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Gerry Barker Between the Lines

Only 5 working days left to file your letter to the OEB to stop the merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra

By Gerry Barker

April 17, 2018

Last chance to have your say opposing the merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra. So that citizens understand the real issue here is our city council is giving away our Hydro distribution system for shares of Guelph Municipal Holdings. Those share are worthless because the money was spent by the previous administration on failed district energy systems, solar arrays on public buildings and an expensive geothermal underground water heating and cooling system that did not have a customer base to support its operations. I estimate that the GMHI share represented public funds wasted on these projects and the loss of $60 million according to the audit performed on GMHI by KPMG. That’s your money and mine. If we do not respond and request an oral hearing when the OEB schedules the event, we have no recourse. We will be bound by the OEB decision.

Other News: A tiny story in Tuesday’s Guelph Tribune reported the Guelph Hydro  merger with Alectra is before the OEB in written form. The OEB has invited public participation in deciding the fate of Guelph Hydro simply by inviting citizens to present their objections to the OEB by sending a letter to hold an oral hearing instead of the proposed written version. What’s at stake? Your interest in Guelph Hydro will be gone in about 12 months.After April 30, 2018 there is no recourse to influence the outcome.

By sending a letter of protest today, it’s an important step in letting the OEB know that this application, born and conceived in secrecy, is not in our best interests. There is tremendous Harm being done by this proposal. It’s time for us to stop it. Read details below on how to take action.  This is the ninth inning and there are two out. GB

The long journey to give away our $300 million Guelph Hydro

Since last November, guelphspeaks.ca has questioned the merger between Alectra Inc. and Guelph Hydro. The proposal by the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) was railroaded through council despite opposition from 22 delegates to council opposed to the proposal plus 76-email protests sent to the city clerk.

None of it mattered as council approved in principle the merger agreement by a 10 to 3 vote in the early hours of the morning. That was December 13, 2017.

I have been informed that Alectra and Guelph Hydro submitted a written agreement to the Ontario Energy Board, (OEB) for final approval. A statement followed this that the details would be produced in the local Tribune twice-weekly paper. This week there was no such statement. I don’t keep Trib papers beyond that point.

Also, the public paid “City News” carried in the Tribune had zero information, not even a news story.

Do you really believe the people have Your Say in this?

After all these months the truth is out. Before going into the details, it is important to remember, this merger that was concluded in many secret, closed-session meetings that ignored the real feelings of the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers.

Because they were never told the truth about how it would affect them.

The OEB has received a request from Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities to submit a written application to approve the merger.

So here’s the current situation. We have just 15 days remaining to intervene and request an oral hearing with the OEB in which citizens, registered as interveners, can state their views,

If we do not, the OEB will accept the written submission of Alectra and Guelph Hydro and make a decision between the next six and 12 months.

After April 30, if we do not intervene, as is our right, the merger will likely be approved by the OEB.

How the stench of corruption hangs heavy in the air

Let’s drill down to look at the seamy corruptive practices of the public’s business.

One of the factors was the Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne to consolidate the small and medium sized local community owned power distribution systems with larger distribution corporations.

This opened the floodgate for large power distribution corporations to fatten their portfolios at little capital cost or debt.

By June 7, that policy may be history with a change in government.

The rush here by Alectra-Guelph Hydro is to ensure its proposal is “grandfathered” regardless of the outcome of the election.

The OEB has invited interested parties to “Have Their Say” stating that is their right. The Board has stated that there are two types of applications:

A written application has already been submitted and an oral application in which members of the public can present their objections to the application by Alectra Utilities and Guelph Hydro.

But here’s the catch: “You can become an active participant (called an intervener). Apply by April, 30, 2018 or the submitted written hearing will go ahead.”

Editor’s Note: I have posted a sample letter to intervene on guelphspeaks. ca (located at end of post). Viewers are free to use the content of this information plus their own views, to reinforce their opinions. The details of contacting the OEB are printed below. When sending your intervening letter by snail or email be sure to use the file number EB-2018–0014.  

That seems clear enough but why did it take more than a month to reveal the written merger agreement that was received by the OEB on March 7, 2018?

Why did the City Solicitor, Christopher Cooper, side-step my request in early March for a status report on the final agreement? He seems to be a decent guy entrapped in a tangled web of power politics.

So the people directly affected by this merger agreement have just 15 days to apply for an intervener status at an OEB oral hearing.

Finally, here is the evidence that our Guelph Hydro System is being given away with no cash consideration in exchange for a tiny 4.63 per cent of only 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities’ profit. This corporation is a division of Alectra Inc.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that our citizen-owned power distribution system, serving 55,000 customers, worth an estimated $300 million, is being exchanged for a tiny slice of Alectra Utilities’ profits. Is this what the Wynne Liberals were counting on?

As an activist, taxpayer and communicator, I want open administration, accountability, and transparency in my city government. It was promised in 2014 but never delivered. We can charge city council for allowing this deal to reach this absolute level, the last line of defence.

Here is a capsule of the terms of the agreement as published by the OEB:

“Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. have asked the Ontario Energy Board to approve:

  • The purchase by Alectra Inc. of all the issued and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc., held by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.
  • Transfer of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s distribution system to Alectra Utilities Corporation • Transfer of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s generation licence and rate orders to Alectra Utilities Corporation
  • Amendments to Alectra Utilities Corporation’s electricity distribution licence to include Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s service area

The applicants say that the proposed amalgamation is expected to deliver savings to the customers of both utilities and that the rates of Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. will remain separate until 2029. The applicants also say that the costs of the proposed amalgamation will not be funded by ratepayers.”

Let’s dissect the terms as acknowledged by the OEB.

Whopper #1

Comment: First, it states this is a ‘purchase’ of all the issues and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc., held by Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. (GMHI).

It does not reveal the truth of the value of GMHI including shares that blew through more than $60 million of shareholder funds (the people of Guelph) and its shares are essentially worthless.

So, what is Alectra paying for these worthless GMHI shares? More importantly, who winds up owning the title of the Guelph Hydro Corporation?

The $60 million shareholder equity loss is confirmed by the independent audit by KPMG in which the GMHI consolidated statement showed the shareholder equity was worthless. But GMHI did control the financially healthy Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.

This take-over of Guelph Hydro made by the former GMHI board of directors chaired by the former mayor, posed a dilemma for the present mayor and council.

How to dance through the Last Tango of  merger mania

This is how the merger cover-up began. The deal was not about Guelph Hydro, it was about the city administration divesting itself of an asset to get that $60 million GMHI deficit off the city books.

That’s why in February 2017, the Strategies and Options Committee removed the option of selling Guelph Hydro. This opened the door for this terrible deal to give Guelph Hydro away for a pittance and in one stroke clean up the GMHI balance sheet for which the city was responsible.

The key word in this description of the take-over is Alectra assuming all the “issues” surrounding not only Guelph Hydro but also its “controller” GMHI.

Whopper #2

The submitted agreement states that Guelph Hydro’s distribution system is “transferred” to Alectra Utilities with no apparent serious cash consideration. Mayor Guthrie keeps saying that nothing is being given away. Well Cam, you’d better check the agreement you and Alectra have already submitted to the OEB for approval.

Nowhere in this agreement summary released by the OEB does it mention the $18.5 million special dividend that upon approval will be paid to the city. This dividend is already the property of the citizens of Guelph.

There is nothing more insulting than to be told the city is receiving the dividend that is nothing more than a subterfuge to disguise what is really happening. Our greatest asset, Guelph Hydro is being sacrificed to cover-up the mistakes of the previous administration and the current Guthrie administration

Now we know why this terrible deal, masquerading as something best for the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers was conducted behind-closed doors to suppress public participation. The use of phony surveys, misinformation and town halls attended only by a handful of supporters to bolster the case, was spending $2.36 million to sell the proposal to the public.

Oh, the agreement states that the ratepayers will not fund the costs of the proposed amalgamation.

Was the OEB board informed before publishing this agreement summary that the citizens of Guelph have already spent $2.36 million to fund this deal?

Here is more about the agreement now registered with the OEB.

“The applicants say that the proposed amalgamation is expected to deliver savings to the customers of both utilities and that the rates of Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. will remain separate until 2029. The applicants also say that the costs of the proposed amalgamation will not be funded by ratepayers.

That’s Whopper #3

So, here’s how to intervene before the April 30 deadline

  1. Our file number for this case is EB-2018-0014. To learn more about this hearing, find instructions on how to file letters or become an intervener, or to access any document related to this case. Please select the file number EB-2018-0014 from the list on the OEB website: oeb.ca/notice. You can also phone our Consumer Relations Centre at 1-877-632-2727 with any questions. If you are ready to send a snail mail request in your intervener application, here is the address:

Ontario Energy Board                                                                                                           300 Yonge St.  27th floor
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON M4P 1E4

Your application to intervener should include the following as it applies to your feelings about the merger agreement:

“In assessing the application, the OEB will apply what is called a “No Harm Test”. This means that the OEB will be considering whether customers would be harmed from the perspective of rates, reliability and quality of service in a merger. To pass the No Harm Test, evidence must be provided that rates and service levels would be equal to or better than what they would have been without a merger.”

Well, we now know that great harm has been done to the owners of the Guelph Hydro power distribution system such as losing ownership and control.

* The assets are being turned over to another operator with no encumbrances, who have made promises to provide equal or better rates and services, jobs and a green technology centre to be set up in the Guelph Hydro headquarters facility.

* We will lose 30 to 50 jobs if the agreement is approved and the green tech operation will have a staff of ten.

How can the OEB approve an agreement in which a financially sound and dividend paying corporation is being given away. It’s a win-win for Alectra Utilities because the former Guelph Hydro will still supply those dividends that Alectra will be required to pay GMHI. It’s just under another name.

In order to assist citizens wishing to intervene and hold an oral application here is a draft form to assist you to beat the April 30 deadline. Use any part of this post in your letter but your personal opinion is what really counts.

Together we can stop this and get a fair hearing.

If we don’t respond, we only have ourselves to blame. We turned over our trust to elect a council that has proven in the past three years, in the majority, to be dumb and dumber.

            Draft letter to the OEB to intervene in the merger of Guelph Hydro

Your name(s) and address

Ontario Energy Boar

300 Yonge St. 27th floor
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON M4P 1E4

Re File: EB -2018—0014

April   ? 2018

To who it may concern:

I (we) reside in Guelph and am customers of Guelph Hydro.

I(we) request being accepted as an intervener and the OEB order an oral application instead of the written one that has already been received.

I(we) understand that time is of the essence but have only just received the basic terms of the agreement.

I(we) believe there is great harm being done to the 55,000 customer of Guelph Hydro. The fact that the summary agreement as received by the OEB fails to guarantee any rate protection, or creates job losses of Guelph Hydro following approval of the merger.

We believe the process leading up to the city council, which represents us, voted 10 to 3 to accept the agreement in principle despite overwhelming objections from 22 citizen delegates and a petition of 76 residents protesting the proposal.

We respectfully urge the OEB to order an oral hearing to give the stakeholder’s an opportunity for the board members to understand how our excellent Guelph Hydro that has served us so well over the years is being given away.

Perhaps, the truth of how this merger agreement was created and executed can be questioned and is not in the best interests of the owners of the utility.

Sincerely,

Your name(s)

 

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The changing world of provincial politics in April, National Humour Month

By Gerry Barker

April 9, 2018

It has been brought to my attention that the month of April is National Humour month.

Well, the mockery meter level of puffed up politicians has been increasing with Donald Trump the leading source of disdain, ridicule and ignorance.

Here in Guelph, we have a Mayor who will go down in history as the man who gave Guelph Hydro away. Of course His Worship denies that Guelph Hydro is being given away. It’s also a subject he doesn’t want to talk about as he segues into the $100 million infrastructure deal between the city, federal government and the province.

He has every right to be proud of that proposal. But hold on: There is a provincial election June 7 in which Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have a 70/30 chance of being soundly defeated by the Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives.

That is if Mr. Ford controls his personal feelings, unbridled arrogance and delivers a believable policy statement and attracts some good candidates to the caucus, he will make Ontario great again.

I can’t believe I said that.

Mr. Guthrie, on the other hand, will run on his record. And it’s a beauty.

Property taxes under his watch have soared by an estimated 15 per cent compounded in four years. On his 2014 election campaign, he promised to hold property taxes to the Consumer price Index (CPI) level. That index has been hovering since the Mayor’s pledge by slightly less than two per cent.

That’s not a good record for a self-described numbers guy who was elected to head the City of Guelph Corporation.

In fairness, the Mayor ran into a couple of major roadblocks. Number one is the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. disastrous attempt to create power self-sufficiency in Guelph. With the former mayor in charge and the involvement of Guelph Hydro, almost five years when millions were spent and are not recoverable.

It occurred without public participation as GMHI meetings were conducted in closed-sessions. Today, we are still waiting for the truth.

The whole plan was ill conceived without the benefit of a practical business plan. While he essentially inherited the mess, he had to involve a certain select group of councillors to help get the city out of the GMHI problems. Unfortunately, the real truth of what happened and how much did it cost the city have been buried.

Like it or not, that issue alone is something he will have to defend on the campaign trail.

The second major consequence he will face is defending the agreement to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities.

While these issues are on the table it may be all moot if the P.C.’s win in June. The opposition parties, the Tories and the NDP, have opposed the Wynne government’s plan to collectivize the small and medium sized Local Community Distribution power systems by merging those operations into larger Utilities such as Alectra.

Here’s a back-story on how Alectra operates. Alectra bought Brampton’s LCD known as Hydro One for millions. So why does Guelph take the sell option off the table? The merger is a sham and our hydro distribution system will be lost forever including the brand name Guelph Hydro by the end of this year.

Here’s another Alectra back-story. In Collinwood, Alectra and the city shared ownership of the community power distribution system. Alectra purchased the 50 per cent share from the city for $3 million. Later Alectra informed the city it wanted to buy the city’s share for $8 million.

The city suddenly realized, in the first share purchase, the price was way below market value. In order to own the whole system, Alectra was low-balling its second offer in which the city share had appreciated significantly.

The result was there will a judicial review over these two transactions sometime next year.

Did the Mayor and council know about these Alectra deals in which real money was exchanged for control of established and mostly debt-free community property?

So keep in mind this is National Humour month, keep the tongue in the cheek and laugh out loud when the candidates take themselves too seriously.

 

 

 

 

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Guelphspeaks notifies viewers of the site beng hacked by persons unknown

By Gerry Barker

Editor of guelphspeaks.ca

I learned this morning that the blog had been hacked and used to discredit me personally. This invoked a response from the City Solicitor, Christopher Cooper, requesting  removal of my most recent post and a comment. I complied and took the post down mystified why it took nine days for the city to react in the manner it did.

I want to assure our viewers that in no way was guelphspeaks involved in the comment by ‘City Employee’ alleged to have been made on guelphspeaks.ca. There is no record on the site of the comments by ‘City Employee’ as alleged by the city.

Welcome to the wild west of the Internet.

Guelphspeaks will continue to report and comment on the administration of the City of Guelph. The blog is open to anyone to comment who identifies themselves and is not a troll, spam or a ‘bot. The blog is redoubling it efforts to maintain security of content and comments.

If there is sufficient evidence to ask for a police investigation, it will be done. Discovering the identity of the perpetrator(s) is daunting but not impossible.

Again we apologize to our readers and will work to protect our content and followers.

Public participation is a right and the keystone of our democracy.

Gerry Barker

 

 

 

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Part Two: How Mayor Guthrie’s Great Wall of secrecy is locking us out

By Gerry Barker

March 24, 2018

In the past three years of his mayoralty, Cam Guthrie has consistently demonstrated adherence to the councillor’s Code of Conduct. In fact, there have been more closed-session meetings of council and it’s appointed Strategies and Option Committee (SOC) when Noah organized the Ark.

“ Hold it God, I need a little more time here. Still can’t find a pair of baboons.”

This is an affront to every citizen of Guelph. It’s a manipulated system to dumb down the electorate and cover-up mistakes from public exposure. The reason? What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

There is no shortage of information underlying doubt about this Guelph Hydro/Alectra merger,

City council, again in closed-session, approved spending $2.36 million to sell this deal to its own citizens. How many bus shelters would that pay for?

The plan was to create the illusion that most people in the area were in favour of the merger, employing leading questions to force a phony outcome in which the process involved some sparsely attended town hall meetings. A telephone survey used a carefully worded script to create approval of the recipient.

Example: Do you believe the merger will bring more jobs to Guelph?

Again in a closed-session meeting of the SOC, the sale of Guelph Hydro was removed from its options, Taken off the table in early 2017. Why was this decision made without public input? Because they knew it would not be accepted. The questions remains, why?

And it all happened right under our noses.

They produced a phony 245-page “Final Agreement” document just 12 days before the meeting that was only available online. I charge that fewer than 250 hard copies were distributed to selected members of the public.

In the Public Relations business, this is known as salting the minds of participants to obtain a specific result.

It worked and the people are the losers.

Here are a couple of communities where there was merging and privatizing proposals of city-own Hydro distribution systems with larger corporations, (Alectra and Hydro One) were either halted or turned down by people power.

Here is a report by the citizens activist group “We Own It:”

“The famed Conservative politician Sir Adam Beck would be ecstatic: public power has won two significant victories in recent weeks.

In Collingwood, a judicial review has been ordered to look into the murky details behind a scheme to privatize the town’s hydro system. And in Peterborough, citizens rallied behind their city-owned hydro system, forcing Hydro One to abandon its attempt to buy it for less than it is worth.”

Here’s more from the ::We Own It” website and I thank Keith McEwen for forwarding this info:

“The judicial review in Collingwood was sparked by a growing number of questions about the sell-off of the town’s hydro system to a private company called PowerStream (a subsidiary of Alectra). The town got $8 million when it sold 50 per cent of its hydro distribution system in 2012. But then it got $13 million when it sold the remaining 50 per cent last year. According to Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson, that big price difference “makes you wonder.”

The review won’t likely take place until 2019, but Saunderson and his constituents hope the review will bring accountability and transparency to the controversial sell-off.

In Peterborough, meanwhile, fans of public services cheered when it was revealed that Hydro One abandoned its attempt to buy Peterborough Distribution Inc. (PDI) for cheap.

“Had the people of Peterborough not been so passionate in their resolve, I suspect the final offer would have been much lower and the conditions far more favourable for Hydro One,” said Save PDI volunteer and “We Own It” mobilizer Joel Usher in the Peterborough Examiner.”

When people speak up together, they can stop expensive and secretive privatizations! Invite your friends, family, and co-workers to join us!

Please Note: Guelphspeaks will be writing more about this so the people can stop this forced disposal of our Guelph Hydro for pennies on the dollar. Stay tuned.

We Own It!

In case you’ve been living in Bora Bora for the past year, council has approved giving away our Guelph Hydro with a value of $300 mllion. The price in exchange? It’s a tiny 4.36 per cent of Alectra Utilities’ profits but only 60 per cent of those unknown profits.

Is this not a great deal or what?

This contrived communications’ plan did not explain the deal through Guelph Hydro’s network of 55,000 customers except until the last days prior to the public council meeting. It was a tiny resume of the deal’s alleged advantages inserted in the Hydro/Water bills.

To top this cake with a cherry, the administration announced that it would receive a “special dividend” from Guelph Hydro of $18.5 million as part of the deal. That’s strange. In its 2016 financial statement, Guelph Hydro reported a cash surplus of $22 million. What happened to the rewmaining $3.5 million?

For the record, Guelph Hydro is wholly owned by the City of Guelph. That being the case, we are being paid a dividend with our own money.

Is this a great deal or what?

So as city Communications General Manager, Tara Sprigs, described the process of informing all those Hydro customers who were being convinced with nothing to lose in return for a boatload of empty promises.

I would like to think that at least four councillors who voted for the merger would recant their vote for the sake of integrity and fiduciary responsibility. They voted for a deal in which the terms were still being negotiated.

This week I requested a status report of the merger negotiations from City Solicitor Christopher Cooper. I am still waiting for an answer.

How council manipulates the Municipal Act closed-session guidelines

It’s simple really; they made up their own closed-session guidelines.

Now topping Guthrie’s Great Wall of secrecy are the Municipal Act policies regarding closed-session meetings of council. The following are the legal reasons under the Municipal Act to hold a closed-session council or local boards meetings:

Section 270 of the Municipal Act provides that municipalities must develop and maintain various policies regarding the accountability and transparency of municipal government and its operations.

The key words are Accountability and Transparency

The following has been adopted by Council and has allowed it to go into closed-session:

  • Sale and Disposition of Land
  •  Number 1: Only covers the sale and disposition of land not the acquisition of the provincially-owned reformatory lands owned by the provice and designated the Guelph Innovation lands.
  • Hiring of Employees
  • Number 2 – Yes, hiring employees should be confidential but does not include             approving salary increases to staff and then not revealing it to the public.
  • Procurement of Goods and Services
  • Number 3 – This covers a lot of areas and there is evidence it has been used to             blackball certain contractors from bidding on city jobs.
  • Public Notice
  • Number 4 – This is an oxymoron; hold a meeting in closed-session to discuss a public notice? It’s a convenient method of calling a closed-session meeting to discuss almost anything in private.
  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Number 5 – Again, why is it necessary to call a closed-session meeting to discuss accountability and transparency? The previous administration has already paid an estimated $500,000 to a Toronto consultant to come up with an A&T plan. The result was a 47-page document. There was little or any public participation in the process.
  • Delegation of Authority
  • Number 6 – This dovetails with the administrations’ allowance such as giving $98,202 raises to four senior managers in 2015?
  • Delegation of Authority Bylaw (Office Consolidation)
  • Number 7 – This allows council, in closed-session, to discuss just about                                     anything because the terms are so broad that anything could be discussed                                     behind closed doors.

Oh! What a collection of excuses to escape the surly bounds of responsibility.

The Council adopted this collection of reasons to legally hold a closed-session meeting.

Seems it’s self-serving giving council and the boards absolute power and control of the public’s business. It’s like turning off a tap, shutting off any information they choose for whatever reason. These reasons would include political liability and criticism, personal benefit, alleged criminal or corruptive activity, to protect adherence to a political philosophy.

Is this not the action of an authorative government? To do as you are told or face the consequences if you don’t?

Why would any responsible persons who wanted to make a contribution to his or her city, ever consider running for city council under this system of controlling the message and the method?

The two Councillors who served for four years on the GMHI board of directors, the operators of Guelph Hydro, were paid over and above their regular salaries. Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein still voted in favour of the merger. They not only benefited serving on the GMHI board but, in my opinion, were in a conflict of interest.

The Great Wall is intact and a barrier to the public interests

These “blocks” of the public’s business have been refined over the past 11 years to giving the administration unf=fettered control of the message. It denies the public’s access to its right to know and understand the corporation’s operations on their behalf.

In future posts, GS will provide specific reforms covering a widespread grouping of issues that the electorate should consider before entering the voting booth.

The most vital reform is to make the council and administration operate open and accountable.

This year, October 22 to be precise, citizens have the opportunity to return power to the people by electing councillors who understand their responsibility to the people who elected them. That means persuading civic-minded, experienced individuals possessing universal, mature backgrounds to turn this city into the jewel of Southern Ontario.

It means a sharp turn to the centre of the political spectrum, away from the left wing domination of our political management where there have been too many mistakes in judgment, losses of public money due to misguided projects that have set the city back in the past 11 years.

The time has come to elect councillors ready to reform and employ critical thinking managing the people’s business.

Coming up on Guelph Speaks

There are a number of issues that are to be digested and reported in the next few weeks..Here are some of them:

* The 2017 provincial Sunshine list of those City of Guelph employees earning more tha $100K per year.

*   A review of the number of employees and increases awarded.

* A review and comment of the capital budgets for the next eight years.

*   The waste management review and the contracts that were entered into to spend money that created substantial losses over the past 7 years.

* The gushy announcement by the Mayor of the city receiving $100 million for Transit.

*   The internal battle over reviving the city’s debacle managing recuclables.

*   The growing exhoritant cost of overhead required to fulfill the promises of the former administration.

*   A review of the Mayor’s performace once iminations are received in May.

Guelpspeaks.ca – the voice of the people for the people

 

 

 

 

 

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Guthrie’s Great Wall blocks public participation using closed-sessions meetings

By Gerry Barker

March 22, 2018

Donald Trump is still trying to get his $18 billion wall proposal to be built between Mexico and the U.S. Cam Guthrie has succeeded in erecting a wall to protect his council and city staff from public participation in city business.

He does it by calling closed-sessions of council to discuss contentious subjects and make decisions that almost all of the people know any of the outcome.

Just ask the 22 delegates who opposed the merger during the open council meeting to approve the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities last December 10.

Each delegate outlined why this was not in the best interests of the community and many requested a deferment until all the facts were known, including the final documents pertaining to the agreement.

Council, by a 10-3 majority ignored those citizen delegates. Instead they agreed with the points raised by seven especially selected Alectra delegates who offered slanted reasons to merge or approve it as it appeared unconditionally.

The structure of Guthrie’s Wall of denial

We looked up how the wall was erected initially by the former administration, starting in 2008 when council appointed Amberlea Gravel, located in London, to investigate citizen’s complaints about closed-session meetings of council. The appointment was made when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government ordered all municipalities to appoint a closed-session investigator.

Since 2008, Amberlea Gravel, our Local Authority Services (LAS), has processed just three complaints, while being paid a retainer for nine years. The city has not revealed the cost of the retainer. Regardless, it has to be the best deal Amberlea Gravel made to bolster the privacy of council doing the public business.

Each complaint was denied or rejected.

A few years ago, the Ontario Ombudsman was given authority to act for municipalities in terms of special closed-session investigations. Today, more than half of Ontario’s 445 municipalotoes, have switched to the Ombudsman’s office to investigate closed-session council and local board meetings.

But not Guelph.

I was one of only three complainants requesting a closed-session investigation in early January 2016. I had plenty of reasons for obtaining the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed council meeting that awarded $98,202 salary increases to the four senior managers of the city.

By now most people in the city know the decision was not revealed until publication of the 2015 Sunshine list which publoshed the salaries and taxable benefits of every city employee earning $100,000 or more.

Guelph Speaks published several posts that decried this blackout decision by city council. For my trouble, I was at first threatened by one of the recipients of our largess and subsequently sued for defamation. That case is before the courts and I cannot comment further.

Four months following my request for the December 10, 2015 minutes, the special closed-session investigator ruled in favour of the city to deny the minutes of that meeting.

That is just one brick in the Guthrie Great Wall to control the public’s business and rightful interest to suit the staff and council. It’s known as shaping the message to satisfy the administration’s interests.

The council code of conduct is the second barrier to open government

Here is an excerpt published on the city website under the title: “Council Code of Conduct/Integrity Commissioner:

The Code of Conduct was adopted by Council to:

  • Establish a common basis for the ethical behaviour of Members of Council and Local Boards.
  • Increase public confidence by making a commitment to operate with integrity, justice and courtesy.
  • Note the words transparency, accountability and operating an open government are not inclded in the C of C.

I can’t make this stuff up.

In 2011, Council appointed an Integrity Commissioner to address the application of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local Boards. The Integrity Commissioner has the power to deal with requests to investigate suspected contraventions of the Code of Conduct. The record shows that all requests referred to the Integrity Commissioner origubated with members of council. Council recommended the following penalties:

  • A reprimand; or
  • Suspension of the remuneration of the Council or Local Board member for a period of up to 90 days.
  • In addition to conducting formal Code of Conduct investigations, the Integrity Commissioner also serves as an advisor on appropriate conduct to individual Members of Council or Council as a whole.

It’s the ultimate muzzle on the very people we trust to serve the public’s interests. It’s yet another brick in the Guthrie Wall of denying public participation in the business of stakeholders in the community.

So, now in his sixth year as Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swazey of Caledon, is judge, jury and prosecutor in cases involving elected officials who may be accused of breaking the Code of Conduct.

It is an implied threat to any councillor who reveals the contents of a closed-session meeting. It threatens their reputation for protecting the public interests.

In just a few words, this policy was approved by council in, we believe, another closed- session. The commissioner, since 2011 has investigated three cases. His annual retainer is $5,000 and he is paid an hourly fee conducting his investigation and preparing his report.

The one case involved then Coun. Cam Guthrie, who received none of the punishment listed above. It cost the citizens $10,000. The irony of this event is suffocating in tracking the performance of the Mayor and his council.

Part two of this post follows March 24: Mayor Guthrie;s Great Wall that is locking us up.

 

 

 

 

 

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We have an administration more interested in protecting the staff than the interests of the citizens

By Gerry Barker

March 19, 2018

Thanks to a Municipal Freedom of Information document obtained by Tony Saxon of Guelph Today, in the past five years the city spent $4.6 million to fire or dismiss some 44 employees for a variety of reasons.

As Mr. Saxon asked: “Is it part of doing business?” General Manager of Human Resources, David Godwaldt, replied: “Yes.”

But is this only the tip of the payoff picture?

For example, it does not reflect the costs of bonuses paid to managerial staff some of whom resigned or retired. This information is still locked up in the Human Resources vault. The city takes the position that it is protecting the privacy of those former employees who left or were pushed out of their jobs.

Here is one employee, former CAO Ann Pappert, who resigned May 26, 2016. The 2016

Provincial Sunshine list reported that she received more than $263,000 plus a $6,300 taxable benefit. This was slightly more than she received in 2015 but she only worked five months in 2016.

The 2016 Sunshine List revealed her package 10 months after the fact in March 2017.

Eight months later after her May resignation, the case for wrongful dismissal of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, was settled between the city and Mr. Poole. He originally sued the city for $1 million in damages and the settlement remains confidential. Chief Administrative Officer, Ms. Pappert originally approved firing him.

What was Poole’s terrible error after 20 years as Chief Building Inspector? Only doing his job informing the CAO that some 50 city building projects had no building permits.

It would appear that some people take their severance and disappear but only if they are earning less than $100K a year. They are able to escape any revelation of their discharge or voluntary leaving.

A cloak of secrecy

So, behind this cloak of secrecy, do the city authorities mask the reasons for the payout or the identity of who received it?

The trouble is these people receiving termination funds and benefits are public employees paid by the people and businesses. Should the public have the right to know about these payouts?

Not all terminated employees receive compensation packages.

Godwaldt said when an employee is terminated with cause, “where an employee has engaged in serious wrongdoing” such as fraud, they would not receive a severance package.

Compensation packages are accounted for financially as a contingency in the annual city budget, Godwaldt said.

He did not have any information that would compare Guelph’s totals to those of similar-sized municipalities.

Let’s examine the 2017 payout of $1,123,332 paid to nine employees. Dividing the payout by nine results in an average payout of $124,814. That seems like a large amount paid to non-identified employees.

But why those figures don’t mean spit

They all didn’t receive the $124,814. Because of the secrecy and privacy rules adapted by the administration, only those fired employees earning more than $100,000 will make the 2017 Sunshine List to be published this month.

Those citizens paying their share of taxes and user fees have only the Sunshine lists for information. Will they discover who and how much the terminated employees received for 2017? For those terminated employees who do not make the $100K public employee listing, no one will be able to access the information.

The two levels of employment complicate the process. Some 80 per cent of all city employees (excluding Police, Fire and EMS) are unionized and collectively bargain with management to determine their contracts and benefits.

The management belongs to a managerial association. This group manages terms of the compensation packages for new management employees when hired, during their employment and upon exiting the staff.

The only oversight of these compensation packages lies with the Mayor and members of council.

It has not been in the public interest to conceal and deny public participation in determining the compensation of managers.

If it weren’t for the annual Sunshine list, we would never know what our managers are earning, including salaries, promotions, and bonuses based on performance and employment benefits enhancements.

Even then we have to perform some financial Ju Jitsu by comparingn the differences of remuneration of the Sunshine employees between say, 2016 and 2917 to discover the increase.

And I have yet to see a Sunshine salary comparison decrease instead of increasing..

Looking to the civic election in October

Let’s hope the next council will include liberating information that, for too long, has been concealed from the public.

Dropping the Integrity Commissioner and the Special Investigator of closed-session meeting of council would be a good first step.

Replace them with an Auditor General who would report to the DCAO of Finance and City Council. The A-G would investigate all city operations with the aim to create efficiencies, clarity and improved performance in all city departments.

Most important, rationalize operations with a view to reduce operational overhead and rebuild the capital funding budget.

 

 

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Ontario PC’s elect Doug Ford their new leader, or did they?

By Gerry Barker

March 12, 2018

The six-week campaign by the provincial Tories to replace Patrick brown as leader turned out to be a marathon of several hours to process the result. It was Ford by a hair.

The party head honchos who created this system that included using proportional voting in which delegates had to grade each of the leadership candidates on their electronic ballot.

They allocated a points system to determine the order in which candidate received the most first choices and so on down the line. Apparently while Christine Elliott received more votes the crazy quilt system gave Doug Ford a small margin and the party executing accepted the result.

After monitoring the TV news outlets much of the afternoon, I switched to watch the hockey game and missed the final-final of this exercise in proportional voting. Why on earth did the party adopted this to select a leaders is mind-boggling.

The New Democratic Party has promoted proportional voting for some three years. Under the banner “Fair Vote,” Guelph’s NDP activist, Susan Watson, was very much involved to persuade the provincial government to adopt it in future elections.

About a year ago the Trudeau federal government that had promised election reform following its huge 2015 victory, walked away from that promise that included proportional voting.

It’s a good thing they did because we’d still be waiting for the results of the 2015 Federal Election if the proportional voting system had been in place.

So the Ontario Conservatives decided to adopt it for the Leadership Campaign.

So now we are faced with another Ford experience in the political wars. He certainly wasn’t my choice but the Tories are now stuck with him to carry the PC banner to the June 7 provincial election.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s poll ratings are below 20 per cent, they had to be sipping Champagne in Liberal headquarters Saturday night following the Ford victory.

Despite the absence of Patrick Brown, the PC’s are ten points ahead of the Liberals. Depending on Mr. Ford’s election agenda, plus the fact that there are many candidate vacancies in the ridings, including Guelph, there are only 11 weeks remaining to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Well, the PC’s campaign under Brown to “ Take back our Party” got their wish Saturday night.

Just think, no policies, promises, denials or positions that will effectively drop kick the Wynne Liberals out of government.

The Ford-led Tories have opportunity but the party is no Phoenix rising out of the ashes of party discord. And there is a lot of it floating among the faithful. Doubt about the outcome remains as Ms. Elliott’s team ponders a court decision as to the legitimacy of the Saturday night result.

That means that party unity may be a myth, as the divisions remain deep and disturbing.

The issue of unity was vamped by the TV folk’s ad nauseum during the long delay in announcing the outcome. You had to feel sorry for those TV news people who groped for angles while on the air waiting, waiting, waiting.

The remaining campaign with an 11 week time line will disappear fast as the three Ontario parties drive to the June 7 election day.

Pending a huge scandal, and the Grits are good at that, my prediction is a minority Liberal government that may cling to power for a year and then, away we go again to elect a new government.

Mr. Ford has to gain the approval of the PC caucus of which only two supported his candidacy. Christine Elliott on the other hand had the support of 20 members of the caucus.

Also Mr. Ford’s political experience is as a member of Toronto city council and a former candidate for Mayor. He has a steep learning curve to be effective in the Legislature and understand the rules and regulations surrounding the government of Ontario.

But this you can bet on, it will be a short-lived hot time in the Legislature between now and the dropping of the election writ in May.

Fasten your seat belts!

 

 

 

 

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