Tag Archives: Cam Guthrie

When personal greed and ambition supersedes responsibility

By Gerry Barker

September 19, 2016

There have been two events that have destroyed any semblance of public trust of senior administration staff and majority of council. And the Urbacon $23 million debacle is not one of them.

These events have bubbled to the surface since the 2014 civic election.

The first event is the 2015 secret salary increases awarded by council last December to four of the most senior city staff. The increases were approved by council in closed session and were not revealed until March of this year when publication of the Provincial Sunshine List of all public servants in Ontario earning more than $100,000 was revealed.

Because the salary increases were approved in closed-session, the question now is which councillors voted to allow the huge bumps in pay?

The Sunshine list contained more than 400 civic employees in Guelph earning in excess of $100,000 a year. The most interesting was the $37,591 increase awarded to former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert for 2015.

When asked about this 17.11 per cent increase for the CAO, Mark Amorosi, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO), head of Corporate Services, said the reason was the CAO did not receive any increase in 2014. In fact, she did receive a modest increase of $5,052. So Mr. Amorosi lied and for good reason.

A case of double dipping

Amorosi actually paid himself two increases in 2015. The first was in November 2014 when the senior management was reorganized within three weeks of the civic election, creating the new position of DCAO. The new title increased his salary to $182,761 from $176,400 in 2013 to cover his new responsibility. This turned out to be exactly the same job he was performing before the civic election and senior staff reorganization.

Then came the December 9, 2015 closed-session meeting that gave Mr. Amorosi another $26,868 increase or 14.7 per cent. This brought his 2015 salary to $209,629.

As for CAO Derrick Thomson who joined the staff in 2014 as Executive Director of Operations, his intial salary was $173,720. In 2015, his salary as a DCAO, jumped by 19.48 per cent or an increase of $33,834 and a salary of $207,554

Talk about a meteoric rise. As the new CAO, Mr. Thomson’s new salary level will not be known until next March when the 2016 Sunshine List is published. In addition he received a taxable benefit of $6,472.

In our present economic circumstances, why does Amorosi, the man in charge of reviewing and approving staff salary increases, believe those increases are fair considering the competitive positions in other municipalities? . Is he out of touch will reality??

Did I mention that Mr. Amorosi is responsible for city Finances and Human Resources? Did he use his position to better his personal income? He also receives an additional $6,472 in taxable income apparently to cover his travel expenses because he lives in Hamilton.

We get a CFO who is on maternity leave until next year

A month ago, Amorosi announced that he appointed a junior financial analyst in the finance department as the city’s new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), General Manager of Finance and Treasurer.

Now I happen to know that Amorosi hired a headhunting firm to search for a CFO. I also know of one highly qualified candidate who was rejected by the headhunter.

Instead, we have Amorosi’s third attempt to control the city finances using subordinates to carry out his reckless management decisions. The first lady lasted about two months. The second lady left last March after a year on the job. The advertised position represents the third choice in the past 22 months.

Last month, Amorosi announced that Tara Baker won the CFO job but won’t report for duty until next year as she is on maternity leave. So much for spending money advertising and hiring a head hunting firm, when an allegedly suitable candidate was sitting right in the city finance department.

The fact is that the city has been without a CFO for 22 months as Amorosi has acted in that capacity. If and when Ms. Baker is able to return to work, that gap will increase to 27 months with Amorosi in charge of city finances.

Ann Pappert was the second senior officer of the city staff to resign in May. Deputy Chief Administration Officer Derrick Thomson resigned and that left just DCAO Mark Amorosi, remaining of the senior staff members hired by the former Farbridge administration.

Thomson was persuaded to return to the city as CAO replacing Pappert.

One of his first announcements was the nine-year capital spending plan has a shortfall of $170 million after only one year of operation.

Comforting words from the man in charge of finances

Amorosi quickly announced: “The city was in sound financial condition.” He lied.

If anyone should know about city finances it should be Mark Amorosi. He has control of the city finance department that has not had a General Manager of Finance and treasurer since last March when Janice Sheehy left to take a job in Peel. He also oversees Coun. June Hofland, the robot chairperson of the finance committee, for the past four years.

The Fung Report on city management paints a smeared picture of financial incompetence that has shoved Guelph’s operating expenses to a point of being 50 per cent greater than either Kitchener and Cambridge.

If you live here and own property, you know why our costs are so high. Check your annual tax bills and user fees including water and electricity. The city’s operating expenses have skyrocketed in the past seven years by 56.2 per cent compared to the Consumer Price Index of only 11 per cent.

The second costly event of examples of greed in high places, is the creation of the Community Energy Initiative. It was the brainchild of the former mayor who manipulated staff, city council and Guelph Hydro, to support her dream of establishing two District Energy Nodes. The pumps were located in the Sleeman Centre downtown and Hanlon Creek Business Park. The pumps are coupled to provide underground co-generation system supplying hot and cold water from each Node pump to nearby buildings and electricity to the provincial power grid.

At least that was the plan. Instead, we learned this year, specifically May 16, that the project was seriously flawed and unable to supply power to the grid as planned. The Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), Pankaj Sardana, said the business plan failed to obtain sufficient customers to be viable.

In fact, Mr. Sardana said the project should never have been started in the first place.

But they went ahead anyway blocking public input

The underlying reason for this was that all the planning and development meetings were conducted in closed sessions by the former mayor, chair of GMHI. The chair suppressed the public’s view. The silence was exacerbated by four city councillors who were on the board of GMHI and did not break the code of conduct as developed when the mayor was in office. These include Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein and two who have departed, Lise Burcher and Todd Dennis.

The councillor’s code of conduct prevents councillors from revealing decisions and comments of closed sessions. However GMHI was a stand-alone separate corporation but secrecy of its operations prevailed.

But the senior city staff had to know what was happening at GMHI because CAO Ann Pappert was the CEO of GMHI for four years. Then there was Envida Community Energy Corporation, operated by Guelph Hydro. It was responsible for installing the two District Energy nodes and several solar panels installed on public buildings.

A city staff report in July showed that Envida owed $11 milliohm to GMHI. There was also the matter of $68.5 million, on the city books as an asset. The problem is that it is impaired; meaning the cost of carrying this asset exceeds the revenue, if any, so it gradually becomes a debit.

This situation could go on for years unless the $68.5 million can be written off, worse case scenario, or pay the interest due to maintain it as an asset on the city books.

The Bloc of Seven on council in July voted to keep the Community Energy Initiative operating until the first quarter of 2017. They disregarded the warnings of the Deloitte consultants and the staff that to keep it going, will cost an additional $60 million unvestment of our money.

The public pot is now empty

Mr. Sardana has stated that GMHI or Envida haven’t any money to invest in this failed project that so far has cost taxpayers $37.1 million.

Did we really need to pay that money when the staff, in detail, reported the financial situation with GMHI and where the money went? It was classic Amorosi to order an independent consultant to review the situation. Deloitte admitted its fees will range from $130,000 to $160,000 to report their recommendations.

This situation is showing little sign of correction.

Indeed, the city is now advertising for candidates to join the Community Energy Initiative public advisory board. There are several categories in which persons may apply. There are only four positions available for citizens.

Again it’s a move to give the appearance of thoughtful public contribution to the success of an initiative.

Except in this case there is no foundation. It remains a sinkhole of public money based on a flawed project that the majority in our city didn’t ask for or need.

The terrible situation is that it will cost the city several million dollars just to exit the Community Energy Initiative because of the contracts that were signed with suppliers and customers without any oversight by GMHI and Envida.

This is another expensive remnant of the Karen Farbridge legacy.

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The more we dig, the deeper the hole and truth is stranger than fiction

By Gerry Barker

August 18, 2016

Post #803

The enduring grip of the former administration lingers on but the awakening of the silent majority is catching on. There is growing evidence to reject the direction that the Farbridge dominated Bloc of Seven on council is attempting to take us.

Three general managers, Peter Busatto, in charge of the Waterworks; Colleen Clack of Culture and Tourism and Peter Cartwright, of Economic Development, all took significant salary reductions in 2014 following large increases in 2013.

In the three years 2012 through to 2014, it appears there were serious errors in paying the staff, made by the finance department calculating annual salaries for the three managers in the random sample taken from ontariosunshinelist.com. All three in 2013 received substantial increases from 2012 to 2013. Then, in 2014, their salaries and taxable benefits were greatly reduced.

It is important to follow the numbers in these examples. They are taken from the ontariosunshinelist.com website. The source for the figures is the city of Guelph.

Why do we have water restrictions while sitting on two aquifers?

Peter Busatto, General Manager of Waterwork

2012 salary and taxable benefits – $122,509 plus $851

2013 salary and taxable benefits – $168,739 plus $1,081 – Increase was $46,239 (37.74 per cent)

2014 salary and taxable benefit – $134,585 plus $614 – Decrease was $34,154 (-20.24 per cent)

2015 salary and taxable benefit – $152,188 plus $699 – Increase $17,603 ((13.08 per cent)

Mr. Busatto was given an increase of $46,239 or 37.74 per cent in 2013. How did those responsible for his performance review ever determine that increase? Was he being rewarded for increased responsibilities? Isn’t it odd that the next year, 2014, his salary was reduced by $34,154 or 20.24 per cent? Then, last year Mr. Busatto’s salary increased by $17,603. This is best described as yo-yo management of the Machiavellian employment payment system used by an administration out of control.

Even stranger, why did these managers agree to take it on the chin for a year? If anything, they had a solid case for constructive dismissal. So, why didn’t they quit and move on. Who, in their right mind, would stand for an arbitrary pay cut particularly as senior managers? How many others on staff in management positions experienced the same thing?

It’s time for the administration to explain in detail, name by name, of those staff people who were affected by this salary reduction scheme in the very year there was a civic election. If an explanation is not forthcoming, then the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing should order an investigation to seek the truth of what happened. Is it any surprise why the lower ranked staff have such low morale?

We’ll never know who else was available

Colleen Clack, General Manager of Culture and Tourism

2012 salary and taxable benefit – $127,121 plus $2,529

2013 salary and taxable benefit – $149,422 plus $2,521 – Increase was $22,301 (17.5 per cent)

2014 salary and taxable benefit – $140,798 plus $1,900 – Decrease was $8,624 (-5.77) per cent

2015 salary and taxable benefit – $142,017 plus $1,599 – Increase was $1,219 (.86 per cent)

This year, Ms. Clack has had a meteoric rise in the senior management ranks as GM of Culture and Tourism. During her four years, she was in charge of the Sleeman Centre and RiverRun Theatre. She has reported annual operational losses for both city owned centres of $780,000 a year. Her most recent triumph was to be lead negotiator in completing a new ten-year agreement with the privately owned Guelph Storm Hockey Club The city agreed to lower its portion of the revenue. Then, Ms. Clack was promoted to DCAO of City Operations at an undisclosed salary.

How do you measure performance?

Peter Cartwright, General Manager of Economic development

2012 salary and taxable benefit – $144,381 plus $6,238

2013 salary and taxable benefit – $157.200 plus $6,180 – Increase was $12,825 (8.88 per cent)

2014 salary and taxable benefit – $150,977 plus $4,742 – Decrease was $6,329 (-3.98) per cent)

2015 salary and taxable benefit – $153,997 plus $3,467 – Increase $3,020 (2 per cent)

This is inexplicable. For his entire career with the City of Guelph, Mr. Cartwright has been responsible for Business and Economic Development. The problem is since 2006, the ratio of assessment between residential (84 percent) and commercial/industrial (16 per cent), has not changed. This is one example of why residential property taxes increase exponentially each year. The city is dependent on the annual assessment increases that affect the size of the annual tax increase. By now property owners have received their assessment projections for the next four years. It’s not good news.

This performance cannot be described as a success story in a key management position. So why did his salary grow by $12,825 in 2013 by an astounding 8.88 per cent?

Why were these three general managers named in the sample, all of whom are still working for the city, having their salary and taxable benefits reduced in 2014? How many other employees experienced these incredible salary reductions in which increases are awarded in one year and portions taken away the next year?

But read on, it gets better.

Now, Let’s look at how the 2014 staff salary reductions affected the top senior managers

Ann Pappert, Chief Administrative Officer

2012 salary and taxable benefit – $199,860 plus $6,539

2013 salary and taxable benefit – $214,605 plus $6,317 – Increase $14,745 (7.38 per cent)

2014 salary and taxable benefit – $219,657 plus $6,403 – Increase $5,052 (2.35 per cent)

2015 salary and taxable benefit – $ 257,248 plus $6,508 – Increase $37,591 (17.11 per cent)

Oh! There weren’t any reductions?

Ms. Pappert resigned in May after five years as CAO. In March this year, the Ontario Sunshine list published the salaries of every public employee earning $100,000 or more. Guelph citizens were shocked to learn of the excessive salary increases that the Guthrie council awarded in a closed meeting, December 9, 2015. It was three months later when the truth was known. The public was never told the circumstances of the increases, who voted for them or why not one councillor revealed the increases. Their excuse was they were prevented from revealing details of discussions conducted in closed sessions. Otherwise the Integrity Commission would investigate the “leak.” Whoa! Scary. What do you think? What’s more scary, being sanctioned for breaking the code of conduct or, fulfilling your responsibility of serving your electors?

It was a shameful deportment by 13 councillors who deliberately tried to keep it quiet. This betrayal of the public trust, that all members of councillors are sworn to uphold, will reverberate among citizens well into the 2018 civic election. Trust me, people won’t forget and the minutes of that meeting will be revealed. Those who voted for it will pay the price at the polls.

The result of Ms. Pappert’s leaving presented a serious senior management problem. DCAO Derrick Thomson was persuaded not to leave the city for a job in Caledon, was appointed to succeed Ms. Pappert. Thomson has been with the city only just over 2 years. Again this appointment was discussed in closed session. One has to wonder what planning went into the public confidence fallout that occurred, unsurprisingly. In three months did they not figure out what would happen if Ms. Pappert resigned?

There was no secret that she had lost the confidence of the citizens. Subsequently, according to the bylaws covering the powers of the CAO, Mr. Thomson appointed Ms. Clack, who formerly reported to him as GM of culture and Tourism becoming DCAO of Operations. It was a responsibility, that frankly, Ms. Clack had no experience as head of Culture and Tourism.

In the community there is uneasiness about the latest direction of the city administration. The recent attack by Coun. James Gordon on a citizen questioning the council’s performance is a harbinger of where we are headed for the next two years.

In my opinion, there are two staffs running our city, the haves and the have-nots. The examples stated here shows that the three senior managers helped themselves to substantial salary increases but left department leaders with decreases in 2014.

I regret that this city administration is broken. In addition, our finances are also so messed up and closing in on being broke. There is little attempt to stop the mindless spending that is leading to eventual disaster.

The man who helped himself

Mark Amorosi, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Corporate Services and Human Recourses

2012 salary and taxable benefit – $175,464 plus $6,396 –

2013 salary and taxable benefit – $176,400 plus $6,333 – Increase $936 (.53 per cent)

2014 salary and taxable benefit – $182,761 plus $6,238 – Increase $6,361 (3.61 per cent)

2015 salary and taxable benefit – $209,629 plus $6,432 – Increase $26,868 (14.7 per cent

In my opinion, Mark Amorosi’s performance has created the ugliest failure of financial management control since he took over the job of managing the city’s finances in November 2014. He has hired two General Managers of Finance and Treasurer and both have left. He advertised for a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and employed a headhunting firm to vet the applicants.

Then he announced that he appointed Tara Baker, a financial analyst in the Finance Department as CFO, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer. Ms. Baker is on maternity leave and will not report until next year. She has no experience as a CFO.

Unfortunately, Mr. Amorosi is in complete control of the staff through his Human Resources responsibility and the city finances. Between he, CAO Thomson, DCAO Scott Stewart and DCAO Colleen Clack, the job of preparing the 2017 budget will be a daunting prospect.

Already there is noise emanating from the Bloc of Seven that there must be a two per cent, ten- year special levy on property owners to pay for the years of neglect by the Farbridge administration to repair and maintain the city’s infrastructure. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), a provincial government sponsored organization with representatives from municipalities across the province, has estimated Guelph has a $225 million infrastructure deficit. Coun. Cathy Downer has been appointed to the 41-member board of AMO.

Hiring the man who wanted to leave

Derrick Thomson, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Corporate Services, Operations

2014 salary and taxable benefit – $173,720 plus $6,190

2015 salary and taxable benefit – $207,554 plus $6,472 – Increase $33,834 (19.48 per cent).

Mr. Thomson brings his experience as a CAO of the Town of West Lincoln joining the staff in 2013. His responsibilities are vastly different than those he may have experienced in his former job. He has inherited an administrative disaster the remnants of the previous administration. How he handles it will be his test because he knows what happened to his predecessor.

The completion of the 2017 budget will be the watershed of the direction this administration will go in the next two years.

It’s not going to be easy or pretty.

The previous post regarding Coun. James Gordon can be read in the GS archives.

 

 

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Coun. James Gordon’s cockeyed view of running a city

By Gerry Barker

Posted March11, 2016

In a letter to the editor, Ward 2 councillor James Gordon explains why paying taxes is a good thing, while complaining about high taxes is a bad thing.

Such silly statements as: “ I seldom hear people say, I moved to Guelph because I was looking for lower taxes,” begins the downhill slide of a thesis that is filled with false premises and unattributed evidence.

It’s like the wonderful world of Garp.

Let’s look at some more words of wisdom from the world according to Gordon. You remember Gordon; he was the mastermind of the first Farbridge victory in 2006. He was also the founder of the Guelph Civic League that played a major role in the three elections of the past 12 years.

“In fact, our taxes are totally in line with other cities our size in Ontario.” James, that’s your first Pinocchio moment. If what he says is true, how does he explain that Guelph’s operational and capital spending is 50 per cent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge? Those are documented comparisons, extracted from the Financial Information Reports (FIR) that each municipality is obligated to send to the province annually.

Gordon, a man who obviously has his ear to the ground, when he’s in town that is, opines: “For most of us who are community-minded, we understand that to keep the quality of life we need to contribute as taxpayers and as good neighbours to maintain that high standard we are now known for.”

Again, another assumption on Gordon’s part that denigrates more than half the population of the city who do not agree with the aggressive spending policies of the former administration. Nor its surviving rump of seven of the present council determined to continue those policies.

The proof of this is in the election of mayor in 2014, when Cam Guthrie received more than 5,000 votes than the incumbent. Mayor Guthrie is the only member of council who was elected by all city voters, as opposed to those councillors who ran in the wards.

As a representative of Ward 2, James, and a council rookie, perhaps you should do some homework and understand the financial management of the city whose costs have soared out of control. Skip all the buzzwords of your beliefs about our city. When taxpayers are faced with a two per cent special tax levy for ten years, to pay for an aged infrastructure, it comes down to choices.

Does council approve more bicycle lanes; higher subsidization of a transit system designed to serve the population of the University of Guelph; more on a community energy policy that will cost millions to execute?

Why aren’t bicycle riders using the road regulated?

Speaking of bike lanes. Coun. Gordon supported the motion to spend $14 million to widen Speedvale Avenue to allow bicycle land between Woolwich and Manhattan Court. The response from citizens in the area was overwhelmingly against the proposal but lost.

Is this a man obsessed with a point of view that is neither rational nor responsible?

James, tell us about how much has been spent on affordable housing in Guelph in the past nine years? How many units have been created and where?

What has been done to attract business to Guelph to strengthen the tax base? The ratio of industrial/commercial assessment has not budged since 2006. The taxpayer portion of property tax assessment remains at 84 per cent. FYI the Ontario average is 60 per cent residential and 40 per cent industrials/commercial.

Attracting business, Gordon says, enables our city to grow our economy and keep our taxes affordable. The key word here is “our” and Gordon seems to believe that his way, or that of those like-minded cohorts, is the only way to make Guelph better. Didn’t that approximate the slogan in Mayor Guthrie’s campaign, “For a Better Guelph.”

James now you are plumping for a new downtown library. Karen Farbridge. in her first term as mayor. promised that would happen 15 years ago. Libraries have morphed big time since then and the last figure I recalled was to spend $64 million on the project.

Old library projects never die, they just fade away

Your bent economic theory that a new downtown library will pay for itself quickly lacks any economic basis. I cannot recall any municipal operation in the city that has ever paid for itself and the capital spent. A great example is the Sleeman Centre whose main customer is the Guelph Storm. It cost millions when a deal was struck with Nustadia to operate the arena during the first Farbridge administration. Today, there is a paid staff of more than 100 to run the place. Tell me, how much business did that bring downtown?

And another example is the Civic Museum. The council has never revealed the operating costs of that $16 million, built on land the city doesn’t own. Has it paid back the capital it took to renovate the pre-Confederation convent on the hill?

Here’s another example of irresponsible spending. The Organic Waste Processing Facility that cost $34 million and was built exceeding the needs of the city of Guelph for 20 years. Today, to keep it running, wet waste comes from outside sources to maintain the function of the operation. We have yet to learn how much compost is manufactured and where it is sold.

Mr. Gordon’s political views are well established. His claim that: “A small minority but vocal minority who would sacrifice service cuts, cut back programs, widen our income gap and turn their backs on investing in the future.”

What? Has Gordon now appointed himself as the spokesperson for the city administration? Again, he has no substantiation for this charge. How does he know the minority is small? Is that in numbers or stature?

Gordon, much like his fellow Farbridge travelers on council, knows how to spend other people’s money. The tight control of the former regime led us to a huge lawsuit defeat that cost taxpayers $23 million, or so the administration has admitted so far. To pay for this and a variety of projects, the reserves were raided to a point that replenishing them will take years and further burden the taxpayer.

So Mr. Gordon, as a member of council, perhaps you ought to seek more information about your colleague’s ambitious plans to build for the future without regard of the city’s ability to pay.

As for your demand for a new downtown library, look inwardly at your caucus. The $34 million approval to renovate the downtown police headquarters further pushed the library down the trail.

Even Gordon should get that.

What’ll you have? Cops or Readers?

 

 

 

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That media corporate giant sucking sound has changed Guelph forever

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 2, 2016

When the Guelph Mercury closed its doors forever last week, as a result of a TorStar corporate decision by subsidiary MetroLand Publishing, the impact has changed the sources of news of a city of more than 122,000, to rely on a remaining handful of professional journalists.

With a single twice a week newspaper remaining with a full-time editorial staff of three, it takes no imagination to discover the huge vacuum of real news that has been created.

On the periphery of news coverage, there is the Rogers Community TV whose chief source of “news” is televising the Guelph council meetings. For those of us in the city that do not subscribe to Rogers services, that’s about as useful as a news source as horns on an ant.

Then we have the Kitchener CTV TV station. Its news coverage consists of 60-second video spots, using an on-camera reporter who does a toss-back to the anchor. This is real news? This outfit is now bereft because one of it’s chief sources was the Guelph Mercury that employed a staff of 10 editors and reporters who spent those long hours digesting and reporting civic affairs, community events, crime and interesting profiles of people.

That essential material coverage is now gone.

I must confess that I will truly miss the Mercury. I am, generally speaking, a one-man band. I do not have the personnel, time or energy to replace the Mercury and its former team of editors and reporters.

What I am most concerned about is that this news vacuum will further give the city administration, unfettered control of the corporation news, and the slant that it has been practising since 2007.

But what I do possess, for the past nine years, is a huge library of material that is mostly critical of the city’s administration.

Since the Mercury’s closing, the number of daily visitors to my blog, guelphspeaks.ca, has tripled. The reason was that I recognized the actions of the five members of council who literally defected from their responsibilities, Monday, January 25, when they walked out.

Then, when challenged to explain their action, I’d call it a strike, because they refused to answer. Instead, Coun. Phil Allt, one of the strikers, said it was “to defend the integrity of the corporation and staff.”

This all occurred during the week of the Mercury’s death throes.

Well, what’s new about this development?

There is a plethora of rumours and calls for the five councillors to resign.

This is a serious problem with the Ontario Municipal Act. The only way a councillor can be dismissed is for overt criminal activity, stealing public money and misrepresenting their credentials.

Even if there were charges relating to any of these fault lines, the councillor charged would still be in office by the next election, because of the time the courts could allocate court time to adjudicate the case. Usually it’s two years.

The provincial government must review and change these ironbound securities that municipal elected representatives are protected. What is needed is a mechanism to recall elected officials for malfeasance, failure to meet their fiduciary responsibilities and not turning up for official public meetings.

This outrageous political coitis interruptous must be met with public reaction and action. The greatest weapon the electors have is installing fear into their elected representatives. They do it by sending messages in many forms to the offending councillors, expressing their rejection of the way the defecting councillor has misbehaved in the people’s interest.

Make no mistake, a steady response complaining to these offending councillors who have stopped the city’s business, will have a telling effect in 2018, if they decide to run again.

If you need any evidence of this kind of political action, look no further than to see what happened in 2014 to council incumbents Karen Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw, Ian Findlay, Todd Dennis, and Lise Burcher.

They were defeated or quit because of public pressure. It had little to do with the Guelph Mercury or Guelph Tribune; it was a quiet revolution by the people who protested the action of the previous administration.

It is time now to act against this group who have accomplished the continuation of the Farbridge administration that has seen large tax and user fee increases in just one year in office.

It’s now up to we the people to act.

Reminder: The Letter Box is now open for letters to the editor. Send you letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com for publication.

 

 

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Introducing the Letter Box, now open for your Letters to the Editor

By Gerry Barker

Editor guelphspeaks.ca

Posted January 31, 2016

Say hello to a new feature that allows Letters to the Editor, to be published in the exclusive Letter Box in guelphspeaks.ca, (GS), Guelph’s most popular news commentary blog.

It’s popular because it’s non-profit and not beholden to any political party, cause or individual. With the help and support of a wide variety of citizens, GS digs beneath the surface of those events and stories that affect all citizens.

The results are obvious. In a number of cases, GS scooped the Guelph print media chiefly because of publishing deadlines and frequency of editions. On GS, your letter can be read at anytime because the blog never closes.

Guelph Speaks was born, oddly enough, as a column published in the Mercury from 2007 to 2011 in a column titled, “Between the Lines.” Guelph resident, GS editor Gerry Barker, was the author and commentator. Now the Mercury is gone and leaves a number of traditional departments without your access or exposure.

These include letters to the editor, opinion columns, editorials, obituaries, death notices, classified ads, advertising, provincial, federal and world news, comics. Puzzles, real estate news, weather, social notices such as birthday, wedding and anniversary greetings, sports and entertainment news, and city government news and analysis.

This has left an enormous vaccum of iformation that thousands of residents relied upon.

The death of this newspaper marks the revolution for news and commentary to be instantly transmitted online. GS has been doing that for five years and has influenced major changes at City Hall and commented on events at the provincial and federal level that affect Guelph and its citizens.

The new Letter Box platform allows you to publish your ideas, suggestions, concerns and opinions. Naked plugs for publicity by commercial interests are not welcome.

Remember GS’s mission statement that has not changed: “For the people by the people.”

GS cannot replace the entire Mercury package overnight. What we are planning to do is offer citizens the opportunity to send their letters for publishing in the Letter Box section of the GS blog.

The Letter Box is open and available 24-7. Of course, there are some restrictions such as use of profanity, libelous copy, copy limitation of up to 300 words and light editing for clarity purposes. We will not publish anonymous letters.

The Letter Box is opened every morning and the new contents are posted. Your letter stays in the box for five days then is moved to the Letter Box archive where it may be accessed. We ask that you include your name, address and telephone number. This information is private and will not be transferred or sold to any individual, company or political organization. The information is secure, period. Only your name and municipality will be published.

And it’s free. Send your letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com. Please ensure the words: “Letter Box” is at the top of your letter. This is to differentiate the letters from the comment section of guelphspeaks.ca.

So, all you Mercury letter writers, you now have the opportunity to run your letters on the online guelphspeaks.ca site. The huge guelphspeaks.ca audience will read your letters; the most followed blog in Guelph.

Former Mercury Community Editorial Board authors and columnists are invited to make submissions for publishing articles or commentary in guelphspeaks.ca. If you require additional information send your questions to: gerrybarker76@gmail.com.

Welcome to the online world that never sleeps.

 

 

 

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The Farbridge Factor lives on through the Gang of Seven’s majority on council

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 27, 2015

Things are different this year because it’s easier to predict what won’t happen in 2016 than to select events that will. The political events across three levels of government have reflected change but particularly disappointing in the case of Guelph and the provincial government.

We are swimming in a sea of mediocrity as the stunning level of incompetence both by civil servant staff and their elected political bosses, fails the test of basic business practice and financial management.

FYI: The Farbridge Gang of Seven consists of Councillors Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Mike Salisbury, June Hofland, Phil Allt and James Gordon.

So, let’s take a peek at what will happen, or won’t. You be the judge.

*   The five senior managers of the city staff, all hired by the Farbridge administration, including CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO Mark Amorosi, DCAO Derrick Thomson, City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, City Solicitor Donna Jacques, will still be on the job 12 months from now.

*   Soaring electricity costs, increased taxes and, not the least, a feminist arrogance that belies integrity and logic, will accelerate the relentless decline of the Ontario economy compounded by the failing leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

*   The Canada Pension Plan will be tinkered but provide little change except to increase employer/employee contributions.

*   Kathleen Wynne’s two great flops will be the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and establishing the new Ontario Pension Plan. At least you can drink away your fear of rank political stupidity but another tax grab is harder to swallow. The result will be a reduction of jobs shoving the ailing Ontario economy further down the sinkhole of spiraling debt and zooming taxes.

*   Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will demand 24 Sussex, the Prime Minister’s official residence, be renovated so he can move into the home in which he grew up.

The public reaction will be unnerving when the price tag is revealed.

*   Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper will lick his wounds and take out a Tim Horton’s franchise in woebegone Alberta. He won’t have much time as he joins several boards of directors of major corporations including banks, oil producers and auto manufacturers.

*   Karen Farbridge loyalist, Susan Watson, following her losing complaint about funding of a civic candidate by a voter’s activist group, (it cost taxpayers $11,400); will announce she will be a candidate for Mayor in the 2018 Guelph election. Should we make that former Farbridge loyalist?

*  Interim Conservative Leader, Rona Ambrose, will surprise parliamentary watchers by holding Justin Trudeau’s feet to the fire regarding his campaign promises.

*  Like the Ancient Mariner, Education Minister Liz Sandals will keep her job and sleepwalk through the new round of teachers’ union negotiating process that starts in January. Maybe this time she will ask for travel and entertainment receipts when paying the unions to negotiate with her government.

*   The Guelph city staff proposal of a ten-year, two per cent property tax levy for infrastructure, will fade into black as the Gang of Seven, controlling Guelph council, will vote against it all in the name of political survival.

*   Electricity rates in Ontario are more than 55 per cent higher than Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia and will increase by ten percent January 1st. The McGuinty/Wynne green energy team has proven to be expert in funding wind farms and solar arrays by paying the private operators more than triple the base per Kilowatt rate for 20 years but also their capital costs. And we, the end users, have to pay for this through our hydro bills, plus HST. Is that a great deal or not?

*   Gouging at the pump by Canadian gasoline producers will continue despite the 60 per cent drop in wellhead oil prices. Gasoline, at 95 cents a litre, is still 70 per cent higher than the same product in the U.S selling, on average, for $2 a gallon.

*  The appalling lack of understanding finances by a number of Guelph councillors will continue despite allowing operating deficits for the past three years. Provincial law forbids municipalities to carry budget deficits – read that overspending – into the next year.

*  Chances of the public being told the details of that police shooting in the Guelph General Hospital emergency waiting room will not be revealed in 2016. And the Ontario Liberals will not rewrite the Police Act that makes it impossible to fire a police officer for an offence. It appears officers have to kill someone to get fired by the police department.

*  It’s been a tough year for Mayor Cam Guthrie coping with a majority bloc of followers of his defeated predecessor. He still needs citizen support to carry out the changes that most of us voted for in 2016. Let’s renew our resolve to support the Mayor and his five members of council who are determined to create changes in management and reduce spending.

Here’s to having a Happy New Year!

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A serious look inside our city budget and where your tax dollars are going

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 21, 2015

As part of its new budget building program, the city released proposals for expansions of staff in the 2016 budget.

Prior to this the city staff presented to council an operating budget proposing a 2016 property tax increase of 1.58 per cent. Let’s call that stage one, or the window dressing portion of the build a budget program.

The staff recommends several budget expansions, over and above the operations budget of 1.58 per cent. The most costly expansion is adding 16 fulltime equivalent employees across various departments. The cost is $2,629,600. This adds another 1.25 per cent to the property tax increase.

Stage Two: Kaching! Now we’re up to 2.83 per cent

The 50 per cent growth of city staff by 700 employees in eight years is compared to a 5.7 per cent increase in population. That’s an increase of 6,897 newcomers in the same period. Wonder if they get their waste picked up by the city?

Let’s look at it this way. Assuming the city population is 121,000 and there are 2,100 fulltime employees, that means there is one city employee per 57.6129 citizens.

Taking it a step further, for the 6,897 new residents arriving since 2007, the 700 new city staff hired during the same period, means that one city employee serves just 9.852 citizens.

This indicates that Guelph hired more new staffers than were needed to cope with the increase in population, a paltry 5.7 per cent in eight years.

But the city staff increased by 50 per cent in those same eight years.

So why does the city staff keep adding staff, on average, of 20 individuals in each budget cycle?

In the space of just six months, completing two budget cycles, 2015 and 2016, some 37 new employees are authorized. While the 2016 budget has not been finalized, it’s a safe bet the staff recommended 16 additional staffers will be approved.

Stage Three: Citizens get their chance to ask for money

But wait! Yet to come are the citizens requesting public funding at the November 30 public meeting. This is when the vociferous bike lane lobby swings into high gear to extend the network of bike lanes in the downtown core and major arterial roads. This is one of those Farbridge legacy hangovers that will be ardently supported by the Farbridge Gang of Seven on council. This group is trapped in an eight-year time warp that has witnessed millions spent to accommodate a tiny minority of bicycle riders.

Their pitch is to demand that council live up to the Farbridge sponsored ten-year plan to spend $1.3 million on bike lanes Reminder, the 2015 budget contains a $600,000 item for bike lanes on Woodlawn Ave.

It’s difficult to understand why driving through Kitchener and Waterloo, there is not the numbers of bike lanes on the major roads in comparison to Guelph.

There will be other organzations and individuals pitching council for money for a variety of causes and interests. Council will be polite with each petitioner, ask some questions but rarely commit, except if you ride a bicycle.

The final stage will be council’s final review of the 2016 budget and approve it December 9.

It’s a good bet that the 2016 budget will exceed a property tax increase of 3.5 per cent not including the increase in citywide property assessments that contribute to the bottom line.

Let’s take a look as these staff recommended expansions.

One that stands out is hiring a manager of city assets for $157,000. A second is hiring an asset analyst for $120,100. Total for the two jobs is $277,500. It is not clear where these two hires fit in and are they necessary? Is not the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), responsible for managing city assests? That’s what the charter says and already has a general manager.

The Corporate Services department requires the following staff additions and programs:

An internal auditor – $133,800; Asset manager mobility specialist, $79,300; Information technician GIS program, $483,500; Clerk’s office, Access coordinator $86,800; Ward boundary review, (an election will not be held until 2018), $190,000; Contingency reserve $500,000; Stabilization reserve, $500,000.

It’s interesting to note that some programs all have the same $50,000 cost. Two are not recommended: Graffiti removal cotrol and the Goose mitigation strategy. City hall maintenance of $50,000 is recommended. Does that include the living wall?

The Parks department is a beneficiary of the staff recommendations. There is a parks planner, $56,050; an Arborist, $107,400; an Inspector Arborist, $130,700; Seasonal Horticultural crew, $69,600; parks infrastructure maintenance, $35,800; turf maintenance, $69,800; trails maintenance, $35,000; Adding two trails technicians costing $216,400. This adds up to $720,750.

The Farbridge-initiated Open Government Action Plan gets an additional $264,200 on top of the $92,000 approved in the 2015 budget. This money has boosted what was first a one-year contract job for Farbridge loyalist Andy Best. Apparently, the position has morphed into a three-year commitment.

So much for the integrity of the public service.

We have a Cadillac staff powered by a four cylinder engine

While the staff has taken steps to reduce spending, it still fails to address the real spending issue: The growing cost of the city staff is too much for the supporting tax base to afford.

It is not something that started this year. Under the Farbridge administration, staff numbers soared from 1,400 to more than 2,100. Some 37 new employees will have been hired in the 2015, and proposed 2016, budgets. The staff employment costs currently consumes more than 80 per cent of the tax levy.

Glancing over the proposed new staff group for 2016, many are specialists and management people, with compensation packages that are ahead of similar positions in private industry.

The comment made by Derrick Thomson, DCAO, in charge of operations is ludicrous. He says the increase of staff is required to serve more residents. In eight years, the population increased by 5.7 per cent. But in the past ten years, the city staff has increased by 85 per cent.

Just looking at this position, there is a whole crop of candidates for the provinces’s annual Sunshine list of those public servants making more than $100,000 a year.

This continuation of the staff setting the terms of employment is with little input from some members of council, or a responsible Chief Financial Officer (CFO). That job has not been filled since former CFO Al Horsman was moved to Waste Management, Planning and Engineering a year ago, and two budgets since. He left Guelph this past summer.

For additional information about this budget process, here is the link:

http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/council consolidated-agenda budget 111815.pdf

 

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