Monthly Archives: March 2019

Was it coincidence that CAO Thomson is gone or just business as usual?

By Gerry Barker

April 1, 2019

This is the day of pranks, tomfoolery and the joke’s on us.

For once in his life, your faithful correspondent is speechless, witnessing the destruction of the city staff superstructure.

Thinking of the old Yogi Berra line: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” It appears this is not Derrick Thomson’s only departure described as a “parting of the ways” just before the provincial Sunshine List is published. It pops up near the end of March each year.

That List is really the only creditable source of all those Ontario public servants earning more than $100,000 a year plus taxable benefits. Dare I say it, but the former Mike Harris government created the List?

In December 2015, there was a closed-door meeting of council allegedly to discuss some substantial salary and benefit increases for the top three senior city staff managers. Not in dispute when council acted, the increases totaled $98,202.

There was no information published until the 2015 Sunshine List reported three months later.

How do we know the scope of those retroactive payments to the senior managers?? Guelphspeaks.ca compared what the three managers were paid in 2014 and 2015. That’s how the increases were discovered.

Turmoil at the top

In January 2016, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson, was the first to resign following the December 2015 meeting that allegedly approved the increases. He was gone two months before the 2015 Sunshine List was published.

Mr. Thomson accepted a position with the Town of Caledon where he lived. He left a job that was paying $207,000 (all figures rounded) plus $10,000 in taxable benefits.

In April 2016, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert announced her resignation but agreed to stay on to assist the new CAO. She left the city May 26, 2016. Her share of the $98,202 was $37,000 taking her 2015 salary to $257,000 plus $6,000 in taxable benefits.

In June 2016, Mr. Thomson was hired to replace Ms. Pappert. He announced that he would reveal details of his contract. In the fall he said he signed a three-year contract with a salary of $230,000 plus an increase of more than an $11,000 taxable benefit.

When the 2017 Sunshine List was published his salary had risen to $245,000.

Then, the city announced in early March 2019, prior to the 2018 Sunshine List publication, that by mutual agreement, CAO Derrick Thomson and the city were “parting ways.”

There was no further explanation other than he left immediately prior to the 2018 Sunshine List hit the Internet.

Déjà vu, again?

There will be no tag days for Mr. Thomson as his 2018 salary was $335,081 plus the $11,000 taxable bonus.

That is more money than the Premier of Ontario is paid.

It indicates that Mr. Thomson received more than a $90,000 increase between 2017 and 2018. The questions remain why was he suddenly gone on a cool Friday afternoon? The absence of explanation is part of the administration’s tight control of public information. You know: “What they don’t know, won’t hurt them.”

These are matters of the public interest yet there is no information surrounding these developments and why the turmoil exists in the senior echelon of the city government.

Almost forgot. Ms. Pappert worked five months in 2016 but was paid $263,0000, according to the 2016 Sunshine List.

The only way the pubic can receive this information is through the provincial Sunshine List. Without it, none of us have a clue and that’s the way the Guthrie administration wants it. The fact that council convened 84 closed-session meetings in 2015 and 2016 is evidence of denying the public access to information.

The rising trajectory shutting down public participation

For the past 39 months, annual property taxes increases in Guelph exceeded that of Brampton, Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Toronto, Windsor and many more. Why? Why are other comparable cities able to manage their finances without hitting the property taxpayers’ ATM every year? Guelph’s tax rate is consistently more than 3 per cent.

For example, this year Brampton’s property tax rate is 1.1 per cent. With all the turmoil that city management has been through, it’s an astonishing achievement.

This year brought a welcome break when the city announced a property tax rate of 2.63 per cent less than the annual  3 per cent for only the second time since 2007. There are adjustments coming that will likely increase that tax rate.

In my opinion, there are two crucial aspects of this failure to govern responsibly:

The left majority of city council has politicized the staff. We blew the opportunity last October by not turning out to vote or participate. Municipal voting only occurs every four-years and we’re stuck with an administration that is frequently incompetent, secretive, authoritarian and irresponsible.

Don’t get me wrong. There are talented and dedicated employees on staff. Unfortunately, in Guelph, the leadership is the weak link.

The other vital action that needs to engage is public participation. This means attending council meetings and presenting contrarian points of view. Further, protest decisions that are not in the public interest. Sad to say, some councillors cherishs ambition and not pragmatism.

The woods are filled with competent and talented individuals experienced in public service. They aren’t hard to find. It’s too easy to blame the staff but after witnessing the merger of Guelph Hydro, council failed to look after its own destroying one of the best group of staffers in the province.

If we don’t react to stupidity and careless statements that city council has already demonstrated, we can only blame ourselves.

The real power governing the city lies with the people.

Let’s restore it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another hometown dopey declaration to solve the global climate change crisis

By Gerry Barker

March 25 2019

Opinion

I don’t know about you, well, some of you, but the majority group of councillors that has controlled the civic agenda for more than 12 years. It has becom tiresome and costly. They echoing the New Democratic party’s national policies dominating Guelph’s governance of its responsibilities.

There have been a number of attempts to make our city as a “World Class city” and damn the expense. That’s one aspect that is clear and historical or often hysterical.

Except that it’s our money they are playing with. I estimate that more than $150 million has been spent and wasted on projects that are beyond the support and power of our municipality.

How about this? In 13 budgets crafted and approved by the dominant left, there have been only two where the annual property tax rate has slightly been set under three per cent. When compounded exponentially, it’s more than 50 per cent. I won’t even go into the increases in user fees during those 13 years of budgets from 2007 to 2019.

When the new dominated council came into power in 2007, there were some 1,508 full-time (FTE’S) and part time employees. Today, with the approved addition of some 23 employees, the staff has grown to more than 2,350. It was reported that these additions would cost $9.2 million.

Now here is where it gets tricky, and in my opinion, deceptive

First, the police employee costs are filed separately to the province. From the city employee’s submission both payrolls are required under the Salary Disclosure Act. This Act requires every public servant in Ontario earning more than $100,000 must be included in the Sunshine List. The 2018 report is about to be published this month.

The city published a report wjich stated that 339 city employees were on the 2018 city list earning more than $100K

The question arises, were the police employees’ earning more than $100K included in the city list? Answer, no.

Second, why aren’t they? They are public employees whose remuneration is paid by the residents.

Third, we have the statement that the increase in property taxes for 2019 is 2.63 per cent. Apparently it is to be adjusted next month to reflect additional costs including property assessments and a catchall of undisclosed charges.

We interrupt this column to ask: Ever receive a city financial report?

The word ‘deception’ comes to mind that the budget announcement has become a political action document to assuage any negative public reaction. It also explains the reason why we cannot pay our property taxes in four equal installments.

Budgeting begins with examining performance of the 2018 budget. Knowing that, the staff prepares recommendations to complete the 2019 budget. You will recall this year the staff recommended a 3.99 per cent increase in property taxes, by far the greatest source of operating income of the city.

Miraculously, city council approved an increase of 2.63 per cent. I’d like to congratulate council for holding the line. But they still approved funding the Well-being grant program to non-profit groups totaling more than $300,000. Two years ago, that budget item was some $150,000. Has this been turned into a political support program?

Fourth, the craziness continues.

So far, there are four long-term plans announced in the past two years:

Starting with the Downtown Library that has had the longed gestation period of any project in 20 years. Next comes the South End Recreation development in which the city has already invested more than $3 million with a predicted price tag of $63 million.

Now for the two biggies contracts that will not be completed in ten years:

First, the Guelph Innovation District lands (GID). The city has already invested untold funding by city staff who are busy planning a satellite city on 250 acres on land they don’t own. While the PC government has announced it will dispose of surplus properties, they will not be pushovers. Predictably it will cost millions to secure the property. Why is the administration even considering this? It’s nothing but speculation and land flipping to potential developers.

Second, the Baker Street Parking lot project.

This proposed development has been pegged costing more than $350 million with a private partner described as Windmill Properties located in Ottawa, and specialist in Public Private Participation projects experts or Three P’s.

Shovels will apparently not go into the ground until 2023. Can you hear the sound of the price estimates going up? You have to ask, is what is the cost to the city and terms of the contract, particularly the liability to citizens if it is not completed

Another blunders by council to resolve downtown parking

In the first 2015 Guthrie budget, council agreed to set aside $700,000 to restore updated parking meters on downtown streets. In the 2016 budget those funds were relocated to commence paying for preplanning of the South End Recreation Centre.

It appears, that politics entered the arena (bad pun), with a solution to help solve the downtown-parking problem. Next came awarding a $22 Million contract to build a five-storey Parkade next to city hall on Wilson Street.

Theses two decisions did nothing to alleviate downtown parking.

All this inaction has caused many businesses to close because customers cannot park. Check the empty stores. Perception is more dangerous politically than the threat of defeat to those making decisions.

It has been inferred that the growth in city staff is dominating the parking problems as most employees receive a benefit of free parking. Today try and find a place to park near city hall or the provincial court in old city hall.

During the workday you have to depend on good luck to find a parking space on the city hall area on Carden Street.

Aren’t Parking, potholes, infrastructure and taxes more important than dealing with Global Climate Change?

There are two councillors anxious to convince council to declare a Climate Change Emergency by the City of Guelph.

Coun. Leanne Piper, believes that controlling rising costs is by plucking the low hanging fruit for cost reductions. This means saving money by defunding budget items she believes could be chopped without political consequence.

Her co-sponsor of having city council declare a climate change emergency is Coun. James Gordon, a troubadour and former NDP candidate to the Ontario Legislature.

Now, we all know that the majority of councillors are part of the left side of the political sphere

There seems to be opposition of the proposal that fails to explain exactly what does a Climate Change Emergency do? How much is it going to cost citizens. Which projects get shelved to pay for whatever the emergency is and how can a city of 131,000 residents impact a global climate crisis?

Ms. Piper says that while the city has done much in installing environmental advances it is not enough without explaining any of the above and where the money is coming from.

James Gordon takes a slightly different tack, stating that money spent on projects to reduce the city’s climate footprint is an investment. James, first tell us about what a climate change emergency is and details of the costs.

Does it mean setting up a new bureaucracy to run the Climate Change emergency? Or does it mean banning fossil fueled vehicles, plastic straws, bottles and other plastic products?

For every action, there is a reaction. This is it.

**** a

Note, Guelph Speaks Editor, Gerry Barker: Today, March 25, was to be an important step to end the defamation lawsuit.

A Superior Court Judge, January 21, 2019, was to hear my motion to dismiss the claim, to be conducted March 25 and it has been deferred. The claim by a former employees’ laws auit claiming that I defamed him in 2016 is now in its third year.

However, justice moves in mysterious ways. My counsel was notified that our Superior Court Justice could not hear the motion March 25 due to a conflict of assignments.

Less than 24 hours later, my counsel was notified that a new date has been set, U.S. July 4, Independence Day. Is this an omen?

 

 

 

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Let the finger pointing begin

By Gerry Barker

March 18, 3019

Opinion

We elected two men to represent our interests. Sitting in the Ontario Legislature is Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party. With only himself in the Legislature, his party is not an official party under the rule of the Legislature.

The other is Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield, a backbencher in the Trudeau government who is facing re-election this October.

Now, as I understand it, last time the election of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario June 7, split the cozy relationship between the Ottawa Liberals, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Queen’s Park Liberal government of former Premier Kathleen Wynne.

With recent events involving the SNC Lavalin affair, is this a good time to be a Liberal?

MPP Mike Schreiner, after spending $119,000 to get elected, has metaphorically become the Maytag, repairman in the Legislature after accepting his huge victory in Guelph. Now that he’s there he has no power, no support in the Legislature and no influence.

In the lyrics of the Irish Rovers: “Wasn’t that a party?”

But Schreiner is there for four years and Guelph voters, by a wide margin, put him there.

Along comes Mr. Longfield who blames the provincial government for “not being open for business.”

That’s rich coming from a federal MP who sat in the House of Commons for almost four years saying nary a word condemning the Liberal government of Premier Wynne for not keeping Ontario open for business.

What’s that expression? If you want to win an election start a fight.

That nervous rattle you hear among the Trudeau Liberals is the dessention of voters over many areas of Liberal power. Starting with The SNC Lavalin fiasco that has cost the party it’s Attorney General and Justice Minister and the Minister of Health.

As this is being written before the third cabinet shuffle in two months, what does it tell you about the internal management and stability of theTrudeau government?

The genesis of political finger pointing

Last year, the federal government signed a bilateral agreement with the province to distribute $10.4 billion of federal funds to Ontario municipalities.

To try and understand this, our city has one of the municipalities selelcted to receive funding for a number, including the new $63 million South End recreation Centre.

Mr. Longfield is said to be asking Mayor Cam Guthrie to pressure the provincial government to release the funds.

It is obvious that the city has been working diligently to move its projects forward.

Enter stage left: Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner who would be the logical contact to get things moving on the provincial level. Instead, Longfield wants the Mayor to act without mentioning the Green Party leader who represents Guelph.

What does Longfield know that we don’t?

The bilateral agreement included splitting the Federal money into four areas: Northern and rural; public transit; green initiatives and community; culture and recreational projects.

It comes to mind the Federal money that was spent by the Harper government in Cabinet member Tony Clements’s Muscoka riding to spruce  up the community for a visit by members of the G-20 meeting in Toronto. We all remember how that turned out.

Perhaps the Mayor should contact Mike Schreiner to help jump-start this funding.

The only problem, will the Tories listen to Schreiner?

 

 

 

 

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Council speculates spending $10 million to buy 243 acres from Ontario using reserve funds

By Gerry Barker

March 11, 2019

Opinion

First, some history: Shortly following her re-election in 2010, Mayor Farbridge launched her plan to convince the province to give the city almost 25 per cent of the 1,070 acres of the Guelph reformatory lands plus the former Turf Institute land.

The former mayor and her council majority, along with city staff were involved in planning the project. It would reflect the land use values advocated by such urban planners as Richard Florida. It was proposed to be an environmental project that excluded most vehicles, was self-contained with shopping, parks, businesses, where there would be jobs for the inhabitants in short, a development for tomorrow.

It was given the misleading title of the Guelph Innovation District (GID) lands. One to be developed over eight years at public expense before the city owned the peoperty and it still doesn’t.

Did they consider how winter weather would affect the planned mobility of resident’s facing a foot of snow?

Think about it. A fossil fuel free environment modeled on residents being able to work within the community, shop on a bicycle and walk to where ever they choose.

Was it the crown jewel of the Farbridge administration in 2010?

It was another social engineering vision thing, that the design would create a new modern city where people could walk to shop and work. It would be spacious and contain a portion of affordable housing. There would be business sited in the design along with police and fire stations and possibly elementary schools.

The cost of services such as water, sewers, electricity, telephone, and cable to the city systems will be very expensive due to the upgrades needed by the city to provide those necessary services to the site.

It could be Guelph’s Tomorrow Land. Insread it was just another village as part of the city.

But the Wynne government didn’t bite at giving away provincial property. The planning process went on with the blind assumption that the Ontario government would change its mind.

Last December 17, the majority of council voted to negotiate with the new Ford government with a cockamamie proposal to buy the lands using two unrelated reserve funds totaling $10 million as deposits.

Council approved the motion, initiated by Councillors James Gordon and Leanne Piper.

“To me the risk is to the city in this process,” Coun. Christine Billings stated. “We’re playing middle man, and so I see that we have some risk as the stages are set.”

In my opinion, the citizens have all the risk. By Guelph standards, this is a huge undertaking to develop raw land and to flip it to private developers to complete the city’s planned development. In eight years, this proposal has already cost citizens millions, with city staff doing the design, planning and engineering studies.

Considering the elements of risk in this staff proposal, who should have known better, includes the following:

Doesn’t the Province, the seller, employing third party real estate professionals, want to determine the value of the lands in question?

If agreement is reached with potential developers, will the price of purchasing the lands, using public funds, be too high for developers?

Already the city administration has set the ground rules notifying any potential developers that the design must adhere to the city plan.

How long will it take the city investment to be recovered and reserves replenished?

What is the financial status of any developer to guarantee completion of the project?

How long will it take before the city receives income from property taxes, user fees and services income?

Really, the city staff recommended this?

This city has no business engaging in this property flopping scheme. It is another hangover from the former administration to force-feed their proposals, and projects without public input or consideration.

Here are some remembrances of your taxes being squandered:

* The Civic museum – $10 million;

* Bike lanes – $5 million to date and an ongoing expense of $300,000 annually;

* The organic waste processing facility – $34 million and the compost is not available to residents who financed it;

* Capital cost of the bin collection system – $1.55 million;

* Cost over-run of the Urbacon Buildings Group city hall – $23 million;

the GMHI fiasco -$63 million and counting;

* Trafic congestions caused by lane removal to allow bike lanes – cost is unknown and an unintended consequence;

* Downtown parking revenue lost – $77 million over 12 years;

* Affordable housing – nothing;

* Over 12 years annual increase in property taxes and user fees– for now, incalculable.

* The Baker Street renovation by a Public Private Partnership (3P) estimated to cost $350 million and shovels don’t go in before 2022.

* A staff estimate of repairing and replacing infrastructure throughout the city – $450 million over the next 30 years.

These are real numbers not percentages in pie charts

Are you concerned that our city is going into the real-estate investor business, using public funds, is wise and will benefit all citizens?

In my opinion, I do not believe the city has the money, or the expertise to engage in this scheme that is highly speculative. Coun. Billings is right as we are the man in the middle, being financially responsible for completion of this proposed flip from start to finish.

The province will love selling it to a municipal corporation that cannot go bankrupt under provincial law.

The province gets paid in full before the city can resell the property to a third party developer who is now in control of the project. The developer client can demand that his company decides if the plan, demanded by the city, is acceptable.

That presents a large problem that could take years to materialize.

Remember, it took six years to settle the Urbacon lawsuit that the city administration was fully responsible for, spending an additional $23 million to complete the project originally budgeted for $42 million.

To me, the present council is dominated by so-called progressives determined to continue the Farbridge vision of making Guelph a paragon of political correctness and environmentally superior.

How’s that working for you?

 

 

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The crucible of corruption and how it affects all of us

By Gerry Barker

March 4, 2019

Opinion

This past week, I experienced a five-hour examination designed to challenge my credibility as a citizen, a taxpayer and homeowner. It was a crucible to discredit my persona reputation and that of my wife and family.

I won’t go any further than that, as it has become a two year plus legal case that will be resolved so therefore I cannot comment at this time.

What I can address are the details of the 2019 budgets that are now reaching a crescendo of policies that will impact every part of your life and living in Guelph.

The core problem is the ineffectual management of the city by the staff. Let’s drift back a week or so ago.

Chief Administration Officer Derrick Thomson “parted ways” with the city. Why the sudden separation in the middle of the city budgets’ preparations over which he oversaw?

As the head of the city staff, the staff proposed a property tax rate set at 3.93 per cent.

Before getting too excited, there is a process of meeting in which the public can appear before council to express their needs and demands.

Tomorrow night, March 5, council will approve the new property tax increase.

History shows that several influences arise.

First, the sitting councillors have their chance to promote their pet projects. This creates a political adjustment such as you, as a councillor, add your project to the list. Something has to go in order to keep the property tax rate under 4 per cent.

Are you starting to get it? First, announce a staff recommendation of 3.93 per cent. This is done before the citizens request their projects be approved. There are  a wide range of projects requiring the blessing of the mayor and his council.

* They include an appeal of the Kazoo festival supporters along with the Guelph Arts council to “plead for more funding for the city’s Community Wellbeing Grant to assist small arts organizations.

* Head of the Guelph Transit union wants more funding to support finding for nameless improvement but Transit has the go-ahead to hire three more drives. Did management not have a say in this? It would be helpful if Transit would total ridership, the route usage and impact of the University student passage contribution, compared with taxpayer subsidization.

*   Steve Dyck quickly wants the city to spend another $1 million this year to fulfill its commitment to reach zero carbon emissions. Steve, the transition from fossil fuels will take at least another 50 to 75 years, if ever. Steve, how’s it working for you?

*   A delegation protested the increase in their monthly parking fees from $40 to $100. Is this part of Steve Dyck’s zero emissions proposal?

*   A number of advocates for affordable housing to accommodate those marginalized citizens to be able to have a home.

There were a number of citizens who, in the main, asked for public funding. In my opinion, this has been a problem for years. But should the municipal taxpayers be responsible? The administration can certainly support it through planning and expanding projects. Financing should come from senior governments and the private sector.

Today, we have no CAO, a triumvirate of three skilled DCAO’s in charge of the city staff its responsibilities and financing.

For 12 years I have been advocating reducing city overhead chiefly to fix the city infrastructure deficit. Unfortunately, council does not agree, instead it includes in the 2019 budget an additional 17 new employees at a cost of $9.2 million.

In my opinion this is a self-serving staff recommendation that lacks detail of where and what are these new staffers supposed to do? The city information releases don’t offer any rationale for recommending these new employees.

What Guelph needs now is a cadre of experienced and qualified staff leadership. We already have the base of individuals to refocus management and turn our city into a model that will attract businesses, technology firms and make our city a great place to live and be affordable for all.

Let’s loosen the surly bonds of misguided management that has sucked the treasury dry in the name of progress and the environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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