Executive spite boosted the new city hall project costs by $23 million

By Gerry Barker

August 1, 2019

Opinion

Part Three of Seven stories to fuel your min

It all seems like yesterday when there was a sea-change in the composition of Guelph Council, or so most citizens thought and I was one of them

The defeated councillors included Mayor Karen Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw; Mike Salisbury was elected in ward 4 replacing Mayor-elect Cam Guthrie. Retiring from council was Karl Wettstein in ward 6, Andy Van Hellemond in ward tw

Here is the result of the 2014 civic election: the majority of progressives totaled seven. These include James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Leane Piper, and Cathy Downer. The uncommitted are Rodrigo Goller and Dominique O’Rourke. The moderate councilorsr include Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Christine Billings and Mayor Cam Guthrie. Holding the swing vote in council is Mark MacKinnon, ward 6.

The story on election night was the defeat of Mayor Farbridge by rookie Councillor, Cam Guthrie.

The defeat of the mayor was the lawsuit brought by the general contractor of the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall into a provincial offenses court. In 2006, council approved the $42 million contract.

Karen Farbridge was elected mayor in 2006 and her council held a majority of 11 councillors out of 13.

Enough already!

But a funny thing happened before the contract was completed. September 18, 2008, the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., was kicked off the job that was 95 per cent completed. Guelph police were called to expedite the removal of all employees including the sub contractors.

The reason was, and no one was taking responsibility including the Mayor or council or senior management, admitted they were responsible.

Later, chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert said that her predecessor, CAO Hans Loewig, was responsible for the Urbacon firing. She said his authority was covered under the CAO bylaw.

Following the time of the firing of the general contractor, Mr. Loewig was awarded a three-year contract paying $190,000 annually for his work on the Urbacon file. Ann Pappert replaced him in 2011.

At best, Mr. Loewig was a part-time CAO being allowed 12-weeks, vacation spent at his Arizona home. Mr. Loewig was hired to replace the former CAO, Larry Kotseff, as acting CAO and on contract. That changed to permanent employment in 2008 followingnthe Urbacon firing.

Urbacon did not sit idly by and served the city with a wrongful dismissal suit for $19.2 million.

Meanwhile, the Farbridge administration was faced with hiring replacement contractors to complete the project Then the city counter-sued Urbacon for $5.3 million. Next was to deal with the completion bondholder, Aviva, and the architects charged with overseeing the construction. This was followed by lawsuits from the sub contractors who were not paid for their work before the firing of the general contractor.

Once work stopped it was more than a year before it was completed, using two other contractors to finish the job.

Whew! This was a disaster caused by the Farbridge administration despite the Mayor never owning up to it. My sources said she was enraged because Urbacon kept advancing the completion date.

There were reasons for this. First, during a subsequent five-week trial in 2013 in Brampton, the court heard there were more than 300 contract changes ordered by the city. Second, there was a sense of emergency over a number of city employees still working in nearby rented offices in which the leases had or were about to expire.

The Brampton trial was wrapped up in early 2013 and Superior Court Justice, Donald MacKenzie, delivered his judgment brief in March 2014 in favour of Urbacon. It was followed up with a devastating detailed judgment in June.

This document ordered that the costs of the case were to be completed in October, the month of the civic election.

Undaunted, the city lawyer took the case to another court requesting the costs of Justice Mackenzie’s judgment be postponed until after the October civicelection. That was denied by the presiding judge who said he would not change Justice Mackenzie’s’ judgment. In August, a settlement was reached costing the city$8 million payment to Urbacon.

This was the final event that led to the mayor’s defeat in October.

Shortly after, CAO Pappert announced that the city hall costs had increased by $23 million.

Urbacon, the six years of unnecessary expenses

In my opinion, as a taxpayer, this was a sloppy, self-centered series of events that spun out of control and should never have occurred.

When one thinks about it, that mismanagement, recognized as such at the ballot box, could have been used to build a new downtown library as was promised by two Farbridge administrations. Five years later, we are still eaiting.

In January last year, two city Councillors, June Hoflanf and Leanne Piper, supporters of Ms. Far bridge, during a workshop to assist women to become entrepreneurs, asked attendees to donate money to re-elect the former mayor.

Wisely, Ms. Farbridge chose not to be a candidate in last October’s civic election.

Next, Part Four of Seven:

Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. covers-up losses of $68.3 million

 

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