Does the Guelph civic administration abuse its power?

By Gerry Barker

January 20, 2020

Opinion

In 2006, the McGuinty Liberal government, to placate the municipalities’ lobby machine to extend the three-year term of council elections to four years.

In 2006, Guelph elected its first council for four years led by former Mayor, Karen Farbridge. Only two councillors survived the onslaught of the leftist-based Farbridge council supported by the national NDP organization.

What followed was a total domination of the city, its responsibility to the citizens and soaring property tax increases exceeding 3 per cent every year for eight years plus increasing user fees, including water.

So, where did the city collect and spend the money starting in 2007?

The city functions by using an operating budget and a capital spending budget for major projects.

The first was approving spending $12,7000 to convert the abandoned convent building owned by the Diocese of Hamilton. The church wanted to demolish the convent to create more parking for parishioners.

Instead, the city persuaded the church to lease the building to save it as an historic pre-Confederation building. Newly elected councillor Leanne Piper, former chair of the Guelph Heritage group proposed the project to turn it into a Civic Museum.

A noble project in which a minority of the public participated

Four years later the city announced the project cost was $16.5 million.

That does not include the operating costs such as staff, utilities, maintenance, insurance and depreciation.

That was only the beginning of a council that failed to uphold their sworn duty to protect the public trust.

Through all this, the central library replacement, announced by the former mayor in her first three-year term in office was a new downtown library was a priority for council.

Twenty years later we are still waiting.

Here’s a list of some of the projects that were passed by council, without public discussion or involving the citizen stakeholders and their right to accountability and transparency.

* In 2013, council hired a consultant to prepare and plan incorporating accountability, transparency and open government. The bill for that project was $500,000.

* The Organic Waste Processing Facility, that was over built costing $34 million and the builder is still operating the plant. The operation has been a costly, mismanaged project of which the citizens were kept in the dark.

* Spending $15 million for a automated waste collection system using special trucks, each costing $150,000 to do the job, followed that. The troubled\ was the maintenance of the vehicles soured. In addition, several of the new residential developments could not accommodate the vehicles. They were forced to hire contractors to pick up the trash.

* Next came the legal battle to reduce its contribution to the Guelph, Wellington, and Duffrin Public health organization voting to build a new headquarters in Guelph cost $17 million The Mayor sued because Guelph had contributed $10 milliohn to the project, approved by the board of directors.

She lost the lawsuit. The legal bill was reported to cost the city $10,000.

Let’s pause for a minute

In 2006 the city staff number of employees was 1.400. Today, we employ 2,300 full-time and part-time employees. For the record, the cost of city staff consumes 80 per cent of all property taxes. So this is an example of an employee merry-go-round.

The two effects of this unprecedented expansion of staff is one of the exponential growth annual increase in the number of staff and two, the increase in remuneration to the entire staff. Do you believe that a city staffer employed in 2006 witnessed his salary and benefits declining? That’s an unrealistic assumption.

Of course not because of inflation that boosts costs annually.

How about your salary and benefits, pension and elderly benefits increases?

My friends, this is the biggest problem of incompetence by the staff and the elected officials.

They have become one and the same. The trade unions that dominate the city staff work hand in glove with the elected city convoy. Councillors become dependent on the staff in the decision making process.

Should I remind that the majority of city council have acquiesced to the staff for the past 14 years

Let’s move on to expose more of council mismanagement

In n2014, Superior Court Justice Donald Mackenzie, found the city guilty of wrongful dismissal of Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., the general contactors of the old and new City Hall project on Carden Street.

That was settled by the city and cost an additionaL $23 million over the otiginal $42 million contract. That was a 53 per cent increase over six years

Imagine this. You and your spouse are sitting around the kitchen table and sign a contract to remodel the kitchen for $XX. Then you change your mind and add other feature additions. The contractor say wait a minute that’s not what we agreed to.

Regardless, that’s what your city did to you.

Now it gets interesting.

With the defeat of Mayor Farbridge in 2014, and a number of her council, there was something else going on. Newly elected Mayor Guthrie discovered a financial disaster involving Guelph Municipal Holding Inc.

This was a special project the former mayor put together

While mayor, she made herself chair of GMHI board of directors, and then transferred the city-owned Guelph Hydro to GMHI. She also selected city CAO, Ann Pappert, as the CEO of GMHI.

None of this was reported in the midia includingn the only weekly newspaper in the ity. In fact, almost all of the meetings by the GMHI board were conducted in closed-session.

As part of my defence against the city financed defamation lawsuit, I revealed the increases or the three top managers authorized by a closed-session council meeting, Dec. 10, 2015

These details were only revealed four months later when the provincial Sunshine List was published March 31, 2016.

Now, under the Guthrie administration, there are more closed-sessions by council.

In the fall of 2017, council appoints a special committee to investigate the options of selling, merging or keeping it. The result was, the selling option was off the table. And a merger with Alectra Utilities was recommended by the committee apointed by city council..

Late that year, the accounting firm KPMG announced results of a GMHI consolidated audit that showed the shareholders liability of $66 million. What followed was a highly contrived public relations campaign costing citizens $2.5 million resulting in council approving the merger.

To this day, it remain the greatest blunder of financial management in the city’s history. Council gave Guelph Hydro away for peanuts and promises.

What can citizens do to protect their civic assets and the rights to object?

Against this closed-session juggernaut of municipal power there is almost no opportunity to participate, seek accountability or reject the action of the elected officials and staff.

Today, our only option comes every four years during the civic election. The next one is in 2022.

Here how the deck is stacked against you

The city uses closed-sessions to conduct its business.

They use a hired integrity commissioner to keep council members in line and not reveal discussions of closed-session meetings. They are on retainer plus time involving an investigation of a breach of the council Code of Conduct.

An outfit called Amberlee Gravel, who is the special investigators of closed-session council or board meetings when a citizen complains, polices citizen complaints. They are also on an annual retainer plus time investigating.

Since being appointed in 2008, there have been four complaints or requests. All were denied. My request for the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting took four months to decide whether to release the information. Denied.

Remember the power of running the city rests only with city council.

The Ontario Ombudsman’s office refuses to intervene to assist citizens if their city employs an outside special investigator.

In my opinion, there is a conflict of interest that prevents a citizen’s requests apparently by the city’s special closed-session investigatort and the Ombudsman’s office

It’s a municipal Catch 22

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in my experience, is to put it mildly, highly politically partnered with its legislative bosses and ineffective.

Citizens in Guelph have no recourse to have honest, unfettered, non-political hearings of grievances.

How serious is this?

Your city administration is using your money to support a private lawsuit initiated in 2016, against me by a former employee who was fired, according to four major media outlets. His sworn testimony before the court was that he “agreed” to leave.

Was he a team player? Planned on retiring anyway?

I can tell you that he did not receive any additional compensatio after February 20, 2017.

This is a prime example of abuse of power against a citizen who was critical of the secrecy involved in large increases to three top staff managers.

This lawsuit now in its fourth year is not just about Gerry Barker, it’s about all citizens who dare to be critical of public administration that are considered by the city to be improper or incorrect.

I believe citizens must appeal to the provincial government to allow a mechanism to recall any councillor or employee who is complicit in not performing their duties or operate outside their oath of office and its responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

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Canada’s Ballard Power rises from the ashes brings new heavy vehicle pure power to the world

By Gerry Barker

January 13, 2020

Opinion

This is a story of a Vancouver-based company that has experienced a bottom and bust past developing a third source of power that is emission-free. It is capable of powering locomotives, container ships, heavy trucks, buses, forklifts and large recreation vehicles.

This break-through technology saw Ballard Power Corporation shares, in the last decade soar to $200 a share only to crumble to penny stock levels.

Ballard Power went from darling to peasant in a few years. Collapse of auto companies and a global recession did the company in but not dead.

Today the company shares have made a modest recovery by forming alliances with a major Chinese engine manufacture, Weichjai, to partner converting fossil-fueled heavy vehicles to use the Ballard hydrogen fuel cell technology.

How does it work?

Hydrogen fuel cells combine elemental hydrogen with oxygen in the air, capturing the energy for conversion to electric, according to Ballard Power.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the company worked with a number of major vehicle manufacturers including Honda, Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, Mazda, Nissan and Volkswagen.

Right now, around the world, Ballard and its partners are concentrating on heavy vehicle power that is emission free. The only discharge is water.

There are now thousands of such vehicles using the Ballard Power hydrogen fuel cell technology.

This has the potential of moving heavy vehicles safely and contributing to the reduction of carbon by fossil-fueled commercial vehicles.

What has this to do with Guelph?

There are two reasons that affect citizens.

The presence of Linamar Corporation and its place as a leading manufacturer of auto parts is essential to our community’s economy. They face new challenges to adapt to the growing use of electricity to power car, light trucks, SUV’s and vans.

Did I mention the slow death of sedans with the growth of SUV’s of all shapes and sizes?

Remember the old expression, the trend is your friend?

The new opportunity is supplying large vehicle companies with parts such as engines needed for hydrogen fuel cell heavy vehicles.

This is rapidly taking place. The Chinese engine manufacture Weichai has already partnered with Ballard. As well the U.S. engine builder, Cummins, has signed an order with Ballard Power.

The limitation of electric-powered personal vehicles is the range based on the capacity of the batteries and the limited power available in light vehicles.

Tesla Motors produced some 200,000 EV’s last year and finally made a profit. Tesla produces luxury EV’s that have costs above fossil-fueled vehicles despite government subsidies to purchasers.

One may question why the government is subsidizing EV purchases when private enterprise seems to be pricing emission-free vehicles in greater numbers now.

The second concern for Guelph is about the heavy city and transport trucks using our streets daily. They are going away and cannot convert to electric power sourced from the grid. Also, the cost of switching can be daunting.

In my opinion, Guelph Transit should be the starting point by gradually replacing its fossil-fueled buses, fleet with hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles.

The same applies to the heavy equipment used by the city.

And hydrogen fuel cell power was developed in Canada, eh?

 

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A 2019 rear-view look back of the Good the Bad and the Ugly

By Gerry Barker

January 6, 2020

Opinion

Let’s start with the first anniversary of the giveaway of Guelph Hydro that became effective just about a year ago. But questions remain.

What ever happened to that $18.5 million that we were told was part of the cash of Guelph Hydro and was to be distributed to the city’s general revenues?

Why are the hydro poles on Speedvale Avenue being relocated?

What is the cost of this work being performed by Alectra Utilities, the successor to Guelph Hydro?

Why was there a spike in hydro rates last August?

How many Guelph Hydro employees left their jobs as a result of the take-over by Alectra?

Why have there been a number of power outages since the takeover?

What benefits did the city receive as a result of the takeover?

It cost the administration some $2.6 million to sell the proposal to the citizens using fake town halls and slanted communiqués that lacked any pertinent details of the transaction.

Why did city council hold closed-session meeting regarding the impending giveaway?

Why has there been no documentation of the details of this so-called “merger” of a city-owned distribution system valued at $226 million in 2016 by Guelph Hydro?

Why was the CAO Derrick Thomson financially rewarded using public fund?

Co-Chair of the Strategic Options Committee Mr. Thomson received a $67,000 performance bonus in 2018 and resigned in February 2019.

Jane Armstrong, chair of the Guelph Hydro board of directors, was also co-chair with Thomson on the SOC that recommended the merger with Alectra with no details.

Her reward was being appointed to the Alectra Utilities board of directors for five years as city council’s choice to represent Guelph. Her salary was $25,000 per year plus expenses. After a tear there has been no information about the promised dividend from Alectra that was included in the deal. In fact, there has been no communication about this to the citizens.

This giveaway was an example of how public information is dispensed. It is a policy of this administration to conceal, misrepresent and control the details of business to which is in the public interest.

Other examples of ignoring the public trust

The Guelph Innovative Development project has been simmering beneath the surface of the public interest. In 2012 the city staff was assigned to create a new green inspired community on the reformatory property owned by the province.

Last year, the province hired a real estate company to sell the 1.072-acre property in a modified auction. Last spring the real estate company announced the property was on the market and the results of the auction were to be announced in July.

“Silenco!” As they say in the Sistine Chapel.

All that money spent on planning a new “green” development by the city staff appears to be history. The piece of property the city coveted bordered on York and Victoria,

That was one of a number of mistakes made by the Farbridge administration. Just don’t ask why the city started the overbuilt Organic Waste Facility; Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc; bike lanes that start and stop on major roads; Lane reductions on major streets; increasing traffic congestion; City hall construction that was over-spent; the assessment ratio between residential and commercial/industrial remained at 84 per cent versus 16 per cent. That has been unchanged for 13 years.

That last one has the greatest impact on residential properties. Regardless of the increased population and the increases in revenue to the city, much needed new industrial development has been bungled.

And the citizens who pay user fees, special property tax levies, increased assessments and taxes annually pay the bills every year.

We are surrounded by municipalities that have successfully increased the commercial/industrail ratio. These include Milton, Kitchener, and Cambridge.

Yikes!

Did I mention the city staff refusing to pick up used needles on city property? Or

The $25 million parking garage next to city hall that chiefly benefits city staff?

What’s the story spun by the mayor during his re-election campaign about the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment with a private partner and a new central library?

How has the Mayor’s task force dealing with the homeless and drug addicts, unemployed youth and those street people suffering from metal illness? This is not just a Guelph problem but also one that exists in most urban communities across the country.

It begs the question, why can’t all levels of government collectively deal with this growing problem?

There will always be an underclass but there are many today smitten with illness, loss of job, disabilities that should be offered a leg up with counseling and a guarantee of an annual income. Those qualifying should receive support.

There are pilot programs of this kind of support in the U.S. While I commend Mayor Guthrie’s task force initiative, this is a national problem that needs to be addressed.

Growing up during the Great Depression, I recall the hardships encountered by my parents. My dad lost his GM dealership and passed away in 1941. My mother worked in a factory during World War 2. We always had food on the table but no car or permanent home until after the war.

But that’s another story about my widowed mother who never gave up.

I realize that the problem can never fully be resolved but in our country blessed with resources, human, on top and under our vast lands, there can be a better way to enhance the lives of all our fellow citizens.

When you think about it, we all benefit from helping those less fortunate frequently through no fault of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to the Senate graveyard of the U.S, Constitution and Democracy

By Gerry Barker

December 30, 2019

Opinion

So, my wife keeps saying to me, “so what?” We are Canadians, eh? We can’t vote there and we can’t change it. Do I sense a little negativity here?

Digging beneath the Trump tweets how he has been treated unfairly, the Senate Majority leader announced that he is working with the legal staff in the White House advocating that he is a Trump toady who is clinging to power.

Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wants to know the Senate ground rule before sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, says there are no rules and quips that Pelosi wants to run the Senate.

The real story is Trump is the only Republican candidate for the 2020 Presidential election. Sure, there are other declared candidates for the job but the canny Mitch McConnell knows his caucus is solid to defeat the impeachment articles due to be sent to the Senate for trial.

This is a classic Texas standoff between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Majority Senate leader McConnell.

So, one man is holding the country hostage. He will become the undertaker of the death of democracy in America.

Three years of chaos

It has taken the Trump administration three years to negotiate NAFTA saying the North American Free Trade Agreement was the worse deal the U.S. made and he was going to scrap it.

This was a classic dilemma, who needs friends when you need enemies?

The facts about NAFTA: Canada was the U.S. major trading partner. More Canadian goods and services were sold to the U.S. than China. The President twisted the negotiation stance saying Canada, for years, was ripping off the US by buying less from the U.S. thereby creating a phony trade deficit.

The truth is that the U.S. administration enjoyed a trade surplus with Canada under the NAFTA 20-year-trade agreement.

To bolster his support with his base of followers, Trump invokes steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian suppliers. What he failed to consider was the impact of the tariffs on the NAFTA auto trade pact, an important part of the NAFTA deal made 20-years ago. It took more than a year to remove the tariffs when U.S auto manufactures and supporting parts supply companies would be damaged by the tariffs.

The Canadian government told the Trump NAFTA negotiators that the tariff had to be removed when a new agreement was reached.

USMCA is the new hit for the Village People

Along came the USMCA, the replacement of NAFTA. In Argentina, the three leaders shook hands on agreeing to the USMCA, That photo-op failed to have the governments of all three partners approve the deal.

The delay has been the result if a number of factors, not the least was the Democrats in 2018 wining the majority in the House of Representatives when Nancy Pelosi became the new Speaker of the House and third in line if the President and Vice President are unable to perform their responsibilities.

This inserted a new element in the USMCA trade agreement. Coupled with that was the number of House resolutions including gun control, prescription drug costs, Universal healthcare, relations with allies and a long list of resolution that were stone-stalled in the Senate by the leader, Mitch McConnell, who sets the agenda for members of the Senate to debate and approve or disapprove the House resolutions.

McConnel did not put the House resolutions on the floor of the Senate for debate.

Many of the House resolutions were already enjoyed in Canada, including controlling lower cost prescriptions, universal health care for all 37 million Canadians, a constitution guaranteeing personal rights for all citizens. Meaningful support of climate control and rediction of fossil fuel emissions are important to Canadians.

Vive la difference!

On the down side was the emasculation of the auto assembly operations. For all his promise to repatriate-manufacturing jobs to the U.S. Trump, in three years in office has seen the number of manufacturing jobs diminish.

The auto giants in America were adapting to innovative assembly operations using robots and just-in-time parts delivery to meet production demands.

The Donald Trump wrecking crew

But the Trump trade policies didn’t stop there. U.S. farmers selling their products to China lost contracts due to the Trump administration’s applying tariffs to Chinese imports.

This impacted Canadian producers pf soybeans and pork sold to China resulted in terminated contracts in retaliation of the arrest of a Chinese official in Vancouver. She was the Chief Financial Officer of one of the world’s largest tel-com and cyber-associated equipment. This woman was allowed to live in a multi-million dollar mansion in Vancouver but had to wear an ankle bracelet 24/7.

The Canadian government arrested her at the request of the Trump administration on charges of breaking U.S laws concerning complicated accounting laws. That was a year ago. In response, Canada demanded the release of two Canadians held in a Chinese prison on charges of esponage.

These events are the direct result of the destruction of trust and cooperation between our two countries.

There is little evidence of using diplomatic channels to resolve differences.

All we have witnessed is the destruction of alliances with our allies in which the President on the phone, told the Turkish President that he was pulling U.S, troops out of eastern Syria. Within days, Turkish militia entered Syria and attacked the Kurdish forces that were supported by the U.S. special forces who were training and operating the command and control system of the Kurdish forces.

That phone call betrayed a loyal and trusted ally who has eliminated the Isis radical Islamic forces from Eastern Syria. Some 14,000 Kurdish soldiers were killed in that three-year elimination of Isis.

Yet this is the President who has done everything, he set out to abolish the Affordable Care Act that is covering the health care costs of 20 million Americans.

He almost made it when the Senate voted to abolish the ACA but it was defeated by one vote, by Senator John McCain. He voted no and died about a year later.

Trump crowed that he would establish a heal care system that would be cheaper and cover more people than the ACA.

It never happened.

A Texas court strips parts of the ACA

Today, a recent Texas court ruled that the denial of pre-existent coverage by insurance companies was unconstitutional. It now moves to a higher court of appeal.

Understand that the President does not care about Canada. His re-election will destroy Democracy and human rights.

Finally, take the promise made by candidate Donald Trump to the out-of =work West Virginia coal miners that he would get the their jobs back and they would produce good clean coal,

How did that work for them?

A West Virginia Democrat, U.S. Senator, Joe Minchin, is quoted that he is not sure whether to cote for impeachment when the Senate trial begins.

Meanwhile, Trump is furiously tweeting insults and lies about his performance.

The potential is that Trump will be the first President to be re-elected on the volume of incoherent tweets.

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Why are the citizens still paying the legal costs of a former employee who was fired for cause?

By Gerry Barker

December 16, 2019

Opinion

The following facts support how the abuse of political power that is far too prevalent in terms of fair comment and freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights.

FACT – For the record, my wife and I are residents of the City of Guelph.

FACT – In 2016, I wrote 10 blog posts as outlining Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi’s statement of claim in which he sued me for defamation. The posts were critical of his role in secretly concealing a total of $98,202 salary increases shared by three senior executives including Amorosi.

FACT – These increases were awarded December 10, 2015 in a closed-session of city council.

FACT – It has never been revealed whether these increases were paid retroactively for 2015 or were received throughout the year before the approval.

FACT -I was served in August 2016 with a demand to apologize to Mark Amorosi for publishing posts on guelphspeaks.ca, critical of the city administration for concealing senior staff salary increases for 2015.

FACT – The lawyer representing Mr. Amorosi, wrote the demand for an apology. The terms included that he would write it. He demanded that it had to be posted at the top of the guelphspeaks blog for 30 days. This demand was rejected.

FACT –  Amorosi’s counsel stated to my counsel that if I refused, he would recommend legal action.

FACT – On November 15 2016, Amorosi announced on the front page of the Guelph Mercury Tribune newspaper that he was suing Barker for $500,000 damages. It was based on defamation as a result of the alleged critical posts. He stated in the article that the City of Guelph was paying his legal expenses.

FACT – In January 2017, Mr. Barker requested a copy of the minutes of the Dec. 10 closed-session meeting of council, and it was denied in April with no explanation.

FACT – On February 9, 2017, Amorosi was fired for cause published in the Mercury Tribune newspaper. He left the city February 20.

FACT – In a sworn statement Amorosi testified that “he agreed to leave” when confronted with an an inadvertent release from the Information Technology department. It forwarded some 50,000 confidential emails to a third party representing a fired employee, Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole. Mr. Poole sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. Amorosi was in charge of that department and it formed the basis of his dismissal.

FACT – Three major news outlets, described Amorosi’s dismissal as being fired. The word ‘fired’ was also published in the Mercury Tribune article about the firing

FACT – On March 31, 2016, the 2015 provincial Sunshine List was published. The public learned of the three senior managers shared salary increases of $98,202. The province publishes the List composed of all public employees in the province earning more than $100,000 a year, not including taxable benefits.

FACT – The three recipients of these increase included the Chef Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, who received an increase of $37,000 taking her 2015 salary to $257,000. The majority of that increase included a retroactive performance bonus of $27,000.

FACT – DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson shared the balance with Amorosi’s 2015 salary jumping 14 per cent by $209,000

FACT – Derrick Thomson received an increase of 19 per cent taking his 2015 salary to more than $207,000.

FACT – The three senior managers cost the city in 2015, $673,000 plus some $20,000 in taxable benefits.

FACT – CAO Ann Pappert resigned in April 2016. DCAO Thomson resigned in January 2016 but was rehired in May to replace Ms. Pappert who left her job May 26, 2016.

FACT – When the 2016 Sunshine List was published in March 2017, former employee Ms. Pappert was paid $263,000 for five months work in 2016.

FACT – The new CAO Derrick Thomsob, announced details of his three-year contract which included a salary of $230,000 plus $11,000 taxable benefit for using his personal car for city business.

FACT – In March 2019, Derrick Thomson “parted ways with the city” for reasons unknown today. When the 2018 Sunshine list was published, Mr. Thomson’s salary was $335,000. In just two and a half years on the job, Mr. Thomson earned $100,000 more than his stated 2016 three-year salary of $230,000.

FACT – Mayor Cam Guthrie explained that Mr. Thomson was given a $67,000 performance bonus for his work on giving away Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities. Guelph Hydro stated in its 2016 financial report that the city-owned power distribution utility had a total value of $228 million.

FACT –Amorosi testified that city council did not approve staff salaries. Under the CAO bylaw, it was CAO Thomson who must have approved his 2018 salary and performance bonus.

FACT – I requested a statement from the city in 2018 of the amount of public money that had been spent on Amorosi’s lawsuit and it was denied because the case was before the courts.

FACT – From a reliable source, I learned there was another closed-session meeting of council in May 2018 to discuss the status of the Amorosi lawsuit and the legal costs to May 2018. It was reported the city paid Amorosi’s legal costs of $30,000. Without reservation, knowing what my legal costs are to date, it will be much more than that figure and counting.

FACT– This is another example of the city denying and obfuscating the details that aren’t serving the public interest.

FACT – The city has never explained why it is continuing this attack on one of its citizens. One who dared to criticize an issue that according to the city’s own code of conduct, that excludes open government policies, allowing accountability and transparency of the peaple’s business?

FACT – It has cost Amorosi nothing in three years to perpetuate the city’s complicity in contnuing to finance his lawsuit that is without merit.

FACT – To date it has cost me $86,000 to defend myself. It’s not over yet.

FACT – The city administration has never cooperated or acknowledged details of that December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting of council. It approved the three senior staff increases’ increases. In that same month, in another closed-session, council approved a bylaw indemnifying any employee or elected officials by paying their legal costs if facing a legal proceeding against them.

FACT – I did not sue Mr. Amorosi, he sued me, or I didn’t fire him or, in his submission made to the judge in 2019 that he was unable to get a job because of what I had written about him in 2016.

FACT – Two independent individuals searched Amorosi’s name on the Internet. There was only one of my posts on the site but references to his dismissal from the city dominated the site.

FACT – Since August 2016, the same lawyer has represented Mr. Amotosi.

DACT – CAO Ann Pappert who left the city in May 2016 recommended the indemnification bylaw in December 2015.

SUMARY

These are facts. They represent a major attack by a city council on a private citizen for unfounded reasons.

The cost to the citizens of Guelph including me, the defendant, is being covered-up by the administration.

If you believe the proceeding facts are not true and agree with the administration that are worth very penny, you are signaling denial the right of a citizen to protest the abuse of power by controlling city council, then good luck.

Our taxes, fees and services are way out of line with comparable communities. It has been like that for the past 13 years. That’s the main reason that our costs of living in Guelph keep increasing every year. Just remember the promise made by Cam Guthrie in 2014 that he would keep the property tax annual increase equal to the rate of inflation.

That promise went out the window with his first budget for 2015 when the final rate was 3.96 per cent. The Consumer Price Index for 2014 stated the inflation rate for Canada was 1.1 per cent.

So if you are not satisfied with the way your city is being managed, with respect, you should start researching how this city has arbitrarily increased its operating cost and sourceded capital to build needed projects, such as a new central library, the South End Community Centre to name just two.

Two projects leap out that are now approved under way, The new Maintenance capus for Guelph Transit and the Parkade on Wilson Street next door to City Hall. Both these projects on the surface seem important but strikingly inclusive for staff needs.

There has been too much waste of resources, mismanagement, not to mention the millions lost including Urbacon, GMHI, environmental services, downtown, dodgy deferred taxes and development breaks to developers, to name a few emptying the city till.

If you believe that we and the city can do better then let your councillors know and demand a clean up of the administration’s policies. Press staff and council to lower operating costs. Get rid of the deals and stop the shallow spinning of action. When the city says, that within ten years it will have spent $1,7 billion on capital funded projects, lets have some specifics including estimated costs, dates to completion and the sources of revenue to pay the bills..

This administration is overdue for a diet. Waiting three years to change the cast of characters can’t come soon enough.

Please note that like most of us we are about to enjoy the holidays, guelphspeaks.ca will be on hiatus until Monday, January 7, 2020. That gives us time to say goodby to the leftovers and start the new year with good health and optimism for 2020. Enjoy!

 

 

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The city budget documents are opaque and missing are the devil in the details

By Gerry Barker

December 9, 2019

Opinion

Let me start by saying that the budget reports I have read downloaded from the city website, are concise and informative.

The budget is broken into three parts. There is the capital-spending budget; the tax supported operating budget and the non-tax supported budget.

Council has approved all three budgets and the overall impact on property tax is 3.91 per cent for 2020. When the property assessments are released by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, (MPAC), the tax rate increase is adjusted in April

It is certain the rate will increase the property tax rate to probably the highest in the past 15 years.

What is lacking here are the numbers. What is the total cost of the tax-supported operating budget? It represents the largest chunk of revenue in the city budget.

While we’re at it, tell us about the status of the reserve funds, total value, how is the money invested, what are the investments types and terms, and who is responsible for managing these funds?

Are these reserves ever used to balance the city books at year-end when the Financial Information Report is completed and sent to the province?

Noting that $170,000 is being transferred to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund, the total to $50,000. Is it possible to produce the status of all reserve funds annually with the budget approvals?

Here’s what I think the city budget reports should contain:

2019 budget- Accrual – difference 2020 Budget Comparison 2019 actual

Revenue stated first. Next comes Expenses for each budget category

Revenue

Property taxes, special levies,

Reserve Funds by amount and name income/withdrawal (attach note)

Investment income

Development fees

Building permits

Bylaw permits including parking, special events, and infractions

Provincial grants, gas tax refund, carbon tax refund, infrastructure

Federal grants including infrastructure, transit

Guelph transit – Bus passes, University students, rider passes and single payer fees

Property taxes recovered

Fines

Rentals of city property

Deposits for services

Water – potable – wastewater – Storm water

Real Estate sales

Expenses

City Staff costs:

Bonuses – Expenses full-time – part-time – casual – contract – consultants

Benefits – OMERS, other labour organizations – travel and staff expenses

City property maintenance costs

Legal and professional fees

Infrastructure – roads, sewers, water distribution systems

Police

Fire

EMS

Sleeman Centre

Hanlon Business Park

Government – council – boards

Donations – Wellness – community projects

Environmental – bike lanes and trails renewable energy maintenance

Electricity

Natural Gas

City Vehicle reports capital costs, facilities

HST costs

The Elliot

The Library

The Evergreen Senior’s Centre

Fines

Debt – Amount Servicing costs term and lender

There will be some revenue and expense category I have missed. If nothing else, adopting this makes it easy to compare and track the city operations. There would be many supporting notes to round out each category.

To be blunt, this is in the public interest and over the years there has been no rationalization of reserve fund intake and pay out. In my opinion this appears to be a method of using reserves whenever a need arises regardless of the reserve fund designation.

Moving on to the capital budget. Council has approved spending $151.6 million in 2020. The approval states it includes projects to be started or completed in 2020.

But here is the wrinkle: Council received the 10-year capital-spending forecast of “just over” $1.7 billion. That averages some $170 million projected capital spending for the next ten years.

During 2020, council will confirm that the following projects be commenced in the next ten years: The new central downtown library, The Baker district parkade and the South End Community Centre.

Two of these major projects have been promised for many years. In fact the city has already invested more than $3 million on the South End project from operating funds.

That familiar tactic, kick these projects down the road

I regret suggesting that these decision and promises are political designed to satisfy the stakeholders. They are words with little action.

Remember most of this council voted to give Guelph Hydro away when there were interested parties prepared to buy the utility. This council, save for two new councillors, are the same members who voted 10 to 3 to give away the well-run and profitable city-owned utility.

All I ask from the administration is to inform the public, in plain English, of what the city gained in approving the Guelph Hydrp

disposal, of which most of the negotiations were conducted in closed-sessions.

Hoodwinked is an understatement and most members of our council were expertly mesmerized and taken like hicks at the circus.

To the victors belong the spoils

Well, Derrick Thomson can’t complain, he walked away with a $67,000 performance bonus for his work in the Hydro giveaway. He’s now gone and his co-chair of the committee charged with disposing Guelph Hydro, Chair Jane Armstrong, was appointed by city council to represent Guelph. She was appointed to the Board of Directors of Alectra Utilities earning $25,000 a year plus travel expenses. Her five-year appointment will earn her $125,000.

I believe the city has a much more qualified senior management in place now but there remains some old habits of lying by omission and obscuring details of responsible operations.

The reports do not reveal the outcome of the Guelph Police Services request for a budget increase of $3.9 million. It did say that Guelph Transit was approved to spend $1.720,000 to increase services to the Hanson Business Park and expand community bus services and the spare bus ratio.

I agree with Coun. Dan Gibson who questioed the need for ridership data. We need to see that detailed data over a 12 month period necessary to assess the needs of Guelph public transit.

I know that there is tremendous customer impact between September and April when 22,000 students arrive.

But we have to ask: Why did the city purchase five buses last year and not have the staff to operate them? The type of buses and the operating fuel is not known. With the plan to the “greening” of public transit, one would believe that would affect the need of capital to reach that goal.

How much is this system costing the city in subsidies and what must the taxpayers pony up to keep it afloat?

The increasing costs ofsupporting those in need

These aforementioned issues reflect spending money to support a minority audience to rehabilitate drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill and the disaffected. They represent Canada’s walking wounded.

Guelph over the years has become a Mecca of societies’ underclass. Dealing with it has many times, ignored the problem. The University has a role to play to work with the city authorities to reduce the lawless behaviour occurring downtown.

Yes, affordable housing is a part solution. Why can’t the city leverage private developers to include affordable housing?

The staffing of trained individuals is needed to conduct appropriate rehabilitation and support is daunting. Also seeking funding for specific projects from both levels of senior governments could lead to operating successful programs to help those in need and less fortunate.

A good start would be to conduct a staff rationalization to help reduce the bulging city overhead.

 

 

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The police budget deferment demonstrates council’s ignorance of how our public safety service works on our behalf 24/7

By Gerry Barker

December 2, 2019

Opinion

Coun. June Hofland, has indicated that she may ask the Police Services Board to spread out “its big budget ask” over two or three years.

The former chair of the council finance committee for three years in the Farbridge administration, Ms. Hofland was also on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc board of direcors. With her years of experience, she would logically understand the relationship between city council and the Police Board.

She said she intended to discuss the 10 per cent Police Budget increase of $3.9 million with the chair of the Police Board before the final vote on the city budget, is taken on December 3.

If city council were a TV sitcom, you wouldn’t need a laugh track.

But their behavior overseeing the public’s business is no laughing matter.

Its time to start dumping the administration’s garbage can

But Ms. Hofland isn’t a throwback to Gilligan’s Island; she’s just an amiable stooge for her fellow councillors, Curly, Joe and Moe.

Editor’ note: Having been sued by these same guys three years ago, I hesitate to identify them but I’m confident you can figure it out.

These three gems stated they would support Ms. Hofland’s approach to discuss the Police Budget with the chair of the Police Board. It’s called the hands-on approach.

Trouble is, that’s not permitted because the Police Services Board is an independent body, not subject to council intervention in its financial requirements or operations.

In fact, the Police Board is empowered to seek resolution of their service requirements from a province-appointed mediator to review the budget if city council reneges.

Why not talk to Police Board members, the Mayor and Coun. Billings?

So if those four councillors supported the Hofland proposal, why didn’t they talk to the Mayor and Coun. Christine Billings who are members of the Police Board?

It’s interesting to me that in August 2014, just before council was denied capital spending due to the October civic election, the Farbridge council approved spending $34 million on renovation of the downtown police HQ.

The project is scheduled for completion at the end of this month, five years later.

This capital project was to be financed with $3 million from the Police Board reserve, diverting development fees from private projects and adding to the city debt.

This decision came on the heels of being forced to spend $23 million over budget to complete the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall. It was only the tip of the iceberg that was caused by vital mismanagement of the project by city contract staff. A judgment by Justice Donald MacKenzie confirmed wrongful dismissal of the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Gtoup.

Along came GMHI

One of the serious problems facing the Guthrie administration was the former mayor’s pet project to use Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc to make Guelph self-sufficient in terms of power generation. The plan introduced geo-thermal heating and cooling to a handful of downtown buildings, including two new high-rise condominiums.

The former Mayor was also chair of the GMHI board of directors that took control of Guelph Hydro and installed solar-generating panels on many public buildings to generate electricity. It was only the beginning of creating a district Energy plan.

None of these major projects were conducted with oversight or participation of the public. June Hofland was a member of the GMHI board of directors but never commented or spoke up about the operations.

The shoe dropped in May 2016 with a report of the financial mess GMHI was in. It was followed in July with a staff analysis that was devastating. Then came an independent, consolidated audit of GMHI by the accounting firm KPMG.

It revealed a shareholder’s liability of $66 million. This was never denied by city council.

This has been the genesis of disastrous toxic mixture of poor planning, crazy-legs fiscal management wasting public money, and, mostly done in secret.

This is the damning 14-year legacy of overtaxing property and user fees with yearly increasing by more than twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index maintained by StatCan.

It was toxic because the Mayor of the city was also the chair of GMHI with a loyal supporting cast of councillors and the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, who also doubled as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

Pappert knew in 2015 that she could be in trouble as two reports of the GMHI operations were a devastating indictment of a failure to manage and oversee the impact on the city’s finances.

The record shows she started her exit from the city in late 2015 by requesting the cash value of her unused sick and vacation benefits from the Human Resources Department.

And who was in charge of that department? Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Mark Amorosi.

In December 2015, council held two closed-session meeting. One was to award CAO Pappert with a $27,000 performance bonus along with an additional $10,000 for assorted benefits. DCAO Amorosi and Derrick Thomson each received increases that were part of a total $98,202 shared among the three senior managers.

The other closed-session meeting, also held in December 2015, approved an indemnification bylaw that the city would pay all legal costs of any employee and elected official who faced a legal procedure.

City council was directly involved in both these closed-sessions that was not revealed to the public until March 31, 2016. By that time Mr. Thomson had left to take a job with the town of Caledon.

Two weeks after the 2015 provincial Sunshine List was published, CAO Pappert gave notice of her resignation. She agreed to stay on until May 26, 2016, when Derrick Thomson returned in June to accept the CAO position.

These two top managers benefited further in 2016, 2018 and 2019. First in March 2017 the 2016 Sunshine List showed that Ms. Papper received $263,000 for five-month’s work.

In 2018, Mr.Thomson received a salary of $335,000 that included a performance bonus of $67,000. He “parted ways with the city in February 2019 just before the 2018 Sunshine List was published.

This is how our city council conducts our business.

The following is an outline on how to regain control of our city.

What can be done about it?

Simple answer is get involved. Get organized to challenge this council that has demonstrated it cannot manage a two-car funeral.

Council is about to start a review of changing ward boundaries. This should only be reviewed by an independent committee, appointed by the mayor elect incorporating public participation.

I believe that a major change must come to create more efficiency, fairness and is accountable to control the operations with the city staff.

Greater transparency will be achieved with an independent staff rationalization from top to bottom, including council and senior city staff.

A first step is to reduce the size of council to nine. This would involve redefining job descriptions in concert with the staff rationalization program. The rationalization should cover every employee, full and part-time and contracted workers.

An independent committee of civilians would be appointed to outline the responsibilities and communication rules. This would include streamlining procedures, rewriting the staff and elected official’s Code of Conduct. It would eliminate the Integrity Commissioner and the closed-session investigators.

The indemnification bylaw will be eliminated.

Civic Elections will include online voting. Proportional voting will not be used.

There will be a review of all bylaws and reserve funds status. This will be revealed to the public.

City communications will be revised to allow citizens to select to receive regular information online or hard copy through their electric bill.

Minutes of all council, committee and board meetings will be available within a fixed time, determined by length and content.

All council and committee votes will be recorded and distributed to citizens as part of the communications plan.

Finance and legal departments will review city advertising policies.

All pending legal cases against the city will be reviewed and the status revealed to the public, but not legal strategy or tactics..

Councillors, staff or citizens should never be threatened by anyone. This is subject to the revised Code of Conduct.

The new council will operate in public and at the convenience of all citizens.

Citizens will be respected and receive prompt replies from staff regarding their request.

Realignment of organization

Reduce to four wards with one councillor. Each representative to be paid $60,000 per year and reviewed by the CAO and designated senior staff.

Elected at large is the Mayor who will receive $180, 000 plus defined expenses.

The four full-time councillors, elected at large, would receive $100,000 plus expenses and adjusted annually using the CPI as the benchmark.

These four councillors will have direct oversight of Finance, Public Operations, Clerk’s office and Legal department, Environmental services. Specifics to come.

Now I realize that there will be severe opposition to these proposals. But unless we, the public, don’t empty the garbage can, there will be more of the same to come.

The opportunity to change only occurs every four years.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

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