By Gerry Barker
May 6, 2019
First, let’s do a fact-based quiz on what most people understand about our city administration, or they don’t know.
* How much has the administration spent on bike lanes since 2007?
* How much public money has been spent on relieving downtown parking including the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade next to city hall.
* Who really benefits from this Parkade?
* In the past 12 years, how much have your property taxes increased?
* Does your income cover the increasing costs that living in the city where taxes cosr more each year?
* Why is traffic congestion in the city a growing chronic problem?
* After 12 years, why does the downtown remain rife with drunks, druggies and dealers, panhandlers, the homeless on weekends after the sun goes down?
* Should the $350 million Baker Street re-development be a priority to proceed in 2024?
* Why did council approve the givea way of Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities?
* How much did the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc District Energy projects cost the city?
It’s because our Green-Gripped council controls the spigot of collecting and disposing of our money and we have no recourse. Only every four years can we express our support, or not, at the polls.
These are important issues that will not be reported in full by the remnants of the Guelph media including the weekly Mercury-Tribune and the online Guelph Today Internet news source. Most of the “news” is generated by the city communications staff plus the police department and faithfully reproduced by the city news sources.
Third class media coverage of a first class city
The Guelph media’s failure to get both sides of the story and interview people who do not agree with the issue is, in my opinion, feckless journalism. And I have seen enough of it in a lifetime of newspapering.
I was amused by an editorial, nay lecture, in the Tribune that pontificated to readers that understanding the difference between “news” and “opinion.” The first element of journalism is reporting the news. Often this takes time and effort to drill down to ensure their work is complete and accurate.
Unfortunately in Guelph, that basic requirement is ignored as the media lives off the handouts from the city labeled as news. Ah! But who makes the decision?
Instead, the Mercury-Tribune city coverage is bought and paid for by us, the citizens.
For the past 12 years, the city pays the Tribune to publish “City News” prepared by city staff. One can assume that this is bought journalism. What possible other reason is there?
The “City News” pages running in every edition are not identified as advertising. This is gross misrepresentation and it will never change until we elect councillors who recognize the collusion of interest covering the city.
The city administration owns the Tribune editorial department because it receives payment to publish city prepared ads and not identify the link.
Accountability and integrity have left the building
I am a reporter who tries to fill the gaps in the city’s sterilized reports after reading them. By questioning statements by officials based on years of experience, employing logic, having doubt, and unsupported data. As a citizen, concern about the sloppy, slanted reports that the media accepts as news is demeaning to the stakeholders.
Over the years, successive city administrations have practiced denying the public’s participation and interest. Today, there is little trust between those in charge of a $500 million corporation and the people who actually own it.
A few years ago, the city attempted to portray itself through a document called “Open Guelph.” It opens up with a discussion on Accountability and Transparency.
They even hired a manager to run the program.
One of the statements was “Closed meeting Protocol”
Here is what it says:
“The Closed Meeting Protocol was adopted by council to provide best practices for council and committees to follow when confidential information in a closed meeting. This protocol is in addition to the closed meeting provisions of the Municipal Act and outlined practices which go beyond the Act’s requirement to ensure that city business is conducted in the most open and transparent manner possible.”
So, who decides what information is confidential? The Mayor? City Solicitor? City Clerk? The CAO? Or any councillor sensing political fallout?
This protocol is been abused by successive administrations for many years.
Here are some Examples: Since 2015, the Guthrie administration conducted 84 closed meetings in his first two years in office. Mayor Guthrie stated that the content of closed meeting should be briefed following the meeting and available to the public. That never happened.
The cloak of confidentiality shrouded open discussion about the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc multi-millions waste of public funds. The Strategic Options Committee conducted closed meetings Isn’t “sudden”leading to the disposing of Guelph Hydro.
My personal favourite is the sudden departure in March of the city’s top public servant, Derrick Thomson. Described as a “parting of the ways,” it left the public wondering why and was there no successor arranged?
This indicates there were closed meetings prior to his departure, leaving everyone wondering who pulled the plug. It makes me wonder why Thomson was jettisoned from the staff when he was earning $335,000 a year plus an $11,000 taxable benefit, had a one year extension of his contract.
Well, that’s so much for Open Guelph and accountability.
The cost of replacing Mr. Thomson will easily exceed $100,000 when factoring in the headhunter’s fees, advertising and the additional funding approved to the three DCAO’s who are carrying out his responsibilities until July.
The spigot of power is in full operation.