By Gerry Barker
January 15, 2018
Three years ago my wife and I voted for Cam Guthrie. We were not alone as he trounced the mayor without breaking a sweat. He did it by promising property tax increases linked to the Consumer’s Price Index (CPI).
He was engaging and rarely spoke of his predecessor’s record and the Urbacon debacle. His handler’s presented him as a man with a mission to reform the city by creating a “Better Guelph”, what ever that meant.
So, here we are three years later and the promises made by our Mayor were rarely kept. As a matter of fact, the opposite occurred. He ran the table handling the senior staff power grabs and failures. Of the four top managers who received those huge salary increases in December 2015, only one remains. Those increases were concocted in a closed-session meeting convened by our Mayor.
There was no indication, by the administration, of what happened that December night. Four months later, it was exposed when the provincial Sunshine List published the details of the increases.
Here’s the back-story
The first senior staffer to leave, even before the December 10 secret meeting, was former CFO Al Horsman who left in August to take a new job in Sault Ste. Marie. His final pay for seven months work was an estimated $183,000, adjusted of course, for the new level of senior management increase awarded four months later.
The second manager to defect was Derrick Thomson, Deputy Chief Administrative officer, (DCAO) of Operations for some two months. He resigned shortly after receiving a 19 per cent salary increase to take a job in the Town of Caledon, where he lives.
The third departing senior staffer was the Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) Ann Pappert, who resigned just after the Sunshine List was published March 31, 2016. She left May 26 and received her salary of $263,000 for the full year, despite only working for five months.
The fourth beneficiary of that Dec. 10 closed-session council meeting, was DCAO Mark Amorosi who left the city February 10, 2017.
Little of this information was released by the Guthrie administration. The stonewalling has reached epic proportions as the administration, to this day, has never publicly acknowledged the meeting ever happened.
It begs the question, why did these three senior staffers resign? In the case of two of them, Pappert and Thomson, who quit after receiving huge increases commencing in 2015?
In Mr. Horsman’s case, it is safe to assume he saw the writing on the wall dealing with the new city council and chose to leave, even, perhaps, not knowing about the senior staff increases that were being planned.
The shifting sands of power
Ms. Pappert’s departure left a huge gap at the top of the staff where the CAO was in charge of more than 2.100 employees.
In June 2016, the city announced that Derrick Thomson was re-hired as CAO. Talk about the Phoenix rising from the ashes! Mr. Thomson promised to reveal his salary and eventually we were informed it was $230,000 a year for three years. It turned out that he was also paid a $9,000 taxable benefit as a personal car allowance.
Mr. Thomson has overseen two city budgets, 2017 and 2018. The property taxes in those two budgets, including the special infrastructure levy, exceeds 6 per cent.
The council appointed Mr. Thomson as co-chair of the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC), charged with disposing Guelph Hydro. No elected councillor was appointed to this committee in the 18 months of its operations..
The effect of this is that the merger proposed by the SOC between Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities was not only conducted solely in closed-session, but the people’s representatives, city councillors, were not participants.
As a result, the ultimate checks and balances of decisions made by an outside committee were not involved during the 18-month negotiation period by the SOC.
Horse pucky is more effective than the facts
Instead, councillors were fed a line of unadulterated horse pucky from its own staff that led to a 10-3 council approval of the proposal. In my opinion, Council abandoned its responsibilities believing their own senior city and Hydro staff and the mayor who led the cheerleading of the proposal starting October 5.
The public promised a dose of more good-paying jobs, a green power technology centre in the Guelph Hydro Headquarters. Guelph would become the hub for Alectra’s expansion plans for Southwestern Ontario expansion, and the Guelph Hydro staff would be retained with reductions coming from attrition and relocation.
This is what Mayor Guthrie was selling along with CAO Thomson and Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong.
To add insult to injury, the public was informed that council spent $2.36 million of public money on the SOC plan to dump Guelph Hydro. Then came the announcement that Guelph Hydro, following closure of the deal would send a “special dividend” of $18.5 million to the city.
Didn’t we just lose $63 million for the Green Powered GMHI experiment?
Gee! That friends, is $20.86 million of our money spent to give away our hydro distribution system worth $300 million.
Why is it so difficult to understand? Ten councillors including the mayor voted for the unfinished merger negotiations, but voted for it anyway. Why?
To this day, I challenge any member of council to explain the final two agreements, terms and conditions of the merger. Because the night they approved it, the negotiations had not been completed. Did they not know that? Or, maybe they did.
Would someone explain to me how a council can approve a merger of a $300 million publicly-owned utility serving 55,000 customers, without knowing or understanding the final terms and conditions of this proposal?
There are words that describe what has happened. I’ll leave it to your imagination.
Our only hope is that we are told, in plain language, the details of this merger when negotiations are completed and council holds another vote to approve or walk away.
If they don’t follow this necessary step then two things will happen.
Those councillors who still support the merger will have to answer for their decision next October’s civic election. That is, those who choose re-election.
The second issue is that the Ontario Energy Board must approve the merger based on the details and evidence provided, so that the majority of Guelph citizens are either in favour, or not.
It’s an old axiom, for every action there is a reaction.
It’s our property, let’s protect it