By Gerry Barker
June 3. 2019
Opinion and commentary
The definition of free speech is covered under the Charter of Rights of the Canadian constitution.
However, there are other measures that protect the right of citizens to freely address the issues of the public’s business. And do it without fear of retaliation by deep-pocketed institutions. These include governments at all levels, corporations, and the public servants who claim defamation with their legal expenses paid by their employer.
For example, I learned last week that the 2019 property tax rate in Guelph was 3.14 per cent following the annual April city budget adjustments, including applying increased assessments.
It happens every year.
When the budget was passed last December, Mayor Guthrie proclaimed the 2019 property tax increase of 2.63 per cent was the lowest in years.
That friends, turned out to be not true. It is an example of fake news that was spoken by the Mayor knowing full well there would be adjustments when all details are finalized by the financial department.
We are already aware of the staff senior manager’s salary and benefit increases that are never disclosed until reported in the annual provincial Sunshine List. The names of very public employee in Ontario earning more than $100,000 are published each March.
Why do we have to wait for the Sunshine List to learn of the the Guelph salaries for the previous year? The city files the staff information to the province and must realize their decisions will be available to the public. Not even the Sunshine list reveals the reason for changes in salary and benefits..
It should be noted that negotiations with the Chief Administration Officer, the only senior manager who reports to council are held in closed session. The council authority is the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001-239 (2) (b) and (d). That information is not readily available to the public and lacks accountability and transparency (A & T)?
Does that qualify to meet the city’s own pledge to maintain an open government?
This is only the tip of the iceberg that our civic government continues to manipulate pubic information to serve its interests. It is done by concealing the details of a perceived potentially contentious issue behind a barrier of arcane regulations. Or otherwise failing to provide the public with the details of the final outcome. Is this not the epitome of Fake News?
Don’t get me wrong. There are certain conditions in which discussion must be withheld from the public
Here’s another example of message manipulation
The former CAO, Derrick Thomson’s, 2018 salary was revealed in the 2018 Sunshine list. His salary was $335,081.60 plus a taxable benefit of $11,393.57.
Shortly after the Sunshine report was published, in a March 18, 2019 meeting of council, Mayor Guthrie advised that Mr. Thomson received an additional $67,703.59 in compensation in 2018 as per Staff Report CS 2019 – 53.
This increase stated the Mayor was in recognition of Mr. Thomson’s work as co-chair of the Strategic Options Committee, concerning the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities that was finalized in January 2019.
Mr. Thomson’s co-chair on the SOC was Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, who was appointed by council to be the city’s representative over five years on the Alectra Utilities Board of Directors. Her reported compensation is $25,000 salary plus travel and per diem expenses when attending Alectra meetings.
Council knew in February the CAO was leaving in March
The most interesting part of Mr. Thomson’s career in Guelph was the meeting in February this year in which city council and Mr. Thomson agreed to “part ways,” The result was that the public was not informed of the impact of this decision until March 18 when the 2018 Sunshine list was published.
It appears the cat was out of the bag. But why?
The Mayor’s March 18 explanation to council about Mr. Thomson’s generous $67,703.59 bonus in 2018 seems strange and was awarded before the Ontario Energy Board approval was completed in January regarding the merger of the two utilities.
Speculation is rampant of Mr. Thomson’s sudden departure in March and the reasons remain unknown.
It has always been a mystery to me why the City of Guelph has stifled public participation concerning issues of interest to which the public is entitled.
This is not the first time that senior managers have received large increases and bonuses, withholding the details until the Sunshine List is published.
The administration continues to baffle the public using misinformation, publishing information on its website without informing the public, paying to advertise the “City News” in the only print publication remaining. This alone casts doubt of control over the news pages where advertising and editorial departments should operate separately from each other.
The citizens of Guelph deserve an administration that is competent, devoid of self-serving projects, function as a an open government, accountable and transparent.
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One a personal not: My wife, Barbara Barker, has been invited to display her artwork in the Evergreen Seniors Centre on Woolwich Street. With the assistance of Ted Pritchard, she is displaying 21 paintings she has completed in the past 25 years. The gallery will be on display for the month of June. For further information, call 518 763 7993.