Tag Archives: CAO Derrick Thomson

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

By Gerry Barker

September 18, 2017

Today there is good news and bad news

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

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

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

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

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

Can the Ontario Ombudsman open the closed-session meetings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mayor speaks to a selected few not the citizens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The provincial Sunshine List lets the cat out of the bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case of the missing 53,000 emails

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

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

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

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

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

Truth or consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2018 cannot come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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NO SALE: Is the city selling Guelph Hydro to recoup losses by a previous administration?

By Gerry Barker

June 12, 2017

Part Two: Selling the crown jewel of Guelph

When will the Mayor tell us the truth about why we are spending thousands to sell Guelph Hydro in the next 12 months?

It is one of the most expensive and devious plans to capture the equity of Guelph Hydro that has an estimated book value of $125 million. On the surface, when reading through the 48 pages of plans and goals of the council-appointed Strategic Options Committee (SOC), it would have you believe this is the right thing to do.

Council appointed five people to represent the city in selling Guelph Hydro. The committee lost two members between October and April. Included was co-chair Pankaj Sardana, CEO of Guelph Hydro, who was replaced by the Guelph Hydro board chair, Jane Armstrong. A public representative, Ron Puccini, stepped aside to be replaced by Douglas Auld.

Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson remains, as co-chair of the SOC. Is Mayor Guthrie an ex-officio member of this committee?

Before going any further, this is a sale of all or parts of Guelph Hydro. To dress it up as a merger is mere window dressing. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Sardana was removed from the SOC because he warned about the sharing of responsibilities as a result of a merger, does not have a successful track record. History in Ontario has shown that local community-owned electricity distribution system mergers don’t always work well because of the cultural clash between the parties of the merger.

We should mention that the SOC plan points out that the Province has encouraged the consolidation of small (Provincial designation) municipally-owned power distribution systems to create more efficient systems across the province. This is NOT mandated but suggested.

Why the push to amalgamate local power distribution systems? The McGuinty and Wynne governments granted juicy 20-year overpayments to corporations to produce solar and wind turbine renewable power. Now it has attracted interest in corporate ownership power distribution systems. These deals have cost power consumers millions and left Ontario having the highest cost of power in the country.

“It isn’t easy being green,” Kermit the frog.

Without hesitation, the beneficiaries of these deals include both Liberal provincial governments and those corporations that have benefitted from their largesse.

One of the members of SOC said that the distribution of power is changing, predicting that most homes in the future will have electricity storage units in their garages, powered by solar panels. The cost of this is astronomical for most people. Why the rush to sell off Guelph Hydro, lose any semblance of control and costs as it now it provides economic benefit to the 53,000 current customer base?

Those self-sufficient storage units have a definite future but are only cost efficient for the wealthy among us. It will take years to become a common reality.

But it is a prime rationale among an element of civic leaders who foisting their opinions, were bolstered by outside consultants including the core of the SOC.

Here’s a sample of what the SOC is planning:

SOC RECOMMENDATION:

  1. THAT the Strategies and Options Committee (the “SOC”) of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (“GMHI”) be directed to conduct further discussions, engage in further due diligence, and prepare preliminary business cases to assess potential mergers between Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. (“Guelph Hydro”) and potential merger partners.
  2. THAT the SOC continue its communications and community engagement to inform its work.
  3. THAT the SOC report back to Council in early fall 2017 with the results of further discussions and due diligence, communications and community engagement and a preliminary business case, including recommendations regarding next steps.

            The four phases leading to selling Guelph Hydro

The SOC plan is divided into four phases. Following the June 13 meeting, the next phase is Part 3 to be reported to council in October, or thereabouts.

Here’s one of the reasons citizens should be concerned. Two members of the SOC, in my opinion, have a conflict of interest.

Note in the recommendation above that the SOC is the offspring of the Farbridge Folly that created Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI). We now know that it cost citizens close to $100 million, so far. This appears to be a desperate attempt by the Guthrie administration, to convince citizens to support the sale of Guelph Hydro. We say: NO SALE!

Getting back to those two SOC members. The former mayor appointed Mark Goldberg as an independent member to the GMHI board of directors. Did Mr. Goldberg support the GMHI projects that lost $26.6 million? What is he doing on the SOC? Is he part of the salvage crew out to sell a profitable, locally owned Hydro Distribution system to cover up the total failure of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI)? It is now clear that the former mayor sold the merits of the CEI to an unsuspecting public. Then buried its operations in closed sessions of the board.

Or, let’s hear from SOC member Guelph Hydro Deputy Chair, Robert Bell, who in answer to a question by Coun. James Gordon about how the public feels about the sale of Guelph Hydro replied that he was an expert in mergers and acquisitions, (M&A) and knew more about it than the general public.

That arrogant answer confirms the takeaway that this is a contrived set-up to sell the publicly-owned Guelph Hydro in part or all-in, to pay off the debts of previous administrations.

Well, those two men, for different reasons, seem to have their minds made up.

This is a very serious political play in which, with respect, may result in Mayor Guthrie’s ongoing support for the sale, being figuratively bitten in the derriere come Election Day. His fair-weather friends on council could blame him for either the success or failure of the Hydro sale proposal. As he is Mayor, it’s a lose, lose situation no matter what happens.

It’s not too late to regain the support of the majority of the public by disassociating himself from continued support of the sale.

Here is the SOC schedule of how we can say bye-bye to Guelph Hydro before the next election.

SOC says: “If, in the fall, Council directs the SOC to pursue the next phase of the process, details about potential merger partner(s) will be shared with the public. At that time, the SOC will seek public input on the proposed merger. More public and stakeholder engagement will occur to generate that input.”

GS Comment: Just how are the SOC and its partners Guelph Hydro and City Council going to inform the public during this “process?” There is a ground swell of objection among many citizens that this phase is not going to sell. So far the attempts to communicate this to the real stakeholders, the citizens of Guelph, has been an abject failure. But read on to see the proposed timetable of selling the utility.

SOC says: “Phase 1 (Complete)

“Explore options; begin community consultation, present findings and recommendations to Guelph City Council in early 2017.

SOC says: “Phase 2 (March to June)

“Scan the industry for potential merger partners. Consider publicly-owned utility companies likely to provide value to Guelph Hydro customers, the City and the community.”

GS Comment: Phase 2 is the topic of the June 13 meetings including a closed session of council starting at 4 p.m. and the public open meeting at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Let’s get this clarified. Guelph Hydro supplies electricity to 53,000 customers. No one in this city or Rockwood is without power. This should make them the stakeholders in this plan. The City of Guelph owns this utility and history shows that the citizens want to continue owning it. The SOC should conduct a poll by an independent polling organization to measure public support for selling Guelph Hydro. The result may save citizens the cost of pursuing this project.

SOC says: “(June to fall) If City Council votes to explore further: engage specific targets, develop a preliminary business case and financial analysis, outline impact on shareholders rate payers, discuss governance, compare to maintaining full ownership, and make recommendation to City Council.”

SOC says: “Phase 3 (fall to winter)

“If Council decides to pursue a merger: enter into memorandum of understanding, announce the parties involved, continue community engagement, begin exclusive negotiations, conduct financial, legal, operational and regulatory due diligence, develop merger and shareholder agreements, finalize rate impact and make recommendation to City Council.”

GS Comment: And during this phase when does the public have its say? Where is the business plan underlying any proposal?

SOC says: “Phase 4 (late 2017 to 2018)

“If City Council approves the transaction: submit a MAADs (?) application to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for approval, develop implementation plan and establish leadership and governance of the new utility. Following OEB approval the transaction would close, the parties would enter into the shareholders’ agreement, and the merger would be given full legal effect.”

GS Comment: Just in time to create a huge issue in the October 2018 civic election. This is an attempt to wrap up the before the election and deny the public the right to dissent.

            Recommended next phases of developing the sale:

SOC says: “Given the potential cost of developing complete business cases with multiple parties, the SOC recommends developing preliminary business cases with the most promising candidates and making a recommendation to Council in early fall 2017. This approach is a cost effective way to provide Council with more information while being fair and respectful to potential merger partners.”

GS Comment: The Guelph Hydro board affirmed the recommendations made at the outset of this report at its May 29, 2017 board meeting. None of them were elected to represent the public’s interests. So, why now? Why is this plan being presented to the citizens who are not collectively in favour of selling Guelph Hydro? Here’s more of the sale plan.

Value for the City of Guelph
SOC says: § Realizing the best financial return and overall value.

GS Comment: Again what is the real purpose of this proposal? Is the city in such financial shape that we have to sell Guelph Hydro to pay for the financial mismanagement of the past ten years? Is it fair to say that if Guelph Hydro is sold that it can recover that “impaired” asset that it loaned GMHI and now sitting on the city books, can be recovered? One would believe that had to be a condition of any sale.
SOC says: § Supply electricity efficiently and cost-effectively.

GS Comment: Isn’t that what is being delivered today?
SOC says: § Contribute capital funds for reinvestment.

GS Comment: Ah! The truth is starting to come out. What reinvestments are they talking about? Is it reduction of debt? Paying down the Police Headquarters $34 million renovation? Providing $400 million for the aging infrastructure? There is no shortage of projects but because of the financial mismanagement, the cupboard is essentially bare.

It is welcome news that the city has finally hired Trevor Lee, an experienced professional who has the financial accreditation to bring responsible order to our city’s finances. The evidence exists that successive councils relentlessly continue to jack up property taxes and user fees to cover up bad management and questionable decisions.
SOC says: § Support long-term community planning and economic development.

GS Comment: There has been little effort to address the high overhead costs of running a city. What has this sale got do with economic development? How will it create jobs and at the same time protect Hydro employees? How can citizens be assured of cost controls if the utility is sold or merged? How much has this proposal cost year to date? Who is paying those costs? What operational guarantees are included in this proposal that affect all Hydro customers?

What does the SOC mean when it says it will engage in “open, honest communication with community and industry stakeholders?” This and past administrations have a terrible track record of operating in closed sessions without transparency and accountability doing the public’s business. The record of the previous GMHI board of directors conducting its business in an open and accountable fashion is a sick joke.

City councillors Karl Wettstein and June Hofland were members of the MHI board for four years and today accept no responsibility for the financial disaster. SOC member Mark Goldberg is another former GMHI board member who has never commented publicly about his role on the board.

A good place to start is opening all SOC meetings to the public. Making all electronic communications pertaining to the sale among SOC, its consultants and members of council available to the public. The one exception is discussions regarding proprietary information of bidders.

Regardless, in my opinion, this proposal was tried in 2008 and was rejected by a majority of council including supporters of the former mayor. I see no reason why this won’t happen this time. Sorry, NO SALE

Frankly, city council approved this methodology of selling Guelph Hydro. It’s time for a serious rethink of the project.

Now council owes the citizens a specific reason for creating this proposal to sell Guelph Hydro. That includes full financial disclosure of the costs and benefits to the citizen stakeholders.

This is only Act One of the Theatre of the Absurd

Until that closes, we still say: NO SALE.

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How the city plans to sell Guelph Hydro, something that Farbridge failed to do

By Gerry Barker

June 8, 2017

Today it’s Part One. Monday Part Two will be published

Nine years ago, former mayor Karen Farbridge attempted to convince city council and citizens to merge Guelph Hydro with systems in Hamilton and St. Catharines. The mayor had a comfortable majority of followers on council, so what could go wrong?

Well, it did as council turned it down. It was the only time I can recall that the mayor lost a major battle. Looking back, it occurred only because the people almost unanimously rejected the proposal and the councillors heard them. It was a rare occasion where the people had the final say.

The mayor needed the money that a sale of Guelph Hydro would provide. The first priority was to pay the $22 million toward the federal and provincial government’s special infrastructure plan. Under the plan, Guelph would pay one third, as would each of the senior governments. Some $66 million was approved and spent on a variety of shovel-ready projects in the city.

But the mayor’s plan almost failed because of the citizen’s revolt against selling Guelph Hydro. Instead, the mayor, who sat on the Hydro board of directors, notified the board that council was calling a $30 million note that Hydro owed the city. That solved the city’s share of the infrastructure plan and there was a little left over that was spent on a time clock in the Sleeman Centre and $2 million building bicycle lanes on Stone Road between Edinborough and Gordon Streets.

This all happened in the first three years of the Farbridge administration.

Shortly following her re-election in November 2010, the mayor set up Guelph Municipal Holdings, Inc. (GMHI), a corporation wholly owned by the city. The mayor was chair of the company and controlled the board of directors by naming four councillors, Lise Burcher, Todd Dennis, Karl Wettstein and June Hofland. Two independent directors were appointed.

The company had assets including Guelph Hydro and the Guelph Junction Railroad. GMHI sent a dividend of $1.5 million to the city each year. The last known total was $9 million before the roof fell in with the revelation in May 2016 that GMHI had lost $26.6 million and had never made a profit.

With a startup in late 2011, in five years, little was known about its operations as the meetings were held in closed session.

In addition to the losses, there was a large loan taken out of Guelph Hydro for $65 million that was described by former GMHI Chief Executive Officer, Pankaj Sardana as impaired. In the 2015 city financial statement the loan was listed as $69 million as there had been no repayment by GMHI. That loan is now on the city books listed as an asset. This will eventually have to be written off.

GMHI spent money on solar panels on some public buildings, two gas-fired District Energy pumps, costing $11 million to supply hot and cold water to a handful of downtown and Hanlon Business Park buildings. It was an abortive co-generation scheme to use the pumps to pump the water in underground pipes to the buildings and generate electricity.

For four years, GMHI worked in the dark led by the former mayor and former Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert.

The campaign to sell the city’s most valuable and profitable asset

Next Tuesday, June 13 starting at 6:30 p.m. city council, as GMHI shareholders, representing the citizens of Guelph and will hear a review of the project to sell Guelph Hydro by mid-2018, before the city election in October. Prior to the meeting, council will meet in closed session to discuss the all-important details of the project, far from the madding crowd.

Last October, council approved commencing an investigation by the Strategic Options Committee (SOC) composed at the time of Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson as chair, CEO of Guelph Hydro, Pankaj Sardana as co-chair, and Robert Bell, Hydro board member,.Two citizen members, Mark Goldberg and Ron Puccini were also named.

According to the Energizing Tomorrow website, only Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Puccini live in Guelph.

There are no elected representatives on this committee. There are two individuals, Mr. Sardana and Mr. Bell who are closely associated with Guelph Hydro.

So, we can conclude that this operation not only includes the SOC but also Guelph Hydro Electric Systems. The Board of Directors of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems included: Ms. Jane Armstrong. Ms. Judy Fountain, Robert Bell, Bruce Cowan, Ted Sehl, Rick Thompson and Ms. Jasmine Urisk.

Under no circumstances am I suggesting that these folks were complicit in the GMHI financial disaster.

There does not appear to be checks or balances or direct oversight of this potential disposal of the most valuable asset of the city’s assets. Also, the public has had little to say since formation of the SOC. Granted, council must have the final say but its members are not directly involved in this exercise being handled by the SOC and its advisors, a consultant and a Toronto law firm.

It also comes as a surprise that there are certain members of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems who had exposure to GMHI financial disaster that cost the city $26.6 million. These include Jasmine Urisk, Ted Gehl, Jane Armstrong, Judy Fountain and Robert Bell.

Mr. Goldberg of the SOC served on the GMHI board of directors. Mr. Sardana, co-chair of the SOC, was formerly CEO and CFO of GMHI.

Then came an announcement. Mr. Sardana was replaced as co-chair of SOC by Hydro Board chair Jane Armstrong and Mr. Puccini resigned to be replaced by Douglas Auld.

On Monday, June 12, look for Part Two that details the strategy to complete the sale of Guelph Hydro by mid 2018

In the meantime, here is an unedited portion of the 48 pages publish on the city website, of the proposal to be approved June 13 by council acting as shareholders of GMHI.

As determined in Phase 1, Ontario’s energy landscape is changing, and mid-sized utilities like Guelph Hydro are looking for better ways to:

  • Meet customer expectations;
  • Take advantage of modern technologies;
  • Cover costs of delivering safe, reliable electricity service;
  • Fund local infrastructure maintenance and upgrades; and
  • Prepare and respond to more frequent and severe storms.

I draw your attention to item four – Fund local infrastructure, maintenance and upgrades.

So do we sell a profit-making asset to fund years of neglect of city infrastructure?

I don’t believe this for one minute. As I will explain in the next part of this two-part series, the proceeds resulting from the sale of Guelph Hydro will be primarily used to pay down the accumulated debt of GMHO and the $69 million note owed to Guelph Hydro.

We have never been informed if GMHI spent that loan money and on what?

There are so many questions needing answers.

Part Two will analyse and comment on the nuts and bolts process of moving ahead with this sale of Guelph Hydro.

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When it comes to managing city finances we are sheep without a shepherd

By Gerry Barker

May 15, 2017

Having lived in Guelph for 14 years, I cannot understand how a city of 131,000 people has not had an independent Chief Financial Officer for 30 months. Here’s the scorecard since the able David Kennedy was dismissed in 2007: There have been seven individuals acting as CFO in the past ten years.

The seventh is Tara Baker, a senior analyst in the Finance Department who is coming off maternity leave to take the reins over from James Krauter, the current acting General Manager of Finance.

In that 30-month period, the city lost key senior management personnel. That’s about how long it took the secret Manhattan project to detonate the world’s first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in 1945.

Here is a partial list of the departed:

Operations Chief Derek McCaughan;

Chief of environmental services and engineering, Janet Laird;

Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman;

Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert;

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi;

City Solicitor, Donna Jaques;

General Manager of Solid Waste, Dean Wyman;

General Manager and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy;

General Manager and Treasurer, Katrina Power;

Deputy City Engineer, Don Kudo;

Fire Chief, Shawn Armstrong.

Operating the city efficiently and responsibly, these 11 senior employees represented various city departments. Nevertheless, it remains an abdication by the council failing to maintain a senior management staff.

So, what happened? What were the reasons for some to leave that were earning top rated salaries, some exceeding $200,000 per year? Who would walk away from a job like that with security, great benefits and working conditions?

It is easy to assume that the majority of elected members of the administration, commonly known as the Bloc of Seven, were responsible for the dissatisfied defections.

Or, was it influenced by the defeat of former Mayor Karen Farbridge in October 2014?

When it comes to finger pointing, the underlying reason is too much city business is conducted behind closed doors.

The discovery of what’s going wrong lies with a few reporters and bloggers who try to pry back the lid of cover-ups, to report what is going on in the management of our city. I can assure you, it is not easy and I have the experience to know the high cost of defending details of secret meetings and information that I discovered.

Wanted: A new shepherd to run our finances

That’s because the elected majority of council believe we are sheep to be sheared every year to pay for the past mismanagement of our business and its cost to citizens. There are many citizens who try to stand up to the administration. At this time, there is no underlying civic activist umbrella organization to support and work to change the policies of a cadre of city managers and councillors. The politicization of some senior staff is perpetuating policies of a former administration that was responsible for wasting millions.

That’s why we need an independent, experienced Chief Financial Officer to put on the brakes of spending and reform financial management.

Sometimes GS is criticized for being negative and beating the same drum repeatedly.

But I’m a taxpayer and have to right to comment and criticize. The law in Ontario is very clear that authorities cannot suppress public participation in public business by taking legal action against any citizen to stop their right to speak up.

Guelph City Council took another step in late 2015 to suppress resident’s critical commentary and objections to political action by passing the Indemnification Bylaw 19995. It guarantees reimbursement of any legal costs as a result of a citizen taking legal action against any member of the administration including elected officials.

Summarizing this action: If you initiate legal action against anyone in the administration, that individual has his/her legal expenses paid by … you, the complainant! Last February, CAO Derrick Thomson stated that this bylaw covers all former employees who are involved in a legal procedure with a citizen or corporation.

The only case I can recall was Bruce Poole’s million-dollar suit against the city for wrongful dismissal. It was settled quickly following the accidental release of 53,000 emails by the city to Poole’s lawyer that had little to do with the lawsuit.

Is the city paying Mr. Poole’s legal expenses? After all, he was a former employee and presumably entitled.

Killing online voting for the wrong reasons

But it gets better. Recently city council voted against allowing online voting in the 2018 election. Only six members voted to allow online voting, Mayor Cam Guthrie, Councillors Christine Billings, Cathy Downer, Dan Gibson, Andy Van Hellemond and Mark MacKinnon. The motion was defeated despite the pleas by citizens to allow it so that the elderly, informed and disabled citizens could vote.

This is another suppression of the rights for all citizens to participate and vote in civic elections. The City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien, informed council that online voting was used in the 2014 civic election advance poll. More than 12 600 votes were cast and no reports of voter fraud or problems. There are some 90 Ontario municipalities using online voting.

Now do you see us as sheep being herded around without recourse or little ability to express ourselves?

I for one refuse to believe I am a sheep to be shorn by hypocrisy, lies and ineptitude. I have paid a price for my opinions and reporting of facts. Remember, we sheep changed the city administration big time in the 2014 civic election. The regressives were shocked and, in my opinion, are seeking revenge.

It’s time to put the flock back together again and defeat the Bloc of Seven regressive councillors in their own bailiwick, and take back our city.

Baaaa, Baaaa, Baaaa

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How personal exploitation leads to mismanagement and higher taxes

By Gerry Barker

April 10, 2017

If you read the story about our taxes going up again this year in the local weekly, you wouldn’t know up from down. That’s when a rewrite of a city press release and an attempt to turn it into English happens.

Bottom line, homeowner’s property taxes under the Guthrie administration have risen 10.56 per cent since his election.

It’s an astounding figure when considering that the senior staff has been in total disarray since Mayor Guthrie took over, but not necessarily because of him. The residue of millions in losses land mismanagement left by his predecessor hangs over him like a cloud burst waiting to happen.

He has tried to work with council but the majority of Councillors, James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein and Cathy Downer, have obstructed, denied and pushed the agenda of the previous administration.

It’s as if there never was an election

Then we have Ward four Coun. Mike Salisbury, pontificating that the Mayor has failed to be a leader because he has not been collegial with council. Goodness knows, Mayor Guthrie has tried only to be thwarted when the suggestion of change or reform surfaces. Well, you have to understand the source of the Salisbury whining spectacle.

So, now the new property tax increase is 3.61 due to the impact of assessment by the Municipal Provincial Assessment Corporation (MPAC), an independent body set up by the provincial government to conduct informed and fair assessments of properties across Ontario.

But in most cases, MPAC does what I call, a drive-by calculation based on their own formula and process. In recent years, it has been complicated by a four-year freeze on assessments by the former McGuinty government in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis.

Starting in 2014, MPAC resumed raising the assessment on a pre-set formula basis with modest increases for four years.

I fail to understand why this 2017 assessment by MPAC was not included during the budget preparation last fall and approved in December with only three councillors voting against the budget. What did they know that the other councillors and staff did not? We received our annual MPAC notice that showed the assessment increase on our property for four years including 2017.

It is important to understand the impact of assessment increase. First of all, they are mandatory. The city takes the revised assessment information, and using the mill rate determines the added cost to property taxpayers. This process occurs during the annual budget deliberations.

What happened to the two-per cent special property tax levy?

The local weekly made reference to the one per cent special levy on property taxes although council approved a two per cent levy on property taxes in the 2017 budget. Also, how did the city determine the average price of a home in Guelph is $333,877? The story claimed that taxes on that average value would go up by $86.04 or 2.61 per cent. That included the one per cent property tax levy for infrastructure maintenance bringing the increase to 3.61 per cent.

And you’re confused?

Didn’t council approve a two per cent property tax levy for 2017? Remember that Coun. Mark MacKinnon moved to add another one per cent tax levy for “City Buildings” that was approved by council and would provide $2.23 million per year for the next five years?

Must have been a typo.

The approved property tax levies, each aimed at specific areas requiring capital spending, just added a $4.46 million extra burden on homeowners. The irony is Coun. MacKinnon has stated that people should be willing to pay taxes for the services they receive. He theorizes that because the value of their home increases, they could refinance through a new or second mortgage or reverse mortgage in order to pay their taxes.

Is the council majority too subjective, ignorant or willful?

This is the kind of beliefs that MacKinnon epitomizes about the majority of his colleagues on council. They don’t care about the impact of their authoritative policies on the very people who elected them. They have the power to access the public ATM machine at will without recourse. This fall the 2018 budget will be prepared.

It is now necessary to hire a Chief Fiancial Officer with the proper financial accreditation and experience. If any department in the city needs capable manage,ent, it’s Finance.

Here are some other examples of decisions made by the majority of council in the past seven years:

Start with the $23 million increased cost of the new City Hall project; the $26.6 million loss by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. operation; the inflated cost of the downtown police headquarters of $34 million; employment costs that have been growing exponentially; the retirement settlement amounts paid to former senior managers who have left the city, either forcefully or resigning; the high costs of living in Guelph with electricity, water, taxes, user fees, among the highest in the province; the high cost of managing our waste reported to be the highest among peer group of cities; the costs of overhead that the administration refuses to address and ignores.

These are examples deserving of an indictment of sheer malfeasance mixed with self-serving stupidity.

Stopping Online voting, a precursor of losing an election

One final example: The seven members of council voted recently to cancel electronic voting in the 2018 civic election after listening to delegates and not accepting the staff recommendation to extend the service.

The decision was made during a council committee meeting and will be confirmed or rejected April 24 by council.

Go figure! Every one voting to reject electronoc voting, benefited from this type of voting when they ran successfully in 2014 when some 13,000 citizens used the system.

In my view, this bloc of councillors, are motivated by fear, fear of losing after what happened in 2014.

If this majority continues to oppose Online voting, they will lose in 2018.

If they support the sale/merger of Guelph Hydro, they will lose.

If they continue to raise taxes at rates similar to the past three years, they’ll lose.

If they continue to insult the Mayor, they’ll lose.

 

 

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Tonight, it’s time to tell the truth about the failure of GMHI and Guelph Hydro

By Gerry Barker

February 15, 2017

Check out guelphspeaks.ca on Facebook and Twitter

Tonight’s meeting, starting at 6 p.m. at city hall, will be a challenge for council and the administration to tell the truth about the huge losses encountered by the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and Guelph Hydro. And include future liabilities to the taxpayers.

It’s time for the administration to level with the people and tell them specifics about the multi-million losses that the Community Energy Initiatives cobbled together by the former mayor. Her agenda was to make Guelph a world-class leader in energy efficiency and its environmental bedfellow.

Here’s what we do know.

On May 16, GMHI CEO and CFO Pankaj Sardana, along with former CAO Ann Pappert revealed that GMHI had accumulated losses of $26,637,244 million. Both officials signed the report tendered to city council. Ms. Pappert resigned 10 days later.

On January 12, it was revealed that the former mayor had even bigger plans. GMHI secured two parcels of land in order to build two Natural Gas-fired generation plants, one in the Hanlon Park and the other downtown. The cost of these plants and the two parcels of land needed to build them have not been disclosed.

Here are the write-offs. The capital cost of the Hanlon District Energy Node of $5.1 million will be written off. With only two customers, it loses a reported $55,000 every year. The Sleeman Centre Node cost was $6.1 million with $3.6 million being written down. The Sleeman Node makes some $127,000 a year.

Next, we are not told the cost of the underground thermal energy system connected to two Tricar condominium buildings, the RiverRun Theatres and the Sleeman Centre. Instead, we are told that the thermal system, powered by the Sleeman Centre District Energy Node will continue to supply hot and cold water for heating and cooling. Again, there are no details of the cost to citizens. What does that commitment accomplish in perpetuating GMHI, at the public expense?

At this point, we should be told of the total and ongoing cost of these misguided projects now and in the future

Here’s what we don’t know.

Because of the operational secrecy employed by GMHI over four years, there are still many questions that need answers. The ultimate hypocrisy employed by GMHI was sending a so-called $1.5 million dividend to the city each year to justify its existence. It was just a return of our money while GMHI in its entire history never made a dime.

In polite circles, that would be described as a “Ponzi” scheme. Paying off the city or the city-owned Guelph Hydro with its own money.

Because the former mayor and chair of GMHI, did not allow public participation in her management of GMHI, we have been handed one of the most serious financial

operating deficits in the city’s history.

Then there is that $65 million borrowed from Guelph Hydro by GMHI. In his May report, Mr. Sardana admitted that neither GMHI nor Envida Community Energy, a subsidiary of Guelph Hydro, had any financial resources to even pay the interest on that loan.

In the 2015 Financial Information Report, the city reported that there was an “impaired” asset outstanding of $69 million. The reason the amount had increased was because there was no money in GMHI to pay the interest. Simply, there are no hard assets underlying this $69 million loan because GMHI is essentially bankrupt.

So, the city takes on this debt and lists it on its books as an asset. As the city has folded Guelph Hydro into its financial orbit, it’s only a matter of time before the “impaired” asset becomes a liability and will have to be written off by fitire councils.

The questions remain, where did the money go? Was it spent? Is it a legitimate asset of the city? Is it no longer on the Hydro books?

Is it possible that the city financial managers have conjured a plan to keep the loan off the hydro books because the council committee is preparing us for the sale/merger of our electric distribution system?

The temptation of getting its hands on the proceeds of a sale on Guelph Hydro that could reap more than $150 million to solve all its wasteful spending problems and mismanagement of our affairs.

We are not the lost tribes of Carden Street. We are all the citizens impacted by this impending bad decision.

Make no mistake. This plan is in a full court press to selloff the jewel of our city assets to right the wrongs of the past.

My advice? Only the people can stop it by pressuring the council by email, telephone, Twitter and Facebook to say no and demand the truth of what has happened to our city.

If you turn up tonight at 6 p.m. in force, council will listen.

If council fails to listen to the people, then they are all in peril in October 2018 of being re-elected.

That I can guarantee.

I know there are some coucillors who understand the ramifications of tonight’s decisions. But the majority of progressives can be defeated by the people.

I don’t know about you, but this is a no-brainer. Stop, tell the truth and lets start the process of returning Guelph to fiscal responsibility and meet those targets that almost all people want that are bring denied.

You know what to do.

 

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Expose! A trilogy of events by a city administration out of control

By Gerry Barker

February 6, 2017

Note from the Editor: This column is in two parts that covers and comments on recent events that reveal the toxic culture existing in our city administration. What you will learn in Part One, titled Triology, is how three events learned last week, have exposed the underlying weakneses of a management that is out of control.

In Part Two, titled Expose, are the details of some 53,000 emails sent chiefly by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, revealing the secretive and personal misuse of the city servers by senior staff.

We encourage everyone to pass this column along to let as many people as possible learn the truth about secrecy, closed meetings and communications on the Internet city staff and council. And it has been going on for years behind the public’s back and is our right to know.

There were three events this past week that revealed how our city is being mismanaged by not only senior staff but by an element of city council.

Part One – Trilogy

BREAKING NEWS

CAO Derrick Thomson said Friday, February 3, that the 53,000 emails obtained by Bruce Poole’s counsel were sent in error. Apparently an external drive containing the emails was handed over to Poole’s counsel. When the story broke about the contents Friday morning, the city administration went into panic drill and requested the drive be returned. So far that has not happened. The CAO said if it is not returned the city will ask for a judge’s order to return it.

Sorry sir, that fox is out of the hen house.

The larger question is who handed the drive containing the 53,000 emails over to the Poole Counsel knowing what was in it? More on this in Part Two – Expose.

Here is the list of the three devastating revelations of how our city is being so poorly representative of the people’s rights, interests and concerns.

* We start with the announcement that city Solicitor, Donna Jaques, was leaving this week. She had been with the city since 2011 in charge of all legal matters including contracts, bylaws and litigation.

This development was followed after with 53,000 emails produced mostly by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman. Former Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole’s lawyer obtained the emails as part of his examination for discovery. You will recall Mr. Poole, a 30-year veteran in the building department, was fired in mid-2015 and sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. That lawsuit has still to be tried or settled in court.

As a public service, here is the list of witnesses if this case goes to trial: Former CAO Ann Pappert; former City Solicitor, Donna Jaques; former General Manager of Finances and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; former CFO Al Horsman; current CAO Derrick Thomson; former Executive Director, Derek McCaughan; City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien; and General Manager of Human Resources, David Godwaldt.

Perhaps this is a good time to tell you about a city Bylaw known as the Indemnification Bylaw. This protects any staffer or elected official from being sued by any citizen. If they are, the staff’s legal costs will be paid by the taxpayers. It was signed by former CAO Ann Pappert and Mayor Cam Guthrie in 2015 following the Susan Watson case against Glen Tolhurst regarding receiving a $400 donation from GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). Both Mr. Tolhurst and GRG were cleared of any wrong doing by an independent auditor.

* Then came the report of a committee charged with examining the future of Guelph Hydro. Their findings were essentially flawed and biased. They commenced deliberations last fall and despite overwhelming public comments to not sell or merge the utility, they are seeking permission to sell or merge with another municipally owned Local Distribution Company (LDC).

The report states: “At this stage in the process, a large segment of those who commented want to maintain local control and public ownership, and there is low-level support for a sale, especially with a privately-owned utility.”

“The public engagement done so far also shows “no support for Guelph Hydro to buy other utilities,” the report says. And “if a merger is considered, participants prefer other utilities in the region and those who are ‘like-minded’ with Guelph Hydro.”

This is Important: So why is the committee, after five months of deliberations, recommending that the city dispose of Guelph Hydro? Their recommendation will be voted on at the February15 council meeting. If you want to address council on this matter, your have until February 10 to register, four days from now.

Let’s stop and think about these three developments and how they are linked and not necessarily in favour of the citizens. In my opinion, these developments are part of a conspiracy to misdirect, suppress, and deny the public their right to access this information.

* Ms. Jaques’s departure was not sudden despite appearances. It would take at least three to four months to search and get another job. But she had to know of the existence of those 53,000 emails and most likely was directly involved in the turnover during the examination for discovery in the Poole lawsuit case. She had to know how damaging those emails are when the reputation of her colleague’s ethics and credibility are at stake.

The remaining question is how many thousands of emails were exchanged between senior staff and still out there? Discovering the emails sent by the former CAO, Ann Pappert, would be useful to investigators by an independent audit of city operations

Chalk it up to the way the staff runs the city. They used what they believed were private confidential emails to chatter, gossip and express opinions about fellow staffers. Heck, even look for a job, with our employer in the dark. Manage your personal finances and discuss marital and health matters with other staffers. The sheer volume of those emails, averaging 125 emails sent every day Mr. Horsman was on the job. (He wrote 53,000 emails over a two-year period divided by 422 actual working days over two years).

I don’t know about you, but that’s a ton of emails, most of which concerned the fundamental operation of the city. This info was coming from the CFO, the person who handled the money.

As an aside, Mr. Horsman was the last CFO employed by the city in the past two years and two months. He lost his position in November 2014 and left the city in August 2015 to take over as CAO of Sault Ste Marie.

The evidence now persists that nothing has changed. The city administration operates chiefly in secret. They do it to prevent exposure of self-serving issues reaching the public domain. The proliferation of emails is an indicator of the manipulative strategies employed by both senior management and members of council.

It may explain why so many senior managers have left the city since the October 2014 civic election. Most of those leaving have left a legacy of mismanagement and problems caused by the policies adopted by three administrations. The situation was aided and abetted by inaccurate forecasting of budgets, lawsuits, and off the books major funding of the failed Community Energy Initiative that was controlled by the former mayor.

Here’re some of the former senior managers who have left the city since November 2014: Executive Director Janet Laird; Executive Director, Derek McCaughan; CFO Al Horsman; GM of solid waste management, Dean Wyman; Lawyer Scott Worsfold; GM of Finance and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; CAO Ann Pappert; City Solicitor Donna Jaques; Acting GM of Finance, Susan Arum; Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole.

The tab, so far, is estimated to be more than $96 million misspent by the former Mayor’s Community Energy Initiatives.

This bring us to the proposed recommendation by a five member committee chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson, to dispose of the jewel of the city of Guelph, our hydro electric distribution system.

It is a desperate move to conduct an asset fire sale to cover up the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. losses of $96 million and counting.

The book value of Guelph Hydro is estimated to be $150 million. Its value is increasing because there is a great demand to get control of these LDC’s. Hydro One gobbled up more than 89 between 1996 and 2001. You will recall that Hydro One is being gradually sold off to private enterprise. Today there are only 70 remaining LDC’s in the province. You can appreciate the primal urge by the administration to liquidate this asset because they need the money.

I urge everyone to make their feelings heard with their councillors by telephone, emails, snail mail or personal contact to stop this recommendation February 15. Just showing up will help prevent this ill-advised effort to sell off Guelph Hydro.

Personally, I believe the motion, if made, to dispose of the utility should be amended to table the recommendation to allow more measured public input, not just seven business days.

In 2008, former mayor Farbridge attempted to convince council to sell Guelph Hydro because the city did not have sufficient capital to pay its $23 million share of the Federal-Provincial infrastructure grant plan. She was soundly rebuffed by an 8-5 vote. Then she called a $30 million note that Guelph Hydro owed the city to pay the infrastructure bill that grew to $27 million, due to add-ons including bike lanes and a time clock in the Sleeman Centre.

It now appears nothing has changed.

On or before February 15, please exercise your right to object and inform civic leaders of your opinion. We only get one chance to stop this and now is that time.

So, if council does approve selling or merging of Guelph Hydro, what are the alternatives?

Assuming the city receives an estimated $150 million for Guelph Hydro, citizens lose control of the operation, including what they pay for service as set by the new owners.

The proceeds will pay for the GMHI losses. The new owner could claim the $65 million stranded Guelph Hydro loan to GMHI. It currently is on the city books as an impaired asset, is due and payable. That could reduce the net proceeds. Do not be surprised if that loan is not on Guelph Hydro’s books.

The proceeds, I predict, will disappear before the civic election rolls around next year. Suddenly there are funds to build the South End recreation centre, the Wilson Street parking garage and perhaps the Downtown Library.

This will be a bonanza of political good will that could guarantee the re-election of the same council majority we have now.

It’s our choice and it happens next week.

Next: The Bruce Poole story and how it will change Guelph forever.

The day the administration was exposed as running a ship of fools

By Gerry Barker

February 6, 2017

Part Two – Expose

Let’s start by praising Bruce Poole for having the guts to go after the city he served so well and loved for 30 years. They did him dirt by firing him for challenging the administration for failing to follow its own bylaws regarding obtaining building permits for ALL such projects in the city.

The revelation that there were 50 such projects, all conducted by the city administration in which no building permits were requested for approval. It became the genesis of the former Chief Building Inspector’s $1 million lawsuit for wrongful dismissal.

Then, last Friday a report in Guelph Today, written by Tony Saxon, detailed how that, during the examination for discovery, some 53,000 confidential emails, authored by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, were turned over to Mr. Poole’s lawyer.

A cursory examination of the email-gate reveals a fascinating collection of critical personal opinions, paranoia. petulance and what senior staff thought about their colleagues.

These include performance reviews of city employees; details of legal matters discussed in camera; criticism of city staff members; details of acute city operations; and even discussions about personal marital and health issues.

It’s a sorry cultural soup reflecting how messed up and irresponsible the members of the senior staff and others, including certain members of council.

The bottom line is, these emails, many marked confidential, were sent through City of Guelph servers. This makes those 53,000 documents that the users believed would never be made public, now part of the public record.

Kudo’s go to Bruce Poole’s legal counsel for obtaining these emails from the city ensuring the public’s right to know.

Across Ontario can you hear the shredders humming and emails being deleted?

(Suggest it would be better to use an expert for that process).

The source of these emails came from the former Chief Financial Officer of Guelph, Al Horsman. He left the city in August 2015 to become Chief Administrative Officer of Sault Ste Marie.

Email-Gate shows he used the city’s Internet servers to apply for another job. It even included preparing a power point presentation to the Sault’s selection committee. Using Guelph’s resources, Horsman landed his new job.

It makes one wonder how senior employees across the province are properly vetted when seeking new jobs. Is the process flawed? Are questions not asked? Why is the person leaving? Are references requested?

This applies to our former Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert who left the city to be appointed an Assistant Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Sport for the province.

Let’s review her leaving May 26, 2016. She was awarded an increase of $37,501 in a closed meeting December 10, 2015. So the question is, why did she leave a $257,501 job for one that probably pays much less?

She should be Bruce Poole’s most important witness as his case proceeds. The evidence is pointing to her as the fox among the chickens. In case you are wondering who are the chickens? They are us! These bureaucrats have suborned their responsibilities to the people by communicating by emails and conducting the public business in closed sessions.

I am astonished about the volume of Al Horseman’s emails for the two years he was a senior member of the administration totaled 53,000. The man is on the job 211 days a year reduced by weekends, vacation, statutory holidays and city shutdown periods

Just doing the math, Mr. Horsman wrote 125 emails a day. Further, that’s an average of 15.6 every hour for his eight-hour workday.

But it should come as no surprise because this is the way our city managers have operated, far from the public view or access for the past ten years.

Here are some examples of the email content delivered to Mr. Poole and his lawyer:

  • 30 individual staff performance reviews
  • Who were these employees and who conducted the reviews?
  • A calendar entry titled “Linamar – foregoing and/or deferring property taxes or development charges on future Linamar properties.

            It would appear that Linamar is getting a tax break on its property taxes. What are the details?

  • Confidential and private information in regard to the Urbacon action and settlement details” “Confidential and private information in regard to the Dolime legal action and settlement details.
  • What did Mr. Horsman know about the Urbacon situation and what was his role in the settlement?
  • Confidential emails between Horsman and his bank regarding personal investments.
  • Not a good idea to use your business computer for such private information or to seek another job.
  •  
  • Confidential email exchange between Horsman and CAO Anne Pappert regarding concerns about the performance of a senior city manager still with the city.

Well now, we are getting to the meat of the email exchange. Who is this senior manager and his/her job responsibilities? Did that person receive an increase in remuneration in 2015?

  • Confidential email exchange between senior management staff members in regard to “Terraview complaint re: Development charges @ 72 York Road.

Isn’t this public information? Where are the details? We have 13 employees in the  city engaged in communications. Why weren’t the details reported?

  • Several “corporate communications watch list” reports, including one item listed as “investigation of bacteria incident at City Well (Membro) – information protected under client-solicitor privilege.
  • And the people were never told?”

Nothing today in a public corporation is confidential. The exceptions are in the provisions as outlined in the Ontario Municipal Act to conduct closed sessions. With this revelation, it is apparent that cyber communication between senior staff often bypasses the OMA closed session regulations.

  • “Numerous occurrences where Al Horsman was using the City of Guelph’s computer system to seek and respond to several new and alternative job opportunities.”

Earning $182,000 a year does not include using your city computer to get another  job.

  • Negative comments (via email) about Mayor Cam Guthrie from a current member of council that was shared with others

No! Say it isn’t true. The Mayor thought all you senior staffers and council were  his friends.

  • Several emails detailing confidential terms of settlements in several legal matters.

This is not good but as CFO he was within his right. Legal cases are touchy and  the former mayor became known for her litigious bent. Now the city solicitor has left for greener opportunities in North Bay. Her leaving coincides with the  revelation of the 53,000 emails.

  • Confidential email exchanges between senior staff members in regard to concerns about a senior city manager who is still with the city.

            Yikes, if the senior staff had reservations, why is this person still with the city?

  • Private and personal emails between Horsman and other executive staff members in regard to personal matters such as marriage and health. 

Was this on city time?

  • Copies of confidential information shared by Horsman with former city staff.

This smacks of the existence of an elitis city staff club. Why would Horsman seek  conversation with former staffers?

  • “Confidential email exchange between Corporate Finance staff and senior management staff in regard to DGBA (financial concerns with the Downtown Guelph Board Association).”

It must be noted again that emails on the city servers are not confidential, as many have been titled. They are in the public domain.

There is indication that people are enquiring about obtaining the details of all those emails through the Freedom of Information Act (FIA).

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