Category Archives: Between the Lines

Gerry Barker Between the Lines

How the administration’s Cone of Silence closes the door on public participation

By Gerry Barker

September 18, 2017

Today there is good news and bad news

First, it’s my birthday, please no applause.

Second, is yet another confirmation that we the people of this fair city don’t count when it comes to the operations of the administration headed by Mayor Cam Guthrie. The Mayor sent out an explanation of how he “polices and oversees” closed-session meetings of council. He claims it ensures the discussion stays within that which the Municipal Act (OMA) allows. He added that he takes this responsibility seriously.

Or, is he suggesting that the closed-session subject strays into other discussions not realted to the OMA authority?

So what does this mean to us? Well, after three years in office, little has changed when it comes to properly informing the public of city business. The system works like this and was used extensively by the previous administration:

Whenever there is a contentious issue, let’s use the $2.5 million loss by the city-operated recycling plant for starters, the council dives into closed-session. It uses a section of the OMA that defines the criteria for holding such a meeting.

Can the Ontario Ombudsman open the closed-session meetings?

Every one of the 445 municipalities in Ontario is bound by the terms of the OMA. The section allowing closed-session meetings of council is very broad. So broad in fact, that the Ontario Ombudsman, the independent overseer of all Municipal and School Board meetings, handles an estimated 35 per cent of its docket investigating closed-session meeting complaints at many levels

Now here’s a wrinkle. Last December, I requested the minutes of a closed-session council meeting held December 10, 2015. I requested that the Ombudsman investigate this and was told that Guelph had its own “closed-session investigator” known as Amberlea Gravel based in London. After requesting an answer after waiting more than four months, I was told that my request was denied.

Now Amberlee Gravel has been on retainer to the city since 2008. Since then it has investigated three closed-session complaints or requests for information. None were approved. The organization was hired by the Farbridge administration. The amount of its retainer paid annually over nine years is not available.

This was a deliberate move that effectively put the lid on the public being informed of the contents of any closed-session. It remains an integral part of the Cone of Silence that shuts down public participation in city operations.

Introducing the Integrity Commissioner, the second leg of the Cone of Silence

Five years ago, the Farbridge administration hired a Caledon lawyer to act as its Integrity Commissioner with an annual retainer of $5,000 plus time spent investigating breaches of the code of conduct by councillors and staff. The reason was her concern, along with her Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, of alleged leaks of information that was supposed to be private not for public access.

The irony of this was a demand for the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the action of then Coun. Cam Guthrie. His alleged offence, joining with other opposition councillors at the time, was to request a Freedom of Information release of a public document. The department involved refused to allow Mr. Guthrie to see the document that the province had already released to the public.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner decided there was no reason to pursue the matter and sent a bill for $10,000.

What this accomplished was warning any councillor or staff member that they would be disciplined if it were proved they revealed discussions and decisions made following a closed-session meeting of council. It also had blanket coverage of disciplining any councillor who broke the code of conduct. That’s what occurred in the Guthrie case.

Both those weapons are still in place today. That’s the Cone of Silence that surrounds the administration and prevents public participation in the affairs of its city.

Shutting down public participation using leg three of the Cone of Silence

We now know that Ms. Farbridge as chair of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) held closed-session meetings during the four years that created one of the greatest losses in the history of the city. The Chief Executive Officer of GMHI was Guelph CAO, Ann Pappert.

During the four years, GMHI paid an annual “dividend” of $1.5 million to the city despite a money losing operation. In fact, GMHI never made a profit and by 2015 was worthless because it owed more money than it could pay its creditors. That essentially wiped out the $65 million shareholders’ equity in GMHI. In this case, the shareholders are the citizens of Guelph whose interests were represented by the city council.

That’s so much for the lack of public participation, accountability and transparency. The citizens are the victims in this betrayal of the public trust for the past 10 years.

Mr. Mayor, let’s drift back to early 2015, your first year in office. A citizen launched a legal complaint against another resident claiming he received an illegal donation of $400 from a citizen’s activist group, Grassroots Guelph.

Susan Watson, a friend and supporter of the former mayor who was defeated in October 2014, asked the Compliance Audit Committee to audit the election financial report filed by Mr. Glen Tolhurst.

An auditor specializing in candidates’ financial reports was hired by the city to investigate. William Molson interviewed the parties involved including my wife and me. It did not take him long to figure out that Mr. Tolhurst was not the target of Ms. Watson’s claim but was GrassRoots Guelph of which I was one of the founders.

Bottom line: Mr. Molson found no evidence that Mr. Tolhurst or GrassRoots Guelph violated the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. Here comes the kicker. The bill for all this was more than $11,000 and council, headed by Mayor Guthrie, ruled that Ms. Watson was not responsible for the costs. The taxpayers had to pick up that bill.

For example, there are five members on this council who benefited from Ms. Watson and her husbands’ donations to their 2014 election campaign. Now you know how it works: It’s whom you know not what you know, that counts.

So where was our Mayor when he claims that he takes closed-session matters seriously? This was a decision made in closed-session and announced by the City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien.

The Mayor speaks to a selected few not the citizens

Mayor Guthrie’s three-page explanation of the necessity of holding closec-session meetings, was sent to 16 individuals including 12 members of council. It was the result of a letter sent to the Mayor by Guelph resident by Pat Fung, CA, CPA asking for an explanation why council conducts much of its business in closed-session. He specifically addressed the $2.5 million loss concerning the city’s recycling centre.

In his September 8th email, the Mayor detailed why closed-session meetings are needed and the criteria for calling one, more or less.

In his email reply to Mr. Fung’s question, the Mayor claims that a program of service reviews was started by his administration. He says that the reviews are an excellent way to show taxpayers that “we take department reviews seriously.” Well, we certainly hope so.

Further, he says the reviews “look to identify opportunities … to confirm that our services are effective and efficient.” But isn’t that what management should be doing on an ongoing basis?

Last year, it was suggested that an independent audit firm should conduct a staff -rationalization review. That was shot down by the progressive majority on council because of a potential threat to their labour supporters. They claimed it would cost too much. As compared to the loss of $2.5 million in recycling operations, which is only one part in the Environmental Services department, how does that argument stand up today?

Question: Why did the Mayor select a tiny sample of the electorate to convey his explanation of the necessity of holding closed-session meetings of council?

The Mayor agrees with Pat Fung that council has a “may or may not” alternative to hold a closed-session. He then goes on to say that council must vote to discuss items allowed under the Act as exemptions that would be of a “closed” nature. So, by that definition, why is losing $2.5 million operating the recycling plant an exemption?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations and potential labour or union impacts.”

What is so private about not revealing reasons for the loss of $2.5 million by city employees? Whose reputation is being protected here?

The provincial Sunshine List lets the cat out of the bag

Flashback: December 10, 2015, council in closed-session, voted to increase the salaries of the four top city managers by $98,202 for 2015. The only problem was, the citizens were never informed. Not until Guelph Speaks posted the details when the provincial Sunshine List was published more than three months later, March 31, 2016. Those increases ranged from 14 to 19 percent.

Chairing that meeting was Mayor Guthrie. Is this what he means when he says he takes the policing and overseeing of closed meetings seriously? The Mayor had to know the details would be eventually published.

What citizens have to question is why was it deliberately covered up and when, there was not one iota of reasons why these four were entitled to have their increases concealed from the public.

In my opinion, it was an abuse of the public trust by its elected officials. So, we will never know which councillors voted for the increase and which did not. They were all bound by the closed session omerta, fear of reprisal for leaking the information. That’s a primary example of how the Cone of Silence protects every one in the administration but not the taxpayers.

The public had the right to know what their senior managers were being paid and they were all identifiable. Instead, council concealed the decision avoiding transparency, accountability and potential negative public reaction.

It gets better, in August 2016, Coun. Cathy Downer asked the Human Resources department for a breakdown of the retired Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert’s final salary package. It included unused vacation and sick leave benefits and a $28,000 retroactive performance payment. She left the city May 26, 2016 and received $263,000 in 2016 for five months work.

It was complicated when Ms. Pappert announced in March 2016 about the same time that the news of her 17 per cent increase was revealed in the Sunshine List, that she would be leaving but would stay on to assist her successor. That turned out to be Derrick Thomson who had resigned to take a job with the Town of Caledon. He took over in June as CAO and announced in the fall of 2016, that he would make his salary and taxable benefits public. The 2016 Sunshine list showed he earned $245,000 plus a taxable benefit of more than $9,000.

Of the four senior managers who received that large salary increase Dec. 10, 2015, only one still works for the city, CAO Thomson.

Question: Will the service review of the recycling plant explain how it lost $2.5 million?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations. … and potential labour or union impacts.”

Who would know better to keep those details secret than our council? There’s that Cone of Silence descending again.

The case of the missing 53,000 emails

This brings up the case of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired by the former CAO, Ann Pappert. Mr. Poole, a 30-year veteran in the building department, and chief for 20 years, sued the city for wrongful dismissal claiming $1 million.

The alleged reason for his dismissal was because he complained that some 50 building projects being conducted by the city did not take out building permits. He said he would have to take the information to the province for failure of the city to follow the rules. For carrying out his responsibilities, he was fired.

Well a funny thing happened. Mr. Poole’s lawyer, as part of examination for discovery, requested from the city all electronic files pertaining to his client. Instead, he was sent 53,000 emails from the city’s Information Technology department in an external drive that contained personal information about city employees including performance reviews.

To make a long story short, the case was quickly settled in Mr. Poole’s favour and the errant files returned.

Details of the settlement were sealed at the request of city. The city solicitor resigned to take another position. It is yet another example of using the Cone of Silence to paper over incompetence.

Truth or consequences

About a week following the December 10 closed session meeting, council again in closed-session, approved a protective barrier, Bylaw 19995. It is designed to provide legal assistance to any staffer or elected official facing a procedure brought by a citizen or corporation. It was yet another leg of the controlling Cone of Silence.

Question: Has the Corporation of City of Guelph or any employee or elected official ever been sued for defamation, slander, or libel? This is the Mayor’s explanation of the consequences if the corporation failed to not conduct its business in closed-session.

This effectively makes it almost impossible to sue city hall, its hired staff and elected officials. Again, the door is slammed shut and public participation is denied and ignored.

Question: Does the city not have liability insurance to protect employees from civil suits? If so, why is it necessary to have such an offensive bylaw to protect the members of the city administration? It is also interesting to know if the city employees or elected officials have ever been sued.

This mélange of administration stiff arms to protect their own interests and not those of the people who pay their salaries, benefits and guarantees their pensions, has reached epidemic levels.

The shadow of deceit and obfuscation hangs over 1 Carden Street like a darkening cloud of public distrust of its managing institutions that hides behind appropriated OMA terms and conditions.

October 2018 cannot come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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When Gerry met Sally and other taxing issues

By Gerry Barker

September 11, 2017

Heard from a number of people this week questioning administration decisions that end up costing citizens. Here are three examples.

The pitch to spend $90,000 for security guards at City Hall

The first example is a report that the city wants to hire five security officers plus a vehicle to protect the city staff from the taxpayers who are entitled to voice their complaints at the welcome desk in the foyer of our city hall.

The lead in the local weekly was that the Mayor overheard an individual being rude with the staff at the customer service desk. Turns out, according to the city supplied statistics, that in 2016, there were 448 security calls for staff assistance at city hall and 216 police responses. The occurrences are increasing this year.

The staff is recommending hiring two security guards as well as purchasing a vehicle for their use at an estimated cost of $90,000. The matter was deferred until the 2018 budget negotiations commence later this year.

In the grand scheme of things it could be argued that $90K is no big deal when the whole city operating budget will be more than $350 million. But it is a big deal.

As a public service here are some considerations.

* Under what authority can these proposed security guards act? Will they be armed? Why is a vehicle required if they are stationed at City Hall? What kind of training and background will be required?

The role of the police is quite clear. They are required to protect public property. But it seems that the degree of service staff discomfort in certain situations determines who should respond for assistance.

It is tricky and happens often, totaling 664 calls in 2016 for a quick decision by service staff as to whom to call for assistance. I am curious over those numbers compared to other peer cities and how they handle encounters with the public staff.

The report in the weekly said issues include: “Disturbances, drug related calls, intoxication, trespassing, theft, vandalism, assault against staff and the public.”

It would appear all those occurrences called for police response except “disturbances”. Aren’t all those examples disturbances?

Here are a couple of immediate solutions:

One, select two volunteers from the current staff, train them with no reduction in their previous salary, skip the vehicle and have them in uniform during the hours the city hall is open to the public. No increase in costs because we are already paying them.

Along comes Sally

The other solution is to have a trained Doberman named Sally behind the counter in full view and tied to a quick release button. Sally would become the guardian of the service desk at City Hall but not to be petted. There is a technicality, who walks the dog and who is the handler? Sally could do double duty chasing the geese from the parks when not guarding city hall.

The other benefit is Sally could have pups and begin a Doberman dynasty being guardians of the public places. And the overhead of training and controlling Sally would be dog chow compared to the $90,000 recommended by the staff.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. But this is a management problem that involves personnel training, discipline and police support. The Mayor is right when he says City Hall should be safe and open to the public. He may also investigate why there appears to be an increasing number of incidents at the service desk. Perhaps it may be the increasing dissatisfaction with the city operations?

*            *            *            *

After six years, why is Guelph’s recycling operation losing $2.5 million a year?

A report by Tony Saxon in the online report Guelph Today, says that the blue box system of collecting recyclable materials is costing $2.5 million annually less than the $4.9 million that the facility recovers after sorting.

Here are a couple of problems. One is the revelation that Environmental Services is accepting containers of recyclable material from Simcoe County. The other is another area of the deal struck with the Region of Waterloo to process 20,000 tonnes of wet waste to be processed in the $34 million organic waste compost facility. That target has yet to be reached but volumes of wet waste from Waterloo are increasing.

While the two are not related they are part of the six departments of the city’s waste management organization. What connects them is decisions by the previous administration turning Guelph into a waste dump for other municipalities. Why do citizens have to finance overbuilt facilities costing an estimated $55 million in capital funding to service other municipalities?

Neither of these facilities has met its operating costs since inception. In the case of the organic composting plant, it is not operated by city personnel but by a subsidiary of Maple Reinders, the builder of the facility. It’s ironic that Guelph citizens who financed the facility cannot even obtain any compost provided by the plant. It’s sold elsewhere.

Did waste management not learn anything about accepting recyclables from Detroit that cost some $1.5 million when the alleged contract was shut down? Solid Waste General Manager, Dean Wyman, told council that an extra shift was needed to process the Detroit material but the city would make $370,000 per year. The fallout of this and other mismanagement issues included the retirement of former Executive Director Janet Laird of Environmental Services, and GM Wyman who resigned to take a job in Edmonton.

The historical reasons for this waste management failure to deliver results costing millions of dollars rests with the former Farbridge administration. Public funds invested in a variety of projects and schemes were designed to slow delivery of garbage to the land fill site.

That target alone has failed, as there is still a high percentage of waste still going to the landfill since 2011, when the organic processing facility became operational.

This was all the doing of the council of the period headed by former Mayor Karen Farbridge. She was aided by a cadre of supporters who believed that the money they were spending was making their city a world-class leader in waste management.

The decision to import other municipalities’ garbage to Guelph was an example of the terrible business plans associated with these waste management projects. Already there are rumblings of outsourcing the operations to private enterprise. The unions that could be affected are readying their opposition.

Here is a one example of how outsourcing will pay off and save up to $4.9 million per year. Cut a deal with Waste Management to process Guelph’s recyclables in their upscale automated plant. Depending on the terms of the Simcoe County contract, wrap it up. Shut down the Guelph recycling facility.

All that is required is political will. It’s something to think about when the 2018 budget is being crafted for next year’s civic election.

The people are the key to making change. They did it in 2014 when Cam Guthrie defeated the former Mayor by more than 5,000 votes. It can happen again.

*            *            *            *

Guelph Transit route changes map is like interpreting a Salvador Dali painting

The city news section of the local weekly printed a full-page diagram of the new route changes of Guelph Transit. I do not use Guelph Transit but if I did, I would need an interpreter trying to follow that ad illustration.

Someone commented that the new routes are designed to serve the 20,000 incoming University students. There is no doubt they are imporant customers as they must pay $75 per semester for a bus pass. The average course includes two semesters per school year that amounts to $3 million in revenue every seven months.

The next questioin is what is the total budget of Guelph Transit? The last time I checked about four years ago, the city was subsidizing the system by $12 million. That being true, it would appear that the citizens are paying a huge price every year to supply public transportation. It is a system used by less than ten per cent of the permanent population.

Guelph needs a system of public transit, if for no other reason than to cope with the growing mobile population and changing demographics. But it went off the rails in the previous administration. As long as I can remember in ten yeas of commenting, there has been a transit strike by the union representing the workers. Also there was the matter in 2013 when an audit by the internal auditor of the system’s overtime charges revealed a cost of $1 million for a staff of about 350. That year it averaged $2,857 for each employee.

More worrying is the number of Guelph Transit general managers who have been employed and released. So what’s wrong? The first thing is to bring clarity and transparency to the table. This could result in everyone on staff being accountable.

It is unreasonable for a system this size with our city geography to be profitable. If, as former councillor Maggie Laidlaw once predicted, there would be no cars on Guelph streets within 20 years – I believe we have ten years to go to fulfill her prediction. Maggie was an ardent cyclist, rain or shine and believed that fossil-fueled vehicles had to go.

Well, the opposite has occurred and there are more cars and trucks on our streets than ever before. And the traffic congestion has been exacerbated by the previous administration’s policies to reduce vehicle traffic lanes on major routes to accommodate wider bicycle lanes that frequently start somewhere and end nowhere.

This social experiment has cost millions at the expense of ignoring badly needed infrastructure repair and replacement. The city staff recently stated the cost to carry out necessary infrastructure needs was more than $400 million.

There are a number of bus pull-offs that could allow buses to pull off the main road to load and unload patrons. These pull off inserts would halt the stopping of all vehicles when a bus must stay on the road to allow passengers to load or unload. Costly? Yes, but a necessary accommodation for traffic to move without delays.

We need the system but not at this price. It is difficult to understand why buses are running routes mostly empty daily, particularly in the summer months. In my opinion, indicates that Guelph Transit needs to do a serious rethink of its task based on total city usage by residents and the students.

 

 

 

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Let’s talk taxes, spending and accountability as the 2018 budget process starts this month

By Gerry Barker

September 5, 2017

In the fall of 2015, Guelph resident Pat Fung CA, CPA presented council with a financial analysis that compared the operating and capital spending costs of Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener.

His information came from two sources: The official audited financial statements of the three cities and a report prepared for the city of Guelph from consultants BMA.

For his trouble he was mocked behind his back after leaving the chamber. Now you can deduce two things. Either the councillors did not understand the presentation or they didn’t want to.

This council dominated by a majority of seven supporters of the former Farbridge administration has proved to be the least responsible and effective in the ten years I’ve been covering city politics.

Recently I was sent a report about the City of Santa Monica in California. The cost of employees in this upscale community was astronomic with the assistant librarian receiving a total of $220,000 in a pay and benefits package. City bus drivers earn $109,000 in total compensation.

These two examples reflect the operation of a city council that rarely discusses spending issues in public shutting the door to debate by the stakeholders. Even as affluent as Santa Monica, there is a limit of letting city costs soar.

Does any of this sound familiar? Guelph is also an affluent community due to the high compensation packages enjoyed by an estimated 6,500 public service workers. Add to that the penchant for council to conduct their public business behind closed doors echoes the Santa Monica experience.

But when a city official claims that the per capita costs of operating the city are not relevant, you know our spending and operating costs are going nowhere but up. The last ten city budgets have growth compounding property taxes and user fees to make Guelph one of the highest taxed communities in the country.

The truth is the per capita operational costs to Guelph citizens in 2015 was $3,213. That was a 56.2 per cent increase in just seven years. It is a statistic that is relevant.

The root of this is the high cost of overhead, the cost of running the city in which 80 per cent of employees are unionized. That percentage is even higher than Santa Monica’s civic workforce.

It is a problem that city council ignores and to its peril.

Here’s a personal real life story from a pensioner.

The elephant in the finance department is the silent liability of guaranteeing payment to hundreds of former employees if the pension management of the various plans fails to meet their obligation to support retirees for life. Council cannot take away defined pensions. Because this situation has been building for years, today there are growing numbers of retired employees, many of whom retired in their mid 50’s. This has lengthened the time they can draw their pensions that in most cases are indexed.

Here is an example that our family has experienced. My wife, the widow of a deceased Metro police officer, is a member of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Benefit Fund (MTPBF). It is a closed fund for the officers who contributed to the plan and their spouses. It is closed because the City of Toronto converted its various municipal pension plans to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Services (OMERS) for its police officers some 30 years ago. The MTPBF members were exempted from the OMERS merger.

The City of Toronto is sponsor of the MTBPF and is responsible to ensure solvency and payment of benefits to pensioners under the provisions of the Ontario Pension Benefits Law.

And the city has had to fund the amount of capital needed to accomplish this. More than $14 million has been added since 2014. Keep in mind there is a diminishing number of beneficiaries due to death. Eventually, as the numbers decrease, the costs of benefits reduce as well. In 1998, there were 2,430 members of the MTPBF. December 2015, there were 1,828 members, a reduction of 594 or 24.44 per cent.

It appears that the obligation of the City of Toronto to pay the MTPBF members is diminishing to the point where it will no longer have to guarantee the fund benefits. Because eventually there will be no pensioners alive to pay.

The problem is that only city council can approve any increase in the payout to MTPBF pensioners. As a result the amount paid to pensioners remained fixed for some eight years with no cost of living increase allowed.

So what has this to do with Guelph?

With a municipal staff of 2,200 of which 80 per cent are unionized and members of OMERS, there is another group of non-union employees representing a variety of managers and members of other associations.

It is this group, many of whom are senior managers working under tailored personal contracts who are eligible to have their pension payments guaranteed by the City of Guelph.

An example is the retirement of Police Chief Rob Davis. When he stepped down, he received a sick/vacation benefit of some $40,000. His indexed pension was some $130,000 upon retirement. To be fair the former chief used the rules to end his days on active duty.

This example portrays the point that the citizens are obligated to guarantee his benefits in retirement if his underlying pension system ever becomes insolvent.

Here are some suggestions to return our city to the people

* Reduce spending by staff in all areas. This would exclude police, fire and EMS. Freeze all hiring across the board including part-time and occasional staff. Specifically, demand all departments to reduce staff in two stages: Three per cent in the first six months of 2018 and four per cent in the last six months of the year. Total reduction is a 147 Fulltime Equivalent Employees out of a total of 2,200.

* Instruct legal staff to negotiate outstanding legal issues including labour negotiations to bring them to reach a settlement.

* Freeze hiring consultants for 12 months. Any exception would have to be justified by the Chief Administration Officer and approved by council. Close out current contracts.

* Instruct all departments to reduce non-staff expenses by 3 per cent in 2018. Have a staff report regarding the status of all mandated projects including infrastructure requirements and the affect on future cash flow.

* Cut city advertising and public affairs budgets, including a communications staff reduction by 25 per cent in 2018.

* Require River Run Centre and Sleeman Centre to be self-sustaining within one calendar year. These two public operations are being subsidized by the city of an estimated $783,000 annually.

* Review and suspend all public financial support of community groups until January 2019.

* Consult with the provincial government to increase the property tax deal enjoyed for 29 years by the University of Guelph to help meet the city’s 2019 financial needs. The amount is $75 per student has not been adjusted since 1987 when it was enacted.

* Suspend the Well-being funding program for one year or until a public review of where the money is being spent is completed and approved by an independent board.

* Pass a by-law to reduce the number of ward councillors to six in 2018 and make the job a fulltime position with appropriate remuneration and support. Following the Milton example of having a nine-member council, the Mayor and two councillors would be elected at large.

* Abolish the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer rank. Return to a two level system eliminating the costly DCAO designation. Replace it with department managers reporting directly to the CAO.

* Report quarterly, informing the public of the cost of all travel and associated expenses by staff and elected officials. Report all details of staff credit cards including all communications using city-supplied equipment.

* Publish an easy to understand financial summary every quarter detailing spending, new projects, budget deviations, current financial status.

* Appoint a citizen’s committee under the leadership of a qualified and respected library expert to study and recommend a public private partnership for a new downtown library.

* Form a task force composed of citizens and staff to study a public and private partnership to build the south-end recreation centre.

* Get aggressive to collect taxes in arrears and uncollected traffic fines.

* Take the necessary action to open a large grocery store in the east end of the city.

* Hold a conference with property developers and builders to explore ways and means to increase assessment through careful planning.

* Speed up the approval process for developers and new businesses.

* Provide budget support and incentives to the staff’s commercial and industrial development team to seek business and encourage candidates to settle in Guelph.

* Renegotiate the deal with Maple Reinders re operation of the organic wet-waste plant.

* Invoke a sunshine bylaw that opens all council meetings to the public. Cancel all in-camera council meetings held before the public council meeting. Exceptions would be negotiations regarding city-owned real estate, all employee contract negotiations and problems associated with employees. Council, in advance, would have to explain to the public why such an in camera meeting was necessary.

* Have the Mayor give a monthly status report on the city with an overview of finances and status of major projects. It should be real news oriented and not propaganda.

* A customer service team should be trained to answer public questions and complaints. This group would follow-up to ensure the affected department handled the query promptly.

* Abolish the present security system at city hall so that any person can enter and access council and staff at any time. This is a public building owned by the people.

* Amalgamate the response teams for police, fire and EMS to a singular administration and call centre.

* Review the operations of the fire department to reduce operations that are often duplicated by other public safety services.

* Review all bylaws with the city’s legal team to reduce the obfuscation and redundancy of current business practices.

 

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Why the 2018 budget is so important for Guelph’s future

By Gerry Barker

August 28, 2017

Let’s start by saying there are many smart people who run our city.

The problem is that the political ruling class – the council gang of seven progressives – has dominated and controlled public business for more than 10 years.

Under the leadership of former Mayor Karen Farbridge, grandiose schemes and social engineering policies have brought the city to a state of a serious financial condition. Not the least of which is the $163 million loss made by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and its impact on Guelph Hydro.

This loss was verified in the Consolidated GMHI balance sheet audited by the KPMG accounting firm, completed last December.

Part of the $163 million GMHI losses are two debentures issued by “investors” to fund an ambitious plan to build two large natural gas generating plants to achieve electricity self-sufficiency for the city. Although GMHI purchased land to build these plants, the corporation collapsed. Because GMHI is wholly owned by the city, these debentures have been transferred to Guelph Hydro that now has a $94 million debt on its books.

There is little disposable cash available to meet the growing demands of the city. Assessment is only increasing at a rate of 1.5 per cent per year. Taxes are increasing exponentially at an average rate of 3.6 per cent per year. The city has one of the highest per capita debt rates in the entire country.

Spending remains out of control as major projects initiated by the Farbridge council have failed to meet budgets or acceptable performance. The detailed comparison of City of Guelph operating and capital spending budgets is telling. The 2015 report by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, compared Kitchener and Cambridge showing both those cities’ matching budgets were 50 per cent lower than Guelph’s.

There are fundamental reasons why this disparity of these two similar-sized city’s overhead and operating costs are substantially lower on a per capita basis. And yet Mr. Fung was mocked by a number of councillors after he left the chamber following his presentation. And that report was made before the GMHI audit revealed the complete failure of the former two administrations to force citizens to trust their judgment. Maybe that’s why for four years the GMHI board of directors dodged public scrutiny by holding its meeting in closed session.

The GMHI board operated like mushrooms, growing in the dark.

The GMHI board was chiefly composed of the former mayor as chair and four of her council supporters who controlled the operation. Two of those councillors are still on council, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein. Neither has disclosed any of the details of the GMHI collapse in which they were a party.

The overspending marches on. Mayor Cam Guthrie ran on the promise to match property tax increases with the Consumer Price Index. His promise was defeated in the first two months of his election by the Gang of Seven councillors who were supporters of the former mayor.

But he has accomplished some important achievements the greatest being exposing the failed GMHI Community Energy Initiative (CEI) founded in 2007 by the former mayor.

The CEI was the basis of the attempt by the former mayor to make Guelph energy self-sufficient. It was matched with a system of thermal underground co-generation piping to supply hot and cold water to a small number of buildings.

It was a colossal failure, as reports and an audit of GMHI’s operations were made public of the “initiative.” As a result, there’s a number of senior staff who left the city. Part of the reason was due to a closed session meeting of council December 10, 2015 that awarded $98,202 in salary increases to four top city executives.

Three of the four are now gone including former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, Former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, and former Deputy Administrative Officer (DCAO), Mark Amorosi. The fourth senior staffer receiving the secret increase was the current CAO Derrick Thomson.

We, the public did not discover the executive increases until March 31, 2016 when the Ontario government posted its Sunshine List of all public employees who were paid more than $100,000.

Operating a $500 million Corporation without a Chief Financial Officer

After some 28 months, the city did not have a designated CFO, although Trevor Lee has been recently hired as a DCAO taking over Mr. Amorosi’s responsibilities that includes the finance department.

The policy of constantly increasing property taxes approved last December included an extra two per cent tax levy on all city properties above the normal tax increase. Those funds were to be applied to infrastructure repairs and maintenance and city buildings. For the past ten years the increases have averaged 3.6 per cent. The exponential growth of these annual increases has created a cash box of money to fund the failed projects of the former mayor and her supporters.

Starting next month, the 2018 budget process will start. Already the staff is preparing its recommendations to council. The staff report will be the basis for discussion and provide for public input.

To say it will be the most important budget since 2007 is an understatement. Because it will occur in an election year, expect some goodies and a possible lower property tax. That’s what happened in 2010 and 2014. It’s called political survival and is the final opportunity by the 13 members of council to ensure their re-election. Or, at least that’s the theory.

I believe that it’s time for political courage and council should take the necessary steps to reduce the operating overhead of operating the city.

So, what are the choices?

There has been a fairly high turnover of staff since 2014. The biggest expense the city has is the cost of its 2,200 employees. It would be a good first step to freeze hiring for six months giving managers time to reconcile their operation to reduce costs. A real staff reduction goal of five per cent is achievable in all areas of operations. Cost reductions lies not just in numbers of employees but also in reform of operational procedures.

Hanging out there is the potential sale or merge of Guelph Hydro with another Local Distribution Company currently underway by the Strategic Options Committee. It is co-chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson and Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong. Nine years ago, the former mayor attempted to persuade her colleagues to merge Guelph Hydro with utilities from Hamilton and St. Catharines. It was a bad idea then and it still is.

The public revolted and council voted the proposal down. In my opinion I do not believe anything has changed insofar as the current public rejection of a similar proposal. Again, the Mayor is in favour of selling the utility with current assets stated as $228 million. I see this proposed sale as a band-aid to fix a major financial problem.

Experience has shown that once council has money on the table it will disappear down the rabbit hole of personal agenda and schemes. It is impossible to repair the financial damages caused by previous administrations with an open cheque for selling an important and vital utility that pays an annual dividend to the city.

Reform city council by reducing the number of councillors to nine from 13

Another choice facing the electorate is reformation of council in the individual ward elections in which the progressives have controlled for almost 11 years. It’s a lousy system that requires amendments to make it more democratic and effective. By that I suggest reducing the number of councillors to nine, one from each ward and three councillors including the Mayor who are elected at large across the city. The present council will never agree to that, Instead the change should be included in the 2018 ballot and let the citizens decide.

Another choice that voters have is to prevent any future mayor or member of council to integrate Guelph Hydro with city operations. This is what happened with the integration of Guelph Hydro with GMHI. The mayor achieved control of Guelph Hydro that created her unwarranted full control of the financial disaster of GMHI. It must never happen again and only the voters can prevent it in the next civic election. Accordingly, we citizens should demand the cancelling the Community Energy Initiative and a wind-up of GMHI.

To assist citizens in making this happen, I suggest that Guelph Hydro dump the present appointed board of directors as of October 2018 and replace it with five elected Hydro commissioners who would elect their own chairperson.

Maintain an operational firewall between Guelph Hydro and city council

It is now essential that there must be a firewall between Guelph Hydro and its owner, the City of Guelph. The recent experience of GMHI that created long-term losses should be a grim reminder that control of Guelph Hydro should never be used again to perpetuate the will of any mayor or member of council.

Well folks, next year will be a game changer if citizens act to not only vote but also let their representatives know how they feel about the future of the city.

The greatest challenge is to seek out and persuade candidates who are prepared to be game changers to return truth to power and to the people.

Guelph Speaks will continue to report and comment on events as they unfold. Mind you, at times it feels lonely in the weird world of local media with the exception of the online paper, Guelph Today. It often produces real news stories and not the usual Pablum of rewritten city press releases instead of challenging or investigating the real issues that affect us all.

Good government is based on a system of checks and balances. In Guelph there is an absence of this because our elected representatives rarely challenge staff recommendations. Failure lies in all the closed-session meetings in which the public’s business is discussed in private often with the staff. It happens before every meeting of council and often during a council meeting.

In my opinion, the $98,202 payment to four senior managers authorized by council, in closed-session, December 10th 2015, was an affront to the public but also to members of staff. The fact that the citizens did not know of the action until the provincial Sunshine List was published four months later, only made the barn smell worse. It’s called lying by omission. And council still refuses to accept responsibility, or allow release of the minutes.

It’s something to recall in the next civic election.

Remember that all this occurred before the citizens knew about the $163 million GMHI fiasco and the losses of public money. In reality, this makes the 2014 Urbacon lawsuit that was part of the $23 million cost overrun of the new city hall, look like penny ante.

Just remember that both these projects were planned and executed by the former mayor and her elected supporters. Seven of those supporters are members of the current council.

Let’s not forget.

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U.S. NAFTA position to ‘Buy American’ could savage the Canadian auto parts sector

By Gerry Barker

August 21, 2017

The economic wellbeing of Guelph is now threatened with pronouncements by U.S. North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiators.

There is real concern about the future of the Canadian auto parts manufacturers. Most significant is Linamar, headquartered in Guelph, that employs 6,000 in its complex of 19 plants. The company is the largest private employer in the city and is supported by a number of smaller specialized manufacturers feeding materials and components to the Linamar parts assembly plants.

Linamar is not alone in the potential danger that may culminate in job losses and plant shut downs as the work is shipped to the U.S. Magna International is facing the same dilemma if the U.S. negotiators force auto parts manufacturing back to America from Canada and Mexico.

Both Linamar and Magna have operations in Europe and Mexico. Those plants are equally vulnerable, as the U.S. has already threatened to place tariffs as high as 35 per cent on foreign made parts. In fact, the U.S. government has already arbitrarily placed a high tariff on Canadian softwood lumber products. Canada has retaliated with support for lumber exporters with subsidies. This long-term dispute will be a major issue as talks proceed.

This issue has been fought for several years with Canada winning in the arbitration process. Today, the U.S. NAFTA negotiators are stating they want to eliminate Rule 19, the dispute mechanism system that has worked well for 24 years. Instead, they want all disputes to be conducted in U.S. courts. Canada is opposed to such a proposal that would destroy the independent arbitration system that has worked successfully.

Canada could counter with a demand to have full bidding access to U.S. and State government contracts.

There is no question that the ‘Buy American’ policy as originated by President Donald Trump, and how he fails to understand how well NAFTA works on both sides of the border. The U.S. States bordering Canada are concerned that their economies would be affected if the ‘Buy American’ policies are incorporated in a new NAFTA agreement.

And for good reason, Canada is their biggest market. Placing tariffs on Canada goods at the border would cost jobs and product shortages on both sides of the border.

The whole idea about free trade is to create greater volumes of goods moving across our border. The bigger the markets the more jobs are created.

Yet Trump told his supporters that he would shut down NAFTA in his first week in office. He described it as a terrible agreement, bad for America, one that never should have been negotiated. Since then, he has been convinced that the Trade pacts should be renegotiated.

Here’s an example of how the President pops off at the slightest rejection of his rhetoric.

U.S. wants to eliminate Canada’s supply-side management of agriculture products

The U.S. trade negotiators have told the Canada counterparts that Canada’s dairy industry’s supply-side management system must be scrapped to give U.S. producers free access to Canada markets. The present impact on Canadian consumers is that the 13,000 dairy farmers in Canada, most of who are multi-millionaires, are charging high prices and Canadians are perpetually subsidizing them.

Australia, New Zealand and a number of U.S. dairy producers have scrapped supply-side management in order to compete globally. The Canadian dairy farmers represent a tiny part of the Global market. It’s because they don’t have to compete. The producers’ lobby hard to protect their interests, not those of the citizens who pay high prices for their products.

This is the epitome of a monopoly. Shut out foreign competitors, fix prices, control supply to manipulate profits and you could own a winter home in Miami.

The supply-side management monopolies also exist in egg production, the poultry, beef and pork producers who are all benefiting from the ultimate in market protection with some tariffs exceeding 300 per cent to shut out foreign imports.

This represents a rip-off of the Canadian consumer by those producers. They have control of the supply of their products that has guaranteed inflated incomes and prices for some 30 or more years.

These monopolies are skilled at protecting their gold mines of guaranteed profits. They spend a lot of money on lobbyists to protect their interests with provincial and federal politicians. As one commentator in favour of abolishing Canadian supply-side management system’s domination of Canadian agriculture stated: “These critical trade negotiations are no place for alternative facts,” (as used by lobbyists representing the agriculture producer industries). ”

The auto parts sector of our economy is vital to the future of the country. Most are global companies that compete all over the world. Now is the time for the food supply sector to follow the lead and compete globally. If it does and spends its money on marketing globally, Canadian consumers will benefit and so will the producers.

These NAFTA negotiations could have a direct impact on Guelph in terms of job losses and industrial assessment if plants close. The city’s dismal track record attracting industry could result in greater taxes on the residential assessed community. It is one that already is carrying 84 per cent of the property tax load.

While NAFTA negotiations are just underway, the future is uncertain and scary. It could take years to complete unless any of the three parties involved walk away in frustration.

Something Canadians will never do but there is a big question mark about whether Mexico will stay the course. There remains bad blood between the U.S. and Mexico starting with the President’s promise to build a wall between the two countries and that Mexico would pay for it.

The Mexican President told Trump that the country would not pay for the wall.

But then he promised to build an economic wall between Canada and the U.S. by renegotiating NAFTA.

We’ll see about that.

 

 

 

 

 

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Shared Economy: Another incomprehensible project we are expected to accept

By Gerry Barker

August 17, 2017

This week the city sent a press release about “navigating the shared economy.”

It was long on jargon and these was a pathetic explanation by Mayor Cam Guthrie.

“I’m proud of the leading role Guelph has played in creating a tool that will help local councils and communities analyze the impact of various sharing economy services on their own residents and businesses so they can make decisions based on local needs.”

Some clarity please, Mr. Mayor. What kind of tool are you talking about? How will it help the cost of services to the citizens specifically, what are you talking about?

Perhaps Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson can explain it: “Sharing economy initiatives are being shaped by zoning codes, hotel and taxi licensing regulations, transit and all manner of distinctly local policy. The Shared Economy guide is designed to help municipalities understand this new economy, what it means on a local level and how to respond appropriately.”

Does this Shared Economy include include tighter financial control of operating overhead and capital budgets? Particularly, in view of the huge losses incurred by the city management such as the $163 million wasted on the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc? Part of that has been parked on the Guelph Hydro financial statement as a $94 million debt. The balance of the loss is the shareholder’s (all citizens) equity of some $67 million spent on a variety of projects, most of which were authorized and executed in closed-session meetings between 2011 and 2015.

Was this a shared economy issue?

This week the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) is meeting in Ottawa. The Guelph delegation composed of some councillors, led by Mayor Guthrie, has joined in support of a recommendation to the provincial government to raise the Ontario portion of the sales tax by one per cent taking the HST to 14 per cent.

The Ontario government rejected the proposal a few hours after the presentation. What were the municipal representatives thinking? Did they believe that the Wynne Liberals would approve increasing the HST before a provincial election June 7, 2018?

First, the provincial government funds the AMO. That gives it power to accept or reject proposals.

Second, excessive spending of the public’s money are the problems facing the 445 Ontario municipalities. Chiefly, in most cases it is repairing and replacing neglected infrastructure. A Guelph staff report pegs the cost of infrastructure in the city at more that $400 million.

In many cases it’s about cash management particularly, revenue from property taxes and user fees. In Guelph, there has been endemic abuse of boosting revenues from those sources to pay for misadventures in environmental projects with no return.

In most homes and businesses, revenues must balance spending. The use of credit to invest in necessary lifestyle issues such as emergencies, operating costs and capital projects, is practised in more than 90 per cent of property owners and businesses.

The corporation of the city of Guelph is no different. It is obligated by the province to supply a Financial Information Report (FIR) annually with no deficit.

What has occurred over the past ten years is that the budget forecasts have been exceeded because of overspending. It is an annual occurrence. The city does have a safety net called reserves. In 2009, Coun. Leanne Piper was quoted as stating that the city had $77 million in reserves. In 2014, an outside management consultant, BMA, said those city reserves had been depleted and used to balance the city books. Their report raised a “red flag” over the reserves’ depletion.

In 2012, a citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, presented a petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The documented petition, using the city’s financial statements, presented data that showed the discrepancies in the annual FIR’s. The petition requested an audit of the city’s finances. The Minister said the two parties should get together to resolve their differences. It never happened. The former CAO, Ann Pappert, claimed it was a waste of time.

This was a fight between two pit bulls in which there was no loser except the citizen’s of Guelph.

Guelph has become the poster city for failing to control spending on projects initiated by elected officials and staff of public servants with little public input.

For the past 10 city budgets, starting in 2007 until 2017, property taxes have increased annually by an average of 3.6 per cent. This has resulted in an exponential increase of some 45 per cent.. Now we are about to begin the 2018 budget negotiations spurred by staff recommendations.

Keep in mind this is an election-year budget so there will be debate about revenue and expenses. The council will end up approving budgets designed to please the electorate and lull us into believing all is well.

Instead, citizens are being fed another new management plan called the “Sharing Economy.”

Here is a capsule of the city press release’s explanation:

“The Guide provides a brief introduction to the sharing economy and then identifies the following six decisions to guide municipalities that are anticipating or reacting to a shared economy platform in their jurisdiction.

Ulp! Why is Guelph the instigator of this?

  • What type of approach is most appropriate?
  • Answer: Control spending and control of revenues is limited. That well has drained. Change the composition of city council. Reduce the number of councillors to nine from 13. Elect a single full-time councillor in each ward. Elect at large the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and an executive councillor with the key responsibility of overseeing city finances.
  • What are the primary public policy goals?
  • Answer: Fix the assets that are broken or are redundant. Stop buying the people with their own money such as the Well-Being handouts and miscellaneous city supported community projects.
  • What type(s) of sharing will be included?
  • Answer: Managing a city is not rocket science. We elect people presumed to be aware and competent and professional staff to manage the city.
  • What kinds of policy actions or tools are needed?
  • Answer: Control spending on consultants. Reduce staff and overhead costs. Work on developing growth in the manufacturing area to increase assessment and reduce the dependence on residential assessed properties. This will also provide jobs outside of the public sector.
  • Design considerations
  • Answer: The city council must enact considerations based on facts supplied by the professional staff. There must be a clear division between elected and professional officials to provide a system of checks and balances. In Guelph, there has been a serious lack of financial management and policies.
  • Implementation and evaluation
  • Answer: Most people in the city feel that there has been too much money spent on failed mismanaged projects. This is one program that should have full public input.

The Guide was commissioned by the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario, financially supported by the Province of Ontario and developed in collaboration with the Guelph Lab—a partnership between the City of Guelph and the University of Guelph.

A variety of other partners including the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and the municipalities of London and Mississauga contributed to the Guide.

We should be wary of this proposal, as we have just experienced a similar collaprative venture known as the Community Energy Initiative. It is important that we solve the immediate problems facing the city before launching into an academic exercise that may distract us from what’s needed today.

Too much money has already been wasted; it’s time to stop the bleeding.

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Guess who the Progressive Conservative candidate in Guelph will be next June?

By Gerry Barker

August 14, 2017

Guelphspeaks has learned that the Guelph Provincial Progressive Conservative Association has been bypassed and informed that PC headquarters in Toronto has made a selection.

There is nothing illegal in this although one would naively expect that the choice of a candidate should rest with the local association. This is the second time the PC PooBaas have overridden the selection of a candidate. Anthony MacDonald was parachuted in to represent the Guelph PC’s in the last provincial election. We all know how that turned out.

My sources tell me that the PC Association has been hard at work vetting candidates and preparing to hold a nomination meeting. Then, there was the sudden withdrawal of trucking executive Tom Mooney, as a candidate, in protest of PC headquarters finagling with the process. Mr. Mooney stated that there was too much of this going on across the province where PC candidates were being chosen.

I asked one of my sources if the local PC Association cannot run a nomination meeting to select the best candidate, why is there an association? “It’s exists to raise money,” was the response.

So who is the anointed candidate to represent Guelph in the Ontario Legislature?

My sources say it is our Mayor, Cam Guthrie.

There is no doubt that Mr. Guthrie is well known in the city. He won the 2014 civic election by more than 5,000 votes, defeating a three-term mayor. However he was unable to persuade the majority of his council that property taxes had to be held to the Consumer Price Index rate as he promised his supporters. In March 2015, his first budget resulted in a property tax rate that was eventually 3.96 per cent after adjustments.

But he did put the brakes on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.’s (GMHI) multi-million experiment. This failed to create a made-in Guelph self-sufficient in power generation and co-generation thermal underground water heating and cooling system.

In May 2016, Pankaj Sardana, then Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer for GMHI reported the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) projects in the Downtown area and the Hanlon Business Park, were financial disasters. What we didn’t know at that time was the extent of the losses by GMHI and Guelph Hydro that loaned some $94 million to GMHI in the form of two debentures.

Mr. Sardana said the two District Energy Nodes (pumps) and co-generation project should never have been started in the first place.

The former mayor, Karen Farbridge, who acted as chair of the GMHI Board of Directors for four years until her defeat in 2014, founded the CEI and GMHI. It is noted that Ann Pappert, the Chief Administrative Officer of the city, also served as CEO of GMHI for four years.

Ms. Pappert co-signed the devastating GMHI report to council and left the city ten days later, May 26, 2016. She received $237,500, plus a taxable benefit of some $6,300, a full year’s pay for five months work.

Mr. Guthrie was a supporter of Ms. Pappert and he attacked a citizen who wrote a scathing report of Ms. Pappert’s performance as CAO. He threatened the resident with legal action but never advanced his threat. In my case, he wrote a number of emails to his supporters not to believe me and pay no attention when I reported that council was reviewing Ms. Pappert’s contract.

Mr. Guthrie was no fan of guelphspeaks.ca

Then along came that December 10 closed-session meeting of council that approved $98,224 increases for four senior executives. CAO Ann Pappert, Deputy Chief Administrative Officers Al Horsman, Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson. Only Mr. Thomson remains and is now CAO of the city. Those four increases ranged from 14.7 to 19 per cent. There was no evidence of justification for these increases that were concealed until March 2016.

Guelphspeaks revealed, in late March 2016, just how much those four executives received as reported in the 2016 Sunshine list published by the province of every public employee earning more than $100,000.

Mr. Guthrie, as mayor, presided over that closed meeting. Attempts to have the minutes revealed have been denied. The public has no knowledge of which councillors approved or objected to the increases. The bottom line is why was it done in secret knowing full well that it would eventually be made public?

Was the Guthrie council so confident that people would soon forget the deception?

Now the result is a lawsuit initiated by a member of the executive group who was dismissed last February.

That procedure has not been brought to trial. If and when it does, the discovery process could involve testimony by those members of council and staff participating in that closed meeting. The delayed discovery of which, led to the lawsuit.

By choosing Mr. Guthrie to be the PC candidate, the PC party should be prepared for fallout of the Mayor’s support in the next ten months.

The question is: When does provincial candidate Guthrie resign as Mayor of Guelph? The civic election is not until October, five months after the provincial election June 7, 2018.

Which leaves us with two major party candidates having performance issues that will result in a tumultuous campaign and an opportunity for the NDP to win the election.

I shiver in anticipation.

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