Monthly Archives: October 2019
Council chooses Federal Election Day to approve a $197.4 million on an operations campus suppressing public participation
Council chooses Federal Election Day to approve a $197.4 million on an operations campus suppressing public participation
By Gerry Barker
October 17, 2019
Here is the headline in a local media outlet regarding the 2019 capital budget:
Council shows restraint as balanced capital budget presented
It did not explain the degree of “restraint and balanced” in that headline but the number was $87,370,100. It was approved January 17, 2019 at a council meeting held on a Wednesday night.
The 2020 capital budget, (Capex) proposed by staff is $151.6 million or 75 per cent higher.
That was less than ten months ago.
That’s odd. The new announcement recommended by staff for just one project is priced at $197.4 million.
What about the other capital projects, and in today’s costs?
In a news release last Friday, just before the Thanksgiving long weekend, the city administration announced the staff recommendation to spend $197.4 million on a new consolidated operations campus (Opscam) located on a 70-acre site adjacent to the Dunlop Drive waste processing plant.
Hmmm! Was “restraint” exercised here? What happened in the 10 months to select the Federal Election Day as the only date available to conduct a special meeting?
How many closed-sessions were conducted to shut down any criticism from the media or the public?
It’s funny that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Let’s take a look at the capital projects that have epithet been staff recommendations or already approved by council:
The Downtown Library – $67.7 million
South End Recreation Complex $69.3 million
Two new wells construction $30 million
Wilson Street Parkade $22 million
New Operational Campus $197.4 million
Guelph Innovation District $12 million
Infrastructure $450 million
Total $844.4 million<
Estimated Soft costs not included $84 million
* Time of completion of Oscar – 2045
Staff predicted 2045 city population – 192,000 – Is the growing part-time contingent population of University and College students included?
Just what are soft costs?
I call them the unintended consequence costs that include inflation effect on long term projects; developer fees used for capital costs; consultant, legal and licensing fees; connections to vital city services including water, electricity, sewer, treatment and processing facilities; performance of contract costs; increased cost of police, fire and EMS to service the growing city; changing financial costs; insurance; reduced senior government support.
Then there are the change orders in a capital project that can be under contraction for years. Look no further than the Urbacon new city hall project, (six years) during which the administration ordered more than 300 contract changes.
I am aware that these capital projects do not always happen together and are started at different dates. That is, a different council for different reasons can change the Capex schedule.
I believe in long-term capital planning but why do I get this queasy feeling that the downtown library is not included this year or next or the year after that?
Using development charges to finance Capex projects
For some time now, Guelph has jacked up developer fees intended for the soft cost charges. Instead, the fees are used as a source of funding capital projects. That’s why Mayor Guthrie complained about the Ford government’s plan to limit development fees charged by many municipalities.
The Premier was concerned that these municipal- imposed development changes were inhibiting the growth of badly needed housing in the province, particularly the major cities.
The threat could kill the goose that has laid the golden eggs in previous projects, including the police HQ renovations to be completed in December, five years after a Capex cost of $34 million being authorized by council in 2014.
So, how are we going to pay for these capital projects?
ell, let’s start with the $197.4 for the operational campus that the staff report says will be completed by 2045. Also, if council approves the $197.4 project next Monday, some $11million provided in the new 2020 capital budget to launch the 25-year project.
The staff report stated that the new Guelph Transit facility would cost $80 million to bee spent between 2024 and 2028. That does not include the $11 million proposed in the 2020 capital budget.
The city is expecting senior government grants for the new transit facility of $34.7 million as part of infrastructure programs. The remainder of funding will come from development fees ($58.2 million) and tax reserve funds of (99 million).
There is no explanation of what and when these funds are available.
If the tax reserve fund has $99 million sitting in the reserve, why have successive city administrations increased property taxes more than 3 per cent every year plus the one per cent infrastructure levy?
If that’s true, then I want a property tax rebate.
This proposal binds future councils to a Capex agenda not of their making
This is a sloppy 25-year Capex commitment that breathlessly ignores today’s capital needs (see list above) and not 25 years from now.
It is apparent that the staff and council do not want public participation in this major decision. That’s why the meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. next Monday, Federal Election Day.
It’s when most people sit down for supper. Then there are hundred of citizens engaged in the election. Some voters will miss the meeting to go to the polls and cast their ballot.
By the time the polls close, the emergency special meeting will be over because council has already decided it previously possibly in closed-sessions.
City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien, the senior staffer in charge of planning, arranging council meetings and reporting the minutes, said that it was too difficult to hold the special meeting on another day.
It was general knowledge among most Canadians that the federal election had to take place in October. When Parliament was dissolved and the writ dropped, there were more than six weeks to avoid calling the meeting on Election Day.
Vote suppression is not unique to Guelph
So, here’s my take. Mr. O’Brien did not make this decision on his own. The Mayor and some members of council expressed their view that, I suggest, was purely political to avoid the disasterus public reaction the night council approved giving Guelph Hydro away to Alectra.
I believe this was a classic move to suppress public opinion and participation.
Why was the meeting date announced Friday the day before the Thanksgiving weekend? How was that decision made and by whom?
Why start the meeting at 6 p.m. when citizens are busy and involved in the election?
It can be no surprise that a project of this size and projected cost, based on the needs of the next five years of capital projects presents a political danger if the public is allowed to participate. Not at the end of the planning but details produced during the gestation period. And this did not occur overnight.
Again it is a deliberate move to pretend the public was informed and participated but it’s all a shameful display of misused power.
It’s a lesson that this city administration has yet to learn or even advocate.
By Gerry Barker
October 15, 2019
As of today, there are seven days remaining before Canadians go to the polls to elect a new federal government.
The pollsters measuring the mood and intent of the electorate, it would appear that two parties are neck and neck to form the next government.
For the most part, the Liberals have maintained a hairline edge over the Conservatives, whose leader, Andrew Scheer, who if elected with the most seats in Parliament, could be the first Canadian Prime Minister with dual citizenship having two passports, U.S. and Canada.
Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has fought back against the tide of Tory attacks on his character and performance. At the beginning of the campaign, Trudeau faced a barrage of criticism that because he wore blackface in a school play, he was a racist. The PM apologized and that may have helped the right wing of the Conservatives but put Mr. Scheer in an awkward position as leader of the Tories.
The issue, if one could call it that, disappeared in the void of much ado about nothing.
But the Trudeau government had warts on their record. These included the still not resolved investigation of his Attorney General and the Health Minister of interference of the Privy Council in carrying out their responsibilities. The issue was the large Canadian Engineering Company SNC Lavalin, based in Quebec, that was facing serious charges for kickbacks to various government officials and corporate malfeasance.
The PM said that it was necessary to avoid confronting the company because it could cost thousands of jobs in Canada ever though the company operated in many parts of the world.
Regardless, a member of senior SNC Lavalin executives left the company or was charged in other jurisdictions.
The Trudeau government’s failed treatment of containing refugees who walked across the border with no qualifications seeking asylum. In fact, Canada allowed more refugees into Canada without prior vetting or information than the U.S on 2017. It is important for Canada to allow immigration to replace those who have departed and to meet the nees of a growing economy including agriculture.
Despite this, I believe Prime Minister Trudeau is the best choice to again lead the new government in Ottawa. At dissolution, there were 185 Liberal member of the House of Commons, 106 Conservatives, 43 NDP and two Green Part members.
Given that the incumbent Liberals would normally be re-elected, there are circumstances this year that indicate the race will be closer than 2015.
Steven Dyck of the Green Party who has waged a strong campaign supported by MPP Mike Schreiner may represent the Guelph riding outcome, next Monday night.
Confession time: My wife and I voted for Mr. Dyck in the advance poll. Mr. Longfield, despite spending thousands of dollars starting last spring to be re-elected.
Our rejection of this member is basic. Just after he was elected, I hand delivered a letter to his Guelph office that I asked for his input of why the CRA was withholding money for taxes when withdrawing funds exceeded the imposed limit for that particular year. Registered Retirement Funds (RIF) are designed to provide income to the owner of the fund when required.
In my opomion, this policy discrininates against those who may need more income ito live as costs rise in various parts of the country. One size does not fit all.
In our situation, over the years, we experienced 20 per cent tax withheld in most withdrawals. Of course the withheld funds were a tax credit when jiling nthe return in April the following year but the need for funds occurred the previous year.
My letter was respectful and I counted on our new Member of Parliament to reply.
I never received even an acknowledgement of my request.
The Green Party could be the party needed for support if either the Liberals or Tories fail to obtain a majority.
Maxime Bernier’s Canada Party will steal some seats from the Conservative in Western Canada and Quebec.
The Liberals will face losses in Alberta and Ontario to the Conservatives and NDP.
After receiving approval of the federal Environmental Authorities, the failure of the Trudeau government to start building the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion has threatened support in Western Canada. It owns the lands on which the pipeline will be added to an existing one, to move crude oil to the Blue Water Pacific for shipment and export to new markets.
There are too many hurdles being thrust upon the Federal government to open new markets for selling our oil to both the Pacific and Atlantic ports. We are too dependent on the U.S. markets that depress prices of our natural resources.
I know that this is going to anger the climate-change proponents but Canada is not the only country shipping crude and refined petroleum products. The Middle East countries, have been capitalizing on shipping oil at top prices exploit fossil fuel use around the world.
Canada’s carbon contribution is about two per cent of the world’s carbon distribution. But there are other elements in the overload of carbon in to atmosphere. Start with the 262 active volcanoes in the world that spew huge quantities of Carbon Dioxide and other noxious gases, lava and dust.
Or why does the Brazilian government promote destruction of the massive Amazon rain forest? It absorbs carbon for growth and the creatures in the wetlands. Why did this occur because the government wants to produce pasture for live animal production?
Oil will be an important element un the world’s economy for years to come.
Controlling excessive carbon dispersal of our planet will be any ongoing International effort to clean up our mess.
As Canadians, we must participate in the global needs in an organization that will create programs and execute the efforts to reduce carbon so our planet is secure.
Unfortunately, I do not have faith in the United Nations to take on this global task.
We are a big country with a sophisticated political system that is a world leader in human structure, rule of law and a responsible population with resources available to most people.
Next Monday, make sure you vote to make us stronger and proud of our great country.
There isn’t another country in the world that’s like us. We are so blessed.
By Gerry Barker
October 10, 2019
When bad stuff hits the fan, it’s time to pull the plug.
That’s what our Mayor Cam Guthrie did Monday night during a council meeting. He said he was sick and tired of the ‘continuing narrative’ of his administration’s operations and citizens’ concerns of ‘demising democracy’ in Guelph.
One report said the mayor ‘bristled’ over his description of the ‘continuing narrative’ that he sees as criticism of his administration. Now this is a Mayor who is known for easily becoming angry over something he didn’t like. In his case ‘bristling’ is an understatement.
I know from personal experience dealing with the man.
And guelphspeaks has been a constant critic of the mayor and his council so I presume we are included in the bad stuff hitting the fan.
The subject of the meeting concerned public access to the 20 public advisory committees appointed by council. Leading that delegation was civic activist, Susan Watson. I generally haven’t agreed with Ms. Watson over the years but she is right in asking council to allow public access to the public advisory committees.
Guelphspeaks.ca has been complaining since 2013 about the use of closed-session council meetings that deny the right of the public to be informed and able to express opinions in the public’s interest.
I know that when I requested a copy of the closed-session minutes of that December 10, 2015, regarding salary increases for three senior staff managers. The request was denied four months later.
I filed the request in January 2016. I was tipped off what had happened at that December 10 meeting. I was also told that council passed a bylaw, also in closed-session, that indemnified any employee and elected official who were facing a legal procedure brought by a citizen or corporation. The bylaw protected that group from legal action by the city paying their legal expenses.
I bring up the case of former Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole who was fired because he dared to challenge the administration because some 50 city-owned building projects did not obtain building permits as required by law.
In this case, the city was his employer but did not pay his legal expenses when he sued for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. He won his case when the city Information Technology department bungled a request from Mr. Poole’s lawyer for documents pertaining to his dismissal. Instead, some 50,000 private emails were sent to the lawyer. The city settled the case withholding details of the settlement.
Was this a case of a double standard? I believe today that December meeting information was in the public interest and was co erred up.
When the 2015 Sunshine List was published in March 2016, I compared the 2014 salaries of the senior city staff with the 2015 List and it confirmed my early information that it was accurate. I proceeded to report the information, focusing on the responsibilities of the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi.
Why him? It was because he was responsible for the Finances of the City and Human Resources. He also oversaw three other departments. If Mr. Amorosi was not involved in the decision, who was?
Instead, as a result of my reporting, he sued me for $500,000 alleging defamation. Slightly more that two months after filing the lawsuit, Mr. Amorosi was fired for cause. The sick joke was that despite his alleged incompetence, his legal expenses are still being paid by the city. That includes my wife and I.
So, when Cam Guthrie says he is sick and tired of the continuing narrative of a diminished democracy, he should consider that he was Mayor when the corporation, with its deep pockets, supported Amorosi’s lawsuit brought November 16, 2016. He was fired February 9, 2017.
This is a mayor who agreed to support Mr. Amorosi when his former Dec. 10 colleague, Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, who said the city would continue to pay his legal expenses, fired him. That has been the case for the past two years and seven months and counting.
Sick joke number two: Amorosi testified that he agreed to leave. Even the motion judge punctured that balloon stating that three major media outlets described his dismissal as being fired.
This is a case of corporate corruption by an elected council led by a mayor who did not like what I wrote or me personally. Regardless, the council had to agree to support Amorosi except that the legal reason to do so using the indemnification byway to justify their decision.
They twisted the bylaw’s intent backwards. I did not take legal action against Amorosi, because I was forced to defend myself as the defendant.
I am not giving up because I can’t. This case is before the courts and I must pay my legal bills untold a resolution is reached.
This is not just about me. It is the ability of the City of Guelph to use public money to suppress any criticism by a citizen using the public’s money to enforce its power.
Gerry Barker is a Guelph resident and retired journalist. His 13 years writing and blogging of the City of Guelph administrations frequently exposes reports and commentary of the lack of open government, accountability and transparency.
By Gerry Barker
October 7, 2019
What is corruption? Is it good people behaving badly? Is it a matter of convenience to hide operations by using closed-session council meetings?
Looking back in the coverage of the city administration in the past 13 years, my bulging files are full of data including dates of publishing either in the Guelph Mercury or guelphspeaks.ca.
Well, the records shows that closed-session meetings were the product of the Farbridge administration with Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, as head of the city staff and Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) for four years.
The Mayor also served as chair of GMHI that eventually scooped up Guelph Hydro and its subsidiaries.
In my opinion, these top executive controled the epicemtre of administrative corruption.
First, it gave awat control of all the City of Guelph Corporation assets and operations. It artfully eliminated public participation.
Second, the Board of Directors of GMHI was made up of the mayor’s loyalists on city council, including Todd Dennis, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland and Lise Burcher. Not one has disclosed details of those GMHI closed-session meetings. And I am not on their Christmas List.
Conducting closed-sessions enhanced control by the GMHI Board of Directors. The only occasional press release stated in principle that GMHI had sent $1,500 to the city as a dividend each year.
The problem was that GMHI was losing bags of money so what was the source of that dividend?
Actually, the only GMHI asset making money was Guelph Hydro.
The wheels starting coming off this comingled collection of the public corporation with the defeat of Mayor Farbridge and a number of her supporters.
Cam Guthrie was elected Mayor but was stuck with a majority in council of the former mayor. They managed to be in control with seven members. What few people realized was that the progressive supporter had built a formidable political firebase throughout the city.
The Mayor oversaw some 84 closed-session meetings in his first two years in office. In 2015, CAO Ann Pappert requested that she wanted reimbursement for her unused sick days and vacation allowances. She also knew about her new salary would include a $27,000 retroactive performance bonus.
Did you know about this? Neither did I or anyone else except the staff and council insiders who kept their mouths shut.
Then in March 2016, the provincial Sunshine List was published. I was the only media outlet that compared the salaries of staff in the 2014 List with the 2015 List. The annual List reports the salaries and taxable benefits of every provincial public service employee earning more than $100,000 in the previous year.
The three senior managers, Ann Papper, Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson share increases totaling $98,202. That figure was never confirmed or denied.
As the lone wolf in this, I wrote a number of blogs that were critical of Mr. Amorosi who was the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer in charge and responsible for Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, Special Projects and Court Services.
If anyone should know about the salary increases it should be him, right?
On Novembers 16, 2016, I was served with a charge of defamation of Mark Amorosi. On February 9, 2017, Amorosi was fired for cause by his colleague Derrick Thomson who replaced Ann Pappert as CAO. Thomson went out of his was to say the dismissal had no affect on the city-financed legal fees of the departed Amorosi.
So far it has cost me more than $71,000 to defend myself. As we file an appeal of the dismissal of our motion to dismiss the case, a couple of developments have occurred
First, we were advised that Mr. Amorosi wanted to negotiate a settlement. My Counsel requested what they were looking for and was told Amorosi wanted me to pay him $20,000 in damages and apologize. I refused.
Second, Why was he doing this? If we win our appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeals, he, read that the City of Guelph, would be liable for my legal’s costs.
As this case has proceeded, the obligation of the city could be more than $150,000.
Just thought you ought to know. The city realizes the outcome may cost mega bucks and probably would like to get off the hook that has been created.
Mr. Amorosi’s lawyer, in his submission to dismiss our motion to dismiss the case, said in part that because of what I had written about his performance resulted in his inability to get another job.
To be clear, I had nothing to do with his firing. His evidence presented to the court was that he agreed to leave his job. His counsel said that in two years he applied for four jobs and never obtained an interview. He was listed on LinkedIn as a retired civic manager listing his experience in Guelph.
In my opinion, no matter how you slice it, the city by agreeing to pay his legal bills is complicit in this vigorous personal attack on my wife and me just because I wrote the truth in words they didn’t like.
The senior manager receiving a share of that $98,202 remununeration boost for 2015, are all gone.
So much for checks and balances of the public’s interest.