Here’s an anatomy of malfeasance and incompetence at the highest levels of the City of Guelph administration

By Gerry Barker

July 8, 2020

Opinion

Please note: All figures are rounded and do not include the taxable benefit of automobile operations. GB

 

Just before Canada Day came the news that the Police headquarters renovation was a year behind completion and over budget.

The explanation by DCAO Kealy Dedman, responsible for infrastructure and enterprise, might as well have been written in Sanskrit if clarity was a prerequisite.

But first, the news

The general contractor, Jasper Construction of Concord Ontario, was terminated but not terminated, depending on your point of view. A report is pending regarding serious deficiencies concerning the job. It has been six years in the making.

It only goes to show, it’s not easy running a cop shop under the circumstances.

As a taxpayer, I ask, who among the city staff was in charge of oversight and accountability during contruction of this project?

How much has Jasper received in progress payments before alleged termination of the three projects?

Was there any vetting of the track record of the contractor before signing the contract?

It therefore is no surprise to learn that Jasper has been terminated or removed, take your choice, of two overdue projects in London and Sarnia? The London and Sarnia contracts totalled $45.5 million. Add the $34 million of the Guelph Police HQ, still not complete, and the total is $79.5 million.

It raises the issue of gross incompetence and lack of oversight.

It appears that Jasper Construction is in a boatload of trouble, something residents of Guelph are well aware.

The Urbacon spectre looms large, again

In March 2014, the City was found guilty of wrongful dismissal of the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group, of the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall..

This was a long-standing dispute starting in September 2008, when the city ordered the company off the construction site, aided by the Guelph Police. Re-capping events, Urbacon sued the City for $19.2 million.

In August 2014, Mayor Karen Farbridge, a member of the Police Services Board and her council, approved spending $34 million to renovate the Guelph Police Headquarters on Fountain Street.

Who among the city staff developed this estimate that council approved? It was necessary to beat the provincial deadline in an election year, preventing capital budgets approvals.

A little more than one month later, the Mayor and a number of her councillors, either chose not to run in the 2014 civic election, or were defeated.

In November 2014, Chief Administrave Officer, Ann Pappert, announced the cost of the major project was some $65 million, exceeding the budget of $42 million.

Cost to the taxpayers was another $23 million exceeding the original budget.

Now, six years later, the Urbacon financial disaster looms over the City. The Police HQ renovations, commenced in the spring of 2016.

It is déjà vu again, that general contractor was fired last week by the city. I should comment that the City’s June 30 incomprehensible press release did not use the word “fired” instead, used “termination.” And you’re confused?

The police project spent all of its budget in February just as Covid 19 struck. The City said there was another five months to complete the job.

It stretches credbility to now believe that. Best guess, maybe next year?.

Go figure! Moses chipped out the Commandments in less time than it took to renovate our police HQ. But then, God was in charge of that project.

The taxpayers are stuck with the additional costs according to the City.

Setting aside the costs of re-doing the work, allegedly done by Jasper, the legal costs could again tend to be monumental if the contractor sues the city.

This 12-year history of bungled management, including lack of oversight by City staff and council has cost the citizens millions.

Who were the players responsible?

Top of the list is Ann Pappert who served Mayor Farbridge not only as CAO of the City for five years, also Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI).

Ms. Pappert announced in November, 2014 a reorganization of the senior staff creating three Chief Administrative Officers (DCAO), Mark Amorosi, Corporate Services, Al Horsman, Environmental Services and Derrick Thomson. Public Services.

Horsman resigned in mid 2015 to take a job as CAO of Sault Ste Marie.

In the fall, Scott Stewart was hired to replace Mr. Horsman as the new head of Environmental Services. Today, he is CAO of the City of Guelph. Police Headquarters is now under his watch.

In 2015, along came the issue of GMHI that the new Mayor, Cam Guthrie inherited. The status of GMHI was in disarray. In four years of operation that were conducted by the Mayor in closed-sessions, public information and accountability were denied.

City council ordered an audit of GMHI by the accounting firm KPMG that resulted in a damaging report, showing a shareholder’s liability of $66 million.

The developing storm

In December 2015, council conducted a closed-session meeting that was later revealed the three DCAO’s were awarded increases totaling $98,000. It was three months later, when the provincial 2015 Sunshine List of public employees earning more than $100,000 a year, was published.

The three top managers of the City and their 2015 increases, CAO Pappert – $18,000; DCAO’s Mark Amorosi- $27,000 and Derrick Thomson – $28,000.

None of these managers are no longer employed by the City. Here”s how much each was paid and the sequence of leaving.

Ann Pappert was paid for the year 2014 – $119,000; 2015 – $237,000; 2016 – $263,000. Time in service, 29 months.total = $715,000. Less than a month following the Sunshine List, Ms. Pappert resigned and left the city May 26, 2016.

Mark Amorosi earned $182,000 in 2014; in 2015, he was paid $209,000 and his total remuneration is not available right now.

That year was notable because Mr. Amorosi sued Barker for defamation demanding $500,000 in damages. He announced in November 2016 that the city was paying his lawsuit costs. While the city is reluctant to reveal the current legal costs, it is understood to be more than $100,000.

The important date to remember is that Mr. Amorosi was terminated less than three months later. In his sworn deposition, he claimed he left his job.

Derrick Thomson’s Guelph career is different. In January 2016, he left the City to take a job with the Town of Caledon, where he lived. In June 2016, he accepted the CAO position vacated by Pappert.

Thomson’s meteoric rise in the space of 31 months, saw his pay jump from $240K to $335K in 2018. It included a $67K performance bonus in recognition of his leadership, giving away Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities.

Suddenly, in February 2019, the City announced it had parted ways with Thomson. No explanation was provided.

Mr. Thomson in June 2016, was put in charge of the City staff a month following the beginning of construction. He was the man responsible for the project because the city was obligated to fund the police facilities.

Is it the sacred right for the public to know why the project is going so far over the 2014 approval of $34 million dollars?

For the record, I asked DCAO Trevor Lee last year the status of the police project and if it was meeting costs. He replied that it was proceeding under-budget with $5 million remaining to complete the job at the end of 2019.

Why would Mr. Thomson accept the CAO job in mid-2019 in the Town of Minto, population 9K?

Why would he leave a salary of less that half of what he was making in Guelph? His total remuneration during his tenure in Guelph was $832,000.

Why was he given a $67,000 bonus and leave less than a year later?

Why was Pappert paid $263,000 for five months work in the year she resigned?

Where was council when all this was happening?

When will the cost of the Police HQ’s renovation eventually be known?

What is the Mayor’s responsibility overseeing the city’s business?

Being a politician calls for tact and honesty, making unpopular decisions and holding the resident’s interest as a sacred public trust.

Somewhere, the wheels fell off of Ms. Farbridges’ 2006 election battle bromide: “We’ll put Guelph back on track.”

In the past 14 years the wheels fell off that train.

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

One response to “Here’s an anatomy of malfeasance and incompetence at the highest levels of the City of Guelph administration

  1. Glen N Tolhurst

    Perhaps there should e a proctologist on staff at city hall as he/she would be forever busy trying to shine a light on what went on.

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