to maintain property tax increases at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index. That was 1.99 per cent when he was elected in 2014. His first budget approved in March 2015 by council, was 3.96 per cent following changes in property assessment. Rookie mistake?
The new council, as described by the Guelph Today writer, is not new at all. All of the incumbents were re-elected. Only two new councillors were added. That looks like the same council as before continuing the domination of the progressives who retain a 7-6 majority.
Time to get serious. The city is facing a growing drug problem, a fiscal problem that will never go away until the brakes are pumped to control the grandiose plans to redevelop Baker Street. There is need to freeze further city funds for the Guelph Innovation District on the provincially-owned reformatory lands. What influence does Mr. Schreiner, our MPP, have to persuade the province to part with the more than 1,077 acres of the reformatory property?
Why are we financing these two projects?
There is no capital funding for these two projects that are proposed for long-term construction and purchase of the reformatory property.
Instead, concentrate building a new downtown library with adequate parking and make it convenient to all citizens.
In the near term, there will be the task of funding additions to the Guelph General Hospital as the population increases each year.
Let’s get started building the South-end Recreation Centre in three stages: First, infrastructure for entire project, parking and rinks, community rooms and staff offices; Second, children’s area, library branch and computer facilities, auditorium for stage events and film; Third, swimming pool, change rooms, exercise area and more parking.
Architects and planners can rearrange elements. Once the plan is ready the public should have input. This is a major and necessary project and could be spaced out over the new term of council.
The chief decisions that need immediate attention is to review all audited statements, eliminate unnecessary spending on staff and social programs. The staff reviews are painstakingly slow and the internal auditor should be given assets to speed up the review process.
It’s not all dark and gloom. It is important that financial information be presented to the public in print as well as online. The Financial Department has made great progress in improving the clarity of information but if you don’t have a computer, you won’t see the information. Sending a note requesting preference of citizens to receive important details of city operations will be beneficial to all citizens.
Bon chance, mes Amis