Monthly Archives: May 2019

What does Cam Guthrie really want?

By Gerry Barker

May 27, 2019

Opinion

Is it my imagination or is Mayor Cam Guthrie seeking a higher calling?

It is becoming clear that the Mayor has an agenda to seek higher office.

Here is one example.

Last year’s jumble of the Progressive Conservation leadership debacle led up to the provincial election last June 7. In those uncertain times, Mayor Guthrie, actively campaigned behind the scenes, seeking the PC nomination by acclamation bypassing the nominating convention required by the riding association.

He had already announced that he was running for Mayor of Guelph in the October civic election. He said he loved Guelph and his job as Mayor. He presented his documents on the first day the civic election nominations opened.

In October, he won in a landslide against the NDP backed candidate who ran third in the provincial election. You remember that one that the Ontario NDP launched the fake “orange Wave” claiming the province was going to elect an NDP government.

Instead, the PC’s won 73 seats to form the government and Doug Ford became Premier.

As for Cam Guthrie’s secret ambition to be elected to the Legislature, the huge victory of Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green Party, saved Guthrie’s future. The Green Party spent $119,0000 to elect Schreiner who won with 29,000 votes.

By comparison, Mayor Guthrie’s official financial statement contained the names of 100-persons who donated some $88,000 to his 2018 mayoralty campaign.

Was it an accident or just good luck?

Call it an accident from which Guthrie could walk away and he kept his job.

The bottom line is, why did the Mayor disguise his intention to run for the Ontario Legislature as a PC? He is, or perhaps was, a well-known Conservative supporting both the federal and Ontario branches of the party. Why did Guthrie deceived the Guelph voters claiming he wanted to be re-elected Mayor while trying to get the nomination for another?

Mayor Guthrie has moved along in his path to high office. As a member of the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus he was elected chairman of the group.

This past week, the Mayor told Guelph Today that the provincial government policies “could” jeopardize building the South End Community Centre and a new Downtown library.

Earlier he commented that the Ford government was using stealth techniques to divert public attention.

“I am very, very concerned,” he said, commenting that so are most municipalities.

So what’s the actual beef here?

The Ford government has floated a proposal to lower municipal developers’ fees. This has thrown some municipalities into a tizzy.

Here’s why, and Guelph has been misusing developer fees for funding capital projects. That is not the purpose of developer fees. It’s about infrastructure connections, increasing public safety personnel and public services impact of new development.

“ Our priorities would have to be re-looked at and it would have to be filtered through an affordability lens of what our taxpayers could handle,” warning this could happen if the municipal developer fees are reduced by the Ford government.

The big problem is the South End Community Centre

Council has already tapped the taxpayers to start the preliminary planning and design of the centre to the tune of $3.5 million. That’s a commitment toward spending the estimated $63 million to complete the project.

Here’s a clue of how council spends your developer fees.

“To be blunt, the Mayor continued. “The taxpayers should not have to front these costs.”

He goes on to state that the new main library will cost more than $50 million and 35 per cent of that was to be funded through development charges. That works out to be $17.9 million to come from development charges.

Here’s the beef.

If indeed, the Ford government mandates lowering municipal development fees, that $17.9 million will increase creating a financial gap for taxpayers to pick up.

In my opinion this is smoke and mirrors. And here’s why.

The long-awaited downtown library is part of the initial estimated cost of the $300 million Baker Street renovation project. The plan is to have costs shared between the city and a private developer. This sharing arrangement details have not been revealed.

This project is to start in 2024 and will take six to seven years to complete. Best estimates is that will be 11 years from now.

The South End project is at least five years to complete once the financing is secure. Hello taxpayers!

Then the city is about to enter an auction of the reformatory lands, aka Guelph Innovation Development lands. The plan is to develop a 245-acre satellite green community that city staff has been working on since 2013. The cost of this is unknown.

Depending on the city’s bid, this is an international invitation to bid on the property owned by the province.

It is understandable of the fallout if the province reduces the developer’s fees.

What taxpayers need to know is why are development fees being used to finance major capital projects that are mostly far over the horizon in terms of years.

The taxpayer and those charged user fees cannot continue to pay for big buck projects when it cannot fix the pot holes or pick up the garbage in parts of the city.

Guelph’s tax rates have averaged more than three per cent per year for the past 12 years greater when compared to similar-sized cities.

Perhaps Guthrie has the right idea, move up and leave the problems to someone else.

 

 

 

 

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Was former Mayor Karen Farbridge ahead of her time, or was blinded by personal ambition?

By Gerry Barker

May 21, 20119

Opinion

In her eighth years as the head of council, Ms. Farbridge launched a composite of advanced environmental projects. She recognized the effect on the city of global climate change. She was also a masterful political strategist who made mistakes along the way. Despite her skill sets and vision she made one big mistake.

Read on and learn or recall the history of a Mayor consumed by all things environmental and turning Guelph into a world leader in self-sufficiency of waste management, banning fossil-fueled vehicles and weed whackers, stopping the use of pesticides, anything plastic that was non-bio-degradable.

She was determined to get us onto bicycles as basic transportation, sort out waste, protecting the tree canopy of the city, revitalize the downtown, building more bike lanes and reduce vehicle lanes to accommodate wider bike lanes, hiring more staff to carry out her numerous polices and projects. Finally, the cost of all this was annual incremental property taxes and user fees.

Whew! How did we survive?

In 2009, the Farbridge city council entered a three-tier government infrastructure plan in which the city was responsible for one third of the approved projects. As it turned out, the city overspent its share by adding projects including $2 million for bike lanes on Stone Road and a new $75,000 time clock in the Sleeman Centre.

These so-called environmental projects included a $34 million organic waste processing facility, to turn wet waste into compost. The facility was financed by the public since 2011, has been run by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maple Reinders, the company that built the facility. This company also sells the capacity to other municipalities.

I requested information about the operation as to what has been the payback to the city. I was told that it was not expected to be profitable as it was a city waste management facility and not intended to make money.

This recent explanation summarizes the disregard that the city administration at the time, denied public information. The plant was overbuilt being licensed to process 60,000 tonnes of wet waste per year. The city of Guelph’s 10,000 tonnes of wet waste per year is miniscule. Today, the facility is accepting wet waste from the Regional of Waterloo and other municipalities.

It now appears that the city made a terrible deal and a high price to process its own wet waste in the past eight years.

Well, somebody is making money in this deal, and it’s not the citizens of Guelph who financed it. We can’t even access the finished compost that is sold privately by the operating company.

The $23 million mistake that took six years to explain

On September 18, 2008, there was that moment of mayoralty pique when general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc. was ordered off the construction site of the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall into a provincial offenses court.

The details are too many and complex to cover in this post, except that the original contracted price for the project was $42 million in 2006. When the dust settled in November 2014, the CAO revealed the cost zoomed to $65 million.

This dispute lasted for six years, a lengthy trial that found the city guilty of wrongful dismissal and it cost the Mayor her job losing to a rookie councillor, Cam Guthrie.

There was a municipal exhale following the election in which 43 per cent voted. Most folks pleased that the Farbridge era was over, my wife and I included.

In those heady days of electoral joy, there was a huge Farbridge controlled plan to use a small city-owned corporation called Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) to take over Guelph Hydro to create radical new plans to make the city self-sufficient generating its own electricity and burying pipe underground to supply hot and cold water to a small number of building near the Sleeman Centre.

The mayor’s plan was to install solar panels on all public buildings to be installed by a subsidiary corporation of Guelph Hydro. Installing two natural gas pumps in the Sleeman Centre and Hanlon business Park cost $11 million.

The impact of the GMHI activities were chiefly unknown by the public. In late 2015, council engaged the accounting firm KPMG to conduct a consolidated audit of GMHI. In May 2016, the management of GMHI told council the bad news that the GMHI finances were in disarray and prospects of saving the components was remote. On May 26, 2016, The Chief Administrative Officer of the city and Chief Executive Officer of GMHI for four years, Ann Pappert, left the city staff.

In July a staff investigation of GMHI painted an even more divesting report of the GMHI performance in four years.

KPMG’s audit showed a shareholder’s liability of $60 million.

The disposal of Guelph Hydro

In 2017, city council appointed a Strategic Options Committee to sort through the options to dispose of the city-owned Guelph Hydro that in its 2016 financial report showed a book value of $226 million.

To this day, I maintain this was a giveaway of our power distribution system for peanuts. I believe it was to help wipe out the huge GMHI liability for which the city was responsible. What other reason would there be?

In October 2018, Council voted to accept a merger proposal with Alectra Utilities. January 1, this year the deal closed with the approval of the Ontario Energy Board.

But in 2015, Farbridge loyalists retained the majority of the new council and remain there today. In the October civic election the Farbridge group retained the majority. Only 33 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls compared to 42 per cent in 2014..

These issues will be revisited in a future GS post. The city council still clings to the Farbridge initiatives as our taxes and operating overhead increases every year.

One closing example: Some 23 new employees were hired in the 2019 budget costing annually $9.2 million.

Result? We got a majority Farbridge-inspired council because the majority of voters did not bother to vote last October.

 

 

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Is there a new citizen’s organization on the horizon: Huelph Guelph 22?

By Gerry Barker

May 13, 2019

Opinion

Is Mayor Cam Guthrie still a card-carrying member of the Guelph riding association’s Progressive Conservative Party?

I should state that Mr. Guthrie does not like me and the feeling is mutual.

My wife and I voted for him in the 2014 civic election despite his screaming accusation on the phone just days before the election that: “You have cost me the election and my wife and children are crying.”

It is a known fact that the final days of an election campaign can cause hysteria, uncertainty and what I call the Nixon syndrome of intense paranoia about those enemies surrounding him.

Gee, Cam. I wasn’t one of them.

That was the beginning of the end in which a relationship disintegrated. Regardless the GrassRoots Guelph supported his candidacy. I wrote many posts revealing the mismanagement by the former mayor’s council involving a $23 million cost overrun. That included the new city hall and provincial court conversion of the old city hall.

It only took Mr. Guthrie about 45 days to send an email to a number of people informing them that I did not know what I was writing about and frequently got the facts wrong. One of my supporters sent me a copy, as I was not on his mailing list.

My sin? I reported that council was reviewing CAO Ann Pappert’s contract.

I then realized that Cam Guthrie had a powerful ego fed by ambition but little experience to support his lust to seek power and control.

To be fair, those first four months were not easy for the Mayor.

First, he did not have the support of the majority of council, most of whom were part of the former mayor’s council supporters.

His first test was overseeing and approving the 2015 city budget.

During the 2014 election campaign, candidate Guthrie promised that he would keep the property tax rate at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) level that was 1.11 per cent in 2014.

On March 25, 2015, the budget was revealed. The property tax rate was more than 3 per cent and adjusted later for the increases in assessment of Guelph properties to total 3.96 per cent.

It would take a year before the truth about that budget was exposed.

It turned out that council approved $98,202 increases to three senior managers for 2015 but never told the public who or why. That is until the provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning $100,000 or more were published.

Guelphspeaks.ca was the only media outlet that compared the salaries of city employees with the 2014 Sunshine List. And that, Inspector Clouseau, is how the public learned of the names and increases. However, at the time, still unknown was the “why” for the increases.

In my opinion, this plan was hatched in the waning days of the election campaign. Regardless council had to be aware of it, including the Mayor who already supported CAO Pappert, who resigned in April 2016 and left the city May 26.

When the 2016 Sunshine List was published in March 2017, Ms. Pappert was paid $263,000 but only worked five months.

Former employee Derrick Thomson replaced her in June 2016. Eight months later he fired colleague DCAO Mark Amorosi, one of the three recipients of the 2015 secret senior manager pay increases.

In March 2019, CAO Thomson and the city “parted ways.” Thomson was earning $335,000 plus an $11,000 taxable benefit. There was no explanation and a four-month search was launched to find a successor.

It was the end of a dark cloud of cover-up hanging over the city, as all three senior career employees were gone. Mayor Guthrie presided over 84 closed-session council meetings in two years that denied any public participation, accountability or transparency to which the public is entitled.

It only proves that pigs can fly.

Addendum

Recently, Mayor Cam Guthrie formed a Task Force to investigate and develop a plan to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. In the Task Force’s third report, it admitted that the local groups currently engaged in dealing with this serious problem, lacked sufficient funds to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is stating that Provincial Budget cuts will result in “tax hikes and service cuts” for cities. Has the Mayor read the Ontario budget and supporting documents to reach that conclusion?

This is a Guelph/Wellington problem that has needed funding to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately successive city councils have not addressed the growing problem and  the treatment of addicts occupying the city. That’s why the Mayor decided to corral the stakeholders responsible for the homeless and addictive.

Perhaps, it’s time not to depend on senior governments to finance our problems and how to pay for it. All Ontario municipalities lacking the power to broaden the narrow tax base reliant on property taxes and user fees. That’s why when it comes to dealing with a serious  local situation, council’s only  alternative is to take their begging bowls to Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill.

And this is where Mike Schreiner, MPP and Lloyd Longfield, MP use their influence to help solve the problem of under-funding.

Until support comes from the province and Ottawa, both the city and county will be unable to make real change in dealing humanely with those less fortunate persons and addictives.

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Our Green-Gripped council uses spigot management to administer our city

By Gerry Barker

May 6, 2019

Opinion

First, let’s do a fact-based quiz on what most people understand about our city administration, or they don’t know.

* How much has the administration spent on bike lanes since 2007?

* How much public money has been spent on relieving downtown parking including the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade next to city hall.

* Who really benefits from this Parkade?

* In the past 12 years, how much have your property taxes increased?

* Does your income cover the increasing costs that living in the city where taxes cosr more each year?

* Why is traffic congestion in the city a growing chronic problem?

* After 12 years, why does the downtown remain rife with drunks, druggies and dealers, panhandlers, the homeless on weekends after the sun goes down?

* Should the $350 million Baker Street re-development be a priority to proceed in 2024?

* Why did council approve the givea way of Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities?

* How much did the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc District Energy projects cost the city?

It’s because our Green-Gripped council controls the spigot of collecting and disposing of our money and we have no recourse. Only every four years can we express our support, or not, at the polls.

These are important issues that will not be reported in full by the remnants of the Guelph media including the weekly Mercury-Tribune and the online Guelph Today Internet news source. Most of the “news” is generated by the city communications staff plus the police department and faithfully reproduced by the city news sources.

Third class media coverage of a first class city

The Guelph media’s failure to get both sides of the story and interview people who do not agree with the issue is, in my opinion, feckless journalism. And I have seen enough of it in a lifetime of newspapering.

I was amused by an editorial, nay lecture, in the Tribune that pontificated to readers that understanding the difference between “news” and “opinion.” The first element of journalism is reporting the news. Often this takes time and effort to drill down to ensure their work is complete and accurate.

Unfortunately in Guelph, that basic requirement is ignored as the media lives off the handouts from the city labeled as news. Ah! But who makes the decision?

Instead, the Mercury-Tribune city coverage is bought and paid for by us, the citizens.

For the past 12 years, the city pays the Tribune to publish “City News” prepared by city staff. One can assume that this is bought journalism. What possible other reason is there?

The “City News” pages running in every edition are not identified as advertising. This is gross misrepresentation and it will never change until we elect councillors who recognize the collusion of interest covering the city.

The city administration owns the Tribune editorial department because it receives payment to publish city prepared ads and not identify the link.

Accountability and integrity have left the building

I am a reporter who tries to fill the gaps in the city’s sterilized reports after reading them. By questioning statements by officials based on years of experience, employing logic, having doubt, and unsupported data. As a citizen, concern about the sloppy, slanted reports that the media accepts as news is demeaning to the stakeholders.

Over the years, successive city administrations have practiced denying the public’s participation and interest. Today, there is little trust between those in charge of a $500 million corporation and the people who actually own it.

A few years ago, the city attempted to portray itself through a document called “Open Guelph.” It opens up with a discussion on Accountability and Transparency.

They even hired a manager to run the program.

One of the statements was “Closed meeting Protocol”

Here is what it says:

“The Closed Meeting Protocol was adopted by council to provide best practices for council and committees to follow when confidential information in a closed meeting. This protocol is in addition to the closed meeting provisions of the Municipal Act and outlined practices which go beyond the Act’s requirement to ensure that city business is conducted in the most open and transparent manner possible.”

So, who decides what information is confidential? The Mayor? City Solicitor? City Clerk? The CAO? Or any councillor sensing political fallout?

This protocol is been abused by successive administrations for many years.

Here are some Examples: Since 2015, the Guthrie administration conducted 84 closed meetings in his first two years in office. Mayor Guthrie stated that the content of closed meeting should be briefed following the meeting and available to the public. That never happened.

The cloak of confidentiality shrouded open discussion about the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc multi-millions waste of public funds. The Strategic Options Committee conducted closed meetings Isn’t “sudden”leading to the disposing of Guelph Hydro.

My personal favourite is the sudden departure in March of the city’s top public servant, Derrick Thomson. Described as a “parting of the ways,” it left the public wondering why and was there no successor arranged?

This indicates there were closed meetings prior to his departure, leaving everyone wondering who pulled the plug. It makes me wonder why Thomson was jettisoned from the staff when he was earning $335,000 a year plus an $11,000 taxable benefit, had a one year extension of his contract.

Well, that’s so much for Open Guelph and accountability.

The cost of replacing Mr. Thomson will easily exceed $100,000 when factoring in the headhunter’s fees, advertising and the additional funding approved to the three DCAO’s who are carrying out his responsibilities until July.

The spigot of power is in full operation.

 

 

 

 

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